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Local Autonomy Networks (Autonets) is a line of mesh networked electronic clothing with the goal of building autonomous local networks that don’t rely on corporate infrastructure to function, inspired by community based, anti-racist, prison abolitionist responses to gendered violence. The project is focused on creating networks of communication to increase community autonomy and reduce violence against women, LGBTQI people, people of color and other groups who continue to survive violence on a daily basis. The Autonets garments, when activated, will alert everyone in range of the the local mesh network who is wearing another autonet garment that someone needs help and will indicate that person’s direction and distance.


Local Autonomy Networks: Find Each Other is a collaboration between Micha Cárdenas, PhD student in Media Arts and Practice at the University of Southern California, Allison Wyper, Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA, Natalie Rosen and Claire Viele. We need funding to support the production of 12 Autonets garments and the presentation of performances and workshops at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, MI, the International Symposium of Electronic Art in Albuquerque, NM, the HTMlles festival of feminist new media art in Montreal, QC and the American Studies Association annual meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The project has been invited to all of these venues, but none of them are able to provide funding for all our travel costs, or materials to produce the electronics for future performances. The video above uses two early prototypes, but the actual Autonets garments are still in development. The devices will be made open source under an Open Hardware license and the designs will be made publicly available. We hope to be able to give working devices to people who need them through workshops once we feel they are working well enough to be distributed.


Performance – Find Each Other – “What is the practical meaning of deposing power locally? …How do we subsist? How do we find each other,” asks the Invisible Committee in The Coming Insurrection. Find Each Other is an experimental movement piece in which two performers explore space to the sound of poetry, using proximity sensing electronic garments from the Autonets series. The lights in the performers’ clothing change based on the wireless signal strength, a rough approximation of distance and a visible interpretation of connection.


Workshop – Building Local Autonomy Networks – How can communities build networks of communication that are not dependent on corporations? How can these networks facilitate safety for women, queer and trans people, people of color, differently abled people and all people subject to systemic violence on a daily basis? How can community based networks of communication facilitate community autonomy? Building on inspiration from the Transborder Immigrant Tool, a project I worked on with the Electronic Disturbance Theater to recycle used cell phones to turn them into life saving GPS devices that provide physical and poetic sustenance for people crossing the US/Mexico border, the Autonets workshop will engage a broad range of participants in a discussion of how we can form local networks of autonomy and solidarity in order to create community based responses to violences which are personal, gendered or state sponsored. Also inspired by the SOS SMS project, using text messages to respond to domestic violence, the workshop will consider a variety of approaches. Interested participants can take part in the second day of the workshop on building mesh networked wearable electronic fashion. This workshop was developed in collaboration with the Artivistic collective, based in Montreal.


Project Background


Wearable electronics are a new form of electronics that are enabled by threads and fabrics which have conductive material woven into them. The initial Autonets prototypes use the Lilypad Arduino and Xbee wireless transmitters, led lights and EL Wire to be able to send direction and distance information.


Autonets considers the potential uses of wearable electronics to create networks of communication based on mesh networking that do not rely on the internet to function. The project includes the development of technologies including wearable electronics, community building methods, theory and poetry. Autonets was the subject of Micha Cárdenas’ TEDx talk at TEDx Del Mar. The first iteration was presented at the Queerture fashion show at UCLA. Later generations were shown at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.


I envision a wide range of possible uses for Autonets. For example, a group of sex workers collectively organize to protect each other from violence. A group of bicyclists want to flock together for a group ride. A group of women, transgender and cisgender, agree to let each other know when they are walking home and when they’ve arrived home safely. All of these communities can benefit from Autonets, remapping urban environments.


In economic and ecological crises, large scale communications networks often fail and locally based, mesh networked solutions become life saving technologies. My current work seeks to develop wearable approaches to mesh networking. Mesh networking is bottom up instead of top down, not depending on telephone company infrastructure, each garment in the network relays messages to other surrounding garments.


The point is to change the dialog about these forms of violence so that they are no longer seen as an individual problem to be solved on an individual basis, but as social problems to be dealt with collectively.


Micha Cárdenas is an artist/theorist who works in performance, wearable electronics, hacktivism and critical gender studies. She is a PhD student in Media Arts and Practice (iMAP) at University of Southern California and a member of Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from UCSD, an MA in Communication from the European Graduate School and a BS in Computer Science from Florida International University. Her book The Transreal: Political Aesthetics of Crossing Realities, published by Atropos Press in 2012, discusses art that uses augmented, mixed and alternate reality, and the intersection of those strategies with the politics of gender, in a transnational context. She blogs at and tweets at @michacardenas. Micha’s recent publications include Trans Desire/Affective Cyborgs, with Barbara Fornssler, from Atropos Press, “I am Transreal”, in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation from Seal Press and “Becoming Dragon: A Transversal Technology Study” in Code Drift from CTheory. She was previously the Interim Associate Director of Art and Technology for UCSD’s Sixth College. She has been a lecturer in the Visual Arts department and Critical Gender Studies program at UCSD and an artist/researcher with the b.a.n.g. lab at Calit2, the UCSD School of Medicine and CRCA. Her collaboration with Electronic Disturbance Theater, the Transborder Immigrant Tool, was the subject of widespread media coverage. She has exhibited and performed in biennials, museums and galleries in places around the world including Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Colombia, Egypt, Ecuador, Spain, Switzerland and Ireland. Her work has been written about in publications including Art21, the Associated Press, the LA Times, CNN, BBC World, Wired and Rolling Stone Italy.

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