The Scalability Project: Cacophony of Troubled Stories
November 30th, 2020–May 30th, 2021
The Scalability Project: Cacophony of Troubled Stories is an online exhibition and publication that includes artworks, texts, and interviews with and by adrienne maree brown, Anna L. Tsing, biarritzzz, Daria Dorosh, Felice Grodin, Gordon Hall, Melanie Hoff, Klau Kinky, Naama Tsabar, Nahee Kim, Rebecca Jordan Young, and Tabita Rezaire.
Cacophony of Troubled Stories is a rush of divergent narratives. They are honest, messy, contradictory, and unexpected. The exhibition borrows its title from anthropologist Anna L. Tsing’s call for listening attentively to a multitude of voices, human and nonhuman, to rethink new modes of collaboration across difference. 1 Inspired by her conceptual framework, we see contamination as an inevitable and desired form of disturbance that creates conditions for change. This is not the masculine, techno-utopian rhetoric of disruption or of moving fast and breaking things, but the methodical, deep labor that comes from “looking around, rather than looking ahead,” from gathering, rather than hunting.
This website is a “container,” by Ursula K. Le Guin’s definition, a tool for gathering stories that “brings energy home.” 2 The types of stories that need to be told and celebrated, according to Le Guin, are those that foreground the sharing of energy through unheroic acts of caretaking. We hope you will find them here.
The Scalability Project seeks to expand the bounds of feminisms, to make space for interruptions, clarifications, and most of all, disturbance. 3 The term “scalability” refers to the capability of a system to handle a growing amount of work. To scale requires precision, organization, and efficiency—there is no room for error. Scalable actions are therefore often homogenizing. They overlook anything that does not fit their frameworks, divergent narratives in particular. When scalability is placed in conversation with contamination, however, we see growth with the potential to include a plurality of life forms. The question becomes why and for whom?
As the title suggests, we view this website as a container of troubled stories. We are looking for those leaks 4 in the transmission, those cracks 5 in the infrastructure, those glitches 6 in the machine where potential for liberation lies. By reinterpreting the uses of the tool, we seek to tell stories that never end, stories that lead to further stories. 7
As you move through the site, you will encounter a number of elements that together represent the many voices we have gotten to know through our working process. The blue dots on your screen link to texts from our syllabus, the base for our understanding of present-day feminist practices. Like spores, they contaminate us. Our conversations are animated with their ideas. These dots hold the memory of the project; each time you refresh, they change, presenting you with different reading materials. The yellow dots are our constants, the commissioned works, texts, and interviews in this project, which will remain available for reference as you move through the site. This navigation invites you to make connections and generates organic associations.
Cacophony of Troubled Stories will unfold over a period of five months, gradually revealing all of the elements in this container. Both together and individually, these elements gesture towards events, actions, and phenomena that share different visions on feminisms, all of which grow not through homogenizing universalisms but through encounters and coalitions.
In the interstices of our encounters, our togetherness, we might see a leak, a crack, a glitch. In this cacophony of troubled stories, we begin to discern the discordant melodies of differing and conflicting realities. By translating these stories across varied social and political spaces, we find ourselves entangled.
Curated by Mindy Seu, Patricia M. Hernandez, and Roxana Fabius
Curatorial Assistance by Kyna Patel
Design by Wkshps
Edited by Andrew Scheinman
This project is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Anna L. Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, 2015↩
Le Guin positions the container, rather than the spear, as the first human tool, following the writings of Elizabeth Fisher. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, 1986↩
In “On Non-Scalability,” Tsing establishes that a primary critique of scalable frameworks is of their inability to maintain diversity. Taking that intrinsic flaw into account, we aim to not promote the amplification of a singular feminist framework. Anna L. Tsing, “On Non-Scalability,” 2012↩
In an interview with Jorge Cotte, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun states, “Every form of communication is based on a fundamental leakiness.” These leaks can be seen as moments of possibility. Wendy Chun, “Reimagining Networks,” The New Inquiry, 2020↩
Anna L. Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, 2015; Anna L. Tsing, Roxana Fabius, Patricia M. Hernandez, Mindy Seu, “Big histories are always best told through insistent, if humble, details,” The Scalability Project, A.I.R. Gallery, 2020↩
In Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russell sees the glitch as a catalyst rather than an error, a “correction to the machine.” Legacy Russell, “Digital Dualism And The Glitch Feminism Manifesto,” Cyborgology, 2012↩
Here we are drawing from Judy Wajcman’s definition of interpretive flexibility. Wajcman describes technology’s malleable character, emphasizing that there is nothing inevitable about the way technologies evolve. Users have the power to radically alter technologies’ meanings and deployment. Judy Wajcman, TechnoFeminism p.37↩