The point of this space is to make sense of identities, as they materialise at different nodes of processes that mark their existence. It’s therefore only appropriate to start by making pixels bleed out of their white cube. I met with curator and artist Izdihar Afyouni to ask her about playing God with people’s bodies, as she re-imagined what an art exhibition could be, turning visitors into subjects of a curated experience of corporeality, rather than its audience. In a conscious effort to minimise interpretation and preserve intended meaning in its context, the conversation about Thicker Than Blood II: Consequences, is here in the form of an annotated video.
A play on the bureaucracy of identities in the making, Thicker Than Blood is an ongoing series of participatory exhibitions curated by Afyouni, where guests are asked to donate a sample of blood to be tested onsite. Access to to the space and performances is then determined by the test results, building different experiences around an imposed hierarchy of privilege, constructed on the spot. In this arbitrarily constructed social hierarchy, the privileged Kindred does not have to deal with the burden of witnessing the experiences of others. Meanwhile, the lowest casts are subjected to intentionally invasive interrogations based on real-life questions that the UK border agency asks detainees. This brutal categorisation process, not unlike racialisation or any form of genetic profiling, re-imagines the everyday trauma of bio-politics, as much as it interrogates its validity. Different groups are aware of ‘other experiences’ happening within the same space, tensions can build up, but participants cannot really make sense of what they don’t experience. Tellingly, those ‘in the middle’, not made to feel special enough, seemed to be the most distraught according to Afyouni.
If identities, born out of friction with the consequences of the arbitrary, catalyse into affirmation of the self, then what is it about the frictionless experience of the ‘middle’ that comes out so painful in its emptiness? Like the unblessed infants of Dante’s Inferno, they’re stuck in the Limbo of unfulfilled desire. The condition of their existence is a system that inherently discards them as it shapes realities out of the friction around them. Like clean data in an algorithm, they only exist out of manipulation, as cogs in a seamless process. Does it mean that clean data is thoughtless, ignorant, or simply absent, as a result of lack of perspective?
Does it mean that thoughtfulness and knowledge are, by essence, something that happens outside clean categorisation? This echoes bell hook’s view of reality as an experience that unfolds in the margins. In the tech industry, ‘unintended consequences’ are what exists out of, and despite, the logic of the algorithm. Those glitches that are attributed to technology are seen as somewhat more forgivable than human error, because they’re labelled as unpredictable and unforeseen. However, and unsurprisingly, unintended consequences are the result of the obviously human, and of the obviously discriminatory. It’s always the intentionally designed, in a system that doesn’t acknowledge the hierarchies it creates.