Feminist Making at ASA 2014 in Los Angeles

I’m so happy to announce that I’ll be presenting in this theory/practice based format at the American Studies Association 2014 meeting in Los Angeles, November 6-9! Susan Garfinkel organized this brilliant panel!

Digital Humanities Caucus and ASA Women’s Committee: Feminist Making I: Building Critical Contexts

This panel is first in a two-part series of roundtables that takes as its focus the contemporary interest in “making”–creating products by hand in a post-consumer, technology-rich environment for reasons ranging from personal fulfillment, to community building, to social and cultural critique. Through hardware hacking, open source software, crowdsourcing, alternative game creation, and the like, digital humanists have increasingly turned to making as scholarly practice. Here we seek to explore how feminist approaches to making and maker culture might–like “fun” in the theme for this conference–work as “a category of thinking and doing” that generates “alternate ways of living against” sites of social, economic, and political, as well as technological privilege.

“Feminist Making I: Building Critical Contexts” seeks to contextualize elements of the maker movement from historical, cultural-critical, feminist perspectives. Maker culture opens the “black box,” rendering features of contemporary technology visible, tangible, knowable and adaptable through handiwork. Yet, it can still fail to foreground its own origins in institutions, ideologies and practices. In hackerspaces, maker faires, and online forums, communities gather to explore circuit bending, wearable computing, open mapping, Arduino, 3D printing, and the like–proliferating the sites and practices of invention. While these technologies may be new, efforts to subvert capitalist systems of control through craft trace to the nineteenth century and before, and to a diversity of persons and groups.

In this roundtable session, short talks will be followed by significant time for discussion among presenters and audience, moderated by session chair Lauren Klein. The presentations are:

Susan Garfinkel, “Soft Circuits and the Gendered Objects of Making.” Making is not new, though rhetoric places it in the post-computer moment of the current century. Using the example of “soft circuits” conceived to make electronics appealing to women via textiles and fashion, this talk situates the origins of making in craft, in folkloric process, and in the gendering of objects in culture.

Elizabeth Losh, “A Very Proper and Discreet Girl: Ideologies of Transparency and Gendered Computing Spaces.” DIY circuits built with exposed sensors and microcontrollers seem to differ radically from slick mass-produced consumer electronics. Feminist critics of technology, however, argue that transparency itself is a strongly gendered concept. This talk looks at the visual culture surrounding sixty-five years of physical computing in the Los Angeles region to consider how the relations between men, women, and machines are represented.

micha cárdenas, “Post-Digital Media: Trans of Color Feminist Praxis.” Within and alongside white male and white feminist digital cultures, there exist older practices focused on directing technological creativity towards the lessening of social inequality and structural oppression. One of these is a trans of color praxis that rejects the binary logic of the digital and the privileging of western ways of knowing and creating.

By exploring the legacy of maker culture through the lens of feminism, participants will interrogate the assumed distinctions between theory and practice, public and private, craft and skill, logic and affect, that too often frame interpretations of making. It is at the interface of such binaries that making negotiates its alternative agency.

Susan Garfinkel, Library of Congress (Session Organizer)

Lauren Klein, Georgia Institute of Technology (GA) (Chair)

Susan Garfinkel, Library of Congress (Panelist)

Elizabeth Losh, University of California, San Diego (CA) (Panelist)

micha cárdenas, University of Southern California (CA) (Panelist)

Autonets in Living as Form (Nomadic Version), Antioch College

I will be in Living as Form (The Nomadic Version), co-organized by Creative Time and Independent Curators International (ICI), and assembled in collaboration with Antioch College.

Exhibition dates:  April 18- May 16th
Opening Reception   April 18  7:00-9:00pm

Curated by Sara Black, Jillian Soto, and Anthony Romero
Guest Artists:  MRCC Compass Group and Micha Cardenas

Living as Form (The Nomadic Version) is the flexible, expanding iteration of Living as Form, an exhibition curated by Nato Thompson and presented by Creative Time in the fall of 2011 in NewYork City. Lead project support for the original Living as Form exhibition was provided by the Annenberg Foundation, the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, the Danish Consulate, the Andrew W.Mellon Foundation, the Mondriaan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Additional support for Living as Form (The Nomadic Version) was provided by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation; and the ICI Board of Trustees.

LOCATION: Herndon Gallery

Transborder Immigrant Tool at ZKM and Queens Museum

Transborder Immigrant Tool installation view, 6 cell phones mounted on a wall, each with a winding cable going down to a power strip at the bottom of the wall.

Transborder Immigrant Tool installation view

I don’t post all of the Transborder Immigrant Tool exhibitions and events here on my blog, but they’re mostly all posted at

global aCtIVISm at ZKM Karlsruhe

14.12.2013 – 30.03.2014

For some years now, a new form of world-wide activism driven by citizens (lat. civis) has been in evidence, as the word CIVIS highlighted in aCtIVISm emphasizes. It is a movement spawned by globalization, technological developments, and the expansion of art. Indeed, ever since the 1960s, art has generated new forms of audience participation in the guise of Fluxus, happenings, action art, and performance. Increasing audience participation in art has now invaded politics, as it were: as the new form of civil participation. Artistic and political demonstrations merge.


Border Art Research: Visible Borders, Invisible People, and the Transborder Immigrant Tool at ZKM Blog

In 1995 the Border Research and Technology Center (BRTC) was opened; it is operated by Sandia National Laboratories, located in San Diego, California. BRTC works with Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs Service and Border Patrol, the U.S. Attorney offices, and law enforcement agencies to strengthen technology capabilities and awareness on U.S. borders. BRTC also works on joint ventures to identify technologies that will stop the flow of undocumented people crossing the Mexico–U.S. border, and is currently participating in a project to detect heartbeats of people concealed in vehicles or other containers. Nine years later (2004) b.a.n.g lab (stands for bits, atoms, neurons, and genes) in collaboration with Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0 (EDT) started developing a border art and technology research center at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CALIT2), a $400 million academic research institution jointly run by the University of California, San Diego, and the University of California, Irvine, that would develop a counter-aesthetic and critical technology to disturb the border technologies that programs like BRTC were developing.

Arte Útil Conversations: Amy Sara Carroll & Ricardo Dominguez Present “Transborder Immigrant Tool”

Sara Carroll and Ricardo Dominguez, two artists in the The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) collective, explore the development and usage of The Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT), a GPS cellphone safety net tool for crossing the Mexico/U.S. border. Arte Útil Lab co-curator Adrianne Koteen introduces this work in light of the concept and criteria of Arte Útil.

Keynote and Colloquium talks this month in Sweden and Toronto

I am deeply happy to share that next week I’ll be giving an opening keynote at the Digital Gender: Theory, Methodology and Practice workshop in Umea, Sweden, and in the end of the month I’ll be speaking in the University of Toronto iSchool Colloquium series: Feminist and Queer Approaches to Technoscience. Details below from the MA+P website! I’m getting ready for the cold in the north of Sweden! My abstract is below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, so please leave a comment.

In March 2014, Media Arts + Practice PhD student micha cárdenas will be presenting her work internationally in Sweden and Toronto. She will be the opening keynote speaker at HUMlab at Umeå University in Sweden for the “Digital Gender: Theory, Methodology and Practice”  workshop. The workshop is a joined collaboration between HUMlab and UCGS (Umeå Centre for Gender Studies) at Umeå University, and will take place on the 12th -14th of March 2014. Cárdenas’s talk is titled

Additionally, cárdenas will be speaking in the University of Toronto iSchool’s colloquim series Feminist and Queer Approaches to Technoscience” on March 27th. The title of her talk is “Local Autonomy Networks: Post-Digital Networks, Post-Corporate Communications.” The series includes scholars such as Shannon Bell, Sandra Harding, Kavita Philip and Lisa Cartwright.

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Here’s the abstract of my talk for Digital Gender:

Movement Knowledge: Science of the Oppressed from the Transborder Immigrant Tool to Autonets
micha cárdenas

From the uprisings in the Middle East to the global Occupy movement to the Idle No More movement to community mesh networks in Detroit, oppressed people are using digital technologies to organize and create new possibilities in the face of the impending, and already present, disasters of climate change and economic collapse. Elizabeth Grosz writes in Time Travels that “to affirm in full positivity the existence and capacities of (at least) two sexes—the project of sexual difference—is to acknowledge… that all forms of prevailing practices and of knowledge, including the most objective of the sciences and the most abstract forms of mathematics and cosmology, represent the interests and perspectives of only one sex.” The parenthetical “(at least)” is crucial here for a rapidly expanding notion of gender including transgender and non-western notions of gender, which Grosz fails to grasp in her work. In emerging developments I have participated in, such as the visionary politics of the Allied Media Projects, FemTechNet and the Trans*Hack hackathons, I see marginalized groups engaging in technological skill sharing and development that will transform the landscape from one driven by financial interest to one driven by people’s needs. Working with the Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g lab (EDT2), I helped develop the praxis of Science of the Oppressed. Inspired by Monique Wittig, Chela Sandoval, Augusto Boal and Critical Art Ensemble, EDT2 asked what could science be if it were made in the interest of oppressed peoples instead of corporations. My current project Local Autonomy Networks (Autonets) uses Science of the Oppressed to develop networks with the interests of women, transgender people and people of color in mind, to prevent violence against these communities. Autonets gestures in the intersection of the physical movement of dance and performance with social movements for prison abolition and healing justice. My work is situated in understanding, participating in and creating open, community based spaces of creativity to find new possibilities for social justice praxis.



The Transreal: Our Networked Bodies, text of my 2012 TEDx Talk

tedx delmar

Two years ago I did a TEDx talk at TEDx Del Mar, and for unknown reasons, the event organizer refuses to publicly release the video of the talk, despite the fact that I have contacted them every month and repeatedly contacted the TED organization. I’ve probably sent over a hundred emails at this point just putting in time and energy to get this video made public, not because I think the talk is so great, but out of the injustice of doing months of work to perfect a TED talk and having it never shown publicly. I don’t know if its because this is one of the few, I think the first in the US, TEDx talk to feature a trans woman. I’m really not sure. As this was two years ago and I was just beginning to learn about disability justice, I regret that I used the problematic phrasing “differently abled people” instead of disabled people. I also concluded by saying that we should “learn from” trans and disabled people instead of saying “take leadership from”. I would change those things today. If you think that people should see this video, you can contact TEDx here to ask that they release my video: . Here is the email address of the event organizer: Michael Eddy, a patent lawyer who is holding the video of the talk that I put months of work into. The text of my talk is below. Thank you.

The Transreal: Our Networked Bodies

4 parts, 4 minutes each

1. Introduction

mom and me

I’m Micha Cárdenas and I’m an artist/theorist. I create technologies as art and then write about their social and philosophical implications. This is a photo of my mom and me. My mom is getting older. She has schizophrenia, and that’s how I started as an artist, writing my first play to deal with what was happening to her. She’s in her seventies now, and I found out this week that she’ll have to switch from a walker to a wheelchair. Something her and I have in common is that we both take prescription drugs everyday, because I’ve chosen to take prescribed hormones. We’ve also both been diagnosed with mental illness, because in the US wanting to be another gender is still considered a mental disorder. I recently visited her for the first time in a long time. We could say “after” my transition. I was so worried what she would say, this conservative woman who grew up in the fifties wearing poodle skirts. She is so ill after her breast cancer treatment that I wondered whether or not she would even recognize me. But I’ll come back to that story later.

My question for you today is: when we think about the future of technology, about transhumanism, posthumanism or augmented bodies, why do we think about contact lenses with computer displays, and not think of wheelchairs, lipstick and prescribed hormones? Why is one the image of the future, and the other the image of marginalization?

Philosophers from the beginning of western thought have speculated on the meaning of the body. More recently, the essay by feminist philosopher Donna Haraway “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” argues that the barrier between humans and machines has thoroughly broken down. She claims that by the late twentieth century, we are all cyborgs. But this essay was first published in 1985, long before pocket sized cell phones became a widely accessible technology. In The Telephone Book, Avital Ronell details the history of the telephone. People were terrified of it because they thought the invention was a haunted device that could bring the voices of spirits from far away. Today we take for granted that we can know when our loved ones want to contact us by feeling a slight vibration against our legs.

As a transgender woman, I am deeply invested in learning about the ways in which technology is changing our bodies and therefore our minds, identities, genders and sexualities, and our possibilities for happiness. I use performance art to explore the political, ethical, aesthetic meaning of networked bodies.

2. Becoming Dragon

In Becoming Dragon, I lived in virtual space and physical space continuously for 365 hours. For this project, I used a motion capture system with custom software that I developed with the artists Chris Head and Kael Greco to control a dragon avatar in Second Life with my physical motion. I also wore a head mounted display so that all I could see was the virtual environment. According to my research, the performance was the longest known immersion in a mixed reality environment.

I did the performance to question the legal/medical/psychiatric limits that transgender people face when attempting to modify their bodies, and to consider how emerging technologies are transforming our conceptions of identity.

I chose a dragon avatar because I wanted to think about how we can go beyond the way that language restricts us to male or female by using virtual worlds and motion capture to create new forms of embodiment. Also because in the mythology, dragons are shapeshifters and as I was starting hormones at the time, I identify as a shapeshifter, and because I wanted to find, and often encountered, the limits of what people considered acceptable in virtual worlds, beyond human forms. The project began by thinking of gender as an expressive texture that could be used in art, in which each person can create his or her own unique gender.


Risk, in many forms, has historically been central to performance art.In my research for this project, many people told me it was impossible. An expert in the field of HMD usage for augmented reality said in an email to me: “Using an HMD for more than a couple of hours… can result in brain damage.” Still, I continued my research and I could not find a study of HMD usage longer than a few hours. Sandy Stone, a new media artist and philosopher, told me in an email that the concerns about brain damage are just rumors, unsubstantiated by any real evidence. So, I proceeded. I also consulted with a doctor and a psychologist. Medical doctors who advise Calit2 also warned me of the danger of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Psychosis, which is a temporary sense of disorientation that patients in ICUs suffer as a result of being in unfamiliar, stressful circumstances for extended periods.

The support network for the performance was critical to its success. My collaborators came to the performance space 3 times a day to help calibrate the motion capture system, bring me food and check on my status.


A significant outcome of the performance, is that yes, extended living inside of a mixed reality environment is possible. My performance was 365 hours, 15.2 days, yet I feel that I could’ve stayed longer. After 5 days my symptoms of discomfort began to lessen. After the performance was over, my physical recovery was quick. After a week I felt that all symptoms from the performance had subsided.

People often ask if I feel that the experiment was a success, if we can replace virtual life experience with real life experience for psychological evaluations. I tell them that the main limitation I experienced for that kind of thinking occurred once the performance was over. As soon as I left the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, my friend and I were driving home from the performance. On the way home, a police car began driving behind us on the highway. At that moment, I experienced the fear I feel every time I am approached by police, the fear that we would be pulled over because her car is not very new or we were driving too fast, and that the officer would see what I was wearing, decide I was transgender, and on that basis, decide to arrest me or hit me or worse, which is a common experience for transgender people. I realized then the primary limitation of my mixed reality experiment was the complete lack of physical danger. As a woman, as a queer person and as a transgender person living in the United States, I have to be aware of and concerned for my physical safety every day.

3. Local Autonomy Networks


My current work is inspired by a drive to create networks of communication to increase community autonomy and reduce violence against women, LGBTQI people, people of color and other groups who continue to survive violence on a daily basis.


Wearable electronics are a new form of electronics that are enabled by threads and fabrics which have conductive material woven into them.


The approach I am starting with will use the Lilypad Arduino and Xbee wireless transmitters, led lights and EL Wire to be able to send direction and distance information.

Autonets considers the potential uses of wearable electronics to create networks of communication based on mesh networking that do not rely on the internet to function. The first iteration was presented at the Queerture fashion show at UCLA. Later generations were shown at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.  This performance included the development of technologies including wearable electronics, community building methods, theory and poetry.

I envision a wide range of possible uses for Autonets. For example, a group of sex workers collectively organize to protect each other from violence. A group of bicyclists want to flock together for a group ride. A group of women, transgender and cisgender, agree to let each other know when they are walking home and when they’ve arrived home safely. All of these communities can benefit from Autonets, remapping urban environments. ***
In economic and ecological crises, large scale communications networks often fail and locally based, mesh networked solutions become life saving technologies. My current work seeks to develop wearable approaches to mesh networking.  Mesh networking is bottom up instead of top down, not depending on telephone company infrastructure, each garment in the network relays messages to other surrounding garments.

The point is to change the dialog about these forms of violence so that they are no longer seen as an individual problem to be solved on an individual basis, but as social problems to be dealt with collectively.


4. Conclusion

I my recent book, The Transreal, I began to think about how our bodies and identities are distributed across communications technologies, our faces are being served to people by computers on Facebook and we send our thoughts out on twitter for people around the world to respond to in real time. Now that augmented, mixed, and alternate realities are being used in art, games, advertising, entertainment, they are increasingly part of our everyday lives. Our bodies are no longer limited by our skin and our physical potential, but are increasingly part of networked ecologies and multiple realities. I have described our new condition of identites that extend across realitles as Transreal, starting with the experience of crossing genders and thinking about how we are crossing realities. Much of my art work has involved mixed reality, augmented reality and alternate reality practices.

When I recently visited my mom, as I said, I was so worried about what she would say, her first time seeing me in a dress, this dress in fact. As I walked into her room, she said, simply, “you look beautiful”. In that moment, we began a new relationship together, as women who have a lot in common, as two people who have been deemed mentally ill by medicine, but as people who need to take care of each other.

As our bodies continue to be transformed by technology, my work urges us to consider the social marginalization of populations based on the categorization of bodies in order to not replicate these patterns, but to imagine new possibilities for human freedom and autonomy enabled by body extension technologies that are at the center of the transhumanist imagination. If we want to learn about going beyond the body, we should ask transgender people, who are permanently biologically modified, or mentally ill people who have a totally different cognitive experience or differently abled people who live with technological extensions every day, so that we don’t extend and worsen social inequality with new technologies but instead work towards a world in which people who are currently marginalized and oppressed based on their bodies can be valued and safe.


Donate to the International Trans Women of Color Network Gathering at AMC2014

Please donate, share, retweet, reblog, everything to help us make this happen!


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Support trans women of color throughout the Americas and around the world to be able to join together, find out who we all are and what we’re all doing, and come up with a vision for our collective future, and get the writing and artwork of trans women of color in return! To make sure that the most affected trans women of color can come, we are trying to fundraise travel costs for each participant. Including registration for the Allied Media Conference, housing, food and travel for this gathering, the average participant cost is just under $1000. Every little donation counts to get us to this goal of forming an international network of trans women of color.

Logo by Sam Andazola and Natalia from the Radical Design School.