Announcing Our 2021 Summer Research Fellows

11 Apr, 2021

Announcing Our 2021 Summer Research Fellows

Image by Edgar Fabián Frias.

We are thrilled to share our 2021 Summer Research Fellows from African American Studies, Art Practice, Education, Film & Media, and Information! Read more about their projects below!

Rachel Chen

This summer Rachel will be conducting a design-based research (DBR) study with an embodied design technological platform being developed for non-speaking students in Special Education. Although participation in social interaction is possible for many people, it is not readily accessible to students who do not use conventional speech. Autistic learners, especially those who are non-speaking, often realize their desire to communicate through non-dominant sensory modalities, attunements, and practices. How then can we design for inclusive social participation of students with diverse interactional modalities? By using the body as a conduit through which interaction can happen, we can reclaim one of the basic modalities of communication: touch. The platform at the center of her project—the Magical Musical Mat (MMM)—amplifies physical touch between people through sound. When participants step onto their respective floormats and then establish skin contact with one another, they close and thus activate an electronic circuit that triggers musical sounds. As participants co-produce different types of touch-based gestures, such as holding hands, striking “high fives,” or performing gentle taps, capacitive sensors on the mat detect resistance changes between their bodies. During the summer, Rachel will be conducting iterative cycles of design, implementation and evaluation with non-speaking autistic children and their families. She is examining how the rhythmical movements of autistic children can be integrated into the MMM through rhythmical touch-based gestures, and used as a musical resource for social interaction with their parents and other family members. This project has implications for Autism diagnosis, Inclusive Education, as well as the design of technological platforms for interpersonal interaction.

Erica Deeman

As a queer British-Jamaican, Erica asks: is there space where they can be their authentic self on this land, in mind and body? Is their hesitation to visit Jamaica owing to their queer status itself a form of colonial legacy? Erica's work will focus on their growing practice in their garden in Washington, growing fruit and vegetables that connect to their ancestral homes, diasporic and indigenous peoples. Erica will also create hybrid physical spaces that connect land, spiritual practices, and culture to their current place. This hybrid place will incorporate tests in painting, ceramics, 3D printing, and virtual space. Erica will also learn how to create virtual worlds that can transcend physical boundaries. The hope is that the combined research and art-making will progress Erica to a place where their body and ancestral knowledge can be shared safely.

Edgar Fabián Frias

Edgar is creating a new media project that incorporates a billboard and video that honors our queer ancestors. For this project, Edgar will imbue their work with our ancestor’s energies of resistance, liberation, illumination, and radical change. To support this work, their research will center on the resistance strategies of the Wixáritari people in Mexico, who have successfully challenged the mining of sacred lands by both national and international corporations using ritual, ceremony, and creative practice. Edgar will also be reaching out to one or two LGBTQ+ Wixáritari YouTubers for informal dialogues and conversations around these themes. In addition to this, Edgar is hoping to also interview one or two LGBTQ+ creatives who are also working with queer ancestors as a part of this project. Their hope is that this research and these conversations will help inspire and expand upon the artwork created for the billboard to exist virtually via documentation of its existence.

Julia Irwin

This summer, Julia will conduct research on the work of industrial psychologist and writer Dr. Lillian Moller Gilbreth who with her husband, Frank B. Gilbreth, produced hundreds of industrial films and advanced experimental film exhibition practices to train factory laborers in the 1910s. Lillian Gilbreth is recognized in the field of industrial psychology as a seminal figure in the subdiscipline of ergonomics—design practices that consider physiological and psychological needs in order to improve productivity in workspaces. What remains unstudied, however, is how Lillian Gilbreth translated ideas from philosophy and the burgeoning field of psychology into an empirical, new media program for industrialists to engineer factory-compatible behavior among laborers. Central to this prescribed methodology was the exploitation of cinema’s unique relationship to sensory stimulation and the imagination. By reorganizing a worker’s visual and haptic sensorial experience, it was thought that his or her individuated cognitive processing could be reduced, nervous system steadied, and motor activity automated. Julia's project seeks to canonize Lillian Gilbreth as an early theorist of interactive media spectatorship. As of 2021, there is a growing body of cultural artifacts sounding the alarm on Silicon Valley’s investment in interaction design practices that stimulate dopamine hits and engineer social media addiction. Media studies scholars have, for some time and with more nuance, addressed issues related to neoliberalism, internet visual culture, and user habituation. Julia's project contributes a historical dimension to this scholarly and popular debate, pointing to a period when psychology, mass industrialization, cinema, and behavioral engineering were simultaneously emerging as institutions of thought and practice. What makes Lillian Gilbreth’s work rich, and also problematic, is the way it weaves all four genres together and seeks to carefully coordinate individual embodied experience with the workings of an industrialized social body.

Halal Kaddoura

On Her Soil: I Breathe, Weep and Fall In Love All Over Again With Her is a sequel to Searching for Her, which was exhibited remotely in Spring 20201 as part of the First Year MFA show in Art Practice. From searching for the love of her life along the coastlines of Lebanon, the artist crosses borders and exiles in the hope to physically feel the love of her life. Along the coastline of Jaffa, the artist continues to search for her lover’s soul—sensing, touching, and feeling with the hope to gently kiss her lips. Guided by her sounds, her waters, her soil, the artist lingers, weeps, and falls in love all over again with her. The original project Searching for Her is comprised of video, poetry, film photographs, and virtual space.

Tonya Nguyen

Mutual aid groups increasingly rely on online infrastructure to carry out their operations. However, mutual aid groups suffer from burnout, dominance behaviors, and failures to address intersectional power structures. To address these problems, past groups have customized their own networked infrastructures as a form of political participation. This includes an array of innovative structures including Zoom calls, ICE-raid hotlines, and automated systems for volunteer reimbursements. However, the best strategies and design implications for mutual aid and other systems of care remain unclear and understudied. Tonya plans to explore how mutual aid technologies and infrastructures are designed, built, and maintained.

Rashad Timmons

Rashad's research interrogates the role of infrastructure in the production of racial blackness and enforcement of black suffering. Tracing the reconfiguration of chattel slavery’s imperative to enumerate, displace, and constrain the captive body, Rashad examines how the state works through infrastructure to develop ideas about, devalue, and discipline black life in postbellum and contemporary urban landscapes. Rashad's work contends that infrastructures visibly organize the felt intensities of racial experience and are palpable features of black ordinary and spectacular suffering. Furthermore, as modes of statecraft, infrastructures routinely dispense regulatory power that concretizes race’s lived materiality and produces black life as violable. Rashad's dissertation project asks then: what might we uncover by taking infrastructure seriously as an element of everyday black suffering? Further, how might this attention to infrastructure broaden our understanding of the quotidian dimensions of state power and black political practice? Using “traffic” as an expansive analytic to connote the complex systems undergirding urban life and the mediation of racial discourse, Rashad investigate how these variable infrastructures (e.g., roads and railways: vehicular traffic; pipelines: waste management and energy traffic; cables: telecommunications and data traffic) are complicit in discursive and corporeal antiblack injury. Additionally, they study how black people stop “traffic”—contesting state-sanctioned harm and pathological racial discourse—by remapping, subverting, and appropriating infrastructure through embodied protest, public commemoration, and performance. Much of this fieldwork will take place in Ferguson, Missouri, both through historical and ethnographic analysis. Exploring the memorial of Michael Brown as a field site, Rashad plans to observe how residents, tourists, and state actors interface with it as an act of collective mourning that appropriates
infrastructure. Situated at the interstices of street and digital traffic, the memorial offers an entry point to explore the relationship between spatial politics, media circulation, and the performance of black pain.