Research Creation/Critical Media

Reflecting on DH@GUELPH, “Making at the Intersection” workshop

Although DH@Guelph finished nearly two weeks ago, last week I was busy with career centre work, a committee meeting that led to a quick but intense couple of days revising, and a teaching application. So, despite my tardiness, I’d like to reflect and share some of things that we did in the workshop I attended, “Making at the Intersection,” because it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot!

“Making at the Intersection” was led by Kim Martin, John Fink, and Liviu Pop, and the workshop discussed various strategies of bringing intersectional feminism to maker culture, which is predominately masculine, is ableist, and not a safe space for women and people of colour. We discussed various readings that discussed these issues, not only in the present but as far back as the medieval ages. On the first day, we played with various maker tech available at Guelph’s THINC Lab like Makey Makeys, an Atari Punk Console, and conductive thread. Although I had no sewing experience whatsoever, it was nice being introduced to conductive thread. Over at the Critical Media Lab, we have worked lot with Arduino or I have worked on projects with arduino micro controllers, so playing with conductive thread opened up a lot of other ways of making. Here’s my sorry attempt at sewing with conductive thread:


For the next couple of days, we worked on thinking through collaborative projects that we could do in the workshop. Since quite a few of us were interested in Sound, we started discussing how voice assistant devices (if that’s what they’re called?) like Siri and Alexa are typically coded as a subservient white woman. Although there are limited options to change this vocal setting (my partner and I enjoy the British male voice for our Siri setting), we noted how the white woman’s voice is always default. So, we decided to make a Siri/Alexa-like chatbot for the THINC Lab that would subvert those subservient notions of what chat bots are for. Our chat bot, #NotYerBot, is only chat-based (but I think there are plans to make this voice-automated as well), but was a fun exercise in creating a bot that didn’t respond to your questions, asked you questions, and gave feminist insight, even if you didn’t asked for it. Here’s a snapshot of some of the responses:


That’s just testing out responses to “hello,” but here’s a couple of other responses from our draft:

+ why do feminist dh?
– Why not?
– Is there any other kind?

+ what is interdisciplinary?
– (long pause)
– It’s like playing Twister, but each space is a different academic field! It’s a lot of fun.
– [the wikipedia’s entry on the term]

Following these conversations about unseen labour, we decided to make something that would acknowledge the kinds of unseen labour of people working within the THINC Lab (and, if installed in other places, in workspaces in general). The end product: Accounts Re-see-vable: Receipts for your unseen labour. Using a Raspberry Pi, RFID cards, and a thermal printer, we made the thermal printer generate a receipt for the unseen labour card that a participant would use. Here are some photos to give a clearer picture:


From the board, the participant would take a card with an unseen labour written on it. Some of the examples include “Listened Generously,” “Emotional Labour,” “Advocated for Self/Others,” and “Fielded Microaggressions and plain old aggression.” Then, participants would tap the card against the box (the raspberry pi and RFID reader), and a receipt would be generated out of the printer. The receipt would have the title of the project, what unseen labour the participant did, and a mash-up text of Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” lyrics from Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Sara Ahmed’s blog post, “Confrontation,” and Dani Beckett’s blog post, “100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable.”  We included images, too (see above), but some images struggled with being printed out. The result is a whimsical text of feminist wisdom and playfulness to comfort and motivate.

I’m really glad and grateful for being able to contribute to these projects. As much as I love these kind of workshops, it’s rare to collaborate with the entire workshop and develop two fun and functional projects to share with the rest of the summer workshops. Also, since participating in events and workshops and projects at the CML, my time in this workshop have inspired me to approach maker projects (or critical media projects) from various other angles.  “Making at the Intersection” provided me with new theoretical approaches, as well as new applications of familiar tools and new tools to use in future projects!


Research Creation/Critical Media

A Chording to Chance

This Friday April 6th, Stephen Trothen and I will be showcasing our latest collaboration at the annual XDM exhibition. This year, Stephen and I have decided to take on Mallarmé’s “Un Coup de Dés.” The exhibition runs from 6-9pm, but we hope to showcase the project on this website. Here’s the description of our project:

“Language has within itself the moment that hides it. It has within itself, through this power to hide itself, the force by which mediation (that which destroys immediacy) seems to have the spontaneity, the freshness, and the innocence of the origin.”  – Blanchot, “Mallarmé’s Experience,” Space of Literature 40-1.

Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 poem, “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” or “A throw of the dice will never abolish chance” is notorious for its experimentation with typography and graphical layout, sprawling back and forth across pages and varying in fonts and font size. The poem defamiliarizes language use, exposing the mediation of language, and challenges the limits of how poetry can look by cascading down the page and spilling over and across margins. A largely influential poem, it has inspired a visual artistic tradition of translations that explore or highlight the layout and form of the poem while suppressing its content (See Marcel Broodthaer’s “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (1969) to Eric Zboya’s At the Heart of a Shipwreck (2013) and Derek Beulieu’s “Tattered Sails” (2018) and “Un Coup de Des” (2017)). Our work, entitled “A Chording to Chance” builds upon this tradition of transforming and translating Mallarmé’s poem but within a digital context that attempts to highlight the visual aspects of the poem while maintaining semantic meaning in a way that (potentially) both distorts and enhances meaning through translation into a digital typeface.  


“A Chording to Chance” makes use of an original chorder keyboard that has been designed to work with the “Dotsie” font, a font designed by Craig Muth in 2012 to save space and optimize typeface for digital screens by rendering letters into blacked-out strips and, consequently, words into pixelated icons for faster reading time and a condensed use of the page. During exhibition, participants will be asked to use the keyboard to translate the poem into Dotsies. Our project plays with Mallarmé’s experientation with the page and Muth’s experimental optimization of the screen. As well, by having participants use a keyboard that is mapped directly to the visual output – e.g. a letter that requires two pixelated blocks is typed with a simultaneous press of the first two keys on the keyboard, etc – invites them to reflect on how interface design choices can overtake, or perhaps supersede, understanding in the act of transcribing. Moreover, participants’ interaction in constructing the poem will hit the “wall” of language’s mediation; no longer “immediate,” the veil of language’s mediation is lifted as participants work through writing the poem. Participants will not be instructed where to begin translation, but a marker will be placed in the book where the last participant finished. The end-product (after the exhibition closes) will be posted online, as well as a translation of the Dotsies poem back into English.

In this way, the intended understanding of the text, as well the rendered output, will be left to chance and placed in the hands of the translators.