Organismal Futurisms in Brown Sound and Queer Luminosity: Getting Into Gressman's Cyborgian Skin


  • Sandra Ruiz University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Queer and Colombian performance artist Erica Gressman energized a room of minoritarian audience members in her 2016 avant-garde piece Wall of Skin. Fusing noise music, analogue technology, including circuit-bent electronics, handmade synthesizers, cybernetics, and biomechatronics, Gressman entered a darkened room dressed from head to toe in a snug, white nylon one-piece, her breasts taped tightly against her chest to erase any conventional markers of race, gender, and sex. With an impulse toward the synesthetic, Gressman creates what she calls a cybernetic skin for a world filled with white male experimental sound, from a formerly handcrafted light sensitive oscillator instrument made by the artist in the tradition of Nicolas Collins’s original designs. Playing here with the heteronormativity of white sound and the ontic infelicities of Brownness and sexuality, Gressman covers herself in photocells, utilizing the cyborg as an aesthetic and political intervention. She becomes a new organism, prompting the proliferation of sound through the simultaneous interactions of bodily movements and light. The spectator experiences luminosity as Gressman becomes the live embodiment of sound, creating a musical score with her body. By turning to philosophies of science and a particular account of sensory stimulus and skin, I argue that by performing as the closest thing to the visual embodiment of sound, Gressman’s sonic and kinetic enactments transition her into a new organism, making light change sound, being Brown and queer in performatively cyborgian ways. In doing so, she cautions us to pause with politics by decentering the human from the centre of racialized, sexualized existence. 


Author Biography

Sandra Ruiz, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Sandra Ruiz 

Assistant Professor of Latina/Latino Studies & English

University of Illinois