Check Box, Black Box

This experimental video deals with bureaucratic violence: the "black box" of the bureaucratic "check box" that trans* and disabled people encounter on forms and documents. Melting jelly black boxes, we discuss Kazimir Malevich's Black Square from 1915, algorithmic black boxes and bureaucratic check boxes.

This work was developed for the Constant Worksession Bureaucracksy in Brussels.


On Bureaucratic Violence, Disability Justice and Abolition

Disability Justice, as defined by the Abolition and Disability Justice Group is a framework for liberation that seeks to end ableism (systematic oppression faced by disabled people) in connection with all other forms of oppression. Abolition is a political vision that seeks to create a society in which harm and conflict are no longer addressed through punishment and incarceration.

The Abolition & Disability Justice Collective write on their website:

"Prisons and policing are not the only carceral systems. Investing in social work and psychiatric agencies is often framed as an “alternative” to policing and prisons. But mental health systems are also carceral and punishing. At the hands of these so-called “gentler” policing systems, people who are Neurodivergent and/or Disabled are simultaneously nonconsenually subjected to violence, incarceration and discrimination, and also excluded from shaping decisions directly impacting our lives."

We are melting the bureaucratic check box as an input device for a specific kind of black box, namely bureaucratic systems that often obscure accountability and that deliberately complicate access. At the core of this sits the desire to abolish systems that oppress through bureaucratic mechanisms and to understand check boxes as forms and actants of oppression. We point to the work of Lydia X. Z. Brown who speaks of "patterns of oppression" which connect struggles of marginalized people even if the specific forms of oppression are indeed different. Into these patterns, we inject melting oozes of divergence in the form of melting jelly.

Transcript of the Video

[VIDEO: On a white, landscape style video background, a black vertical rectangle video is overlayed / first image: A motor moves a paint brush, this spinning movement pushes a wooden platform / a hand squeezes a silicon cube form, black ooze in the rough shape of a box comes out and flops onto a white plate.

VOICE: By definition the black square in modern art is a 1915 painting by Kazimir Malevich who painted a black square on a white background. This was perceived as shocking, because up until that point the definiton of 'art' had rested on representation. The black square broke with this tradition by supposedly representing "nothing". Today, this black box is regarded as the zero point of modern art, representing "everything" – at least to some. Only a bureaucrat would think that a square, like a check box, could hold all categories.

VIDEO: Four white plates appear like stars in the night / on them, flopped black ooze in various states of solidity and in various lighting conditions / these plates gently spin.

VOICE: By definition an algorithmic black box takes an input, such as a data set, and produces an output. What happens inbetween is either not known to humans, or due to capitalist interest only known to specific humans. Algorithmic black boxes make it hard to ask for accountablity since corporate actors often shift responsibility on to the black box or algorithmic intelligence. This lack of accountability feeds back into bureaucratic violence as bureaucratic decisions are continuously automated.

VIDEO: With slight delay, five plates appear in different stages of opacity / turning, floating on a black background / ooze of different dimensions and consistencies spins on them. From above: On a white plate with green ooze on it spins like images of the Earth seen from space. From a side view: The video of a plate is rotated so that the plate turns upside down.

VOICE: By definition bureaucatic violence is the violence of making your experiences fit into the 4 cm line on an A4 page of paper to gain the access you might need. Bureaucratic violence is not having your gender identity marker available on an online fillable form. Bureaucratic violence is the avalanche of paperwork that one must wade through to gain access to health care, home aids, mental health support, food stamps or assistance, housing assistance, or any other sorts of aid programmes that are set up to supposedly help those most marginalised. These forms are often inaccessible due to the constraints of the systems and their unmanagable complexity. Bureaucratic violence serves often colonial apparatuses that have been put in place to purpously gatekeep and restrict access to those who seek it.

VIDEO: Slight delay / Two white plates with ooze appear, they gradually become larger and more transparent in size. Finally, the video images dissolve into a black background, leaving behind the black frame of the video on top of white surroundings.

VOICE: By definition the materiality of the black box is not definitely known. We are playing with melting rectangular structures of all sorts. In their wobbly, awkward dissolving, we are dreaming towards ending (check-boxed) bureaucratic violence.