Kameelah Janan Rasheed

Dear Kameelah,

I stayed up late last night watching your videos on Vimeo and listening to you talk about your work. To the point where, this morning waking up, the following words leaked into my consciousness in your voice: “I don’t know about that. I am not the opposite of trees. I am made of flesh and I speak.”

I spent a lot of time with two videos in particular—the two recent presentations of your work at Present! and at RISD but it all started with me finding a more recent video on your website. I am talking about the one where you give a presentation explaining how you transcoded the coordinates of your mouse into algorithmic music.

I am fond of projects that come out of inconspicuous sets of data. Projects that don’t pretend to be other than approximations, tentative approaches to something that will remain, for the most part, cloudy. For a number of artists today, data has become an incredible source of creative material. With their data-inspired works, they demonstrate that data is not less fictional than words. I see their contributions as cautionary tales against our heavy reliance on statistical models coupled with the belief that they can predict (and control) the future.

I especially enjoyed your “prophecy” at the end of your talk at Present!. Your oracle, guided by an oulipian constraint—using only words provided by the audience in the chat—was playful, lighthearted, and life-affirming, as was the screen recording of you composing it. (For the past few years, I have been wondering why don’t more writers and artists record their creative processes like that. Maybe they do?)

Your work moves me because it is radically inclusive. On a technical level, its zine-like aesthetics and DIY ethos reject preconceived artistic frameworks predicated upon completeness. You call this process “leakiness” as you move your materials from container to container and you let your projects grow organically, even after you make them public. Your attention to the stains and traces they leave behind is particularly moving to me. On that emotional level, of centering and amplifying what usually goes unnoticed, I find myself at home. In the margins, the unevenness, the speckle or the fiber in the background, I am no longer an outsider. I find rest in these nooks and crannies and the possibility to stretch my mind in no particular direction.

I flip through the pages of your book, No New Theories, and I feel that I am standing inside an archaeological site of a not so distant past. I am no stranger to archaeological sites, because I grew up in Greece. The ancient ruins always weighed on me, though. I have mostly felt trapped by them, and I can hardly feel connected to their remote histories. On the contrary, the textual remnants, the fragmented lines and shapes in your book, seem to suggest connexions that are temporarily lost in the ample black and white space, but about to re-emerge at any point.

I am finishing this letter with a poem in one of the generative methods that you promote. I open a book next to me on a random page, then I spread my fingers so that each of my fingertips touch a random word.

  • thumb: consider
  • index: even if only
  • middle: a response
  • ring: active
  • pinky: human


Spyros Simotas