When Place favors Power: A Spatial Recount of the Ford-Kavanaugh Hearing

TRIGGER WARNING: This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

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On September 27th, in a charged hearing, that has since then, left a gendered scar on women across the United States, Dr. Blasey-Ford addressed the Senate committee and the world with this sentence:

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified.”

A statement that reverberates in a pit and echoes a hideous, shared sentiment – a deep rooted systemic intolerance embedded in our mental, societal and physical structures that predetermines positions, opinions and authorities of and for women.

Dr. Prof. Shannon Mattern, in her short, powerful piece Testimonial Tables, recently published in Avery Shorts  deconstructs architectural politics of the Senate room that silently witnessed the historic collapse of fair judgement, not dissimilar to the one we saw in 1991.

Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, with its walnut paneling, green marble accents, forest-green floriated carpeting, and vaguely Third Reich-ish pilasters and wall sconces, is not unlike other congressional hearing rooms in its staid formality. And like those others, room 226 features pops of color to appeal to the TV audience.

While the Senators perched a few feet above the proceedings, Mitchell met Blasey Ford and her lawyers at ground-level – table-to-table, E pluribus feminae, unum to E pluribus feminae, unum.

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After lunch, Kavanaugh took the table, alone and enraged. The Republican senators grew restless, eventually bypassing Mitchell to speak directly to their man.

Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh rested their nervously clasped hands and Coke cans on bare wooden tabletops, underneath which a black skirt concealed tangled wires and quaking knees.

Their wooden faces matched the wooden walls and furnishings, all emanating the privilege and polish of elite institutions that have long prioritized white patriarchal interests.

Mitchell and her little desk strewn with loose-leaf paper were telegenic accents, mere ornaments to the entrenched political edifice. Yet white patriarchal power would not be undone by women seated at skirted tables or tiny desks.

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Author: Surabhi Naik

Surabhi Naik is a designer and writer dedicated to Immersive Narratives & Experience Design based in New York City. A graduate student at The New School’s Media Studies Program, she is currently deep-diving into Immersive Storytelling Design & Research and is the Editor for Data Matters Publication at the Center for Data Arts.

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