bloodlines / 2019
installation

Genealogy does not pretend to go back in time to restore an unbroken continuity that operates beyond the dispersion of forgotten things; its duty is not to demonstrate that the past actively exists in the present, that it continues secretly to animate the present, having imposed a pre-determined form to all its vicissitudes. Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people. On the contrary, to follow the complex course of descent is to maintain passing events in their proper dispersion; it is to identify the accidents, the minute deviations—or conversely, the complete reversals—the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and have value for us; it is to discover that truth or being do not lie at the root of what we know and what we are, but the exteriority of accidents.
—Foucault, 1971

I gave you my blood.
—My mother, c. 1992

Bloodlines is a 228-inch long installation made horizontally in Microsoft Excel and then rotated 90 degrees to create a dripping or oozing effect down the wall. It began as an inquiry into naming and the organizational hierarchy of the family tree. The tree serves as a symbol of nature, an inherited organizer used to display relational hierarchies of time and power, enacted subsequently through myriad metaphors. If the medium is the message, the tree is the medium that validates the family as a natural hierarchical entity positioned in linear time. The tree is, and has been, an omnipresent symbol for how we order and understand relationships—tying together ‘nature’ and ‘order’ in our collective understanding of the family.[1] Contemporary genealogical practices carried out on websites like Ancestry.com uphold hetero status markers of the family vis à vis patrilineal threads, while also privileging records of white lineages. Documents, or ‘records,’ serve as archival evidence in this online database—thus, archival evidence reflects social ties and social hierarchies. In this way, using Ancestry.com to gather family data and Excel to hold said data is revealing what was always there—the tree as disassociated from, but disingenuously carrying forth, our belief that nature is unquestionable.

To explore other ways to situate relations,[2] I accessed my family ‘records’ through a free trial on Ancestry.com and revisualized them in Excel. Instead of privileging the patrilinear social networks of marriage and children, like in a family tree, year 0 becomes cell A on my Excel Spreadsheet and each filled-in row comes to represent each individual’s lifetime. This is then tipped on its side to signal the movement of blood and the ways that the fantasy of documented ancestry often obscures “the accidents, the minute deviations” of the heteropatriarchal family structure.

By taking the family out of the tree, what might we learn about who upholds whom? Bloodlines destabilizes the goal of the family tree to organize humans into heteropatriarchal relation with each other. Rather, this visualization confronts the taught desire to rank and categorize—we cannot so easily reduce or deduce humanity into an organized network. Bloodlines does not ‘give’ us data.

Passed down narratives of my family tree are ‘verified’ by Ancestry.com, a business that asks us to ‘discover’ and ‘explore.’[3] But I, as ‘discoverer’ and ‘explorer,’ am confined by who has been documented and placed online, and in what ways. I dutifully ‘collect’ my grandparents (born in the 1920s or 1930s) through their certificates of birth and death. The next generation back (born around 1900) instantly becomes harder to locate; perhaps their database resides in Italy. Within these records, my bloodlines dictate my family tree, and my family tree dictates my bloodlines.

In Bloodlines, you can see where the bulk of these records lie as they thin out the higher and farther left you go. Dutiful dyads multiplying backwards through time reach stasis as people become unavailable to ‘collect.’ My own life, released from under the inflexible branch of my parents, typically positioned under them in perpetuity, now begins in column BXL.

The family marks time, or we mark time through family. Our tools for genealogical research, in ‘the sense of taxonomizing or organizing people into stable relationships with one another,’[4] upholds the fantasy of ancestry even though we may know, or have an inkling, that it is not as straightforward as is presented to us. That inkling is left unresolved, and we are left only to wonder. In Bloodlines, the fantasy of ancestry is put on display— the blood drips down the wall as a representation of how we consider this fantasy of time, of family. Bloodlines is not an archive.

At the same time, the family tree is individualized. All of this blood has been coursing through time to get to me, the ‘discoverer’ of my blood, the ‘explorer’ of my ancestry. And yet, this individualization denies collectivity outside of the family unit; kith are not searchable on Ancestry.com. Instead of thinking of our direct ‘bloodlines’ as lineage, why not consider the family ‘tree’ as more of a system that itself has a lineage, passing down heteropatriarchal time as a regulatory marker for our kinship ties?



[1] As is proclaimed in the Xenofeminist Manifesto: “Anyone who’s been deemed ‘unnatural’ in the face of reigning biological norms, anyone who’s experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural order, will realize that the glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer us—the queer and trans among us, the differently abled, as well as those who have suffered discrimination due to pregnancy or duties connected to child-rearing. XF is vehemently anti-naturalist. Essentialist naturalism reeks of theology—the sooner it is exorcised, the better.” (p. 15) [2] The shift in definition for ‘relatives’ is what Donna Haraway calls one of her favorite factoids: ‘…”relatives” in British English were originally “logical relations” and only became “family members” in the seventeenth century…’. In Staying With the Trouble, p. 103. [3] Ancestry.com website, accessed May 21, 2020.
[4] Orit Halpern Beautiful Data p 108
Mark