The Cabaret Commons


Credit: Rasmus Thomsen, freedigitalphotos.net

Credit: Rasmus Thomsen

The Cabaret Commons is a research-creation project that builds an online place for feminist and queer artists and audiences to gather, to “hook up” and collaborate, and to share their archives and anecdotes; these activities will populate the Cabaret Commons.

In addition to being an archival environment, The Cabaret Commons will also, be a “memories and feelings bank” that will enable mappings and visualizations based not only on queries like “time” or “place” but also by “feeling.” Based on a user-generated model of content creation, “copyleft” licensing, and Creative Commons principles, the Cabaret Commons develops out of recent work in the digital humanities which calls for a kind of reversal in the digital epistemological order of things.[1] That is, as Johanna Drucker has convincingly shown, the text-based computational epistemologies that structure our current digital platforms are not sufficient to the sort of knowledge challenges structuring most work in the critical or creative arts and humanities.[2] Put bluntly, at the moment, most of ‘our’ work on imaginative, creative and aesthetic artifacts—on visual culture, sound, performance, temporality, affect—that challenges systems of knowledge and power invested in the naturalization of fixed boundary projects like gender, race, sexuality, nation, are uncomfortably housed in antiquated text-based (or mechanical age) representational systems. The challenge, then, is to collaborate with innovative and critical humanities scholars, artists, programmers and designers to generate new digital environments that can accommodate our political, cultural, social, intellectual and epistemological projects. The Cabaret Commons is intended for such collaborative innovation. Through software models of social networking, temporal mapping and innovative metadata management, the networked artifacts of the Cabaret Commons will be searchable, for example, through coordinates like feelings or fund-raisers or political commitments: imagine Alice Pieszecki’s The Chart from The L-Word, but for artists. It will map these feminist and queer networks not only spatially and temporally, but also by affinity and affect. That is, an artist could pop up on The Chart that maps hits for “Montreal” or “May 7, 1999,” or “Femme,” or “Clown,” or “Anarchist,” or “That performance made me cry.” As an open-source platform, the Cabaret Commons will facilitate the study of transnational feminist and queer performance scenes; we predict that it will articulate the shared aesthetics, affects and organizational politics of transnational feminist and queer artists, as well as enable the research of scholars who cannot personally access these archives, which are so often stored in the closets and basements of artists. Working with feminist and queer artists and scholars, as well as creative programmers and designers, we hope to generate a speculative digital environment which can archive the sorts of feelings, memories and knowledges which galvanise our works.

Project Collaborators:

  • T.L. Cowan, Women’s and Gender Studies, Interdisciplinary Centre for Culture and Creativity & Department of English, University of Saskatchewan
  • Jasmine Rault, Women’s Studies, McMaster University

Status of project & other collaborators:

  • We are currently seeking SSHRC funding to get this project off the ground. Once we have this funding in place we will be able to also list our artist-collaborators.

[1] C. L Borgman, "The digital future is now: A call to action for the humanities,"
Digital Humanities Quarterly 3, no. 4 (2009); Johanna Drucker, SpecLab: digital
aesthetics and projects in speculative computing (Chicago, Ill: University of
Chicago Press, 2009).
[2] Johanna Drucker, "Speculative Computing: Aesthetic Provocations in Humanities
Computing," in A companion to digital humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Raymond George
Siemens, and John M. Unsworth (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 431-447.