Zach Blas and Queer Technologies

Zach Blas situates himself at the intersection of queer art and new media activism, mobilizing academic and popular discourse through prolific publications and projects such as Queer Technologies. Now a doctoral student specializing in Literature, Information Science & Information Studies, Visual Studies, and Women’s Studies at Duke University, Blas received his MFA in Design & Media Arts from UCLA in 2008. He is currently at work on an exhibition entitled Trans Technology: Circuits of Culture, Self, and Belonging to be featured in Rutgers University’s Momentum: Women/Art/Technology project in 2013. Most recently, Blas co-organized Duke’s Marxism and New Media Conference and served as moderator for the conference’s panel on Queerness a few weeks ago.

Central to Blas’s work is a reaction against the idea that new media, being “new,” is intrinsically liberating in nature. New media’s very existence does not inherently subvert established channels of power, he argues. While Associate Professor of Cultural and Religious Studies at the University of Maryland Katrien Jacobs has posited the seemingly reasonable view that new media’s networked communities allow for the production of commodities (specifically pornography) in a “‘somewhat less stiff and bureaucratic’ manner” than previous models of labor and production allowed, Blas rebuffs this position in a response post. He maintains that the subversive potential of new media does not emanate from the specific technologies as such, but rather depends on the political motivations for which the technologies are mobilized. For Blas, focusing on the relative “degree” of bureaucracy visible in newer versus older technologies is not productive. He writes that “subversive” networked communities may themselves be agents of a different brand of “stiffness,” and that hailing them as harbingers of liberation from a capitalist “matrix” obscures valuable inquiry into the nebulous operations of power within new media interactions. He emphasizes the ways in which bodily pleasure and sexual desire still bind consumers to the ultimately profit-driven production of netporn, and advocates instead the cultivation of a “radical networked sex praxis” that works to sever the link between sexual desire and the capitalist “matrix.” This conviction serves as the motivating telos behind Blas’s Queer Technologies.

In his 2006 essay “What Is Queer Technology?,” Blas declines to the impose any cohesive “ontological” guidelines on what specific uses of new media may be interpreted as queer (3). He argues that such definitional closure is “antithetical” to a diffuse and potent queerness (3). Instead, he highlights the importance of disparately-realized, but consciously directed artistic iterations of queer “process” (4). In Blas’s vision of “process,” the “product” is not distinct from the “process” as such; that is to say, queer “process” and artistic “product” are often indistinguishable and are equally imbricated in what Blas presents as a conscious subverting of established institutions such as capitalism and heteronormativity (4). Queer Technologies, an organization born out of Blas’s Master’s work, creates “critical applications, tools, and situations for queer technological agency, interventions, and social formation.” Queer Technologies products, which include a “technical manifesto that outlines the ‘how-to’ of queer networked activism” and a “queer programming anti-language,” have been exhibited in galleries around the world and are also periodically “shop-dropped” in consumer electronics stores such as Target and Best Buy. The organization, which strives to “automate perverse possibilities” works to destabilize normative societal patterns by disseminating “virally” through different strata of the population.

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