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[ Backstage ]


We generally think, if we think about it all, that infrastructure spaces and systems are built up for positive use, but these systems also produce a misfit genre for those that cannot access them. For example, there are increasing studies into data and algorithmic bias because the people programming them are white males. In the American documentary film Coded Bias (2020) there is an interview with Cathy O’Neil, once professor of mathematics turned hedge-funder but now a critical author of mathematical influence in society. In the film O’Neil tells the interviewer and viewer, ‘what worries me the most about Al or algorithms, is power. Because it's really all about who owns the code. The people who own the code then deploy it on other people. And there is no symmetry there.’[1] In the book Weapons of Mass Destruction (2016), O’Neil warns of the following:

Yet I saw trouble. The math-powered applications powering the data economy were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Some of these choices were no doubt made with the best intentions. Nevertheless, many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer.[2]

People have become manipulated by computer algorithms, and rarely challenge their legitimacy. This is largely because most of us do not understand the process of code making and we are using the end services (or product) of technologies of which we do not know the mechanisms or make-up. This manipulation of codes that build social realities, not only corresponds with Easterling’s concerns over infrastructure space but also Frantz Fanon’s description of colonialism, as colonizers set up their system in the colonies to exploit the natives in that region. As Fanon highlights, colonial rule ‘ the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native’[3]. In Black Skin, White Masks (2008), Fanon exposes how the French colonised the indigineous population of the Antilles. To gain access to power Fanon, who grew up in the Antilles, had to learn the coloniser’s language. Through his lived experience, Fanon describes the alienating effects of moving to the coloniser’s motherland to gain access to education because on his return to the Antilles he was seen as white and in France he was seen as black. Furthermore, until the coloniser identified the Antilles people as black, the distinction of black and white did not exist to the native people, and they did not see themselves as black. It was the infrastructure that was put in place by the colonisers and the histories that it erased which cultivated and produced a system of use for the white people as opposed to those defined by the system as black (who were to be used). Fanon became a misfit in the system because he accessed the power that was meant to be denied to him and, therefore, he was neither seen as white nor black or was seen as both white and black because these were the markers of the users within the system. As a result, Fanon became a powerful glitch within the colonial infrastructure. In Towards the African Revolution, Fanon asserts that, ‘...this book, it is hoped, will be a mirror with a progressive infrastructure, in which it will be possible to discern the Negro on the road to disalienation.’[4]

Yun-Ling Chen, Not Really Really (AW-21-03),2021,
Copper Coaster, Rock Salt and Whipped Cream, 11 x 5 x 5 cm

I am presenting my Practice based PhD as a misfit genre within the academic doctoral research system. Therefore, I have chosen to undertake this thesis in a way that it interacts with my practice but does not limit its potential through predetermining the interpretations that it could produce. Both my practice and research aim to produce a glitch(es), whether this is due to the endless maintenance of an organic material or providing an alternative option of reading my thesis/experiencing my practice. The overall decisions intend to provoke the reader and viewer to observe any contingent glitches that occur within their surroundings and treat them as opportunities as opposed to errors. This is an attempt at encouraging and instigating multiplicities of use, as Russell claims:

One is not born, but rather becomes, a body. And one is not born, but rather, becomes a glitch. The glitch-becoming is a process, a consensual diaspora toward multiplicity that arms us as tools, carries us as devices, sustains us as technology, while urging us to persist, survive, stay alive.[5]

My research and practice aim to observe and provoke glitches in perception. We are living in a capitalist society and, as a result, we are trapped in a habitual path of treating objects in terms of neo-liberal valuing assumptions (from efficiency to rarity, and profit margins). We lack a connection to the processes behind the institutional systems that forge these habits (education, transport links, communications lines, manufacturing lines, maintenance etc.) and take the end-product for granted, cutting off the object from its history or trail of becoming. We are used to passively receiving end-products through systems, so I propose that we should spend more time and care in understanding these systems. This is so that we can build situated-care in our society, which means rather than general or universal paths we construct alternative paths from the glitches that occur within the system itself.

In response to this generalised model that obscures its own mechanisms, my practice does not deliberately cover up the maintenance process and, simultaneously, it makes care tangible to the viewer. The viewer can encounter the process of me refreshing the organic material, but they also may not, which reflects the probability of encountering the maintenance process in everyday life. This infers the situation in which although we do not witness all practices of maintenance, this does not mean that they have disappeared, but they are habitual and have been programmed to exist off-screen (not to be noticed). In the art world, it can feel like the process of maintaining an artwork is taboo and that an attempt to put maintenance on-screen (publicly within the gallery) could risk humiliation, as the care for artworks is often hidden behind the scenes (in the gallery or art systems private spaces). It is as if exposing the labour behind the innocent and pristine end-product (artwork), is like catching the artwork with its knickers down and this tarnishes its sacred nature.

Therefore, my practice’s treatment of maintaining organic materials has highlighted an alternative way of operating when presenting artworks to the public. The tangible process is produced as a possible antidote to the fantasy of the sacred artwork produced by various art world actors and institutions, as well as wider aesthetic, historical and political initiatives. As Brian O’Doherty states:

The ideal gallery subtracts from the artwork all cues that interfere with the fact that it is “art.” The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its own evaluation of itself. This gives the space a presence possessed by other spaces where conventions are preserved through the repetition of a closed system of values. Some of the sanctity of the church, the formality of the courtroom, the mystique of the experimental laboratory joins with chic design to produce a unique chamber of esthetics.[6]

The [French] monarchy fell on August 10, 1792, and only nine days later a decree was issued that turned the former royal palace into a public museum. From the outset it was intimately tied up with the aims and politics of the new Republic. The new museum was a symbol of revolutionary achievement and a programmatic statement of intent: it was to be the domain of the many rather than the few (aristocrats and learned gentlemen), promising all citizens a share of hitherto inaccessible private property of cultural value. Education and enlightenment were no longer limited to a privileged handful but were on offer to anybody who chose to enter the former royal palace.[7]

[1] Shalini Kantayya, director. 2020. Coded Bias. Netflix. <> (accessed 21. March. 2021)

[2] O’Neil, Cathy, Weapons of Maths Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, London: Penguin Books, 2017, p. 3.

[3] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of The Earth, New York: Grove Press, 1963, 38.< > (accessed 21. May. 2021)

[4] Frantz Fanon, Towards the African Revolution, New York: Grove Press, 1967, 183-184.<> (accessed 21. May. 2021)

[5] Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism, A Manifesto, (New York: Verso Books, 2020), 145.

[6] Simon O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999, 14.

[7] Karsten Schubert,
The Curator’s Egg: The evolution of the museum concept from the French Revolution to the present day, London: Riding house, 2009, 18.


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