Transmedial Autotheories / Communicating Vessels / Maider Fortune & Annie Macdonell

Thirza Cuthland, from Less Lethal Fetishes, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

Fusing self-representation with philosophy and critical theory, autotheory moves between “theory” and “practice.” It is critical and it is creative; it is experiential and experimental; it is scholarly and it is popular. It brings theory to life and life to theory. It plays with personal polemic, positing a speaking self in the act of writing “I,” and then, self-reflectively and self-reflexively, it deconstructs itself. Autotheory’s genealogies spring from the institutions it seeks to critique. It privileges thinking with over thinking against; its politics of citation unveil its relations. From social media technologies to the publishing industry, from live performance to visual art, autotheory’s escalating ubiquity in cultural production serves as a provocation: why autotheory and why now? What motivates the methodological melding of an autobiographical “I” with academic scholarship? What implications does theorizing the self have for the politics of knowledge production?

A digital companion to the special issue of ASAP/Journal, this cluster animates the autotheoretical intersections of art and art writing in time-based media. Transmedial in form and provocative by design, these works appear accompanied by autotheory’s telltale synthesis of critical-creative writing. The cluster includes film and video by Maider Fortune, Annie Macdonell, and Ree Botts; performance for the camera and documentation of live performances by Ceylan Öztürk, Calla Durose-Moya, lo bil, and Mel Keiser; web-based work, including memes, by Simon Evnine and Piper Curtis; other moving-images, including GIFs, by Migueltzinta C. Solis, and sound-based work by Arezu Salamzadeh. Off the page and on the screen, these autotheories invite as much as they imagine, contest as much as they contrive, and exude as much as they include.

— Lauren Fournier and Alex Brostoff

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The term “Communicating Vessels” describes the way liquid moves between conjoined containers: gravity and pressure conspire to keep the surfaces aligned, pulling the shared liquid back and forth until the separate vessels come into balance. The vessels remain separate, but are locked together in a state of perpetual and mutual exchange. 

The movement between these vessels also serves to describe the state of fluidity that is fundamental to autotheory. One of the key potentialities of the project of autotheory comes from its capacity to make porous that which contemporary life under capitalism has made separate, contained, incommunicable. Making this film together allowed us to seek out the overlaps and holes in our experience. We started from the cracks in our stories and ideas in order to create something that could only exist in the spaces in between. 

The metaphor of the interconnected vessels came to us early, and remained central as we worked out the narrative and shape of this film. It describes many possibilities at once: a relationship between autobiography and ideas, and an overlap between text and image, bodies and gesture, and teachers and students. It also describes a relationship between different temporalities a blurring of then and now.  

We began this project with the intention of working with lived experience, set against a network of external ideas, artworks, and politics. We also wanted to write the film together, in a form we came to think of as a double memoir. By double memoir, we mean to describe how the film tells the story of something that happened to one of us, but it is written with details, observations, and situations that belong to both of us. Knowing that we wanted to write together in this way meant that we had to choose a central event that unfolded in the place where our separate lives overlap as artists, filmmakers, teachers, mothers, and feminists. 

We aimed to write with and through one another, but also to allow ourselves to be written through by the ideas and artworks that have defined the decades-long conversation that constitutes our friendship. 

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This is one of twelve contributions from the ASAP/J cluster of Transmedial Autotheories. Read the other pieces here

Read the Autotheory special issue (6.2) of the print journal ASAP/Journal here.