In it, I observe the reproductive futurity embedded within discourses of racial mixing to scrutinize the racialized and redemptive logics which surround hybridity. Temporal framings (i.e. recuperating the past, celebrating the present, and idealizing the future) form the basis of this article, which brings together the nexus of hope and despair to analyze the oeuvre of contemporary mixed race artist Saya Woolfalk. In three multi-year, multimedia, and temporally overlapping projects, Woolfalk creates the world of the Empathics, a hybrid race of women able to alter their genetic make-up to fuse with plants. Woolfalk integrates feminist ethnography and Afro-futurism into mediums of video, dance, and textile to bear on the utopian potentials of hybridity. Throughout the piece, I draw on Kadji Amin’s heuristic of “deidealization” to reveal how the ideals of utopia, empathy, and shared ancestry emerge and collapse in the Empathics’ world.
The article includes three sections, each organized around one of Woolfalk’s projects and its associated ideal. The first section analyzes the ideal of utopia in The Ethnography of No Place, a series of videos Woolfalk produced with documentary filmmaker Rachel Lears. I analyze the videos alongside historical contextualization of Woolfalk’s multiracial background, specifically through her grandmother’s involvement in the International Peace Mission Movement, a utopian interracial commune led by Reverend Father Divine in New York during the Great Depression. The second section deidealizes empathy through a close-reading of Woolfalk’s second project, The Institute of Empathy, a non-profit research and development collective managed by the Empathics. The institute uses empathy as the source to produce rituals which transform humans into plant-human hybrids. Through feminist critiques of empathy, this section argues that empathy is less an affectively charged catalyst for utopia, but a technique of neoliberal governmentality appearing as a specific feminist quality. The final section contends with the ideal of shared ancestry through Woolfalk’s most recent project ChimaTEK, a corporation set in a dystopian future which reproduces and distributes the Institute of Empathy’s rituals for profit. By mass-producing hybridity with a number of chimeric products, ChimaTEK is well positioned to illuminate the ethical dilemmas surrounding the recent upsurge in DNA testing (i.e. Ancestry.com and 23andme). I examine the science, politics, and commerce of the ancestry industry suggesting that the notion of shared ancestry (i.e. one human race, or “we are all mixed”) continues to suture empathy and hybridity to utopia, thus foreclosing the capacity to imagine alternative, and less violent, feminist futures.
You can find it here. I'd also be happy to message you a PDF.