net art, video, performance

Annie Abrahams

inter – intra – action (Eng)

Interaction was the word I used 20 years ago when I talked about my work in hypertext. Today I need other words: one word, I already wrote about it in my last post, is Agency Art. Another might be Intra-action. I first met it in Mousse magazine #34 (2012), pp.76–81: “Intra-actions” – Interview of Karen Barad by Adam Kleinmann. You can download the interview here.

This word could be usefull to analyze my works of collaborative performance art, as for instance Angry Women, where it is not really clear what is causing what, where the agency is – not between clearly distinguisable entities, but coming from within a whole, where server conditions, individual computers, webcam and sound devices, as well as the voices and images of the co-performers, local light conditions and family situations are all entangled in what Barad would call the phenomenon.
Barad uses quantum physics to articulate a feminist view on the philosophy of science. She builds on Donna Harraway and Niels Bohr. It is not easy to understand her and I was happy to find this video that seemed quit clear.

Video Written & Created by: Stacey Kerr, Erin Adams, & Beth Pittard

But when I transcribed the spoken text, I gathered my understanding might be superficial. Concepts like phenomenon, agency, apparatus all mean something different in different contexts. And when I read in the English wikipedia: “For Barad, things or objects do not precede their interaction, rather, ‘objects’ emerge through particular intra-actions. Thus, apparatuses, which produce phenomena, are not assemblages of humans and nonhumans (as in actor-network theory). Rather, they are the condition of possibility of ‘humans’ and ‘non-humans’, not merely as ideational concepts, but in their materiality.”, I was sure I wasn’t completely getting it (yet) – to be continued.
I feel intra-action will give me a clue on why Agency Art is something not popular in the humanities, in media art etc. (yet).
Here is the transcription of the video:

“In this edition of Three Minute Theory we will be discussing intra-action, a term that comes to us from feminist physicist Karen Barad.
Barad describes intra-action as a mutual constitution of entangled agencies. And what is agency again ? Simply, we can understand agency as the ability to act. So in other words intra-action is the mingling of people and things and other stuff’s ability to act. It sounds like interaction though, doesn’t it ? Well let’s break down the difference.
First let’s look at the prefixes inter and intra. Inter means among or in the midst of, whereas intra means from within. When we add the word action to these prefixes we get a whole different meaning. When two bodies interact, they easily maintain a level of independence. Each entity exists before they encounter one another. However when bodies intra-act they do so in co-constitutive ways. Individuals materialize through intra-actions and the ability to act emerges from within the relationships not outside of it.
So, why is this distinction important? Well, intra-action gives us a whole new way of thinking about the relationships with each other, with matter, with materials, with nature and with discourses. When these different things are in relationships with each other our ability to do stuff changes, transforms or emerges. Lets’ take the recent Ebola phenomenon as an example.
We can say that the Ebola phenomenon is not just the virus itself, but is an intra-action of the actual virus with human and non-human actors, including human bodies, discourses on Africa, pandemics, the role of politics, political pundits, news channels and fear. Ebola is not just a virus but a phenomenon that is made and unmade through intra-actions between nature, culture and technology. Through intra-action we are all brought together in the Ebola phenomenon and yet this intra-action separates us into new co-constitutive subject positions. Through intra-action we become, at least temporarily, the afflicted and non-afflicted, the at-risked and the non-at-risked, and the exposed and the unexposed. So, studying these intra-actions reveals how differences get made and unmade. It’s unlikely that many of us will interact with the Ebola virus, but we will all intra-act with the Ebola phenomenon, and therefor we are all responsible for the matter produced in these intra-actions, the discourses, the materials and the subject positions. Interactions deflect and defer responsibility but in intra-actions responsibility is distributed among the constitutive entities.
This is where agency comes in the play. Agency is about action, reconfiguring, doing and being. It does not pre-exist separately, but emerges from the relationships in intra-actions. Thinking with intra-actions means giving up cause and effect relationships, individual agency and subject-object iconomies. We gain new understandings of ethics and justice as not things that are predetermined but always changing and unfolding. Intra-action calls into question stedfast boundaries and borders and linear time and in turn helps us think in terms of simultaneity. It tears down the walls that contain the disciplined thoughts and actions to reveal artificial boundaries we forgot we invented.”

Another interesting source on Karen Barad’s ideas is Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers – Interview with Karen Barad by Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin for their book on New Materialism.


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Annie Abrahams
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