Trans Self-Imaging Praxis, Decolonizing Photography, and the Work of Alok Vaid-Menon

Ace Lehner

As an identity and an analytic, trans offers a compelling challenge to photographic discourse. Trans, as a rejection of the assigned sex at birth, is a rejection of what was assigned to us based on our physical attributes, an assumption made about us based on our surface aesthetics. Trans rejects the physical surface in favor of living our lives based on an internal feeling: something that is not visible but manifested visually in a way that plays with the aesthetics and expectations of gender. As trans scholar and artist micha cárdenas has observed, trans is often about a rejection of the visible. To picture trans subjects, then, is to make a surface rendering of something (the person’s outward appearance) that is already de-essentialized from any necessary essence or “truth.” Trans as an analytic offers a method to view the photographic image not only as distinct and distant from the referent but in tension with it. Trans as a method prompts a rethinking of surfaces in relation to essence, identity, authenticity, and fixity, unfixing the surface from the subject.

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Ace Lehner is an interdisciplinary scholar and artist specializing in critical engagement with identity and representation; history, theory, and criticism of contemporary art; visual studies; photography theory and queer and trans theory. Lehner’s artistic practice often embraces collaboration and primarily utilizes photography and video to mine the complex relation between representations and the constitution of identities. Lehner was a recipient of the Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship in the Fine Arts and the Sheffield Art League Scholarship.


“Translation, Translation, Rehearsal” in Conversation

Scott Hunter with Alexandra Macheski

Scott Hunter’s “Translation, Translation, Rehearsal” is a sound piece that explores issues of translation when a tarot deck is used to dictate the fate of each note for a saxophone quartet. Each translation of a tarot card, be it “the fool” or “the hermit,” manifests in a harmonic progression of rehearsals that culminate in an infinite play on what is lost, or not lost, in the act of translation. Accompanying “Translation, Translation, Rehearsal” is a brief interview between Scott Hunter, a PhD student of literature at UC Santa Cruz, and Refract editorial board member Alexandra Macheski about how tarot and music composition and the concept of rehearsal can create new and unforeseen harmonies. This interview, from June 15 to August 4, 2019 started as a face-to-face conversation in Santa Cruz, California, and then moved to written correspondence.

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Scott Hunter is a musician, fiction writer, and student of medieval literature. He lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Alexandra Macheski is an editorial board member of Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal.


Daisy Bell

Ryan Page

In this digital mash-up recording, the artist has recreated the early 20th century song Daisy Bell. The song sits squarely within a history of the digital interfacing with speech synthesis/AI formats to produce new sound experiences; notably, here it references, and starts off from, how the song is used in the movie Space Odyssey 2001 as part of the computer HAL’s database. Through the compilation of various versions and recording instruments the musical piece/artwork here showcases how, symbolically, the translation and transmutation of voice and music across modes can produce the uncanny and force us to question what is essential, what is persistent, and what changes through different formats. It combines the voices of earlier singers and earlier modes of recording with new technologies for sound making as well as “voices that were never alive to begin with.” It explores the ontology of simulation and addresses how the digital engages questions of nostalgia and the uncanny.

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Ryan Page is a composer, performer, sound artist, engineer and Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His work focuses on the nostalgic, uncanny aspects of digital simulation and exploration of the interstices between analog and digital media. His current research includes the design of hardware systems offering digital state recall and interpolation of chaotic analog systems for audio synthesis, the use of human flesh to convert 8-bit digital audio signals to analog, the design and creation of a modular synthesizer featuring a light-reactive case, photocell mixers, dirt and ash as audio processors, anachronistic methods of signal modulation/demodulation, and digital oscillators with hand-drawn wavetables..


All le moto a ces droits: Notes on Hervé Youmbi’s Translation of the Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme (DUDH)

Alexandra C. Moore

  • A lime green plaster one-story building, with a black and white sign with French words.
  • A salmon pink outdoor wall, raised upon two layers of dark bricks, featuring a black and white sign with French words.
  • A squat light yellow building with a brown gate at the left-hand side, and a black and white sign on the right-facing wall with French words.
  • A cream-colored building with a sign in black and white, featuring French words.
  • A discolored powder blue slanted-roof one-story building with a black and white sign with French words; two covered moto-taxis are parked in front of it.
  • A two-story light yellow building with a black and white sign featuring French words is draped with wires from a telephone pole underneath a blue, but cloudy, sky.
  • A white and blue building with a mural of two children walking on a path framed by grass. To the left of the mural is a black and white sign with French words; below the mural, half of a mosaic.
  • A grey, beige, and white tiled building with rectangular black awnings below a cloudy sky. On the wall of the building, a black and white sign with words in French.

Moore’s photo essay considers Hervé Youmbi’s 2017 artwork DUDH in the context of the current political crisis in Cameroon. For DUDH, Youmbi translated five articles from the Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme into Camfranglais and installed them on signs in the quartiers of New Bell Ngangue and Ndogpassi III in Douala, Cameroon. He printed one set of the five articles on a blue background for New Bell and the same articles on green for installation in Ndogpassi III. Youmbi unveiled the signs in December 2017 as part of the Salon Urbain de Douala (SUD) triennial.

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Alexandra C. Moore is a PhD candidate in visual studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She researches contemporary art with a focus on artistic practices that connect African and European histories, and is particularly interested in how discourses of race, gender, belonging, and citizenship are constructed and transmitted through representations of territory and built space. At UC Santa Cruz she has held the positions of Public Humanities Graduate Instructor and Institute of the Arts and Sciences Curatorial Fellow. Alex earned a B.A. from Wesleyan University..


Languages of Violence

Ansel Arnold

Languages of Violence is a gaming/sound performance mediated by the streaming service Twitch. The visual elements represent the active key registrations and inputs being made during a video game, while the sound is of the game as it’s played and mixed through analog pedals and feedback loops. The context of the game and the event that it produces are obscured by this interpretation. What’s left is an impressionistic gesture that mediates a fact of violence. At the outset of this work, I was exploring what I saw left open by realistic digital violence, in that it can be directed beyond its actual origins. Gunfire is made indistinguishable from a real life event, but its context as a video game rescues it or makes it acceptable.

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Ansel Arnold is an artist and writer who is broadly interested in the way that media representations structure knowledge and guide our everyday experience. By re-presenting these media, his work is critical of the knowledge that those representations produce. Through this critique, he rejects monolithic preconceptions of the world by reconstructing narrative space.


Untitled (Speech Poem #2)

Marrok Sedgwick

Closed captions often do not fully convey the meaning, emotion, or even the full dialogue of spoken English to a d/Deaf audience. They are often incomplete, whether due to audist assumptions about the ability of d/Deaf to understand content (such as with captions that present allegedly less lofty language than that spoken by the actors on-screen), or the technological failure whereby caption decoders in televisions and in the devices cinemas use drop a line of dialogue. Other times, the failure of closed captions relates to the more subtle inability of formal written captioning protocols to capture tone of voice, or to really represent what emotional information is portrayed by a soundtrack. What does it mean to have “upbeat music” or to name the instrument itself? My work subverts this obfuscation of meaning, turning the tables to privilege disabled communities over non-disabled communities.

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Marrok Sedgwick is a disabled trans educator using artmaking as a tool for challenging society’s injustices. As a creative producer and documentarian, Sedgwick’s work has screened internationally. His film Stim won the PK Walker Innovation Award at the 2018 Superfest International Disability Film Festival. As an educator, Sedgwick has worked in general education and special education classrooms, as well as with a drama program for youth with disabilities.

Interpreting the Legal Archive of Visual Transformations: Textual Articulations of Visibility in Evidentiary Procedures and Documentary Formats of Colonial Law

Asif Ali Akhtar

A black and white scan of two pages of a book, with a combination of English and Persian.

This article is concerned with tracing an onto-epistemological break through the archeology of colonial penal law, whereby a historical restructuring of the “visible” and the “articulable” produces modern ways of “seeing” and “knowing.” This epistemic break will be investigated through eighteenth and nineteenth century “Regulation” of Islamic sharīʿa penal law by British administrators of the East India Company in colonial Bengal. The juridico-discursive body, which came to be known as Anglo-Muhammadan law, will be analyzed through court records compiled by Company jurists and their Regulations modifying sharīʿa jurisprudence. Islamic penal law is based on hermeneutical practices of juridical reasoning formed through particular ways of seeing, knowing, and verifying the truth through eye-witness and testimony. In this article I will show that when the British commandeered this system of justice towards their own ends, the regulatory changes they instituted inadvertently brought about visual transformations of the ways in which legal life-worlds of the colony come to be recorded, articulated, and expressed. Under the British administration of colonial Bengal, this dual-process of appropriation and subversion of the law took shape through translation and transliteration of fiqh treatises, to legal amendments and sweeping legislations in substantive law. This process not only provided colonial power access to the bodies of colonial subjects, but also conditioned the relations between criminality, visuality, and juridical veridiction through penal legislation. As this article will show, the East India Company’s regulation of Islamic penal law began incorporating modern forms of evidentiary proofs, indexicality, and documentary formats that restructured the lifeworld of colonial law in 19th century Bengal.

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Asif Ali Akhtar is a Ph.D. Candidate in Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University. He holds an M.A. in Politics from the New School for Social Research. Akhtar’s dissertation research focuses on understanding the politics of mediatic regimes and regulatory frameworks in 21st century Pakistan in terms of the colonial and precolonial antecedents through genealogies of mediation, regulation and politics.

Craptions: Instagram Notes from Joseph Grigely

Joseph Grigely

Joseph Grigely is, among many things, an artist, a writer, and a person who is deaf. On his public Instagram page, he occasionally posts documentation of his experiences navigating a world designed for people who can hear. Grigely has generously allowed Refract to publish a selection of his Instagram posts, curated by managing editor Kate Korroch. These posts expand the notion of translation beyond that of language to think instead of the aural, the visual, and issues of access and inclusion. Grigely’s playful documentation reveals a deeply problematic and systemic failing to account for differently abled bodies. His posts offer a perspective that is invisible in a society made for people with hearing. In this instance, mistranslation becomes a form of erasure.

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Joseph Grigely is an artist and writer. He has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the MCA, Chicago; the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris; and the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin; and he has participated in the Whitney, Venice, Berlin, Istanbul, Liverpool, and Sydney Biennials. His books include Textualterity: Art, Theory, and Textual Criticism (1995), Conversation Pieces (1998), Exhibition Prosthetics (2010), MacLean 705 (2015), and Oceans of Love: The Uncontainable Gregory Battcock (2016).  He has a D.Phil. from Oxford University and is a professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Lupine Sensibilities: Dynamically Embodied Intersubjectivity between Humans and Refugee Wolves

Austin D. Hoffman

There is a growing body of literature in the field of environmental education that draws from the phenomenological tradition in theorizing about human-animal interactions. I am inspired by the eco-phenomenology of Phillip G. Payne and aim here to further an educational pedagogy of intercorporeal relations and to conceptualize M:W as “an active experiential and existential site of and for inquiry in and with various natures and environments.” From the animal welfarist perspective, some work has also been done about how these interactions occur in the contexts of zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, and how they can be mutually enriching for non/humans; Lindsey Mehrkam, Nicolle Verdi, and Clive Wynne have specifically studied captive wolves and wolf-dogs in this regard. Holding all these schools of thought in mind, this essay lies at the four-way intersection of human-animal studies (HAS), anthropological methodology, environmental education, and phenomenology. More specifically, I endeavor to bring the anthropological framework of dynamic embodiment—which draws heavily from phenomenology but has been largely humancentric—firmly into conversation with these other intellectual genealogies.

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Austin D. Hoffman is a PhD student in sociocultural anthropology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the past, his research has focused on political subjectivity, social movements, and the semiotics of protest. His work currently centers on the political ecology between humans, the state, wolves and wolf-dog crosses (commonly known as “hybrids”) in the contexts of the exotic pet-trade, wildlife sanctuaries, and wildlife management agencies. Austin takes an intersectional approach to his research and strives to unpack how domestic and wild canines and other non-humans are anthropomorphically racialized, sexualized and politicized, and how such processes can ratify, deny, and problematize claims of subjectivity.

Lag and Impact in Visual Studies

Sara Blaylock

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting on my porch with a friend and my partner, trying to explain just what visual studies is. My friend, a historian, and my partner, who teaches in an English department, both listened patiently as I muddled through my usual preambles:

It’s like art history, but with a more politicized vision… Some people approach visual studies as a means to think about perception and technologies that have literally changed vision… Others use it as a means to explain how what is made (or allowed to be) visible is a tool of consolidating and maintaining hegemonic power… Some people see it as a development of art history; others define it as a radical rupture.…

I listed examples of potential objects of study. I began with the obvious: art, posters, film, advertisements, maps. I then listed more totalizing, which is to say less concrete, examples: systems of representation, discourse, the use of space, the commons. I inventoried the range of theoretical tools at my disposal: Marxism, feminism, critical race studies, indigeneity, postcolonialism, and queer theory… My historian friend nodded generously. “Yes,” she said, “people in my discipline work on these issues, as well.” My partner, more than a bit familiar with this intrigue of mine, acknowledged that his classroom and writing practice also welcome a variety of methodologies and source materials. So, what then, I proceeded to ask, is it that makes visual studies a discipline when its approach—that is to say, its methodology of interdisciplinarity—is being practiced (and seemingly welcomed) across the humanities?

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Sara Blaylock is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota Duluth and co-directs the International Association for Visual Culture. She received her PhD in Visual Studies with a designated emphasis in Feminist Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2017. Recent and forthcoming publications include “Bringing the War Home to the United States and East Germany: In the Year of the Pig and Pilots in Pajamas” (Cinema Journal, 2017), “A Material Revolt: Body Portraits in the Prenzlauer Berg of the 1980s,” (Voices of Dissent. Art in the GDR, 2016), “Authenticity’s Visual Turn” (Politics of Authentic Subjectivity: Countercultures and Radical Movements Across the Iron Curtain (1968-1989), 2018), and “The Subject Who Knows: Photographers and Photographed in the Late East Germany (The Oxford Handbook of Communist Visual Cultures, 2019).