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ModestWitness:APainter'sCollaborationwithDonnaHaraway

ModestWitness
APainter'sCollaborationwithDonnaHaraway
ByLynnRandolph
WhenIreadDonnaHaraway'sManifestoforCyborgsin1989,Iwasintriguedandinspired.Herewasapiece
thatresonatedwithmypolitical,feministandmoralvalues.Harawaywasgettingupclose,magnifyingand
focusingonscience,technologyandsocialistfeminismwhilecontestingthe"oldworldorder."Herwork
broughttomindRobertHooksfirstlookthroughamicroscopeandWilliamBlakespaintingofaflea.Donna
HarawaywascreatingnewwaystoapproachNature/Culture.Sheinsistedthatwefindnewrelationshipsto
naturebesidespossessionandreflection,andthatweconversewithwilycoyotes.Wearenotinnocent
playersandwemustassumeresponsibilityforconstructingalternativecultureswithinourownspecific
environment.Itsacuriouslyhopefulview.Harawaydrewonmetaphorsandnarrativesanddeconstructed
mythstoenvisionthealternatives.Sherecommendedblasphemy,ironyandhumorasthemeanstowarda
comprehensivesubversionoftheculturalpracticessurroundingscience,technology,andsocialistfeminismas
shedismantledandreassembledtheircodes.Sheofferedpleasure,pleasureinbecomingcompetentinthe
useofnewtechnoscientifictoolsandtheopportunitiestheypresented.Someofhertools,particularlythe
factualdetailandheightenedmetaphoriclanguage,aswellastheuseofnarratives,wereacentralpartofmy
repertoire.
Thefiguresheproposedforthissalvationwasacyborg,ahybridofmachinesandorganisms.Thecyborg
couldcontainincompatibletruths.Thecyborgmightchangeourperceptionsofrealityandalteroldbeliefs.
Cyborgsarebothrealandfictional.Weareallcyborgsinthatwerelyonvariouschemicalsand
communicationtechnologiestoseeusthrougheachday.
Alongwiththecyborgfigure,HarawaypointedtocontemporarysciencefictionwriterssuchasOctaviaButler
andJohnVarley,whousetechnosurrealcosmicscapes,vehicles,andtimewarpstogainperspective.
OctaviaButlercontestswiththebordersandboundariesofrace,class,andgender.ButlerandVarleyhave
beenpartofthescarcecontingentofartistswhoofferanewordifferentvisioninaculturecaughtupin
simulationsandappropriationsandthelinearpatternsthatmodernismpromoted.Harawayrecognizedthat
theywerecreatingspeculativefuturesinformedbytransnationaltechnoscienceandthattheyhadopenedupa
spacewheretheycouldinterveneandtinkerwithcriticalsocial,political,andethicalconcepts.InButlers
XenogenesisTrilogy,her"aliens"viewtheearthfromdeepouterspace.TheOankaliandOoloi(theAliens)
knowweareinferiorbecauseweareeatenupwithabadcaseofthe"hierarchies."Theyaregenetraders
andthinkourcancercellscouldbeuseful,soduringaperiodofnuclearandecologicalannihilationonEarth,
theycaptureagroupofhumansand"pod"them.Therescuedandawakeningearthlingshavetoconfront
totallyothercreaturesandbegintorenegotiatelife.Intheirdesiretosurvive,thehumansovercomethe
difficultyinmatinginatripartiteschemewithphysicallyrepugnantaliens.Thesestrategiesfitwellwithmy
surrealisttendenciestojuxtaposeimagesofrealpeople,placesandthingsintopotentfusionsandnew
couplings,tosubverttheoldorder,transgressboundaries,makethemarginalcentral,dreamothersdreams
andrecodetherepresentationsofwomaninU.S.culturallife.
In1989IleftHouston(whereIstillreside)forayearinCambridge,Massachusetts.Ihadbeengivena
paintingfellowshipattheBuntingInstitute(nowtheRadcliffeCenterforAdvancedStudies)formyproject,a
seriesofpaintingsentitled"AReturntoAlienRoots:PaintingOutsideMainstreamWesternCulture."Just
beforeleavingHouston,IreadHarawaysmanifesto.WhenIarrivedattheinstitute,Iparticipatedinmany
discussionsofthepiecewiththeBuntingFellows.Severalfounditbafflingandthewritingdifficultotherslike
myselfwerecompletelyknockedout.Manyofthecolloquiagiventhatyearmentionedthisarticle.Haraway
gaveapresentationatHarvardthatfall.Withintheuniversitytherewasbothgreatexcitementaboutandgreat
resistancetoherapproach.
Haraway'sdescriptionofAsianwomenwithnimblefingers,workinginenterprisezonesforverylittle
remunerationstuckinmyhead.IhadrecentlymetayoungChinesewoman,GraceLi,whowasoneofmy
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latehusbandssociologystudentsattheUniversityofHouston.Wewereparticularlyconcernedforherthat
springbecauseherparentslivedonlyafewmilesfromTiananmenSquare.IaskedGraceifshewouldpose
formeandsheagreed.PersonalcomputerswerestillrelativelyyounginthetechnologicalrevolutionandI
couldclearlyseetheirpotentialforempowerment.
SoIplacedmyhumancomputer/artist/writer/shamans/scientistinthecenter
andonthehorizonlineofanewcanvas.IputtheDIPswitchesofthecomputer
boardonherchestasifitwereapartofherdress.Agiantkeyboardsitsinfront
ofherandherhandsarepoisedtoplaywiththecosmos,words,games,
images,andunlimitedinteractionsandactivities.Shecandoanything.The
computerscreeninthenightskyoffersexamples.Therearethreeimagesthat
graphicallydisplaydifferentaspectsofthesamegalaxy,usingnewhigh
technologicalimagingdevices.Anotherpanelexhibitsadiagramofagravity
well.Thecentralpaneloffersmathematicalformulas,onefromEinsteinandthe
otheracalculationfoundinchaostheory.Inthesamepanelagameoftictac
toehasbeenplayedusingthesymbolsformaleandfemaleandthewoman
haswon.Theforegroundisahistoricaldesertplainrepletewithpyramids,
implyingthatthecyborgcanroamacrosshistoriesandcivilizationsand
incorporatethemintoherlifeandwork.FinallyIplacedtheshamanic
headdressofawhitetigressspiritonherheadandarms.Thepawsandlimbs
ofthetigressrevealitsskeleton.Theybothlookdirectlyattheviewer.Theunderlyingintentwastocreatea
figurethatcouldvisuallydowhatHarawaywasdescribingasthepotentialforrefiguringourconsciousness.
ShortlyaftercompletingmycyborgpaintingIsentaslidetoDonnaHaraway.Shehadrecentlybegun
teachingattheUniversityofCaliforniaatSantaCruz,HistoryofConsciousnessprogram.Shecalledmeat
theBuntingInstitutetoaskifshecouldusetheCyborgpaintingforthecoverofhernewbookSimians
,CyborgsandWomen:TheReinventionofNature.Sheexplainedthatithadalreadygonetopressandthat
therewouldbenoaccompanyingtext.Iwasdelighted.WetalkedaboutthepaintingandIfeltthatshe
completelyunderstoodmyeffort.SheaskedtoseeotherworkthatIddoneandIbeganregularlysendingher
slidesofcompletedwork.Ayearorsolatershewroteaskingifshecoulduseablackandwhiteprintofthe
Cyborgpaintingasthefinalimageinheressay,"ThePromisesofMonsters."1Heressayincludeda
descriptionofthepainting.SheputintowordseverythingIwastryingtoarticulateinthepainting.Shemade
meawareofthewayIhadusedskeletonsasanorganizingtool."Thepaintingmapsthearticulationsamong
manycosmos,animal,human,machine,andlandscapeintheirrecursivesidereal,bony,electronic,and
geologicalskeletons,"shewrote,"Themathematicsandthegamesarelikelogicalskeletons."Haraway's
descriptionhelpedmetalkaboutthepaintingwhenIpresentedittoothers.Ourdancehadbegun.
"ThePromisesofMonsters"expandedmythinking.Atthatmomenttheculturallandscapeseemedflat.With
fewexceptions,culturalworkerswerecreatingamosaicofsimulationsofthepast.Iwasattractedto
Haraway'sattempttofindadifferentspace,aplacefromelsewhere,wherethesacredimagesofcommodity
productionandthedeadlyimagesofthesamewerenolongerpresent.Thisisnotafantasyplace,butone
thatispresentandavailableandwherewemightfindnewmeaningsanddifferentvalues.
Iamanimagist.Ibelievethattheclosestweevergettoaprovisional"truth"isthroughmetaphorsandIthink
ofmypaintingsasmetaphoricrealism.MorethanfortyyearsagoIsetacourseinoppositiontomainstream
Westernpainting,resistingmodernismsnearlyexclusiveconcernforthesequencingofdifferencesinlinear
illusionsofprogress(theavantgarde)andformalism(artaboutart).Irebelledwhenabstractiontriumphed
overthefigureandwhen,inpursuitofthesublime,emptyuniversalism(transcendentalism)waselevatedover
earthlyevidencesofthehumanspirit.Theartworldtodayismuchmorepluralistic,butitseemstometobe
commoditydrivenandcommittedtoaesthetisizingthebanal.Iremaincommittedtopaintingparticularpeople,
placesandthings.Ingoingfromthespecificphysicalobjecttothemetaphysical,viathemetaphorical
arrangementsandjuxtapositionsofobjects,thecontentorsubjectwillbinditselftothestructureandformsin
whichitoccurs.
Metaphoricrealismisaliterarytermanddescribesakindoftext.Iusethewordrealtomeanresemblingthe
real,feelingreal,notnaturalistic.Imagescanoftendomorethanwords,andmoreefficiently.Imagescan
constitutemetaphorsthatcanberead/interpreted.Thereareantecedentsforthiskindofreadinginpre
modernartinNativeAmericansandpaintings,Hindureligiousminiatures,andnineteenthcenturyMexican
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retablos,tonameafew.Thislanguageofimagesrequiresadifferentkindofparticipationfromtheviewerthan
muchofmodernart.Itaskstobeinterpretedorapprehended,notjustappreciated.Visualmetaphorsare
hybrids,theycalluponthebeholdertocombineandsynthesizeexperiencethatanalysishasfragmentedor
dissected.Metaphorscanbeapowerfulmeansofcommunicatingtherationallyungraspable.Theyarebotha
modeofpersuasionandacatalystforchange.However,weshouldnevershrinkfromasking:Whose
metaphors?
Theconnectionbetweenvisiblesurfaceandinvisibledepthiscrucial,particularlyformeasapainter.The
inarticulaterelationshipsofinteriortoexterior,ideatoform,privatepathostopublicpatterns,fromlocalevents
toglobalramifications,andthesacredmetaphorsthatdrawonoutwardandvisiblesignsofinwardand
spiritualgrace,allremindusthatvisualandverbalskillsandcriticalthinkingarenecessarytoartistandviewer
alike.
Iliketheideaofengagementandbeingininformedtouchwithmultiplefieldsofknowledge.Underneatha
workofartaretracesofwhatshapedit:theartistsvalues,knowledge,psychologicalmakeupandspiritual
force.Art,alliedwithitsvarioussources,canserveasavibrantshaperofthought.
TheconnectionIfeltwithHarawaysworkwasnotjustlimitedtoherexcitingmetaphorsandnarrativesand
herideas.Itwasstronglylinkedtoherprocessofthinkingandwriting.Heruseofhypertextasametaphorfor
readingandwritingpracticesrelatestomyownwayofmakingtheconnectionsthatformmypaintings2.
"Hypertext,"shewrites,"bothrepresentsandforgeswebsofrelationships.Hypertextactivelyproduces
consciousnessoftheobjectsitconstitutes.""Hypertextisacomputermediatedindexingapparatusthat
allowsonetocraftandfollowmanybushesofconnectionsamongthevariablesinternaltoacategory,
Helpingusersholdthingsinmaterialsymbolicpsychicconnection,hypertextisaninstrumentfor
reconstructingcommonsenseaboutrelatednessPerhapsmostimportant,hypertextdelineatespossible
pathsofactioninaworldforwhichitservessimultaneouslyasatoolandmetaphor.Makingconnectionsisthe
essenceofhypertext.Hypertextcaninflectourwaysofwritingfiction,conductingscholarship,andbuilding
consequentialnetworksintheworldofhumansandnonhumans."(2)
TheconversationwithDonnaHarawaycontinued.In1990shewroteofourcreativerelationship,"Somehow
weendedupwithcrosslinkedreligious,political,andpsychologicalimagery!"Iwholeheartedlyagreed.In
1991shewrote"Wheredidyougetsuchabiologicimagination?"
Duringtheearly1990sIwasworkingonaseriesofpaintingsIcalledtheIlusas(thedeludedwomen).They
arerepresentationsofwomenwhoareoutofbounds.Iwasinterestedinthequestionsaboutfemalesexuality
andpornographythatwerebeingcontestedandIwantedtoaddspiritualitytotheequation.Iwasgrounded
bytheworkofmylatehusbandWilliamSimon(seePostmodernSexualities1996)3aswellasJessica
Benjamin'stextTheBondsofLove,41988andMargaretMilesbookCarnalKnowing51989.LuceIrigarays
piece"LaMysterique"inSpeculumoftheOtherWoman61985wasparticularlyexcitingtome.Thefirst
personaccountsofthemysticsaintsmayhavebeentheearliestrecordedbywomenoftheirspiritual/sexual
experiences.
Oneofthepaintingstoemergeoutofallthisreading,thinking,andvisioningisentitledVenus.Itisanimageof
acontemporarywoman(andfriend)whoispregnant.Sheisnotagoddessintheclassicalsenseofa
containedfigure.Sheisanunrulywoman,activelymakingaspectacleofherself,queeringBotticelli,leaking,
projecting,shooting,milk,transgressingtheboundariesofherbody.Botticellisshellhasbeenturnedupside
down,anditisraining.HundredsofyearshavepassedsinceBotticellipaintedhisVenusandwearestill
engagedinastruggleforinterpretivepoweroverourbodiesinasocietywheretheyaremarkedasa
battlegroundbythechurchandstateinlegalandmedicalskirmishes.7IsentHarawayaslideofVenusand
sheincludeditinModestWitness.IntheessayshewroteforanexhibitionofmyworkatArizonaState
UniversityArtMuseum,8shestated:InModestWitness,IusedoneofRandolphsdescriptivewomento
frameadoubleargumentaboutthefemalebodyintechnoscientificvisualcultureandthetermsof
reproductivefreedomforwomanlinkedinunequaltransnationalcircuitsofmilkanddiarrheainthestruggles
overinfantdeathandbreastfeeding.
AftercompletingabouttenofthesesmallIlusaspaintingsthatdealtmostlywithspiritual/eroticconstructions,I
startedtoenlargetheircontexttoincludemoresocialandpoliticalconcerns.Technosciencebecamea
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dominanttheme.IfeltasthoughIwerelivingwithDonna
Harawaysworkandinterests,andtheyhadbecameapart
ofme.In1992IpaintedoneIcallLaMestizaCosmica,a
versionoftheVirginofGuadalupewhoisnotrepresentedas
amother.RathersheisrelatedtotheVirginofthe
Apocalypse,whocrushestheserpentandpossessesthe
heavens,theplacefromwhichsheprotectsherchosen
people.SheisstillreveredinMexicoasasymbolofrebellion
againsttheupperclasses.Sheunitesracesandmediates
betweenhumansandthedivine,thenationalandthe
technological.Inmypainting,aMestizastandswithonefoot
inTexasandonefootinMexico.Althoughshedoesnt
describeanyparticulartext,shewasbornfromthebellyof
DonnaHarawayspregnantmonsters.ThefigureinLa
MestizaCosmicaistamingadiamondbackrattlesnakewith
onehandandmanipulatingtheHubbletelescopewiththeother.Therearetwo
additionalhandscomingoutofthecosmosandthefourtogetherechoagiantsculptedimageoftheAztec
goddessCoatilique.Sheseemstomemorerelevanttodayaswedealmoreintentlywithborders,fences,free
trade,thedeathsofmany(somesayover300)youngwomenworkinginthemaquiladorasandstoresand
restaurantsthatproliferatedinJuarezaftertheNAFTAagreement.MyMestizaknowshowtostraddlethe
border,tametherattlesnakes,andenjoysmanipulatingtechnoscientificapparatuses.
In1994HarawaysentmeadraftofMiceintoWormholes:ATechnoscience
FugueinTwoParts.9Itwasanimplosionofscienceandtechnologyloadedwith
images.Ilovedthevisualpossibilitiesofwhatshereferredtoasstartlinghybrids
ofthehumanandunhumanintechnoscience.Shapingtechnoscienceisahigh
stakesgame,shewrote,aformoflife.Iwascaptivatedbyherdescriptionofthe
herbicideresistantcropsandgeneticallyengineeredplants.Itwashardtoresist
combiningatomatoandaflounderinapainting.Buttheimagethatlingeredwas
ofpoorlittleOncoMouse,thefirstpatentedlifeform.Aftermanymonthsofrunning
variousimagesacrossthescreeninmyhead,Isawhersittinginfrontofme.She
hadhumanarmsandlegsandlittlebreasts.Herhandwastuckedupunderher
mousechinandshelookedratherannoyedandresignedtoherfate.Igavehera
crownofthornstoacknowledge,asHarawayhad,herpassion,andplacedherin
alaboratorybox,onewheretheeyesoftheworldwerewatchingtoseeifshe
wouldsaveus,ifshewouldbearichcommodity.IsentHarawayaslideandshe
wroteback:IaminlovewithTheLaboratoryorThePassionofOncoMouse!It
isplayfulandmovingallatonce,sheisaperfecthuman/animalhybridoftechnoscience,intheopticchamber
ofthelabandasuperbFemaleMan!Iwasthrilledbyherresponseandgaveherthepainting.Afterreceiving
it,shewrotetome,YourOncoMouseandtheotherpotentimagesletsmetellpeoplewhatfigurationmeans
inacriticaltheoryoftechnoscience.Yourpaintinghasbecomepartofmysoulandpartofmyanalysis,whenI
showyourslidesinmytalks,peoplelovethemforthemselvesandalsounderstandwhatIamtryingtodo
better.LastweekinEurope,IusedtheLaboratoryinlecturesIgavefrommypaperMiceintoWormholes.
ThereisnoquestionthataudiencesfeltandthoughtdifferentlybecauseofthesplicingofourworkWehave
builtadialogueinourworkthatneitherofusimaginedinadvance.Ourdialogicvisualandverbaltropinghas
becomedeeplysynergistic.
Atthispointwerecognizedthatsomethingextraordinarywasgoing
on.Inthatsamelettersheincludedanoutlineofhernewbookand
requestedthattenimagesbewovenintothetext.BesidesVenus
TheLaboratoryandLaMetizaCosmica,Harawayultimately
selectedsixmore.
ImmeasurableResults(1994)isanimageofawomanenteringamagneticresonanceimaging(MRI)
machine,oneofthenewmedicalimagingdevicesthatpromisedsomuch.Sheisaresponsetoournon
innocentresistancetothedominationoftechnoscienceinlifeanddeathdecisions.Thediagnosticfilmabove
thefigurerevealsmorethanamedicalcondition.Atinyreddemonispoundingonherskull,repeatingtheloud
noisethemachineexpels,aclockwithouthandsbutexternalcrabclawshangsinanticipation,acalavera
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(skeleton)figurewithaspearalsoawaitsthecrucialdecision.An
openmouthedmermaidandafloatingpenisandtesticlesallattestto
theimmeasurablefearsanddesiresinthiswomanshead.
MillennialChildren
(1992)waspaintedin
preparationforthe
RepublicanNational
Conventionin
Houston.Twoyoung
sisters(my
granddaughters)
kneelonthebanksof
BuffaloBayouat
night,surroundedby
flames,likelittle
Renaissancefiguresprayinginpurgatory.Behindthem
downtownHoustonisburningandvulturesperchinatree
awaitingtheircarrion.InthedistancethetowersoftheSouth
Texasnuclearpowerplantaresmokingaway,anoilfieldisblazing,andastealthbomberisdivingtothe
ground.Thebayouontherightispollutedandthefishhavebelliedup.Ontheleft,fourlargeAfricanwilddogs
arestalkingthegirls.Inthemiddleground,adancingdemonwithanimageofGeorgeH.W.Bushinhisbelly
rejoicesinthehavoc.Itisadystopianvision.Eachchildhasasmallguardianangel.Thegirlsseethereality,
butthatmaynotbeenoughtosavethemfromtheapocalypsethatengulfstheworldinthenewmillennium.
Selfconsortium(1993)portraysayoungwoman(myniece)andherclonedandroidor
transindividual.Theymoveinsideandoutsideinnerandouterspacewithalarge
serpentinestrandofDNA.ThisyoungwomanisliketheSpiderWoman,whospinsher
weboutofherownbody.Thecloneflauntsherelectronicbioconstructedness.She
grewoutofHarawaysworkandmanyscifinovels.Shecrossesborderswhiledoubling
herpowerwithnewbodycodes.Shewillbeabletonegotiateanewworldorder.
Transfusions(1995).Harawaysent
meacopyofUniversalDonorsina
VampireCulture:ItsAllInThe
Family,BiologicalKinshipCategories
intheTwentiethCenturyUnited
States10in1995.Iwasimmediately
takenwiththepossibilityofpaintingavampire,andnotjust
anyvampire.IthadtobeMaxSchreck,theactorwho
playedCountOrlafintheoriginalNosferatu,F.W.Murnaus
1928silentfilm.Irentedacopyandstarteddrawing.The
vampiresitsinateleoperatingcubicleusinghisclawlike
handstomanipulatethejoysticksthatcontroltheactivityof
somedancingvampirebatsastheypenetratetheneckofa
consensualwomanlaidoutinblackspace.Amedicalstand
withabloodbagandtubingisattachedtoher.Thebloodis
movingfromhumantoanimaltomachinetounhuman.Itisastrangematingritualinthenight,anonphallic
fusion.Itexemplifiesthetraffickingofvitalsubstancesacrossgender,race,species,andmachines.Bloodlines
arenolongerpure.Racistsbeware!
Diffraction(1992).Thispaintingalludesnottoaspecifictext,butratherHarawaysmetaphoricuseofa
visualphenomenonthatinterfereswithlight.Diffractiondoesnotreflectordisplacelight,butchangesits
direction.Sheusesdiffractionasametaphorforaplacewherechangeoccursandnewmeaningstakeplace.
Inmypaintinganimageofapowerfulmanstandsbehindthecentralfigureofayoungwoman.Heisa
screenedmemory,onethatmarksasiteofdiffraction.Theshiftsthatoccurwithageandpsychic
transformations,themultipleselvesincorporatedinonebodyarepresentedinthefigurewithitstwoheads,
multiplefingersandthemetaphysicalspaceinbetween.Diffractionoccursataplaceattheedgeofthefuture,
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beforetheabyssoftheunknown,thespaceoccupiedbytheyoungwomaninmy
painting.Imtryingtocreatebodiesthatmatter.Byimaginingawomansrealtyina
scifiworld,aplacecomposedofinterferencepatterns,wemightbecome
somethingdifferent,somethinginappropriate,deluded,unfitting,andmagical,
somethingthatmightmakeadifference.Ibelieveweneedtobeactiveaboutthis,
notremoved,transcendentalandclean,butfinite,real(notnatural)andsoiledby
themessinessoflife.
TheAnnunciationoftheSecondComing(1996).
ThiswasthelastpaintingIdidforourcollaboration.
Exceptforhertransparentwings,theangelonthe
leftwasroughlymodeledafteroneofBotticellis
paintingsoftheAnnunciation.Hisangelcalmly
announcesthecomingofChristandisverydifferent
fromherpostmodernsister,whoisissuinga
warning:lifeasweveknownitischanging.The
ethersofthepasthaveescapedlikethelargestrandofDNAthatformsa
galaxyontheright.Theangelgesturestowardtheelectronicallyconstructed
Galatea,agoddesswhohasleftherpedestalandcontrollingcreator.Theyare
movingintothefuturethroughasortof15thcenturycolonnadewitha
computercircuitboardforflooring.ThewiredgoddessisshapedlikeaGreek
statue,butthesurfaceofherbodyisentirelydigitalized.Weseeacollisionof
socialfabricsfromdifferenterasandcultures.Thereisadangerhereof
becomingabsorbedinthedreamsandfantasiesofatechnologicaltranscendenceofthebodyandto
demandsforextendersoflifebeyondthepossibleandtobecomingatechnophilliac.Nevertheless,thereare
newtechnologicaldevicesthathaveenhancedlives,createdfreedomsandasenseofwellbeingformany.
Andthereispleasureinbecomingcompetenttomanipulatethem.Still,asHarawaywritesinModestWitness,
theclassicalandstatuesqueelectronicgoddesscarriesinhertroublingbodybothathreatandapromiseshe
isamatrix,onewhoispregnantwiththecontradictions,emergences,delusionsandhopesofcolliding
sociotechnicalworlds.11
ThecollaborationbetweenDonnaHarawayandmeculminatedinthebook,
Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse.Itisadialoguebetweenimages
andwordsthatembodiesideasthatwebothwerepassionateaboutandreflectsourdialoguewitheachother.
BeforethepublicationofModestWitnessinOctober1996,HarawaysentmealetterinwhichshesaidAs
youknow,Ifeellikeyourpaintingsandmywordsarepartsofabraidedargumentaswellasasharedcritical,
hopeful,narrativeanddreamscapeaboutknowledge,politicsandbodiesofmanykinds.
Thereisanepiloguetoourcollaboration.In1997Harawaywroteacatalogueessayforaoneperson
exhibitionIwashavingatArizonaStateUniversityMuseum.Shehasahighlydevelopedvisualsense.Her
abilitytoreadvisuallanguagefromcartoons,advertisements,charts,graphs,moviesandpaintingsisacute.
Harawaydoesntjustwriteusingreferencestoreferencesortextupontext,sheincorporatesimagesand
narrativesfromabroaderworldintoherimaginativeCyborgSurrealism.12Hertalentforseeingandthen
translatingthevisualtotheverbalwouldstandupwiththebestartcriticsandwritersanywhere.Sheseesthe
variationandrepetitionsofformsandcolorsandhowtheyshapeanidea.
Inthecatalogueessay,LivingImages,ConversationswithLynnRandolph,shebeginsaconversationwith
thepaintings,butalongthenarrativepath,thepaintingsbegantalkingtoeachotherandtheviewers.Reading
itastonishedme.
InaninterviewwithThyrzaNicholsGoodeve,Harawaytalkedaboutourcollaboration.Herearesomeofher
responses.IfeelaboutOctaviaButlermuchthesamewaythatIfeelaboutLynnRandolph.OctaviaButler
doesinprosesciencefictionwhatLynndoesinpaintingandIdoinacademicprose.Allthreeofusliveina
similarkindofmenagerieandareinterestedinprocessesofxenogenegis,i.e.,offusionsandunnatural
origins.Andallthreeofusaredependentonnarrative.Lynnisahighlynarrativepainter,OctaviaButlerisa
narrator,and,asyoumentioned,theuseofcertainkindsofmythicandfictionalnarrativeisoneofmy
strategies.Andatanotherpointintheinterview,HarawaydefendswhatGoodevereferstoasmyuseof
garishhyperealismtoliteralizetheimageryandarguments.Harawayreplies,Ijustdontagreewithyour
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interpretationofRandolphsrealism.Ithinksheiscommittedtocertainrealistconventionsandnarrative
pictorialcontentinordertoforegroundthejoiningofformandcontent.Shetakesuparesistancetothe
imperativesofabstractformalismastheonlywaytopaint.TowhichGoodevereplies,whichiswhatshe
meansbymetaphoricrealism?Harawaysays,Yesandforher,andme,thismetaphoricrealismorcyborg
surrealismisthegrammarwemaybeinsideofbutwherewemay,andcan,bothembodyandexceedits
representationsandblastitssyntax.13
AfterModestWitnesswaspublishedandmyArizonaexhibitionwasover,werelaxedintooccasionalemail
updates.Althoughwehaventcontinuedourintensecollaboration,herworkremainsanintegralpartofthe
wayIseeandthinkabouttheworld.
Ourshasbeenadialoguebetweenwordsandimagesthatembodiedideasthatwebothwerepassionate
about.Theseideasborewitnesstothedangersandpleasuresoflifeontheearthattheendofthesecond
millennium.Ourwordsandimageswerenotcaptionsorillustrationsofeachothersideas.Theywereinspired
byoneanotherseffortsandbytheurgentsocial,cultural,andpoliticalpracticeswewantedtointerrupt.
Ourswasafeministprocess.ItwasnotaSocraticdialogueinanyargumentativeway,norwerewe
completingeachotherssentences.Ratherweweretwopartnerscreatingsomethingnew:adialoguethat
recognizesparallelsanddifferences.Itwasarelationshipbetweenwordandimage,onewhereworddoesnt
dominate,wherethetwoconvergeandbothareideasinthereownrealm.Itwasanembrace.
MycollaborationwithDonnaHarawaybeganasadance,notthecloseembraceofthetango,butonewhere
twodifferentfiguresenteredthestagefromoppositelocations.Haraway,whomovesthroughwords,setthe
theme,andaslowpasdedeuxbegan.Wewereimprovising,eachexpressingherselfinherownway,but
alsoinconversationwiththeothersperformance.Neitherdancerlednorfollowed.Therewasnoset
choreography.Theimagemakeroccasionallytookflight,changingthelightingandmovement,whereupon
thepoeticpartnerembracedthecolorsandinitiatedherownriff.Weseemedtoamazeanddelighteachother
aswemovedharmoniously.Whentheideasandspiritofonereachedafinelyhonedimageortext,theother
drewinspirationandwasspurredtogreaterheights.Thuswecontinuedtogetherandseparately,searching
andimprovisinguntilwefoundourgroove,andtogetherbecamemodestwitnessestomanyworlds.

Notes
1. DonnaJ.Haraway,ThePromisesofMonsters,inCulturalStudiesbyLawrenceGrossberg,Cary
NelsonandPaulaTreichler,Routledge,1992,page328.
2. DonnaJ.Haraway,Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse,
Routledge,NewYorkandLondon,1997,pp125126.
3. WilliamSimon,PostmodernSexualities,Routledge,LondonandNewYork,1996.
4. JessicaBenjamin,TheBondsofLove,Psychoanalysis,Feminism,andtheProblemofDomination,
PantheonBooks,NewYork,1988.
5. MargaretR.Miles,CarnalKnowingFemaleNakednessandReligiousMeaningintheChristianWest,
BeaconPress,Boston,1989.
6. LuceIrigaray,SpeculumoftheOtherWoman,translatedbyGillianC.Gill,CornellUniversityPress,
1985.
7. Iveusedportionsofdescriptionsofseveralpaintingsfromanunpublishedpaper,TheIlusas(deluded
women),RepresentationsofWomenWhoAreOutofBounds,presentedNovember30,1993forThe
SocietyofInstituteFellowsoftheBuntingInstitute.DonnaHarawayquotedfromthesamepaperin
ModestWitness.ThepaintingssodescribedareVenus,SelfConsortium,andDiffraction.
8. DonnaJ.Haraway,LivingImages:ConversationswithLynnRandolph,essayinMillennialMyths
PaintingsbyLynnRandolph,1998,ArizonaStateUniversity.
9. DonnaJ.Haraway,MiceintoWormholes:ATechnoScienceFugueinTwoParts,ModestWitness,
page47.
10. DonnaJ.Haraway,UniversalDonorsinaVampireCulture,ModestWitness,page213
11. ModestWitness,coverdescriptionforpaperbackedition,1997.
12. DonnaJ.Haraway,HowLikeALeaf,AnInterviewwithThyzaNicholsGoodeve,Routledge,NewYork,
London,2000,page120.
13. HowLikeALeaf,pp120122.
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