In Greek mythology, Proteus is an old prophet who can alter his form, posing as a serpent, a tree, and water, among other incarnations. His shape-shifting fluidity presaged contemporary notions of identity, which transcend boundaries previously considered immutable—nationality, gender, sexuality, race. Today, an open flow of information, culture, and people is contributing to the erosion of sociocultural norms, paving the way for an increasingly fluid conception of personal identity.
For some, this increasing tolerance of identity fluidity—facilitated by societal, political, legal, and medical developments—offers emancipation from narrow definitions that sought to curtail expression, experimentation, and, ultimately, self-realization. For others, such fluidity is an assault on traditional values, fostering social movements dedicated to reestablishing “the traditional family,” “true femininity,” “real masculinity,” and, even more menacingly, “racial purity.”
In this salon dedicated to fluidity, we tackled some of these questions: What are the key mechanisms behind the propagation of fluidity? Do fluid identities foster progressive societies? By extension, do monolithic definitions of identity traits necessarily breed fundamentalism? If fluidity is irreducible from choice, is the protean self a manifestation of market capitalism? If encyclopedic museums have historically exhibited material culture derived from a plethora of discrete cultural identities, how can contemporary (art) museums respond to this age of fluidity? How have artists compellingly explored notions of fluidity in their work, and how has their work helped individuals and communities navigate the spectrum of identity expression? How can we move beyond tolerance and assimilation toward total social equity?
The salon took place on 16 September 2015
One of Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 rising stars in media for 2013, Latoya Peterson is best known for the award-winning blog Racialicious.com. She is currently an editor-at-large at Fusion working on a documentary about women and video games. Previously, she was the senior digital producer for The Stream, a social media–driven news show on Al Jazeera America; and a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. Her work has been published in ESPN magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Essence, Spin, Vibe, Marie Claire, The Guardian, and Jezebel.com. Her essay “The Not Rape Epidemic” was published in the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape.
Tricia Wang is a global tech ethnographer and cofounder of Constellate Data, a data consultancy helping organizations get the most out of their data by integrating data science and social science. With more than 15 years of experience working with designers, engineers, and scientists, she has a particular interest in designing human-centered systems. She advises corporations and startups on using “thick data"—data brought to light using digital-age ethnographic research methods that uncover stories and meaning—to improve strategy, policy, products, and services. Organizations with which she has worked include P&G, IDEO, Nokia, GE, Kickstarter, the UN, and NASA. She has a BA in communications and a PhD in sociology from the University of California, San Diego. She holds affiliate positions at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and at New York University’s Interactive Communications Program (ITP). She is also a Fullbright Fellow and a National Science Foundation Fellow.
Carlos Motta is a multidisciplinary artist based in New York. He won the Future Generation Art Prize, Kiev, in 2014. His work has been presented internationally at Tate Modern, London; Jeu de Paume, Paris; New Museum, Guggenheim Museum, and MoMA PS1, in New York; Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA); X Gwangju Biennale; X Lyon Biennale; and International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). Röda Sten Konsthall in Gothenburg presented a career survey exhibition of Motta’s work in 2015. He will also have solo exhibitions at Pinchuk ArtCentre, Kiev (2015); Mercer Union, Toronto; PPOW Gallery, New York; Hordaland Kunstsenter, Bergen; Perez Art Museum (PAMM), Miami; and MALBA-Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (all 2016).
Thomas J. Lax was appointed associate curator in The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Media and Performance Art in 2014. For the seven years prior he worked at The Studio Museum in Harlem, where he organized over a dozen exhibitions and numerous screenings, performances, and public programs. Lax is a faculty member at the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts. He serves on the Advisory Committee at Vera List Center for Arts and Politics; on the Arts Advisory Committee of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; as a member of the Catalyst Circle at The Laundromat Project; and on the Advisory Board of Recess. Lax received his BA in Africana studies and art/semiotics from Brown University and an MA in modern art from Columbia University. In 2015, he was awarded the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement.
Dr. Micha Cárdenas is an artist/theorist who creates and studies trans of color movement in digital media, where movement includes migration, performance and mobility. Cárdenas is an assistant professor of interactive media design at the University of Washington Bothell. She completed her PhD in media arts and practice at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. She is a member of the artist collective Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0, and her solo and collaborative work has been seen in museums, galleries, biennials, keynotes, and community and public spaces around the world. She tweets @michacardenas.
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