Resonant Frames

 

"Concentration: Ambient Sound & Aesthetic Vision" by Jonet & Williams

 

"Concentration" is an audio-visual digital multimedia project that offers an immersive exploration into 20th and 21st century queer and feminist history, culture, and activism. Through a combination of visuals, soundscapes, and interactive elements, "Concentration" invites viewers to engage with a diverse range of cultural artifacts, figures, and themes connected to popular culture, academia, media ephemera, memorabilia, and grassroots community-contributed art.

Audio-Visual: Welcome to Concentration

Imagine Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, but make it digital, make it public culture. Make it embodied scholarship. Imagine it an interdisciplinary multimedia exploration that interrogates the intersections of digital culture, queer and feminist theory, and modes of focus and relaxation.

David Bowie, whose groundbreaking exhibition catalog from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago finds a home here. Alongside him, Gladys Bentley graces the cover of PMLA, an echo of the Harlem Renaissance and an early queer and gender-nonconforming artist. Vinyl records of Le Tigre and Frank Ocean represent a range of LGBTQ+ expressions in music, acting as aural snapshots of queer and feminist politics across time. From the groundbreaking lesbian visibility of a "Xena Night" flyer from the 90s to Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" memorabilia featuring Lucy Lawless, these artifacts showcase how popular culture is deeply intertwined with political struggles and individual identity; subcultural popular culture as political memory. The range of cultural markers that make their way into “Concentraton” underscores the project’s commitment to a queer method of programmatic design.

The term “trace,” as conceptualized by José Esteban Muñoz, encapsulates the idea that queerness exists not just as a present identity but as a layered, historical presence that influences and is influenced by material culture, media artifacts, and personal belongings. In "Concentration," the “queer trace” is palpable in every object, each one acting as a tangible record of intersecting histories and dialogues. These artifacts demonstrate how queer identity is continuously constructed and reconstructed through both public and private acts of creativity.

The assemblage of ephemera, objects, memorabilia, and more provides a lens into the social and cultural zeitgeist over the last several decades, serving as an archive that engages with queer and feminist subcultures, media expressions, and transport. This multi-layered landscape offers an opportunity for viewers to see not just an academic theory but a lived, experienced reality.

As you step into this virtual space, you're not just entering a room but stepping into a nexus of queer and feminist history, thought, pop culture, and activism. Designed through the lens of autotheory—a practice that melds personal narrative with critical theory—this space functions as an embodied exploration of Muñoz’s notion of the “trace.” In “Concentration,” each artifact you encounter, whether it's a zine from FBA's own SJZ: Social Justice Zine series or a vinyl record of Frank Ocean, serves as a tangible echo—or trace—of queer and feminist existence and resistance. 

“Concentration” is a curated journey through over 30 years of queer and feminist culture, activism, and media ephemera. Alongside icons like David Bowie, you'll also find community-contributed art like a painting of Satan from South Park, an embroidery of Orville Peck, and a print of Grace Jones. Here, each object, from Xena memorabilia to an ACT UP subway car poster, carries its own story. Each artifact is a node in an interconnected network of resistance, joy, and intellectual engagement.

These objects and media are not mere ephemeral or keepsakes but material focal points in ongoing dialogues about gender, sexuality, and social justice. Culled from decades of personal collection by Drs. M. Catherine Jonet and L. Anh Williams, these items become a point of entry into larger narratives and theoretical frameworks, functioning as both a representation of personal history and an engagement with broader social and political discourses.

By intersecting with popular digital genres like “lo-fi” study videos that employ sound and moving image, “Concentration” contributes to a broader culture of media that can serve as a resource for different forms of activism, education, and community building. It provides us with a nuanced way to consider how time-based media arts can both reflect and shape contemporary cultural dynamics, particularly as they relate to notions of the self and difference. And for this reason, "Concentration" aims to be more than a background study video; it is an interactive media environment designed with a queer focus that resists easy categorization. By bringing in elements that are not only diverse but also specifically tied to queer and feminist cultures, we're attempting to create a space where a broad audience can feel seen, heard, and represented as complex individuals with different levels of relationality to social movements and expression. 

Autotheory allows us to interrogate how personal experiences and artifacts carry theoretical weight. It's not just an intellectual exercise; it's a form of living inquiry. When you encounter a show card for performer JD Samson, understand that these objects are signifiers: they carry the weight of queer and feminist representation, capturing the essence of advocacy, division, and public culture.

Lauren Fournier demonstrates in Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism that autotheory offers a way to explore the intersections of identity, experience, and systemic structures, providing a framework for analyzing social and cultural phenomena while incorporating individual lived experiences. Autotheory challenges conventional boundaries between art and life, theory and practice, giving voice to personalized and embodied experiences in intellectual discourse. “Concentration’s” sensibilities intersect with Fournier's and others’ notions of "post-studio" practices. It emerges as an intersectional archive—a gathering and layering of temporalities, affects, and energies.

In the spirit Fournier's concept of "lateral citation," the zines, community-contributed art, and ephemeral items in "Concentration" serve as dynamic references, offering alternative pathways to engage with queer and feminist discourse. These objects, like living citations, provide a lateral perspective, challenging traditional and received norms of citation and inviting viewers to participate actively in the ongoing conversation. 

"Concentration" is a space that embraces complexity and acknowledges the inclusion of figures whose legacies may evoke polarizing reactions. These figures, while significant in various cultural moments, are not without controversy. Their presence in this curated environment serves as a reminder of the multifaceted nature of queer and feminist history, where individuals and ideas can be both inspirational and contentious, sparking important dialogues and debates within LGBTQ+ and feminist communities. "Concentration" invites viewers to engage with these complexities, encouraging critical reflection on the nuances of gender, sexuality, and social justice, reminding us that activism is neither monolithic nor static but a dialogue across generations.

"Concentration" is a space that embraces complexity and acknowledges the inclusion of figures whose legacies may evoke polarizing reactions. These figures, while significant in various cultural moments, are not without controversy. Their presence in this curated environment serves as a reminder of the multifaceted nature of queer and feminist history, where individuals and ideas can spark important dialogues and debates within LGBTQ+ and feminist communities about identity, movement, and belonging. "Concentration" invites viewers to engage with these complexities, encouraging critical reflection on the nuances of affiliation and social movements.

In this way, "Concentration" is more than memory palace; it is an interactive, living essay. It invites you to engage with these traces, to connect them to broader histories of activism and intellectual thought, and to envision a future imbued with the same spirit of resistance and transformation that these objects embody. Here, the “trace” is not just a reflection of what was but also a pointer toward the potentialities of what could be—linking past and present to the not-yet-realized futures of queer and feminist life.

“Concentration” asks its audience to engage in a form of active media literacy, encouraging them to identify cultural artifacts and public figures and understand or learn of their connections to feminist and queer expression. This inquiry-driven approach evokes practice-based methods that employ creativity and digital learning, aligning perfectly with a transmedia studies focus.

These queries challenge the notion of nostalgia as inherently conservative or regressive. “Concentration” asks if the embrace of nostalgia can be a radical act, particularly for marginalized communities and movements for social justice, and this prompts viewers to consider alternative forms of temporality and cultural memory.

The 25-minute structure of "Concentration" serves not just as a utilitarian time management technique but as a carefully thought-out space for intellectual and emotional engagement. It employs the pomodoro technique to enhance focus, but it is also a nod to historical and cultural forms of temporal control and resistance. Given that the pomodoro technique itself emerged in a neoliberal age of time-management obsessions, our video seeks to "queer" this form of time, making it less about capitalist productivity and more about focused, communal mindfulness.

The music in "Concentration" is a profound element of the experience. Crafted by Dr. L. Anh Williams, the soundtrack deliberately taps into the evocative power of sound, drawing inspiration from the iconic synthesizers of the 1980s. This deliberate choice triggers a profound sense of nostalgia, weaving a sonic landscape that invites viewers to traverse memory and history.

The music adds a distinct layer to the immersive quality of the exhibition, further enhancing the sensory journey. As viewers engage with the objects and narratives within "Concentration," the evocative soundscape envelops them, resonating with the themes of the exhibition. It not only enhances the emotional resonance of the experience but also reinforces the interconnectedness of queer and feminist history, memory, and artistic expression.

The music in "Concentration" also engages in a direct dialogue with the world of "lofi" focus and relaxation videos, injecting a distinct sense of queerness and feminist praxis into this familiar realm. While these videos often serve as tools for concentration and relaxation, the music in "Concentration" goes a step further. It transforms the act of focusing and decompressing into a queer and feminist practice.

By infusing the soundscape with elements that resonate with the themes of queer and feminist history, activism, and cultural expression, the music in "Concentration" encourages viewers not only to relax but to engage critically with the narratives and objects presented. It turns the act of concentration into a form of intellectual and emotional exploration, inviting viewers to delve deeper into the interconnected stories and histories that define queer and feminist identities. In this way, "Concentration" offers a unique and transformative experience, where relaxation becomes a pathway to empowerment and enlightenment.

As you exit, remember that your 25 minutes here isn’t a break from the world, but an act of worldmaking. We hope you'll continue this journey of intellectual and sensory exploration, whether that's by watching a feminist documentary, listening to an underground queer artist, or simply taking a moment to practice the self-care that, in the words of Audre Lorde, is "not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and political warfare."

NOTE:

After 14:40 minutes, you may notice a change in lighting—a flickering transition designed to offer sensory comfort for some while acknowledging that it may not be for everyone. 

Texts:

Books:

  • Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity.
  • Fournier, Lauren. Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism.
  • Lorde, Audre. A Burst of Light: Essays.

Article:

  • Muñoz, José Esteban. "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts" from Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory (1996).

Concentration Credits:

Direction: M. C. Jonet

Music: L. Anh Williams

Videography, Editing, Mise-en-Scène: Jonet & Williams


 

Concentration as Learning and Activity

Artifact Identification and Discussion Activity

Objective: Explore the cultural artifacts featured in "Concentration" and engage in meaningful discussions about their significance in queer, trans, and feminist cultures.

Instructions:

Step 1: Watch the "Concentration" Video

Begin by watching the "Concentration" video, which serves as an archive of queer and feminist popular culture spanning several decades. Pay close attention to the cultural artifacts, figures, and references presented in the video.

Step 2: Identify Cultural Artifacts and Figures

After watching the video, create a list of cultural artifacts and figures that you recognized. These could include but are not limited to:

  • Public figures
  • References to texts or works
  • Iconic symbols or images
  • Popular culture references

Step 3: Research and Contextualize

For each item on your list, conduct research to provide context and background information. Explore the following questions for each artifact or figure:

  • Who or what is this artifact or figure?
  • What is their significance in queer and feminist expression, culture, or struggle?
  • Do they have a complicated legacy, and if so, why?
  • How has their role or perception evolved over time?

Step 4: Discussion

Engage in a discussion, either individually or with others, to share your findings and insights. Consider the following discussion points:

  • Are there figures or artifacts with complicated legacies that should be reevaluated or recontextualized?
  • How does nostalgia operate within the context of queer and feminist movements? Does it foreclose or invite a radical imagination?
  • What alternative temporalities can be identified within queer and feminist social and political longings?

Legacy Exploration Assignment 

Objective: Investigate the legacy of figures and artifacts featured in "Concentration" to gain a deeper understanding of their impact on queer and feminist culture and reflect on their significance today.

Instructions:

Step 1: Select a Figure or Artifact

Choose one public figure or artifact that stood out to you while watching the "Concentration" video. This can be someone or something with a complex legacy, significant historical importance, or a strong connection to queer and feminist expression.

Step 2: Research and Contextualize

Research your chosen figure or artifact extensively. Gather information about their background, contributions, controversies, and their role in queer and feminist culture. Consider the following questions:

  • Who is this figure or what is this artifact?
  • How did they contribute to queer and feminist expression, culture, or struggle?
  • What controversies or challenges are associated with them?
  • How has their legacy evolved over time?

Step 3: Legacy Reflection

Write a reflective essay or create a multimedia presentation that explores the legacy of your chosen figure or artifact. Include the following elements in your reflection:

  • A brief biography or description of the figure or artifact.
  • An analysis of their impact on queer and feminist culture.
  • A discussion of any controversies or complexities surrounding their legacy.
  • Insights into how their legacy has evolved and why it remains relevant today. 

Step 4: Contemporary Relevance

Connect the legacy of your chosen figure or artifact to contemporary issues and discussions within the queer and feminist movements. Consider how their contributions or challenges continue to shape the discourse today.


Activity: Exploring Safe and Brave Spaces in “Concentration” 

Objective: This activity aims to encourage participants to explore the concepts of safe spaces and brave spaces within the context of the digital environment presented in “Concentration.” 

Background: In “Concentration,” you are immersed in a digital environment that combines elements of a safe space and a brave space. It provides a secure and respectful atmosphere for exploring queer and feminist history and culture while also encouraging critical reflection and engagement with complex topics. 

  • Safe Spaces: Safe spaces are digital or physical environments where individuals feel secure, respected, and free to express themselves without fear of judgment or harm. These spaces are often created to provide a supportive and affirming atmosphere for individuals who may be marginalized or vulnerable due to their identity in institutions.
  • Brave Spaces: Brave spaces are digital or physical environments where difficult discussions and critical reflections can take place. These spaces encourage individuals to engage in challenging conversations, confront biases, and expand their understanding. Brave spaces acknowledge that discomfort and growth can coexist.

Safe spaces and brave spaces are not necessarily opposites, and they can indeed coexist or transform into one another through various practices and ethical considerations. In many contexts, safe spaces are created to facilitate brave discussions and critical reflections, and brave spaces aim to provide safety through trust-building and respectful engagement. These concepts can be highly dynamic and context-dependent, and their boundaries can shift based on the goals and intentions of the individuals or communities involved.

Instructions:

Step 1: Spend some time independently exploring the Concentration project. Navigate through the digital space, engage with various artifacts, and pay attention to the content, visuals, and sounds.

Step 2: After your exploration, take a moment to reflect on your experience. Consider the following questions and record your thoughts:

  • What elements of the Concentration project made you feel like you were in a safe space?
  • Did you encounter any aspects that challenged or expanded your understanding of queer and feminist culture?
  • Were there moments or artifacts that made you reflect on the concept of brave space, where difficult discussions can take place?
  • How did the music, visuals, and content contribute to your sense of belonging or discomfort in the space?

Assignment: Exploring Nostalgia and Queer Temporality in "Concentration"

Objective: This assignment invites participants to delve into the themes of nostalgia and queer temporality as they relate to the digital environment presented in "Concentration."

Background: In "Concentration," you engage with a digital space that invokes nostalgia and challenges conventional notions of time and memory, particularly within queer and feminist contexts.

Nostalgia: Nostalgia is a complex emotion tied to a longing for the past. It often carries a sense of comfort and yearning for moments or experiences that may be lost. In the context of "Concentration," nostalgia is intertwined with the exploration of queer and feminist history, culture, and activism. It can manifest as a yearning for the resilience and creativity of past queer and feminist movements, a desire to reconnect with the cultural markers of those eras, or a longing for the sense of belonging and community often associated with those times. Importantly, nostalgia can also function as a source of inspiration, pointing towards queer and feminist futures through what José Esteban Muñoz calls a "trace" in "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts" from a 1996 article from Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory.

Queer Temporality: Queer temporality disrupts linear understandings of time. It acknowledges that queer lives and experiences are not bound by traditional timelines and offers alternative ways of conceiving the past, present, and future. "Concentration" invites us to consider how nostalgia and queer temporality intersect. Queer temporality often includes the idea of living multiple temporalities simultaneously, recognizing that the past is not simply a fixed history but an ongoing influence on the present and future. This concept challenges normative ideas of progress and linear development.

Instructions:

Step 1: After you explore the “Concentration” project, take time to reflect on the following questions:

Nostalgia:

Identify moments or artifacts in "Concentration" that evoked a sense of nostalgia. Describe what aspects contributed to this feeling. Reflect on why nostalgia might be significant in the context of queer and feminist history and culture. Consider the concept of "trace" as discussed by José Esteban Muñoz. Can you identify any traces of queer and feminist history in "Concentration"? How do these traces inspire or inform the present and future within the project?

Queer Temporality:

Consider how "Concentration" challenges conventional notions of time. Are there instances where the project disrupts linear timelines or offers alternative temporal perspectives?

How does the experience of "Concentration" relate to the concept of queer temporality, which often includes the idea of living multiple temporalities simultaneously? Explore how the digital environment of "Concentration" enables or enhances the experience of queer temporality, of analog feminist pasts. How does the medium itself contribute to the project's exploration of time and memory?

Step 2: Write a reflective essay that explores the interplay between nostalgia and queer temporality in "Concentration." Use specific examples from your exploration to support your analysis.


Activity: Exploring the Soundtrack for "Concentration" 

Objective: This assignment invites participants to engage deeply with the soundtrack composed by Dr. L. Anh Williams for the digital environment presented in "Concentration." 

Background: The soundtrack in "Concentration" adds an auditory dimension to the digital experience. It serves as an evocative backdrop that complements the themes of nostalgia and queer temporality explored in the project. Analyzing the soundtrack can provide insights into how music contributes to the overall emotional and conceptual impact of the work.

Instructions:

Step 1: Listening Session. Set aside a dedicated time to listen to the soundtrack for "Concentration." You can do this while watching the project or stream the soundtrack and simply focus on the music itself.

Listen to the soundtrack attentively. Pay close attention to the musical elements, rhythms, melodies, and mood it conveys. What different sounds do you notice? Reflect on the use of vintage synthesizers and analog samples in the soundtrack.

Step 2: Reflect on the following questions while listening:

  1. How does the soundtrack contribute to the sense of nostalgia within "Concentration"? Are there specific musical motifs or instruments that evoke feelings of longing? Longing for the past or a future?
  2. Consider the concept of queer temporality. How does the soundtrack challenge or disrupt conventional notions of time through its music? Are there moments where the music seems to convey multiple temporalities or alternative temporal perspectives?
  3. How do musical choices not only evoke nostalgia but also create a "trace" of queer and feminist history, culture, and activism? Consider how these elements contribute to the project's ability to transcend the past and point towards potential futures or new creative possibilities. How might these sounds be interpreted as traces of the past, and do they offer glimpses of potential futures? What cultural significance did synthesizers hold during that era, and why do they remain evocative?
  4. Explore the emotional impact of the soundtrack. How does it shape your emotional response to the digital environment? How does it enhance the overall experience of "Concentration?” 

Step 3: Engage in a discussion or reflection about the interplay between the soundtrack, nostalgia, queer temporality, and emotional responses. Consider how music can transcend time and contribute to the overall experience of "Concentration." 

Musical Creation Option (Additional): If you have access to music production software or instruments, challenge yourself to create your own digital environment inspired by the themes in "Concentration." Experiment with synthesizers, incorporate samples, utilize various instruments, and develop musical motifs that convey nostalgia, queer temporality, and emotional responses, much like the original soundtrack in "Concentration." Craft your own "Concentration" of sounds and music, and consider how this creative process allows you to evoke both past and future, reflecting on the idea that what will be is influenced by what has been.


 

Soundtrack: Stream & Download

Music from Concentration 

Concentration's music can be streamed and downloaded through Bandcamp.

 


 

Original Version of "Concentration"

Video: "Concentration 1.0"

When "Concentration" was initially released online, it included a sequence featuring one of the filmmakers (and their pet). As we further refined, contemplated, and shared the project, we made the deliberate decision to craft an official version that omitted this particular footage. This decision was made to enhance the overall coherence and thematic focus of the project, ensuring that it aligns more closely with our intended message and artistic vision.


 

Downloadable Task Organizing Page

In connection with the Concentration video, we have also created a downloadable task planner page (PDF). You can also view it here as an image. 

FBA-Task-Planner-Page Image
Downloadable Task Planner Page

 


While "Concentration" primarily explores complex themes like trace, queer time, and autotheory, it also recognizes the importance of translating these theoretical concepts into actionable, everyday practices.

It recognizes that concentration and productivity can take various forms and that individuals may have diverse goals and priorities. By providing a flexible framework for organizing tasks, it acknowledges the importance of self-directed learning, personalization, and exploration within queer and feminist contexts.

This planning page serves as a practical tool to facilitate not only concentration but also empowerment. It emphasizes that the act of concentration is not limited to traditional academic or work-related tasks. It embraces a broader perspective that encompasses personal growth, community, and activism.


 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.