Vent Diagrams is a collaborative social media and art project started by educator E.M./Elana Eisen-Markowitz and artist Rachel Schragis, two queer white jews in Brooklyn in our 30s.
We define a “vent diagram” as a diagram of the overlap of two statements that appear to be true and appear to be contradictory. We purposefully don’t label the overlapping middle.
Making vent diagrams as a practice helps us recognize and reckon with contradictions and keep imagining and acting from the intersections and overlaps. Venting is an emotional release, an outlet for our anger, frustration, despair -- and as a vent enables stale, suffocating air to flow out, it allows new fresh air to cycle in and through.
We’re trying to make “vents” in both senses of the word: tiny windows for building unity and power, emotional releases of stale binary thinking in order to open up a trickle of fresh ideas and air.
Here are some vent diagrams about vent diagrams... or, vents that best describe what this project is and why we’re doing it:
We both started making Vent Diagrams as a way to cope and process in our own lives -- and we continue to do so. Also, we think that there are many ways in which this practice is more widely useful and needed against the traps of oppressive, rigid thinking shaped by a long legacy of settler colonialism, violence, oppression and wastefulness in the U.S. and its discontents. And, @Vent_Diagrams is because other people are venting too: collaborating and interacting with other venters is what’s made this instagram project worthwhile.
A good vent draws out a tension that we don’t have language for because that non-binary overlap isn’t really part of our public discourse (yet). By styling these tensions as unlabeled venn diagrams, we get to a) actively confront binary thinking and b) imagine what’s actually in the overlap every time we see and feel the vent.
We decided to start @Vent_Diagrams and share our vents and venting as a process because collaborating between us was so generative and new and exciting -- and seemed to resonate deeply with many people in our off-line lives. We’ve talked a lot about how our shared cultural experiences as two white queer jewish women can in some ways limit this project and in other ways very much inform this project. We are working on how to use Vent Diagrams step into our own particular voices and make space to learn from other people’s voices.
We each started making vent diagrams as an intervention in our own overly rigid (colonized) thinking. We think the practice of making vents is super jewish and wildly queer and pretty feminist in a queer jewish way, and we’re into that. The best vents are non-binary, imaginative and non-normative (queer!); they aim to decolonize language and dialectics (feminist!); and they are full of questioning and exploring tensions and finding new meanings in old words (jewish!). As white jews, we want to name the ways our jewish cultural heritage is informing our lives & work as an anti-assimilationist practice, as a direct challenge to hegemonic whiteness and white supremacy.
We try to only post vent diagrams where the two sides feel legitimately contradictory, and also where both sides feel true... but celebrating complexity in and of itself caries risk. We see this particularly in educated, class-privileged white liberal spaces that we are both familiar with -- that understanding different perspectives becomes seen as its own end, and muddies our ability to act rooted in clear senses of right and wrong. We believe accepting multiple truths is part of the process of changing behaviors and systems, and are troubled when people who benefit from those systems use complexity as a reason to defer action.
In part because of some of the risks of intellectualism and privilege we talk about above, @Vent_Diagrams is a side project for us, an extension of our personal practices and a complement to our paid work. We wanted to collaborate on the act of sharing our vents with others, and we think social media is the place in our world where that kind of sharing and exchange happens. And, like our feelings about social media more generally, we think @Vent_Diagrams is pretty awesome and powerful, and also not the center of our worlds.
It makes the most sense to us to think of @Vent_Diagrams as a cultural intervention. We’re making visual art, and trying to facilitate others to make art, as a way to think and act differently.
We tend to keep our stylistic choices pretty simple and casual, but we definitely think of these as little works of art, because the visual is totally inseparable from the meaning. We’ve both developed our own “venting style” that reflects what is meaningful to us about the practice, and we love seeing the endless other ways that people put their vent-diagrammatic thinking into visual form.
We want to share this form & practice widely and freely -- use the form of vent diagrams however and whenever you want (maybe you’ve already been doing something like this for years! We certainly didn’t invent diagramming stuff!). We'd love to hear about it!
And, if you use the actual images we’ve created, please do tag and credit us! We try to always do this for other people’s vents and ideas too.