AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Hypermaterial Language Art: Digitality, Materiality, and Contemporary Anti-Racist Poetics

by Sarah Whitcomb Lozier

Institution: University of California – Riverside
Year: 2016
Keywords: Literature; Art criticism; Modern literature; Critical Race Studies; Digital Humanities; Digital Media; Material Studies; New Media; Poetics
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2072408
Full text PDF: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/8931973d


“Hypermaterial Language Art” is a digital humanities project that engages artworks experimenting with the materiality of language, to investigate how this experimentation performs an anti-racist poetics. Applying theories that describe digital materiality and informatics to artworks that, through formal experiments with language, critique contemporary systems of identity-based oppression, I re-frame them as, and thereby formally and politically develop, what I call “hypermaterial language art.” The specific artworks through which this project develops include video installations by Natalie Bookchin and Jenny Holzer, interactive digital narratives by Erik Loyer, photo-texts by Lorna Simpson, textual paintings by Glenn Ligon, and language-oriented poetry by Susan Howe and Harryette Mullen. Read through the interpretive framework signaled by their categorization as hypermaterial language art, these artworks perform an anti-racist poetics that disrupts and refuses the public rhetoric enforcing so-called “colorblindness.” As scholars exploring the politics of post-Civil Rights’ racial discourse, like Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Jennifer González, explain, colorblind ideologies emerge from rhetorical systems that process structural racism through logics of disappearance and denial. In this rhetorical move, colorblind ideologies render that racism immaterial and invisible; as a result, racism in this environment is materially visible only as moments of individualized bigotry. Bringing the work of these and other critical theorists like Fred Moten and Stuart Hall, in line with the work of digital scholars, like N. Katherine Hayles and Alexander Galloway, I re-imagine this rhetorical semiotic system as an informatic system of ideological “code processing.” The term “code processing” describes the process by which signals of external input flicker through layers of hardware circuitry and software coding to produce a corresponding output on a digital computer screen. As in the digital informatics system, in the colorblind ideological system, the semiotic information of structural racism is rendered invisible, inaccessible, and illegible to the “colorblind” public. Thus, throughout this project I use the insight provided by digital discourses as an interpretive method that merges structures of semiotic meaning with structures of informatic meaning, a process that provides access to the politics of the above-named artists’ formal practices, insofar as they track racism’s flicker between visibility and invisibility.