The NanoJanitor

Ricardo Dominguez


Nano_Janitor performed 10-13-05 by Ricardo Dominguez, directed by Adriene Jenik

In 2005 new media artist Adriene Jenik invited me to participate in developing a performance on nanotechnology for her project Specflic 1.0 (Speculative Distributed Cinema)1for the launch of a new edge technology institute, CALIT2/UCSD (where currently I am a Principal/Principle Investigator). I mentioned a character that I had been trying to develop since my days in Critical Art Ensemble, the "nanoJanitor." My original idea was to seek funding to get a job as a janitor at a major nanotechnology research laboratory-since this was going to be the only way at that time for me to get access to the tools being used in developing this technology (little did I know that I would be tenured as a professor at just such a laboratory years later!). The gesture took inspiration from the 1973 film, The Spook Who Sat By the Door (based on the novel by Sam Greenlee). That film, directed by Ivan Dixon, follows the fictive life of the first black CIA agent, Dan Freeman, who eventually resigns from the agency to return to Chicago and start training young black radicals in the strategies and tactics of guerrilla warfare. The Spook Who Sat By the Door really impressed me as a young man. I was fascinated, indeed inspired, by the character Freeman's insistence that a black janitor can get into any high security space because s/he is totally invisible to the larger system. I was never able to find the funds to do this year long performance, but the core idea of the gesture became my own "spook by the door." Jenik's invitation led to a series of video sessions where I improvised on whatever parameters of a narrative she imagined. Indebted to Dixon's film, my improvisations also owe much to the monologues of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, specifically his channeling of the "Border Brujo;" for this nanoJanitor knows his geography to be that of San Diego/Tijuana. *particle group* has included an iteration of this project, the following improvisation in some of its presentational venues (on an iPod nano): the nanoJanitor is a contract laborer in 2030 who is "in" for five years (he cannot leave CALIT2 until his contract is over). The nanoJanitor cleans the clean room in the nanosystems and material fabrication laboratories at CALIT2. His nightly ritual is surveilled via the school's media stream (A2MS). Over several decades, he has worked his way up from sanitorial engineer to hazmat crew to NanoJanitor and takes his responsibilities seriously, even as he longs to be home with his family. He has discovered that the nanotechnology researchers have released contaminated "nannites." The nanoJanitor then calls for the complete shutdown of CALIT2 research and starts a worker's strike—in response, the Vice Chancellor of CALIT2 fills the laboratory with "feel-positive particles" and the nanoJanitor begins to dream about all the wonderful things that nanotechnology will bring to the borderlands region.


1 SPECFLIC's stories are not just told, but experienced. Based on cutting edge science and engineering research, SPECFLIC 1.0 ("NanoJanitor") performs the social costs and benefits of accelerated progress. We thank Jenik for letting us share this improvisation with you. For further information about Jenik's ongoing efforts, see: