Bio / cv

Cecilia Dougherty

The image above is of a 3-story mural of Biggie Small at 1091 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. This mural is astonishing in its height, boldness, beauty, and in its Bed-Stuy setting. It was going to be painted over but has been saved. A story about it here.

my cv

About Cecilia Dougherty

I’ve been a video artist since the mid-1980s. Before that, I was a painter,  self-taught and working on my own, but loving it. Besides video, I’m a photographer, a cyber artist, an anti-theorist and a writer as well. My videos have screened in many venues internationally, and I’ve participated in many film festivals and gallery shows. My interactive fiction is accessible online.

Video stills from Gay Tape: Butch and Femme, The Drama of the Gifted Child, Gone, Grapefruit, and My Failure to Assimilate (1985-2001)


When I first took up video, I made work about lesbian oppression, lesbian subjectivity, about community and about sex and sexuality. I was completely consumed with the inextricable elements of my sexual and social situation that made it necessary for me to see my oppression in terms of my liberation.

I also made video portraits of writers I knew whose work had influenced me: Laurie Weeks, Leslie Scalapino, Eileen Myles, Joe Westmoreland, Kevin Killian and Cedar Sigo. Working with writers gave me room to experiment with ways to visualize writing styles.  My writer’s videos and other video work by me is on my Vimeo channel at  https://vimeo.com/ceciliadougherty.

I have also experimented with animation, most of which is meant for small formats, for iPods (remember them?) and cell phones.  I enjoy coding and also enjoy working in an online atmosphere where the work is always available and ready.

My videos are housed at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and The Video Data Bank in Chicago is my distributor. My cyber art is archived at Cyland Video Archive, an international digital art archive.

Poster from my retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, curated by Andy Lampert

Interactive Fiction / IF

In the past five years, I’ve been devoting myself to creating Interactive Fiction, or IF. I created two long IF stories, Time Before Memory (2019) and a sequel, Shanidar, Safe Return (2023). What I like most about IF is that you can write stories that are not linear. You can open up the storyline to multiple and simultaneous threads, which becomes part of the content by default.

I’m using IF to explore one of my favorite subjects for fun and research: ancient humans and ancient times. I use a combination of image, story text, and sound effects. Since IF is text-based, it creates a large arena for the reader’s imagination to wander through. These stories are a way to research the past in terms of my own ideas about what makes us human as well as in terms of current scientific theories. The multiple and simultaneous threads of these stories satisfy my desire to never pin down any kind of scientific fact about what it means to be human. How great it must have been to hang out with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

There are other topics inside my long-standing fascination with early humans: the invention of race and the purpose of the racialization of humanity; gender equity, skills and talents and strengths of the various genders – possible contributions to social organization, spiritual and cerebral tendencies, language and writing, and of course love; migration – we’ve walked all over the world, beginning over a million years ago and we are still moving for largely the same reasons: survival, food, climate; Indigeneity and deep deep roots. Among other topics.

First page of Shanidar, Safe Return, interactive fiction by Cecilia Dougherty
First passage from SHANIDAR, SAFE RETURN

Drift and Ride

Drift and Ride, both from 2020, are two interactive photo essays that I created during the pandemic, one as it was just beginning – Drift – and one as we were further into it – Ride. They gave me a chance to work a tiny bit more with coding (as did the two larger IF stories) and to go through my substantial cache of digital photos of the walks I’ve taken in the preceding year of so. Drift begins as a walk through my Staten Island neighborhood, which is sometimes like a trip back in time – that’s true of a lot of Staten Island – but COVID fears and the total ineptitude and mean-spiritedness of our then-president Trump kept the text in the present moment.

Ride is about public transit, which became much less of a safe transit option for people during the pandemic. This piece is not about options, however. It’s about people-watching. Public transit offers a glimpse of chance encounters, meetings, conversations, New York street style, the mix and mashup of the residents of our city. Ride represents public encounters as imbued with happenstance. I wrote it the week after the 2020 election. Anticipation and political anxiety, Black Lives Matter, people losing jobs as businesses cut back or closed down. Remember what it was like? And we never quite bounced back.

Writing

My writing comes from being an observer rather than from a need to express myself.  I learned the most about writing from Georges Perec, the most well-known chronicler of stories of everyday life. His work helped me to escape ideology while keeping a clear head on issues that effect all of us – climate change, globalization and wealth inequity, justice, women’s oppression, and human rights.  Too much? Not really. I don’t write about those things – I’m not a journalist. Rather, those things guide me – the inherent connectivity and interactivity of everything, from the quantum to the universal and finding ways to observe it openly and freely, without judgment or motive. 

In 2013, my book, called The Irreducible I: Space, Place, Authenticity, and Change, was published by Atropos Press, which was associated at the time with the European Graduate School, where I earned a PhD in Media Philosophy. The book is based on my doctoral dissertation . Writing The Irreducible I also pushed me out of theoretical thinking and into looking at situations and circumstances of naturally forming connectivities and the pathways, via connectivity, to social change.

My book, The Irreducible I: Space, Place, Authenticity, and Change

The Irreducible I: Space, Place, Authenticity, and Change by Cecilia Dougherty

You can read a selection from The Irreducible I here.

The Irreducible I: Space, Place, Authenticity, and Change by Cecilia Dougherty, Atropos Press, 2013. Also available in KINDLE version.

Photography

I take photographs every day as a basic way to take visual notes on what’s going on around me. Sometimes intimate views of life, but not necessarily personal. Themes emerge in my photographs that don’t emerge in my videos: irony, freeform visualization,  impressions the world leaves on the passerby, immediacy, thoughtless awareness, reaction vs action,  and observing the transitory nature of the physical world – everything in transit, everything changing, all the time.

I have another series of prints based on video stills from my installation, In A Station, Petals. thanks to Kevin Killian for the title, by the way. If they gave prizes for titles…  In 2007-8, I was really broke and had almost no equipment except my Nokia flip phone and my computer.  And my girlfriend had just broken up with me. Yet I wanted to make work! I took stills based on tv shows I was watching on Hulu without much of an idea about what they would become. Eventually, I started a selection process and took Ezra Pound’s title and turned the metro station into a tv station to create a dreamy poverty-stricken human-scape of borrowed and captured images.

Digital print from the series IN A STATION, PETALS

I also take photos of architecture. I’m effected by how buildings sit in the landscape, or more simply, how they sit on the earth and how they are grounded. The building below is the St. Paul’s Bookstore building on victory Boulevard in Staten Island. I passed it a hundred times while taking the S.I. Ferry Shuttle from the Ferry Terminal to the College of Staten Island, where I teach. St. Paul’s is one of the ugliest brutalist structures I’ve seen. I like thinking about brutalist architecture because I can occupy my mind for a long time trying to understand who designed it, why they designed it as they did, and who would ever allow it to be built. Fun things to think about.

St. Paul's Bookstore, Staten Island
One of the most remarkable and, to my eye, ugliest buildings around – it’s the St. Paul’s Bookstore on Victory Boulevard, Staten Island. Brutal.