Two Approaches Using Digital Media to Prevent Violence Against Queer and Trans People of Color

In response to our CFR on the digital divide, a group from USC proposed a cluster on how to design for social justice. We have been happy to include this special project into our survey as a response to the meta issues raised by our initial survey.

Jovan Wolfe in Autonets hoodie designed by micha cárdenas and Ben Klunker

I have been working on methods to use digital media to create community based responses to violence, in order to work towards a world without prisons. I want to take this space here to highlight two different approaches to this problem. 

Local Autonomy Networks (Autonets) is an art/political/theoretical project I have been working on for almost two years. Autonets aims to create community networks to respond to violence.

Local Autonomy Networks: Find Each Other: 2012 Zero1 San Jose Biennial from micha cardenas on Vimeo.

The project started with my idea of building mesh-networked[1] wearable electronics—clothes and accessories with wireless transmitters and GPS units—to be used to prevent violence against women, queer and trans people, and people of color. For example, if someone wearing an Autonets garment finds themself in a violent situation, they can press a button to activate their wireless transmitter. If anyone else wearing a networked garment is within a mile of them, that person’s garment will light up to indicate that someone needs help; lights in the garment will direct them to the person who needs help. If another garment picks up the signal, it reproduces it and extends the range another mile.

Autonets: We Already Know and We Don’t Yet Know, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics VIII Encuentro, São Paulo, Brazil, January 2013, with Micha Cárdenas, Alessandra Renzi, Frantz Jerome, Benjamin Lundberg, Lily Mengesha, Aisha Jordan, Joana Fittipaldi and Tomaz Capobanco, photos by Macarena Gomez-Barris

I have used the prototype garments in performances such as a recent event in São Paulo called “We Already Know and We Don’t Yet Know”—we know violence in our bodies, but we don’t yet have the structures in place for a world without prisons and other forms of violence. We need to develop those structures.

Yet as this is a long term project, I have also investigated other approaches along the way. On Friday, April 12, 2013, I released my first twine game addressing the issue of violence. Profoundly inspired by the work of transgender game designers Porpentine, Merritt Kopas and Anna Anthropy, I finally decided to make my first attempt at creating a game. My game, A SURVIVOR IS #REBORN is a meditation on violence and transformative justice, a transgender incest survivor’s response to the new Tomb Raider.

Click here to play: A SURVIVOR IS #REBORN

How do you think artists and designers can work to prevent violence? What are the ethics of designing safety devices as art? How does performativity, both of bodies in public space and of game players and authors, play a role in building knowledge and skills to prevent violence?


[1] A mesh network is bottom-up instead of top-down. It is a form of networking where each node in the network, in this case each garment, retransmits signals that it receives to other nodes, which allows these networks to function without relying on telephone-company infrastructure.

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