Bye Bye Binary (www.genderfluid.space) is an experimental type and design community formed in 2018. The group, based between France and Belgium focuses on exploring new graphic and typographic processes geared toward the French language, specifically as it pertains to ligatures, symbiosis, letters and more.
'Wuta' Interactive Installation by Iyo Bisseck (2018)
Case, Frederick Ivor. Edouard Glissant and the Poetics of Cultural Marginalization. World Literature Today, vol. 63, no. 4, Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, 1989, pp. 593–98, https://doi.org/10.2307/4014554
Haraway, D. J. (2016). The Camille Stories. In Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the chthulucene. essay, Duke University Press.
Foucault, M. (2008). Of Other Spaces (L. De Cauter & M. Dehaene, Trans.). In M. Dehaene & L. De Cauter (Eds.), Heterotopia and the city: Public space in a postcivil society (pp. 13-29). Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye by Marie Losier
Hélène Alix Mourrier
Estelle Ndjop Pom
Eunice Tchitchiama in conversation with Loraine Furter
SK [Sherida Kuffour] I feel quite privileged to join brilliant thinkers in discussing this subject of Sci-Fi, care, and habits. To inch towards our conversation, which we will have today, I'm enjoying the habit of asking how people are feeling right in this moment; I think it helps ground the conversation to where we can all be present. I suppose to be aware of what and to whom we're giving our time; in this case, it is to each other and to the theme of science fiction and dys/utopias.
ham [Hélène Alix Mourrier] Hi everyone, yeah, I'm pretty good. I've been working a lot since the beginning of September. I teach graphic design, and the school year's just started, so I'm meeting all the new students as well as my old students. I will also be in a residency in Wren, and then tomorrow, I will be back in Paris doing a residency with ByeByeBinary1. So everything is working quite well in life.
SA [Senakirfa Abraham] Thank you so much for having me in the first place. I have to say that I'm pretty nervous. I haven't done any zoom talks in the past few months, so it's a bit crazy to see so many people all of a sudden again. But for the rest, I'm fine. I'm in London at the moment for my internship. I'm graduating [from Rietveld Academie] at the end of September. Overall, I'm super excited to be part of this talk.
IB [Iyo Bisseck] Hello, thank you for the invitation. I'm feeling great. I graduated last week, so I feel relief, and I'm happy to be done after eight years of studying. I'm just delighted now to still be working on exciting projects while being with my family and people who care for me. Also, I'm enjoying being with you today.
LF [Loraine further] Hello everybody. I'm feeling a bit nervous but also very happy because I am very humbled to be here with you. There's also a bit of sun just right now, so I appreciate this warm presence in the room. And, yes, as Sherida said, there will be a moment when we'll show a video with Eunice Tchitchiama, who cannot be there with us today.
Even though she could not join today, it was crucial for me that she was part of this experience. It will not exactly be a conversation for her, but her voice is here with us today, at least. If I had to explain what we're doing today, it would be that we're here to discover a bit more of your practices in relation to science fiction, dys/utopias, and the references you carry with you. Perhaps we start with you, Iyo?
"I'm always figuring out different ways or possibilities to create without the constraints of the economic system."
IB At the beginning of my study, I was not connected to science fiction because the examples of science fiction I saw were by people I couldn't relate to. You know, sometimes, especially if you're Black, you have money and class issues and a lot of other things happening in your life that you don't have the spare time to go into science fiction literature or dystopian narratives.
SK Right, because often, we're already living in quite dystopian realms in our daily lives.
IB Yes, exactly, and a lot of science fiction that I saw around me, especially relating to technology, were done by men or through the male gaze. So it became hard to connect to that. Then finally, when I started researching more into technology and bias, I began to make subjects that looked like me that would become keys of emancipation.
LF Could you give us one or two examples of how that process took shape? What were some of the visuals, key elements or materials you worked with that accompanied this emancipatory approach or movement?
IB Yes, yes, for sure. So, one of my first projects was about creating new narratives. It was linked to an object from Cameroon. And it was the kind of object I could only have a relationship with within a museum since I didn't have the opportunity to see it in Cameroon, so I didn't get a chance to add a narrative about this object. So I decided to create a 3D sculpture of this object using photogrammetry technology2.
I enjoyed this medium because it allowed me to create what I wanted without adding new material— which is significantly linked to the economy or conversations about economy. Because then I didn't need to print anything which costs money, I didn't need to buy a typeface, for example. In general, I'm always figuring out different ways or possibilities to create without the constraints of the economic system.
LF Thank you so much, Iyo. We're gonna come back to some of the super important things that you mentioned in another round. So next, on my little screen is Senakirfa. Would you like to share how you feel the connections with these kinds of topics in your practice?
SA When it comes to my practice, I, like Iyo, also had this disconnect to science fiction because it did not include my being. Then around late last year, I started digging into the work of Sun Ra, who was a poet, writer and musician from the US. In his film Space is the Place3, he talks about his being connected to the mystification of blackness. And through him and that film, this whole door of science fiction opened up for me.
I think I realised how much science fiction could be more related to understanding your reality's imagination. And that doesn't always have to come from a Western ideology which is something that I take back and embed into my practice of writing, especially within my poetry and prose.
Another thing that I think a lot about is the rhythm of science fiction, really how it sounds, you know, like in films like Sun Ra's. I don't always understand what these sounds mean, but they just draw me.
These are the ideas within science fiction that I can connect with – the opening of different realities and mediums. I'm also inspired a lot by the work of Édouard Glissant. I'm not sure if people are familiar with him, but to give a brief introduction to him, Édouard Glissant is a poet, writer and philosopher from Martinique. He talks a lot about the use of poetics in our daily life and how the use of poetics can open up a diversity of realities for us4.
LF Senakirfa, I was just wondering because you have both a literary practice and a visual one. Could you share a few words about how you infuse both sides of your practice?
SA Yes, of course. The course I'm following at Rietveld Academie is called Text and Textile. Within that, we approach textiles through text or back everything up with the text we're reading.
So the course is a bit theoretical. But I think that in the years that I've been studying there, I always thought it was essential to emphasise everything that goes on behind the curtain.
[EP [Estelle Pom] has entered the digital roundtable]
HAM I think my work is not directly linked with science fiction. But I think the link I can make towards myself is with the works of Donna Harraway and Ursula Le Guin; that when you imagine worlds, these worlds can appear as fact.
So when Donna Harraway is speaking about the Camilles5, the generation of children mixed with butterflies, she's into the idea that when you want something to happen, it can happen, but it doesn't have to be a literal concept.
And how I tie this into my own practice of being a visual artist or graphic designer is mainly making tools and objects for the trans community and the queer community.
SK That's interesting; thinking of concepts as not having to be literal can be freeing.
HAM Yes, exactly, because for me, we are right now living in a dystopia. The world we live in is not the world that I want, full of hate and discrimination, and I think I want to fight. I want to create a utopia or...perhaps more than utopia, I want Heterotopia, which is one of the concepts I care about. Heterotopia is a concept or term invented by Michel Foucault6, who imagined this moment where reality, your reality and the world come together, where previously not possible. I don't know if that explanation is really clear; it's a bit complicated for me to elaborate in English.
LF Yes, yes, I think it's clear. Please continue.
HAM I currently live in a dystopia, but I want to change it into utopia or Heterotopia, with authentic methods and tools for queer and trans communities now. To share another reference, I'm thinking of The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (2011)7, a movie by Marie Losier and how we can also think of the transcient possibilities of people so that you constrict your body into a kind of utopia, dream, and also political body.
And one more reference is my last movie, my first documentary that I just finished, where I wanted to share the political identity of Cuco, a transgender latex hacker.
"We have to, in fact, invent our own vocabularies so that people feel seen and represented. It's something that queer activists and trans movements are deeply linked to and are sensitive to."
—Hélène Alix Mourrier
LF Hélène, I wanted to talk about how you're also creating a sort of visual vocabulary in your work. You use specific terms like fluidity and things that are a bit wet and sweaty.
You reference in your work how you came up with some of this visual vocabulary to counter words that were applied to your aesthetics and that were thrown at you. For instance, teachers saying that what you were doing was too girly. You've gotten to the point now of reappropriating these terms whilst using other language associated with parts of the design works that are undervalued by the hegemony of Western modernist trends in graphic design. And I think it's something that we see with the fonts that you use for the title texts, which ByeByeBinary developed.
In that sense, even though your practice is not directly linked to science fiction like you mentioned in the beginning, it is connected to progress and fiction, which I find interesting in your work. I don't know if you want to add something bout this dimension of creating or reappropriation literary terms and how you are turning, inventing and flipping visual vocabularies.`
HAM We have to, in fact, invent our own vocabularies so that people feel seen and represented. It's something that queer activists and trans movements are deeply linked to and are sensitive to.
In that sense, I look to Audre Lord's text in which she speaks about not using the Master's tools or language— you know? I think there is something about using language that connects appropriately with your own culture or community.
For example, within the LGBTIA+ or queer culture, there is an increase in terms like 'camp' and 'kitsch' along with various other reappropriations of feminine figures and languages like drag or sassiness, girly, non-valuable.
LF Yeah, for sure. It's something that, Senakirfa, you also mentioned, that you did not recognise yourself in this particular literary genre or culture. Then when you suddenly did, there was a discovery of the ways you were able to fit into the [science fiction] narrative and how much it could open other worlds.
Hi Estelle, so lovely to see you. Maybe we can introduce this new presence. So, my dear Estelle, would you like to introduce yourself shortly?
What we've been doing so far is saying how we're feeling today to ground ourselves into this digital space.
EP Glad to see you all. And the discussion is so far fascinating. I was thinking about all these topics when I finished studying. During my education, I was familiar with the utopian and dystopian subjects, but I didn't pursue deep research into them since then, so I'm happy to be here today, and the conversation so far is vibrant and nice. Thank you, and oh yes, I feel pretty good today.
SK Thank you, Estelle, happy to have you here. As I said in the beginning, Eunice couldn't join us today because of timezone reasons. She's based in Canada at the moment. So Loraine had a conversation with her last night, and we have a recording of that, which we will play now.
[Recording of Eunice Tchitchiama starts, the video can be found in 'Further Reading']
LF Thank you, Eunice. It's a bit crazy how many things keep coming up between living in dystopia but hoping to create various forms of utopia that includes our being and our sharing references and starting points of thinking about 'topias. I'd like to circle back to Iyo and Senakirfa about who your own references are that might impact your practice?
IB This question always triggers me. Because yes, I have a lot of references, also within science fiction, but one of the moments that have been the most inspiring to me is community.
The moment where we meet communally in real life and where we get to define new norms, new terms, new ways of seeing a city, or like Hélène said new vocabularies.
It's great to have these big inspirations, but I know that for me, the most powerful moments are when we are creating utopias in real life; maybe it's then not utopian anymore, but to have a physical space where we can reappropriate and reproduce is something I appreciate.
SA I just remember when I first discovered Afrofuturism; maybe it's not related to science fiction, perhaps it is. But I remember being a little sceptical. I'd always been used to Black suffering and trauma that I couldn't wrap my head around what it meant to think in other dimensions.
It's not an inspiration per se, but it was some kind of starting point of me formulating my own way and my own reality. And then, of course, along the way, I started to discover artists and philosophers like Sun Ra.
LF There are indeed nuances and references in what it means to have references in the first place, so thank you, Iyo and Senakirfa, for sharing.
IB I also wanted to talk about distribution and materiality. Because when we are talking about utopia and dreaming, I find it essential in the world that we live in now to stay connected to some element of the present, not when we are dreaming, but after the dream. We've always dreamt, the practice of dreaming didn't start with Afrofuturism or science fiction, so when I'm talking about dreaming and imagination, it's also important for us to create a structure to these dreams and define what exactly these dreams are and for whom.
EP Sometimes, it becomes a bit of a burden to think about all of these nuances and topics on top of creating and being an initiator. I don't know; putting out initiatives and looking for support or asking for money and stuff like that, it can get tiresome. But at the same time, if we stop, nothing happens. So I hope to find new tangible solutions for the themes within this discussion. I don't ever want us to stop having conversations like what we have today, and I just want to remind us to keep going.
"I'd always been used to Black suffering and trauma that I couldn't wrap my head around what it meant to think in other dimensions."
HAM I think we don't have to ask for the right to create something, and we sometimes don't need it. Institutions or the people in power will not give us what we need to think or do radical things.
But I think that when you believe in what you're doing, you will at some point find support. It might not be at the beginning or in the form that you thought of, but as you said, Estelle, we should keep at it; then I think it will happen, and I'm okay with that.
SK This conversation really could go on forever for me. I think we've shared some valuable things that I hope to elaborate on more in a future discussion—hopefully in real life at some point. I'm thinking of Iyo asking, 'what happens after the dream?' Senakirfa's introduction to science fiction and Afrofuturism, Hélène's approach to creating and appropriating vocabulary for the communities that need them.
We've covered a lot today, but the word or term that keeps coming up for me is community, which is special. Because literature, of course, there is a thing of a literary community, but often when it comes down to producing the work, it always feels like it's this singular writer in a wooden room writing away. So I'm glad that we consider the who at the end of our utopian/dystopian dreaming. Thank you very much for your time; I'm extremely grateful.
LF As we close out, I just want to thank you, Sherida, for letting this become this big meeting with many people. It was amazing to gather people whose work I find super inspiring and important, as well as the opportunity to discover new works by people I didn't know. I am very thankful, and I look forward to finding concrete and material opportunities to meet again on this topic. I wish you all to find the proper opportunities to develop your research and practices on this topic.
SA I don't know if I can formulate the words, but I'm just grateful to be surrounded by people that I can unravel this topic. And I was honoured to be approached, and it was nice to see all of your [digital] faces.
IB So thank you very much for the invitation. I'm also happy for the form of the conversation and the shape it took in terms of talking about, like you said, community and imaginings.
HAM I hope we all continue what we're doing because it's important and interesting, so thank you, Sherida and Loraine, for the invitation and good luck with everything.