Stitching a Patchwork of Presence in Digital Place (2020)


In my last love letter to you I spoke about the stitching-as-community-building that we do across timezones and geographies in the space of our digital screens.  I used the metaphor of the everyday patchwork wrapping cloths made by women in Korea, who craft their “bojagi” from collections of discarded, overlooked and unused pieces of cloth, as a way to visualize how we craft our community – a digital patchwork made from “the collective scraps of intersecting concerns that structure the continual becoming of our group. Our digital bojagi is wrapping presence with each other, resisting the privileging of standard modes of authorship, rather, embracing acts of embodied co-creation – this is the way we build trust in transnational networks”.  This is the structural metaphor for the design of one of the tech platforms we created for world-making and well-being – Media Map and where we gathered together in May, 2019 to share our first letters.  We continue to create this digital patchwork from our situated and distributed places of living, through the act of being present, through the act of coming together periodically and often in asynchronous and piecemeal moments of time, when this act is as simple as adding a thread to a conversation in Slack.  This way of flocking together, in pieces, in small moments, has crafted itself into a greater whole comprising different patterns of presence over the past five years, patterns that express our community’s history, connecting the bits and pieces of what’s been happening in our lives into something that sustains us.  The way we craft our community with digital thread acknowledges the lineage of expression by diverse craftswomen including the narrative quilts made by artists such as Faith Ringgold whose quilts are “a tangible bond between present and past” and vehicles for telling community stories, connecting bits and pieces of life-stories into a whole. (1)  Each moment, each way that we flock together in digital place is a stitch and a trace that we add to our distributed community, in order to keep the connections in place.  

This flocking, this stitching in digital place has become even more precious and perhaps more precarious during the time of coronavirus.  Precarious because as we now spend so much of our time in front of screens, struggling and stretching to engage and be engaged with our students, institutions, and social lives, what does it mean to sustain ourselves using these neoliberal technologies whose relentless demands often seem at odds with the nurturing of body and spirit?  Precious because I find that being present with our community means even more during these times of deep anxiety and uncertainty.  Technology is a tool we may use to connect across our kitchen table but what sustains us is our collective presence expressed in the bits and pieces of our lives collectively shared, in stolen moments on different platforms we use agnostically as a means to keep our community in touch, especially now in these touch-less times.  This digital witchcraft works not so much through the technology itself but through the intent of conscious care and nurturing cast between us.

(1)  Dunn, Margaret M., and Ann R. Morris. “Narrative Quilts and Quilted Narratives: The Art of Faith Ringgold and Alice Walker.” Explorations in Ethnic Studies 15, no. 1 (January 1, 1992): 27–32, 27.