Words Matter @ HASTAC 2019

We’ve just returned from Vancouver, BC with a lovely visit to HASTAC 2019 where we were honored to have our project “Words Matter” featured among the other amazing works in the Media Arts show.

Here was our original installation proposal:

In December 2017, media outlets reported that the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had prohibited seven words from appearing in budgeting proposals. The words were: diversity, entitlement, transgender, vulnerable, science-based, and evidence-based (1). Later reports suggested that the words were not banned, but merely listed as possible red flags for reviewers (2). These later reports, which attempt to assuage anxiety about censorship under the current administration, are indicative of a wider misunderstanding of the nature of censorship. Censorship may take the form of outright prohibition, such as forbidding indigenous language usage in schools. It may take more subtle forms, such as the argument that concealed weapons on college campuses will have a chilling effect on expression. It may take the form of mediated aphasia as in the case of device dictionaries that do not contain words like vagina or rape. To explore this complexity, we have developed an installation centered on the premise that words matter.

We first organized a workshop on the concept that words matter in February 2018. In this space we used embroidery, a slow medium, to evoke reflection on the seven words from the CDC. In continued workshopping we’ve expanded our approach to include a range of domestic and material technologies, computational craft, and physical computing. It our hope that remediating words, often considered ephemeral, into these forms will prompt viewers to consider the materialities of language and censorship. We assert through this installation that words are not just important; words matter.

Our participating artists have selected words on which to center their projects, including the 7 CDC words as well as contested language such as cute, labor, oriental, refugee, LGBTQIA, security, thug, and borders. Sample material forms include animations, 3d fabrication, garment-making, and visualizations of Turkish coffee reading.

Participants include junior and senior faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates, both advanced and first year.


Photo: Word matter workshop; Credit: purplekimchi on Flickr

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.14eb34cf29bf
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/health/cdc-trump-banned-words.html