Introduction to Media Fields Journal's Special Conference Issue: Access/Trespass

Rachel Fabian, Issue Editor and Hannah Goodwin, Assistant Editor

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On April 4th and 5th, 2013, the Media Fields collective at UC Santa Barbara hosted its fourth biannual graduate student conference exploring the complex relationships between media and space. This issue of the Media Fields Journal is the first special conference issue, and its contents hope to capture the spirit of the presentations and conversations that engaged with our conference theme, Access/Trespass. In the conference call for papers, we and our co-organizer Alston D’Silva argued for the consideration of the relationship between access and trespass:

While access has been a useful concept for understanding rights discourses, implying a spatial relationship of a center to a periphery and a juridical authority that dispenses privilege, trespass may make more legible the outline of these accepted, naturalized, or enacted terms. We encourage scholarship that explores the tactical, rhetorical, or strategic deployment of “trespass” in various media contexts, challenging notions of who is deemed a trespasser, and interrogating who is calling it trespass.[1]

Indeed, the question of how the juxtaposition of access and trespass brings certain power relations into focus, while still leaving open possibilities for activist uses of film and media, was one that animated many of the conference presentations. The conference’s keynote speaker, Professor Ricardo Dominguez, specifically grappled with the forms of access and trespass enabled through media technology in his own art practices. Professor Dominguez’s talk, “Tactical Poetics, or How We Can Stop Worrying and Start Creating Disturbances (or Learning from the 80s),” reflected on his participation in performance art and media activist groups in the past thirty years in order to address the limits and possibilities of disturbance in online and offline spaces.

In our interview conducted after the conference’s conclusion, we asked Professor Dominguez to discuss his trajectory as an artist/scholar/activist and to comment on how he sees access and trespass as coterminous aspects of his own work. In the interview, featured in this issue, Dominguez outlines the aims of his critical practice of electronic disturbance while engaging in virtual sit-ins as a member Electronic Disturbance Theater, a cyber activist group he helped form in the late 1990s. He states, “The disturbance . . . functioned to dislocate the force of a utopia/apocalypse or visibility/invisibility paradigm.” In addition to the antinomies that Dominguez outlines, we might consider access/trespass as a dynamic term that could be interrogated—or disturbed—in order to engender what Dominguez terms an “insterstitial space-time relationship between data bodies and real bodies.”[ii]

Though Dominguez in part conceptualizes “resonances” in terms of temporal relations—e.g., the ways in which the social movements of the 1960s that took place “in the streets” could resonate with activists working in the 1980s and 1990s, or the fact that the particular oppression faced historically by the Zapatistas in Chiapas could resonate with hacking cultures in different parts of the world—his own practices have focused on contested spatial relationships and the role performance and aesthetics play in challenging the efforts of nation-states to surveil and police borders. Dominguez’s work employs interdisciplinary modes of inquiry to conceptualize not only what activism and art mean in a digital age, but also how historical perspectives and a critical understanding of space are necessary for understanding contemporary struggles.

Also in this issue, we have included selected essays from contributors to the three panels organized for the conference, all of which align with Dominguez’s work in engaging the concept of trespass in a way that reimagines the agentive capacity of those not “permitted” access. The first conference panel, titled “Secrecy and Access,” featured presentations that examined how media makes legible the uncertain terms that underlie the concepts of “expert” and “intelligence” upheld by authorities in differing national contexts.

Rahul Mukherjee’s talk, titled, “‘You are the first and the last journalist to come here’: Accessing Strategic Technoscience Spaces, Potential Forms of Trespassing, and their ‘Risky’ Outcomes,” focused on the critical practices of popular science journalists currently working in India, and how they mediate national, business, and public interests in their attempts to physically access and report on high-security defense research sites and nuclear reactor chambers. Further exploring the role of media in making visible “top-secret” sites and technologies, Abigail Hinsman’s paper, “The Terrestrial Encounter at Area 51,” reflected on her experiences from her visit to Area 51, and argued that the US government’s continued efforts to police and restrict access to this site participates the historical legacy of secrecy that has undergirded the US’s development of aerial technologies for intelligence purposes. Included in this issue is an essay by Daniel Grinberg developed from his conference talk, titled “‘This is My Country’: The Battle For Access and Space in Burma VJ.” In Grinberg’s piece, he explains how the documentary Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country (dir. Anders Østergaard, Denmark, 2008) employs footage recorded by Burmese Video Journalists (VJs) to visually render citizens’ struggles to secure spaces of protest in the face of military threat during the 2007 uprising. Grinberg discusses the ways in which the dynamic relationship between access and trespass is reflected in the film’s depiction of citizens’ strategic claims to public and private spaces in spite of government censure.

The second conference panel, titled “Anonymity and Surveillance,” considered modes of surveillance—the ways governments, corporations, and other powerful entities access our information and thus trespass, in a sense, on our privacy—and, conversely, modes of anonymity—the ways people may resist, escape, or evade these efforts to define and track us. Steven Malcic’s talk, “Accessing ARPAnet: The Emergence of Digital Identity,” argued that digital identity, which is commonly written about in opposition to identities within the “real world,” are in fact also materially constructed. Malcic’s examination of early ARPAnet networks suggested how this nascent media infrastructure, in its use of geographic information and social categories to identify users, was already embedded with modes of surveillance and control. Monika Sengul-Jones’s paper, “‘Can we find out if she is pregnant?’: Narratives and practices of scoring data in predictive analytics,” examined the ways corporations like Target trace their customers’ purchases to determine highly personal information, like whether or not a woman is pregnant. While critical of corporate surveillance methods, Jones also discussed the ways customers can resist and undermine corporations’ attempts to surveil them, preserving their anonymity and privacy even in the face of such pervasive (and invasive) practices.

Andrew Gansky, in “Documenting Surveillance, Surveilling Documentary: Testimony and Anonymity in Jacqueline Goss’s Stranger Comes to Town,” analyzed Goss’s unconventional documentary, in which six anonymous interviewees, presented as animated figures, discuss their experiences as targets of US security surveillance protocols. Gansky argued that the desire of the interviewees to remain anonymous suggests the extent to which they felt their identities and bodies were trespassed on by the US government. He further argued that Goss’s mode of documentary, which allowed her subjects to maintain anonymity, left room for them to contest the US government’s invasive policies without further violating their privacy. Finally, Michael Tauschinger-Dempsey artist’s talk, “Access/Trespass and Forms of Surveillance,” highlighted some of his own art projects and the ways they engage with conversations critiquing societies of surveillance and control. Working at the intersection of Sengul-Jones’s discussion of corporate attempts at surveillance and Gansky’s examination of state surveillance politics, Tauschinger-Dempsey argued that even systems of surveillance that purport to be in the interest of homeland security in fact serve corporate interests above all. Tauschinger-Dempsey’s artwork is included in this issue along with his commentary.

Our final conference panel, titled “Staging Resistance,” examined the ways in which visual regimes become transformed within political movements and subcultures to different political ends. Greg Burris’s talk, “Nothing to Lose but Bobby Seale’s Chains: Punishment Park, Vladimir et Rosa, and the Real-ization of Resistance,” analyzed the racialized in-court chaining and gagging of Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale in 1969. In his presentation, Burris traced the emergence of this potent image of Seale (which was never captured using photography) in the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin. Burris argued that the mise-en-scène of Seale’s captivity that these filmmakers evoke creates the possibility for the radical alterity of the Lacanian “Real” to become manifest and accessible.

Samantha Chang’s talk, “Graffiti in Motion: Modes of Trespass in New York’s Subways” explored how subway graffiti-writing served to rupture and expose the effects of economic and social transformations in New York City during the 1970s and early 1980s. In Chang’s essay, featured in this issue, she employs Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “media environments” to examine the ways in which subway graffiti was omnipresent and sensorially accessible to urbanites as well as capable of staging forms of trespass that exposed the class and race-based stratification of New York City during this period. Jing (Jamie) Zhao’s talk, “Fandom as a Middle Ground: Fictive Queer Fantasies and Real-World Slash Lesbianism in Fei Se Chao Nv (FSCN),” analyzed a slash-fan site, Fei Se Chao Nv (FSCN), for the hit Chinese show Super Girl (Hunan Satellite Television, 2004–2011). She employed the concepts of access and trespass critically to demonstrate how the site complicates assumptions regarding the liberatory potentials of online slash fandoms. Her piece in this issue further examines the queer reading practices of Super Girl’s slash fans and argues that slash fans’ ambivalences toward queer identities within FSCN reflect the complex ways in which forms of online identification are still partly determined by dominant Chinese cultural values that privilege heterosexuality.

We are also very excited to include Professor Janet Walker’s reflections on the conference’s proceedings in this issue. Professor Walker facilitated the conference’s concluding round-table discussion, which included the conference organizers as well as UCSB Film and Media Studies alumni Chris Dzialo (PhD 2012) and Media Fields Journal co-founder Jeff Scheible (PhD 2011). This closing conversation highlighted the conference’s major themes and points of contention, while also reflecting on the history of Media Fields and its ongoing commitment to the kind of spatial media studies this conference engaged with. In her piece in this issue, Professor Walker considers how recent events—like the striking down of Proposition 8 in California and the public’s responses to the actions of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning—reflect some of the questions that the coupling of access and trespass raises in terms of the intersections between scholarly inquiry and activist practices, and the role critical understandings of space play in approaching contemporary issues. We hope that this special issue demonstrates the current relevance as well as the historical valences of our conference theme and promotes further discussions of the tactical, rhetorical, or strategic deployment of notions of “access” and “trespass” in various media contexts.

The editors would like to thank again all of the sponsors and supporters of Media Fields Conference 4: Access/Trespass:

Alston D’Silva, Conference Co-organizer
UCSB Department of Film and Media Studies
UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center
Professor Anna Everett, UCSB Department of Film and Media Studies
Professor Lisa Parks, UCSB Department of Film and Media Studies
UCSB Department of History of Art and Architecture
UCSB Media Arts and Technology Graduate Program
UCSB Multicultural Center
UCSB Chicano Studies Institute
UCSB Graduate Student Association
American Cultures & Global Contexts Center at the Department of English, UCSB
UCSB Graduate Division


[1] “Media Fields Conference 4: Access/Trespass Call for Papers,” (accessed 1 January 2014).

[2] Ricardo Dominguez, interview by Rachel Fabian and Hannah Goodwin, in "Access/Trespass," ed. Rachel Fabian, special issue, Media Fields Journal, 2014,

Rachel Fabian is a PhD in the Department of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara. She received her BA in English and Film and Television Studies from the University of Vermont in 2011. Her research interests include feminist approaches to the study of transnational and collective filmmaking practices. She was a co-organizer of the 2013 Media Fields Conference: Access/Trespass and is an editorial assistant for Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies.

Hannah Goodwin is a PhD student in the Film and Media Studies Department at UCSB. She is a member of the Media Fields Collective and works as an editorial assistant for Camera Obscura. Her work deals with European film theory and conceptualizations of space and time in the context of changing discourses in science, and particularly within popular astronomy.