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Introduction / Issue 32
Rest and the Rest: The Aesthetics of Idleness

Artwork by contributor Nina Luostarinen. For Issue 30, the editorial board of InVisible Culture is honored to present a special introduction by Dr. Jean Ma. Also in this issue: “The Somnophile’s Guide to Cinema: An Interview with Jean Ma.” “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do,” the old saying goes, or in another version of the phrase, “the devil finds work for idle hands.” The adage makes an equation between a lack of occupation and laxity of moral character: to abstain from the exertions of meaningful activity is to avail oneself to the devil’s enjoinment. Evil rushes into the void of vacant time. Then again, perhaps the devil is idleness itself, a condition whose conceptualization descends from acedia (in Greek, lack of care) and sloth. For the ascetic monks of the fourth century, acedia was a dreaded demon—indeed, “the most oppressive of all the demons,” according to Evagrius of Ponticus.1 Often creeping in from the hours of late morning to early afternoon and exerting a drag on the passage of time, even …

Contributors / Issue 32: Rest and the Rest: The Aesthetics of Idleness

Irene Alcubilla Troughton is a PhD candidate at Utrecht University within the Acting Like a Robot Project, where she researches on what theatre has to offer to the development of human-robot interaction and the design of robot behavior. She holds two RMA degrees in Media, Art and Performance, and Theory and Critique of Culture. Other interests include posthumanism, critical disability studies, and queer studies. Emily R. Bock is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago whose research is situated at the intersection of critical race theory, black studies, queer theory, performance studies, and ethnographic methods/writing. Her dissertation, Ordinary Queens: the ball, the streets, and the beyond of survival, is an ethnographic investigation of the everyday lives of members of the underground ballroom scene in Chicago and New York, tracking the diverse aesthetic and performative practices this community has developed for imagining, performing, and securing the “good life.” Before securing an MA in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, Bock danced for choreographers and performance artists in New York City …

Cultivating (In)attention, Listening to Noise

by Emily Bock Featured image: Chantal Regnault, Legendary Voguer Willi Ninja wearing a Thierry Mugler body piece, 1989. Photo courtesy of the photographer. For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible. — Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music You’ve been invited to a ball. A friend texted you the flier earlier in the day with the address and descriptions of the categories and promises they will be there “on time” (a promise you know they won’t keep). When you arrive, a little before Legends, Statements, and Stars, you meander around the room looking for your friends’ house table to put down the few things you’ve brought along with you to survive the long evening (wallet, keys, phone, lipstick) and talk to folks about things neither of you will remember tomorrow. You won’t remember, not because the conversation is lacking in wit and energy; the opposite really. …

Cracks of Productivity: The Vitality of the “flesh” in Danzad Malditos

By Irene Alcubilla Troughton “Are we not in awe of this piece of flesh called our “body,” of this aching meat called our “self” expressing the abject and simultaneously divine potency of life?” —Rosi Braidotti1 Introduction Idleness is usually seen as the opposite of productivity, with the latter term being a common imperative in our Western capitalist society. In our work, social media interactions, even in our leisure activities, we are demanded to perform, to be in a constant state of productivity. This essay will offer a perspective on idleness by analyzing the cracks of productivity and how its failures can offer novel ways of dealing with this imperative.  Throughout this essay, such an analysis will be made by looking at a case study: the Spanish theatre play Danzad Malditos, a loose adaptation of Sydney Pollack’s 1969 movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? By means of reference to the scenes, the monologues, and the way in which the performance is structured, this essay will offer a practical example of how the vitality of flesh can be presented, …

The House That Ghosts Built (And Mediums Performed)

By Paula Vilaplana de Miguel Featured image: Seances, a popular entertainment in the late 19th century, under a red light. *The following work acknowledges that the phenomenon of haunting is neither uniquely Western nor exclusively related to the Spiritualist movement. Spiritualism, as many have noted, builds on previous histories of witchcraft, mesmerism, hoodoo, divination, and other cultural precedents. Haunting is a multifaceted phenomenon that has developed differently throughout the United States territory, too. Due to the hyper-abundant and multiple forms of haunting this work centers on a very determined timeframe and location: the birth and expansion of Spiritualism in the United States’ East Coast between 1848 and 1924, and the psychic mediums that popularized it Part 1: Trance TechnologiesFurniture and Prosthetics in the Victorian Haunted House Evenings at home in Spiritualist Séance1 The room is grim. The last light of day shyly brightens the furniture of the parlor: bookcases, chintz curtains, a large sofa, and a record player. The sitters gather around a wooden table and hold hands. The séance usually starts with the Lord’s …

Dolce far niente, Ärjä

by Nina Luostarinen Ärjä island is known for its long sand beaches, high shoreline cliffs and deep pine forests. The island is a geomorphically important ridge island on the Oulujärvi ridgeline in Kainuu area, Finland. Its cultural history includes ancient indigenous Sámi settlements with grazing grounds and ritual sites. Later it became known as a pirate base in the 1860s, for its pine tar runners, and, since the 1920, as a leisure location for forestry company’s holidaymakers (fig. 1).1 Ärjä is also part of the EU’s Natura 2000 natural territory program and a national beach protection initiative. The Ärjä Art Festival, established in 2018 by the art group Vaara, is a designated anti-festival that provides little in the way of material infrastructure, thus requiring visitors to carefully prepare their visit. As Ärjä island is a delicate nature destination, the event is grounded in a holistic ecological and low-emission approach, with the aim of using art to create new communal forms to engage and deal with the changing world: Experiencing, gathering, and multidisciplinary art forms open …

Apis Mellifera: Towards an Ecoaesthetics of Stillness

By Michał Krawczyk Humanity became the major geo-shifting force on the planet. The current epoch of the Anthropocene sadly affirms our disrupting engagement with the more-than-human world.1 The rates of endangerment among mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects, are overwhelming. Scientists have declared that we are living through the sixth mass extinction, although this piece of news is mostly unheard and unnoticed in our daily lives. Extinction as the backdrop to human life.2 A slow violence occurring “gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all”.3 Among the multitudes of agents enmeshed with us in multispecies relations, the position of Apis Mellifera, the honeybee, is instead highly visible. The honeybee is meaningful to us because our food production system is significantly dependent on their ecosystemic service of pollination. All bees belong to the order of Hymenoptera – ‘veil winged’ insects – which includes around 100,000 species, of which 25,000 are bee species. The social bees, …

Choreography of the Body’s Collapse: The Anti-Capitalist Politics of Rest

By heidi andrea restrepo rhodes Featured image: “Lady reading in berth with curtains down,” Geo. R. Lawrence Co., c. 1905, courtesy of the Library of Congress. The Brooklyn-based project, Rest for Resistance centers rest as crucial to healing work (it is so much work to heal!), bridging the vital importance of psychological and social support; and of individual and collective wellness for marginalized communities, including “Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Pacific Islander, Asian, Middle Eastern, and multiracial persons” and “LGBTQIA+ …trans & queer people of color, as well as other stigmatized groups such as sex workers, immigrants, persons with physical and/or mental disabilities, and those living at the intersections of all of the above.”1 Published by QTPOC Mental Health, a community justice initiative, the Rest for Resistance Zine features writing and photography that foreground rest as a deeply political activity. In Juhee Kwon’s piece, “We Are Not Machines”, Kwon reminds us that “we’re more complicated than a simple input (x) à output (y) kind of linear function”—questioning the correlations between overworking one’s self and how “success” is …

The Somnophile’s Guide to Cinema: An Interview with Jean Ma

By Amanda (Xiao) Ju, Jean Ma, Patrick Sullivan, and Madeline Ullrich Featured Image: Still from Cemetery of Splendour (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015). Jean Ma was the keynote speaker for the 12th Visual and Cultural Studies Graduate Conference in 2019, dedicated to the theme “Rest and the Rest: Aesthetics of Idleness.” Since the inaugural event in 1995, the biennial conference has convened scholars from a variety of fields, such as film studies, museum studies, art history, and cultural anthropology, in accordance with the interdisciplinary approach of the program. This interview took place during Professor Ma’s visit to the University of Rochester in April 2019. Before the conference, students from the graduate program of Visual and Cultural Studies and the English department formed a reading group, which read and discussed parts of Ma’s first two books—Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema and Sounding the Modern Woman—as well as a portion of her current book At the Edges of Sleep, forthcoming with University of California Press. The excerpt combined writings from two chapters, both of which closely …

Introduction / Issue 30: Poetics of Play

Artwork by contributor Iasmin Omar Ata. For Issue 30, the editorial board of InVisible Culture is honored to present a special introduction by Dr. Aubrey Anable. In my book, Playing with Feelings: Video Games and Affect, I make the claim that video games are the most significant art form of the twenty-first century.1 It was meant as a provocation and, by settling the matter, a call to move the discussion away from the question: are video games art? And toward the more interesting one: What do video game aesthetics do in the world now? This move takes its inspiration from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s definition of “reparative reading.” Interrogating the critical habits in the humanities that keep us fixated on taxonomies, ontologies, and what they hide, Sedgwick compels us to instead ask, “What does knowledge do—the pursuit of it, the having and exposing of it, the receiving again of knowledge of what one already knows? How, in short, is knowledge performative, and how best does one move among its causes and effects?”2 Paraphrasing Sedgwick we might …

Contributors / Issue 30 : Poetics of Play

Iasmin Omar Ata is a Middle Eastern & Muslim award-winning comics artist, game designer, and illustrator who creates art about coping with illness, understanding identity, dismantling oppressive structures, and Arab-Islamic futurism. Their recent graphic novel, Mis(h)adra, has resonated with readers and reviewers alike with its vivid and searingly honest account of epileptic lived experience. Iasmin has been reviewed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, The Electronic Intifada, Library Journal, NPR, and such; they’ve taught & spoken at the New York Public Library and Harvard University. They thrive on dedication, dreams, and hard work — and believe wholeheartedly in the healing power of art. Grant Bollmer is the author of three books, Inhuman Networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection (2016, Bloomsbury), Theorizing Digital Cultures (2018, SAGE), and Materialist Media Theory: An Introduction (2019, Bloomsbury). He is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at North Carolina State University, where he teaches in the Department of Communication and the Ph.D. program in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media (CRDM), and is an Honorary Associate of the Department of Media …

Image of the Playsaurus, Clicker Heroes 2014 video game.

Wait Wait… Don’t Play Me: The Clicker Game Genre and Configuring Everyday Temporalities

By Oscar Moralde “We do not say that we have learnt, and that anything is made new or beautiful by mere lapses of time; for we regard time itself as destroying rather than producing, for what is counted in time is movement, and movement dislodges whatever it affects from its present state.”1 “The Time Machine brings cookies from the past, before they were even eaten.”2 Game genre, duration, and the flow of the everyday Video game aesthetics extend beyond the sights and sounds encoded into datasets for electronic processing into the audiovisual worlds of player experience. They even extend beyond the feel and feelings produced by the cybernetic intersubjective assemblage of player and game at the threshold of the interface, which has become an important site of inquiry for game studies scholars.3 Game aesthetics are strongly situated aesthetics: spatial and temporal contexts not only shape the meanings that players take away from gameplay experience, but they also determine the form and types of experience that unfold in play. For example, in Hamlet on the Holodeck, …

The Kinesthetic Index: Video Games and the Body of Motion Capture

Written by Grant Bollmer In this essay, I present a history of the graphic adventure genre of video and computer games and its attempts at achieving a kind of cinematic realism through the registration of the body. In reviewing the history of this genre, I contextualize some early attempts to use motion capture and rotoscoping to incorporate human bodies into games, arguing that representation in games and other forms of digital media should be conceived not as deferring to the visual, but as reliant on the kinesthetic. While the visual presence of a human body may no longer be a coherent source of any link between a representation and physical reality, motion brings together digital images with the reality inscribed into media. This involves numerous questions about realism, indexicality, and affect, which I aim to intertwine and unfold below. In making this argument, I demonstrate three things. First, digital images are condensations of specific—if multiple—bodies that persist as representations that have some link with the physical world.1 Second, realism in games has long relied on …

Pokémon Korosu In-Game Screenshots

Playful (Counter)Publics: Game Mods as Rhetorical Forms of Active and Subversive Player Participation

By Nicole Kurashige Introduction Though most digital humanities scholars readily agree that game developers need to offer more progressive functions and options to enhance player agency, such recommendations for further research or action often ignore how players are already able to enact their agency in spaces beyond the game itself. Online gaming forums serve as hotbeds of active player participation and (counter)public discourse.1 Players seeking to expand their agency within games can do so via modifications (referred to hereafter as “mods”).2 Mods, which are collaboratively developed in such online forums by players for players, are digital compositions that can alter the code of a game in various ways, thereby opening up more possibility spaces for players without having to wait for developer intervention. Players, thus, challenge, resist, and subvert the procedural rhetoric encoded in a game by exhibiting their agency through the creation, distribution, and use of these mods. Mods and their related modding communities have been around for decades, but, surprisingly, little to no research has been done to examine their rhetorical significance. This …

The Monster Has Kind Eyes: Intimacy and Frustration in The Last Guardian

By Kaelan Doyle-Myerscough The Last Guardian is a 2016 single-player adventure game that follows the relationship between an unnamed young boy and a giant gryphon-like creature, referred to as Trico, as they navigate the ruins of an ancient, apparently technologically-advanced civilization.1 The player controls the boy, who is small and weak—he is incapable of fighting the ghostly suits of armor that he and Trico encounter throughout the game, and he often cannot physically traverse the massive, vertical ruins in which the game takes place without falling or stumbling. Meanwhile, Trico, who accompanies the boy, protects him from danger and is essentially impervious to harm; however, Trico is vulnerable to hunger, distraction, fear, and to the lingering effects of traumas it has apparently suffered at the hands of something in the ruins. The boy and Trico, neither fully able to traverse the space they find themselves in, must work together to locate food, overcome obstacles, and defeat enemies. Critical and audience responses to The Last Guardian were mixed: though the game was praised for its map …

“I’m controlling and composing”: The role of metacognition in The Incredible Machine

By Marc Ouellette1 Up, up and away: Introduction The mouse sets the bowling ball in motion, which falls and squeezes the bellows, which sends out a puff of air, which sends the balloon into the gears that are connect by a belt to another mouse’s exercise wheel. The balloon pops. Having learned how this routine functions, I then move my mouse to connect the rest of the on-screen mice so that the pulleys of all of the caged mice spin with their wheels to finish the puzzle in time allowing me to move to the next level. Eventually, I will be able to make my own versions of Rube Goldberg machines turned into puzzles based on what I have seen and learned in playing through the eighty challenges provided for Mort the mouse, Bob the fish, and me. Although it is more than twenty-five years old, by teaching about games, learning through games, and learning itself,  The Incredible Machine (Dynamix, 1992) continues to defy several key deterministic viewpoints about video games. Said another way, The …

All The Places You’ll Go (Women As Place)

By Angela Washko  All The Places You’ll Go (Women As Place) is an interactive hypertext point-and-click narrative adventure game. Since 2011, Angela Washko has collected over 200 postcards from around the world and from 23 states throughout the US, with one thing in common: they depict women as a stand-in for the geographic location they seek to represent. All The Places You’ll Go puts players into the position of experiencing different locations (from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Tijuana, Mexico to Helsinki, Finland) through their postcard representations of women, experiencing the perspective of the assumed male traveler and his Western gaze. Link: https://angela-washko.itch.io/women-as-place 

Being

By Iasmin Omar Ata “We are the wound in the Arab world … everyone watches what happens to us.” –Nader Said1 Being is an abstract adventure game that explores, from a future lens, the past and present of the Palestinian lived experience.2 In the story of Being, the Palestinian diaspora has extended to outer space as the Earth crumbles. You play as a Palestinian cadet, sent back down to Earth by the colony, on a mission to recover artifacts, memories, and messages from a region near an old border. Your ship crashes into a ruined complex of houses; you step out of your ship into an eerie, red-light room. There are three doors around you and a table in the middle of the room, on which appear to be a cassette player as well as a cassette tape—but parts of the ribbon seem to be cut out. Curious as to what it would say, you begin looking around to see if the tape pieces are nearby. The first zone of the game focuses on memories …

Untitled Dating Sim & Boy’s Curse/Boy’s Blessing

By Nilson Carroll Using game genre as metaphor, I put a digital avatar of myself in a series of vulnerable positions for Untitled Dating Sim. This work considers the abstractions of human bodies in games as more than just a means to score points through (a patriarchal notion). Players follow the logic of visual novels to create the possibility for love/connection rather than an exchange between player and game aestheticized by violence. Video games are made up of designed exchanges between player and game. It is up to the game creator to assign these exchanges moralities, in-game values, and meanings, to give them flavor, inject them with violence, cleverness, primordial energy. By their nature, visual novels are designed to be quieter and more contemplative compared to games in other genres, dealing more with relationships between characters than centering around violent action sequences. Stemming from visual novels is the niche Japanese genre of dating sims, which vary from the playfully absurd to the pornographacation of characters of all genders and ages1. Inspired by dating sims, I …