But.. Is ‘Agency’ something to be had at all?

Agency [1], I often would hear this word travel from mouth to mouth or overhear in conversation or it would pop up within many talks and texts and articles. Understanding the term yet unable to fully grasp this experience, or better yet I would say ‘concept’. Am I the only one that has never experienced this ‘Agency’?

I’ve questioned this often these past months; it has come up within conversations I engage in on visibility of what is called  ‘the black CC (the black culture content creators), it was mentioned also at the ICA: Blackness on the Internet panel discussion chaired by curator Legacy Russell only. (https://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/technology-now-blackness-internet) mentioned also by Taylor Le Melle from the collective : C. R. E. A. M. The C.R.E.A.M.[2] collective based in the UK have been having continued conversations about what it means to be seen, to be visible and to have agency:

‘‘Our thought is that agency exists somewhere in between the poles of hyper-visibility and complete resistance.[3] Rejecting reductive feelings of excitement about being seen, Kind of Flossy[i] asks if auto-regulating one’s own visibility can ever be a purposeful, tenable strategy of resistance.’’ – C.R.E.A.M

Within my current practice and project, I’ve been looking at the term of ‘Radical Visibility’; I’ve defined as a strategic act of navigation and management or ‘control’ over one’s visibility within The Frame. A starting point from where the black CC[4] may be able to navigate safely, a point of departure where both extreme acts of the two opposing poles of traditional acts of resistance such as ‘Refusal’[5] and ‘Hypervisibility’[6] meet.

The Web 2.0 is a tool that is be used with caution. I argue that refusal must function here as a means, with intent. With refusal in mind. Refusal is spoken of here as at the center of ‘‘Radical Visibility’’ where perhaps the black CC’s agency can be found. Agency over one’s own body as a black CC is complex and I question if agency is something that is even possible at all, both IRL (In Real Life) and URL (Universal Resource Link, meaning a website or path on the internet) for the black CC; when merely navigating the pavement as a black or brown womxn IRL is a challenge within the white frame and under the phallic gaze, their bodies cease to feel as if ownership belongs to them, or the example of black womxn and their hair being touched without permission, or the URL example of the mass circulation of ‘Eyebrows on Fleek’ and ‘dabbing’ as phenomena with no mention of authors or creators.

By distinguishing what is meant by total refusal and ‘with refusal in mind’ can the strategy of resistance ‘Radical Visibility’ be understood and employed. My current practice within the last few terms on my BA course seeks to break this down, to flesh out and bring to life these ideas on navigation within the frame of the white gallery space.

[1] Agency (in context of ‘agency over one’s body’): Could be defined as a sense of ownership and/or control over one’s body, actions and in terms of URL the control over reproduction and circulation of visuals of one’s body and even how it’s consumed.

[2] C.R.E.A.M. ‘has been initiated by Taylor Le Melle and Imran Perretta, and operates as a decentralized brain-trust for a closed group of artists, curators, writers, and community organisers. C.R.E.A.M. hopes to explore possibilities beyond institutional tokenism and to problematize acceptable depictions of alterity in the neoliberal imaginary. (Kind of Flossy Press Release by Assembly Point, 2016)

[3] Complete Resistance = Total Refusal

[4] The Black CC: An acronym for The Black Content Creator; a temporary encompassing term that encapsulates ‘the black artist’, ‘the artist of colour’, ‘the black-user’, ‘the cultural content creator’, etc.

[5] Refusal: Refusal is referenced here as at the center of ‘Radical Visibility’. Where the attainment of agency for the black CC may be a found. (If agency is indeed something to be had at all as a black CC). Within this specific written piece, refusal is not employed to mean a total disengagement from technology, from roles in society, from institutions; this, I find, is unproductive in the sense of mobility and organising. I argue that refusal must function as a means, with intent. Refusal is spoken of here as the centre of ‘Radical Visibility’.

[6] Hypervisibility: Hyper is a prefix appearing in loanwords from Greek, where in meant ‘over’, usually implying excess or exaggeration (Oxford Dictionary) added to visibility, Hypervisibility is to be overly visible. Visibly accessible at all times in all places. The hypervisibility of blackness, it is argued here, on the Web 2.0 leaves the black CC vulnerable, unprotected, susceptible to consumption rendering the hypervisible black CC as object, reaping little to no benefit from their own being seen.

[i] Kind of Flossy: An exhibition curated by C.R.E.A.M. exhibited at Assembly Point including artists: Evan Ifekoya, Adam Saad and Zadie Xa.

“The aim of this exhibition is to engage with a discourse of hyper-visibility and spectacle, as well as with a politics of refusal and concealment. Ultimately, Kind of Flossy seeks to meditate upon questions of lived politics in the context of fraught psychosomatic encounters with exploitation, appropriation and erasure within visual culture.” – C.R.E.A.M.
Words by Tiffany Webster.