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Embodying Queer History with Interactive Wearable Artifacts

Author: Georgia Institute of Technology
Author Contact: gatech.edu
Published: 1st Mar 2023
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes
Additional References: Queer Theory - Gender Studies Publications

Summary: LGBTQ Collection, an archive of the Georgia queer community, features buttons representing the politics, identities, causes, and humor of the 1970s Atlanta LGBTQ communities.

Definition

LGBT Rights in Georgia USA

LGBT residents in the U.S. state of Georgia enjoy most of the same rights and liberties as non-LGBT Georgians. LGBT rights in the state have been recent, with most improvements occurring from the 2010s onward. Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1998, and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2015. In addition, the state's largest city, Atlanta, has a vibrant LGBT community and holds the biggest Pride parade in the Southeast. The state's hate crime laws, effective since June 26, 2020, explicitly include sexual orientation.

Main Document

Button Portraits: Embodying Queer History with Interactive Wearable Artifacts - Georgia Institute of Technology.

"Gay power" "I Love You, Susan B. Anthony" "ERA Yes" These are just a few buttons in the Georgia State University Library LGBTQ Collection, an archive of the Georgia queer community. The buttons represent the politics, identities, causes, and humor of the 1970s Atlanta LGBTQ communities - a short snapshot of history.

But how do you archive and convey queer history?

It's a complex question for historians and LGBTQ people, who have been on the margins and often resist categorization. New research from the Georgia Institute of Technology offers a unique framework for understanding queer communities and their histories.

The buttons are from the personal collections of two local queer activists, Lorraine Fontana, and Maria Helena Dolan. The researchers created replicas of the historic buttons and paired them with the archive's oral history recordings of Fontana and Dolan. Study participants were encouraged to interact with the buttons through a wearable audio player - touching them, putting them on, and hearing these histories in the activists' own words. The experience created a tangible connection to queer history and invited the participant into the narrative.

"Buttons are important because not only are they signals of political and social causes, but they're also identity signifiers," said researcher Alexandra Teixeira Riggs, a digital media Ph.D. student. "When you're putting one on, you're signaling something you believe in or some part of your identity to another person, which has historically been central to queer communities."

Riggs co-wrote "Button Portraits: Embodying Queer History With Interactive Wearable Artifacts" with advisor Anne Sullivan and Noura Howell, both digital media assistant professors. The paper was published in Interactive Storytelling in December 2022.

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A participant tries the buttons - Image Credit: Georgia Tech.A participant tries the buttons - Image Credit: Georgia Tech.

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Bringing Tangible Narratives to the Archive

Riggs created a real narrative - an experience that uses objects embedded with digital capabilities - to tell these stories. Each button interacted with an audio player containing a Raspberry Pi or a small computer with a near-field communication (NFC) reader. When a participant placed the button on the NFC reader, it activated a fragment of Dolan or Fontana's oral history related to that button. This direct engagement with the button effectively enables the participant to imagine themselves in the narrative and reflect on their connection to that history.

Buttons were the ideal object for tangible narrative because participants could pick them up and pin them on their clothes, creating a sense of intimacy. The button is no longer just a historical artifact but a part of the participant. The archive's buttons are directly connected to 1970s feminism and queer activism with their political slogans, identity markers, location-specific designs, and other areas that place participants in the historical narrative. Buttons are also often seen as ephemera or objects usually not preserved in history.

"There's this sense that some materials exist outside of the archive solely in personal collections of communities that don't necessarily consider their materials or stories to be worthy of a collection with a capital C," Riggs said.

The researchers paired each button with clips from Fontana and Dolan's oral histories corresponding to the buttons' themes through keywords or contextual meanings. However, the researchers didn't impose a linear narrative or any organization on the buttons. Participants were encouraged to explore the buttons independently without guidance and experienced the fluidity of queer stories.

Queering the Archive

The design of a nonlinear experience of the buttons is an application of queer theory to create tangible narratives. The theory suggests that queer physical spaces are multidimensional - blurring the lines between past and present, historical figure and participant, and object and body. Real narrative invites the participant's experience, body, and identity into history and further complicates the idea of the archive.

It also challenges how archives are inherently organized. Inviting the participant to interact with the buttons on their own and without any discernible order effectively queers the experience of the archive or questions how archives are traditionally used and viewed as historical, canonical records fully in past.

Riggs hopes to expand the research to queer and trans communities of color and other marginalized groups in the future.

"What I want to do with this project is to allow for a way of expressing design through queer means," Riggs said. "I want there to be a way for us to relate to archives in a more embodied way than we would in a typical museum setting. Hopefully, that leads to more accessibility of these stories and dialogue within queer communities about how we reflect on this history."

Citation:

Riggs, A.T., Howell, N., Sullivan, A. (2022). Button Portraits: Embodying Queer History with Interactive Wearable Artifacts. In: Vosmeer, M., Holloway-Attaway, L. (eds) Interactive Storytelling. ICIDS 2022. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 13762. Springer, Cham.

References and Source(s):

Embodying Queer History with Interactive Wearable Artifacts | Georgia Institute of Technology (gatech.edu). SexualDiversity.org makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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A participant tries the buttons - Image Credit: Georgia Tech. thumbnail image
LGBTQ Collection, an archive of the Georgia queer community, features buttons representing the politics, identities, causes, and humor of the 1970s Atlanta LGBTQ communities.
Publish Date: 1st Mar 2023


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• (APA): Georgia Institute of Technology. (2023, March 1). Embodying Queer History with Interactive Wearable Artifacts. SexualDiversity.org. Retrieved April 19, 2024 from www.sexualdiversity.org/edu/theory/1150.php


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