Films, Desire & Digital Spaces

Malaysia

It seems almost unreal to engage in conversations about
desire at a 15th Century fort in India, but that's exactly what Cheekay Cinco and
I did from 7 - 10 March. APC WNSP
organised a panel and workshop at Films of Desire, an event that brought together activists, human
rights advocates, film makers and academics to engage in dialogue around the socio-political
dimensions of representation. The focus of the event was around sexualities,
and how their mis/non/positive representations on screen is related to real
life negotiations on this difficult and shifting terrain.

It seems almost unreal to engage in conversations about
desire at a 15th Century fort in India, but that's exactly what Cheekay Cinco and
I did from 7 - 10 March. APC WNSP
organised a panel and workshop at Films of Desire, an event that brought together activists, human
rights advocates, film makers and academics to engage in dialogue around the socio-political
dimensions of representation. The focus of the event was around sexualities,
and how their mis/non/positive representations on screen is related to real
life negotiations on this difficult and shifting terrain.

Apart from having the chance to watch lots of cool (and some not so cool)
movies made in South and Southeast Asia, organising the panel also gave us a
chance to push our thinking around representations in digital spaces a little
farther. Called "Representing Women in Digital Spaces: A Question of
Violence?", the panel attempted to cover three perspectives: 1) pragmatic
and strategic use of emerging ICT tools under the web 2.0 paradigm; 2) lived
experience of using video technology as a tool of activism; and 3) conceptual
explorations on what it means to re-present sexualities in digital spaces.

The session was more of an interactive discussion than a
panel. Working together with Mien Lor from KOMAS
a partner of Take Back The
Tech
in Malaysia, she injected the perfect amount of humour, openness and
irreverence to get everyone comfortable with each other, while Angela Kuga Thas
moderated the session with her usual sharp observations and thoughtful
considerations.

Cheekay started by her presentation called, "Women Take
Back The Tech! Rupturing Online Spaces through Web 2.0", and talked about
some of the principles that underpin a range of applications under what is
known as web version 2.0: collaborative spaces, community building for content
creation, RSS, folksonomy and more. Lots of questions came in as she went
along, which led towards an interesting discussion on FOSS development and
practical application.

Mien, in her “Lens of Change” session, shared her work in
KOMAS with communities of young people in Kuala Lumpur by using video
technology as a tool to interrogate racial segregation and discrimination
issues. She also led a discussion about the lack of space for independent film
and documentary film makers in the country, and how as part of an ad-hoc
collective called Filmmakers
Anonymous
, started carving their own spaces by showing collections of video
shorts and documentaries in different spots around the city. In the process,
Mien spoke frankly about the politics of curated indie films, and what it means
to be a young woman film maker in this scene.

I'm completely summarising their sessions here, and completely not doing it justice, but think will leave Cheekay to blog about it herself.

For me, it was a real challenge trying to prepare for this
presentation. For one, we’re not talking about films or movies, but about
representations happening on the GenderIT.org. ">internet

and other squidgy digital spaces
(mobile phones?). After a long conversation with Cheekay that lasted till 4am,
I decided to pose questions instead of stuff that I think I have somehow
figured out.

Starting from thinking about what representation means in
this space, where the audience is not only a ‘spectator’, but an active
agitator/re-creator of content, representation effectively means re-presenting realities as it is lived
in different contexts. In this sense, the internet is a both ‘fantasy’ space
where the user is deliberately and consciously engaging their imagination to
insert layers of meaning into what texts/visuals/audio signify, as well as a
‘real’ space that is located in the user’s temporal and real existence as a
person. At the same time, digital spaces enable simultaneous and multiple
occupation of space (e.g. communicating with or receiving information from
different geographical locations), time (e.g. zones) and identities (e.g.
different nicks and handles to one person).

So then, what happens to the body? And what happens to the
body that desires? Part of the pleasure of technology is the potential to enable
users to transgress certain boundaries and limitations, such as gender, or the
body, and so on. Which makes me wonder, where does the machine end and the body
begin? Or even if such a distinction should or could be made. Then we explored
around the different ways that ‘sex’ happens in digital spaces, through text,
visuals and audio, and how this raises questions around what we ‘normally’
think about intimacy (does a conversation over IM constitute sexual intercourse?),
privacy (what does it mean when a web cam transmits my personal bedroom space to
the worldwideweb?), monogamy (does cybersex or pornography constitute cheating?),
reproductive sexuality (where sexual encounters necessarily does not result in
procreation in the normative sense) and so on.

But bringing the conversation back to incidences of violence
against women that happens in and through digital spaces, the body is present
and real. Then we examined the discourse around pornography and censorship, and
how they present female sexuality in uncannily similar ways; e.g. straight,
passive, objectified, absent. In other words, how does the re-presentation of ideas and assumptions around sexuality in and
around these ‘sexual encounters’ effect in real incidences of violence against
women’s bodies?

We ran out of time towards the end, but managed to quickly
interrogate the producers of these re-presentations,
which led to the unequal power relations that flow from physical spaces to the
digital; such as issues of access, engagement and participation. The session
ended by asking, “whose desires are re-presented through transgressive
capacity of internet technology? And whose desires are disrupted through
re-presentative capacity of internet technology?”

The good news is, the conversation continued from after the
session into lunch time, spare moments in between panels and films, and even
until the bus journey back. Some came back for our workshop session on blogging
for beginners, where we had a great discussion around the feminist and
political arguments for and against blogging, and some of the practical
concerns and strategies. What was evident for me, was that enthusiasm and
curiosity in ICTs was very present and sustained in many of the participants. I’m
glad we went. It’s given me a lot of new stuff to think about, and new exciting
places to go with these conversations and questions.

We also helped set up a blog on the event, for a space for these discussions to continue. Check it out if you're interested in more reflections around representations, culture and sexualities :)


Films of Desire
Films of Desire Blog

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