warehouse warehouse

You are. They is. Neo Ultra Punk.*

by Shu Lea Cheang

*A case study of two works – BRANDON (1998-1999) and WONDERS WANDER (2017)

A trajectory charged with detours and deviations since BRANDON (1998-1999) takes me to the newly released WONDERS WANDER (2017) made for Madrid Pride 2017. BRANDON, a one year web narrative in installments, teleports Brandon Teena, a transgender being who was raped and murdered for failed “passing”, from Nebraska’s interstate highway 80 to virtual sphere. WONDERS WANDER, a mobi-web-serial in 4 episodes, employs GPS navigation to track trans-homo-phobic crime sites off the center of Madrid and recounts tales of empowered nouveau queer generation.

BRANDON as a durational web art unfolds through the years 1998 to 1999 its narratives on gender fusion and techno-bodies online and on site with installations and performance staged at Theatrum Anatomicum (Waag Society, Amsterdam). The project set out as multi-institution, multi-artist, multi-author, multi-cast collaboration, its multi-interface design, including bigdoll, roadtrip, mooplay, panopticon and theatrum anatomicum serves as ‘entry’ to streams of recombinant narratives. Along the never ending roadtrip, Brandon meets other trans beings, including Herculine Barbin, Jack Bee Garland. Reimagined, recontextualized. These historical figures guides Brandon’s virtual journey where the boundaries for gender/time/space are blurred.


  1. quoting from “Duele” by Diego (Dee) Maesoss on his blog, http://pensandoennegro.blogspot.com.es

FLASH FORWARD – years later, Madrid, Spain, 2017.

Departing from Central Madrid’s Malasaña Barrio, known as Maravillas (Wonders) during La Movida Madrileña (the Madrid Scene) countercultural movement in the 80s, WONDERS WANDER takes the wonders out of Malasaña to explore off-the-mainstream nouveau queer generation that includes refugees, migrants, functional diversity, transfeminista, transfeminism, open family, subversive motherhoods, sustainable living, and the rise of auto-defense practices for self-empowerment. With the GPS guided mobile app. One follows the giving routes to walk the city, along the way, documented accounts of violation can be read on the actual sites where the incidents took place. This self-devised genre mobi-web-serial arrives at the locations where the 4 episodes are filmed respectively. Upon reaching these sites, one can then view and download the serial in the app. The city mapped in four directions – north, south, east, west, where unexpected encounters are plotted, both as historical documents and as fantasia tales of resistance.

Refuse to be cast simply as ‘victims’ of violent attacks, WONDERS WANDER assembles a Madrid based performers to scheme fictionalized counter narratives. The new queer generation are socially/politically engaged activists, resourceful and powerful. In writing the script, we (with my assistant director and script researcher Chus Sarrión) made search through social media, web documents and blog writings to locate some extraordinary characters. Based on their personal lives and writings, the script derives from personal stories to a collective manifestation of force. The four episodes:

Episode 1 – Con Brujas, Avanzamos (With witches, we move), on migrant queers.

Episode 2 – Un encuentro sobre ruedas (As the wheels meet), on sexual rights for functional diversity.

Episode 3 – Eres mía, solo mía (You are mine, only mine), on subversive motherhood.

Episode 4 – ¿entiendes? (understand?), on transfeminism and auto-defence.

The final episode “¿Entiendes?” translated as “Do you understand?“ is a word spoken softly when meeting the strangers during the homo-repressive time in Spain. The question carries a subtler message – “Are you queer? Are you one of us?” In this episode, six LGBTQ youths take us through imaginary scenes of loving, cruising, violent acts and recount their personal stories. Teo, trainer in auto defense, is joined by the six youths as they reclaim the streets with moves and kicks of defiance.

The 6 youth - Adela Granda, Elizabeth Martín, Dani Beltrán Cruz, Diego (Dee) Maeso, Hikari K. Devia, Danmeng Zhang in WONDERS WANDER, photo @Tamara Arranz

This nouveau queer generation who embraces the notion of non-binary, gender queer, gender fluid has acquired the web tools to document their own words and images online.

“Duele cada vez que fallo, duele, y no duele por fallar, duele la culpa, duele saber que habrá más veces, duele saber que es para ¿siempre? Duele porque cada vez que duele me enfado conmigo y aún no me he perdonado mis fallos del colegio. Duele porque aparece todo el rato, duele porque insiste, porque se clava en tu mente. Duele, pero no duele como un golpe, ni como una aguja ni como un mordisco. Duele, duele como cuando has comido tanto que no puedes ni moverte y sólo quieres morir. Duele como cuando recuerdas todo lo que callaste. Duelen los silencios, y duelen también los nervios en el estómago encogido por no comer, duelen porque pensaste lo peor y lo peor está pasando. Duele, duele mucho, duele pensar que no cambiaré nunca, que nunca me veré bien, que nunca querré mi cuerpo. Duele.” 1

However, one may also question if the online web platform is going to be lasting at the end. Mostly the young social media generation uploads their words and images direct from minds and eyes without self-keeping copies. As I am writing now, I note Adela Granda (one of the 6 youths) has deleted her blog from web presence and without any copy saved. When questioned, she answered she was feeling insecure for publishing nude pictures. Delete, Gone are accumulated years of diary/documents. Is it as she said that these online postings was just a form of “therapy” that she has ‘grown” out of it?

Back to year 1993, Brandon didnt have the “tools’ to voice himself, couldn’t pack up and leave town for the East/West coast (i.e. New York, San Francesco) where tolerance for gender queer may be found. BRANDON’s virtual roadtrip would ultimately lead us to ONLINE virtual court “Would the Jurors Please Stand Up? Crime and Punishment as Net Spectacle” where court accounts of accused gender deviants are the only documented archive left. BRANDON collected 7 cases:

Case#1 – CONTACT, NOT DISTANT [case of Brandon]

Case#2 – And I refuse, I refuse [case of Lambda Moo]

Case#3 – ALIEN ALIAS [case of Chanelle Pickett]

Case#4 – GOODBYE, JANE [case of Jane Doe v. Jake Baker]

Case#5 – PEEKING THROUGH THE EYES OF THE BODY [case of Sarah Hood]

Case#6 – YES, GUILTY [case of Chris Wheatley]

Case#7 – E-mail stalking

These online court documents serve to convene the virtual court performances that bring together jurors (via open calls) across various time zones for online trial sessions. To submit oneself as a juror, one has to complete the stress level test (based on questions posed to people seeking medical assistance for transition) and familiar oneself with all trial documents. The virtual court engages in debating gender related crimes with no verdicts on site using the public participatory online platform.

During my research for BRANDON project, I situated myself in trans communities respectively in San Francisco, Amsterdam and London in the late 90s, a time when the binary gender notion dictates the body modification proposed by sexual reassignment, one “transitions” to either FTM (female to male) or MTF (male to female). Nearly 20 years later, WONDERS WANDER brings up a new generation of non-binary creatures who swims free style in gender fluidity. HE/SHE/IT merge into a ‘THEY’ as a singular noun. Reflecting back to the medium/media, I have designated BRANDON as one year online work with preset interface/structure while allowing its narratives to flow and expand as living art in processing. With WONDERS WANDER, the current GPS/APP accessibility permits the public participation with network connections and opens up possibilities of open archive with documents uploaded by the public engagement.

As an artist and filmmaker, Shu Lea Cheang has worked with a range of art mediums and film formats, including installation, performance, net art, public art, video installation, feature length film and mobile web serial. From homesteading cyberspace in the 90s to her current retreat to BioNet, her exploratory trajectory merges life and work. Cheang is currently residing in Paris.

BRANDON (1998-1999) is Guggenheim museum commission and collection; Guggenheim relaunch 2017

Part of Rhizome’s net art anthology 2017

WONDERS WANDER (2017), a City of Madrid commission, for Madrid Pride 2017