ruin

how many hands did god
cut – makers
of coffeebeans & compost &
money, mahals
how many hands 
fell

left carpets 
of wool & ice & persian delight &
skin severed; centerpiece 
shimmering

in the sun, 
my hand reveals the brushwork
the veins & their decisions
i have written, here

my wonder & my questions
the stones i have thrown 
in god’s koi 
pond watching for ripple 
to sunburst upon 

this ruin 
i stand 
before.


out of (the) blue

what is new in the world is not
bombs in yemen or
the plateauing of tragedy inside
a single body

long consults with galaxies aver
our universe is a lulling turquoise—
        revision—
our universe is beige   and as heavy as
the vinyl hospital shower curtain

unconcerning round a life
inside scattered wet a human pretending
lullabying themself
maybe i have enough memories of love for this lifetime

what is new in the world is not
forgetting molten lava is local or
the unseaming of sex inside
a single body

what is new in the world is only
the animal’s own sound of suffer hearing
itself—
          revision—
what is new in the world is only when the        last last eye sees sees blue

Artwork by Wayne Gentner, “Blue.”

Hearts and Brains.

Ismael-Nery-0331

upon her heart:

[per] ————————–happiness

upon———————-  her ———————-head:

think —————————————————————[gamy]

upon ————————————–our ————————————-state:

feeling —————————————————————————————-[pathy]

upon our fate:
over–thinking.

 

 

Artwork by Ismael Nery

 

A Concert for Plastic Bottles

aurora

I call plastic a friend. Do you?

 

39441425_488176594985116_3702105506702163968_n


With the global economic prevalence of petroleum, so came a massive abundance of plastic. With possibilities to chemically engineer it and thus, fulfill a plethora of purposes, plastic soon replaced wood, stone and metal in the crafting of everyday materials. Plastic has become so essential to us, we don’t even notice it. If you’re reading this on an electronic device, perhaps you weren’t fully conscious of its plastic components until reading this sentence.

Unfortunately, while plastic’s ubiquitousness has led it to blend into the background, it has also, more literally, begun to blend with the biosphere. Due to their strong polymerous molecular structure, plastics cannot biodegrade – through wear and tear, as well as photodegradation, they can be broken down into smaller pieces, but these pieces themselves will never go away. Once they’re reduced to smaller than five millimeters, they are referred to as a microplastic. Becoming aware of and understanding the existence of microplastics is crucial to understanding how and where plastics create impact on our world, both in the present and future.

These tiny things are, essentially, everywhere. The oceans teem with them. And when drinking from a plastic bottle, you are now probably ingesting some amount of microplastics as well. Plastics are not only all around us, they are within us too.

 

39453164_2170723573181363_3496859456396853248_n


As plastics, micro or otherwise, become increasingly entangled with our environment, the inhabitants of the biosphere seem to be unable to escape interacting with them. Many of these interactions are quite gruesome and deadly, such as the albatross suffocated by plastic in Chris Jordan’s haunting short film Albatross (2017) or the cod raped by a dildo that Heather Davis opens her Toxic Progeny article with. Sometimes, biological beings have managed to successfully colonize plastic, using it to their advantage in survival. Davis mentions that microplastics “are becoming rafts of biodiverse ecologies for bacteria and viruses”. Scholar Kim De Wolff writes about a ghost net in the open ocean, where researchers have found “a host of coastal species: coral, reef fish, sea slugs and even a lone oyster”. She also writes of the Velella vellela, a species of jellyfish, which is perhaps a very direct example of a fusion between a biological being and a synthetic plastic: “Velella vellela may have incorporated synthetic materials right into their bodies. […] They are both plastic and jellyfish.” Plastic is not only around us and within us, it is becoming a part of us.

With plastic production showing few signs of diminishing and the rising inevitability of entanglement between biological beings and plastic material, it seems to me that efforts to “save the environment” from plastic need to go in two directions: first, we must try to move away from the mass production of plastics; second, we must learn how to live with existing plastic, and to minimize the damage it causes. It is the latter problem that fascinates me. What does learning how to live with plastic entail?

39585278_309487086278719_2014045001297690624_n.jpg

In their futurist speculative fiction piece The Ragpicker Meets the Composter, Ståhl and Lindström present us with a glimpse into a future where plastic is much more valued than it is in the average human’s mind today. The Ragpicker spends their working days collecting scraps of plastic washed up on the shore, and has a certain appreciation for the plastic that we presently do not have. “Look at this beauty! It’s got shimmering stones and a toothbrush almost in disguise. I think I want to keep it as it is.” the Ragpicker says, and then mentions how the other ragpickers make jewelry out of the plastiglomerates (stones containing sediments and other natural debris, but held together by plastic) that they find – a process of literally turning trash into treasure, meaninglessness into art. This appreciation for plastic is in line with political theorist Jane Bennett’s ideas of vibrant materialism, which mentions that “vibrant materialists… linger on those moments during which they find themselves fascinated by objects”. It is in a vibrant materialist approach where the Ragpicker excavates this kind of fascination and value for the plastic they come across, directly contrasting with the way that most humans perceive plastic currently.

The writer Heather Davis asserts, “Although plastics appear as mere surface, designed to be discarded, and are associated metaphorically with change and malleability, plastics are actually extremely obdurate materials”. Even though we often regard plastics as temporary, using them only once and then simply throwing them away, they outlive both our expectations and even our lives. Because they will be around for longer than supposedly intended, they can thus be useful for longer as well. So, if us humans could harbor a higher appreciation of plastic, like the Ragpicker or, in some sense, even befriend the material, we would be less willing to just throw it away. Instead, we would rather prioritize searching for methods to optimize its usefulness, even impose on it a new purpose – one that is more emotional rather than pragmatic.

 

39442950_308977569664119_3587979240575860736_n.jpg

How can humans begin to befriend plastic? This is the main question around which my art piece was conceived. The piece was a concert where the main intended audience, rather than humans, was a crowd of empty plastic water bottles. Music, or merely sound, is an interesting area to explore in the quest to befriend plastic. Unlike art that is solely visual, sound waves create vibrations that are capable of transmitting energy not only to our eardrums, but also to other various materials. I first became aware of this at a rock concert, when I felt my half-empty plastic water bottle vibrating from the band’s loud bass. But I noticed it would vibrate only when particular notes were played, likely because these notes corresponded to the harmonic frequencies of the bottle. The fact that these vibrations are not only intermittent, but in fact selective, is fascinating. Like a human who is emotionally moved by a particular song attached to a memory, the plastic bottles are moved by particular frequencies within sounds that match their current size and shape. This makes sound a medium that physically interacts with the plastic bottles in ways that are comparable to mere touch or even hearing, thus inviting the human audience of the piece to consider what the water bottle might be experiencing in the moment.

The concert does not exist by itself, however. There is a short curtain speech before the human audience enters the room, where I explain that the audience has already been seated and that there may be only a few seats still available. This part elaborates on the social and political positioning of the bottles within the piece. It directly prompts the human audience to consider the empty bottles as more than just trash – the bottles are now clearly audience members, presumably also here to enjoy the song. The fact that the bottles far outnumber the humans and that they sit on the floor, not just on the chairs, is important to the piece. The human audience is asked to be careful with the plastic audience when entering the space, suggesting the bottles rank socially level to the humans. Once more, the bottles are no longer considered mere garbage, or beneath us; they are equal audience members. Portraying them as such invites a host of other various associations we have of theater audience members: they are wealthy enough to afford a seat; bumping into them creates awkwardness. When a human bumped into a water bottle during my piece, the rest of the human audience gasped, almost as if she had stepped on some important person’s foot and caused a commotion. Additionally, we think the theatregoers have set aside time for their leisure, choosing to go to a concert, and not just any concert, but with regards to my piece, a solo music recital sung by a suited man on an elevated platform with atmospheric lighting… they have a particular taste. Within my constructed scene, the bottles thus elevate themselves from their performative capability as trash;  they morph into plastic wrapper-wearing audience members at a bourgeois classical music recital.

One last important choice was the the song. In the little introductory speech for the song, I explain that it is very significant to me and that “it is about love and the Moon”. The song is in fact Luna de Margarita written by Venezuelan singer and composer Simón Díaz, and when I say that it means a lot to me, I sincerely mean it. Margarita is the name of my island home in Venezuela. While growing up, I have also always been enamored by the Moon. Moreover, Luna de Margarita appeared in the movie Pina by Wim Wenders, which is a matter of pride to me, seeing a piece of my culture in a documentary about one of the last century’s greatest artists. The water bottles do not have a brain and hence they will never be able to grasp this last sentence as you, my dear human reader, just have. But what matters is the intention. If we humans fully open up to the water bottles, we will begin to get closer to befriending them, or to at least start shifting the way we perceive them and treat them. Sharing important memories and emotions are, after all, important in nurturing a friendly relationship.

Thus, the piece constitutes an experience that invites its human audience to reconsider the value and existence of plastic water bottles and, hopefully, other plastics in their lives. Perhaps the next time they drink from a plastic water bottle, they will at least remember having sat next to their kind in a concert and begin to develop a sense of kinship with them, maybe even prompting them to become closer to the bottle, learn more about it, and take better care of it.

 

39442417_440174973137756_7913501870222475264_n


This piece stems from an assignment that involved creating a 5-minute art piece on Plastics. The art piece consisted of a one-song concert inside a room where both class members and a mass of empty water bottles were considered part of the audience.

 

Photographs courtesy of the author.
Header artwork by Aurora Robson.

 

References
Bennett, Jane. “Vibrant Matter.” London, Duke University Press Durham, 2010.
Davis, Heather. “Toxic Progeny: The Plastisphere and Other Queer Futures.” Philosophia, a Journal of Continental Feminism, vol. 5, no. 2, 2015, pp. 231-250.
Jordan, Chris. “Albatross.” Chris Jordan Photographic Arts, video, http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway-film/#trailer.
Lindström, Kristina; Ståhl, Åsa. “Plastic Imaginaries.” Continent, vol. 6, no. 1, 2017, pp 62-67.
De Wolff, Kim. “Plastic Naturecultures: Multispecies Ethnography and the Dangers of Separating Living from Nonliving Bodies.” Indeterminate Bodies, special issue of Body & Society, vol. 23, no. 3, 2017, pp. 23-47.

 

Antagonism

Fables are told using anthropomorphized animals to teach us humans a lesson. Animals, imbued with Man’s traits, are supposed to make our character defects a little more easy to swallow. “I’m not lazy, the damn grasshoppers are.” Of course, we know that Man is an animal the same as all the others, and so this distinction is quite meaningless. Perhaps all stories are fables then, or fables are a superfluous genre name. I already see the headlines: Why calling a story a “fable” is  human centric hate-speech towards animals. Thank you HuffPo for your service.

Anyway, all of this is to say, that the following is a fable, despite featuring Man amongst its major characters.

Anna was living alone in a very old house, which she had inherited from her parents. Her parents had died a year ago, on a ship in a big storm. It was the sort of non-traumatic death from a fairy tale, where actually dealing with family dynamics is not part of the scope of the story, and neither is dealing with loss or grief. The author summons up a quick storm, parents are gone so our hero can take on the world all by herself. Perhaps she spends a weekend being sad offscreen, but that’s it.  

So Anna was living in an old house. And in this old house there had been a problem for one hundred years. Every spring, when the weather got warm a band of ants absconded from the nearby anthill to try their luck in the outside world during swarming season. And each year, a small group of these antventurers found their way into the bathroom of this old house. Anna’s parents, by now tragically dead, were always very good sports about it. Don’t expect that they didn’t kill any ants; of course they inflicted terrifying horrors on the intruders. Enormous hands came down to flatten tens of the ants at once. Water from the showerhead washed the survivors off the walls of the tub. Once they were down the drain there was no distinction between the living and the dead. As index fingers descended onto them, breaking the feeble defenses of their exoskeletons, they were crushed between finger and porcelain to release the chemical scent signal for grave danger and death. Their olfactory screams of despair didn’t register with the humans.

But they didn’t kill all of them. About half of this group of stragglers were left alive, stunted by the PTSD from witnessing their brothers and sisters destroyed by gods.

Probably the only people who followed Article 23 of the 1899 Hague Convention, Anna’s forebears stuck to conventional weapons. They preferred to destroy part of the invading forces, and leave others alive to deliver the message. Anna’s parents liked to call it just a gentle caution: don’t come into the bathroom, you formic shits.

However, this year was different for two reasons. First of all there was Anna, who had none of the patience of her parents. Even as a child she was always felt big and powerful when she got to stomp around on them. But there were also the ants. There would be groups back at the colony who would not heed the advice of the delusional survivors . “Pfft, sure, a god crushed Roger, you all just went too hard on the sugar stores in the kitchen, you damn junkies”.  And these came to face their own doom. The procedure of antnihilation would have to be repeated multiple times.

Anna had no patience for any of that. She would not hesitate to use chemical weapons at the first sign of an intrusion.

There was also a much more sinister group. With survivors of the gentle reminders forming a larger part of the colony, there was growing hatred towards the house and its inhabitants. Historically it had been a  very small part of the population, so the queen could just ignore them, however, a younger queen in the colony realized that these grievances provided fertile soil for her political ambitions. Queens can live up to 30 years, so there is some real long term political shit going on in these colonies. In a textbook example of populist propaganda, the new queen was able to garner the support of enough of the anthill to overthrow the older queen.

Let us call them Antgela and Antdolf. So Antgela is sitting there, queen of the colony, but Antdolf sees her opportunity. Her campaign not only helps a disenfranchised group, but also names an enemy outside responsible for it. She probably also picks a group of ants with weird headwear to be deemed enemies. If they get rid of them, their part of the population grows as a percentage. Plus they show some muscle. So something something politics, they gain power and Antdolf is in control of the colony.

To be able to fight against both of these threats, heavy investments in military technologies were made. The best sciantists copied bullet ant genetics so their toughest soldiers would more powerful bites; a powerful mutation that enlarged their mandibles to the extent that they could no longer speak. These mutant mute ants were the feared and loathed right hand of Antdolf, and they took spook to a whole new level.

One team also cooked up some ant-meth to get the boys all riled up.

The militarist ambitions of these ants were supported by some extremely talented, but also pretty fucked up academics. C’est la vie.

You can talk about whether the initial grievances towards Man were justified or not, but the fact they seized upon them to orchestrate a populist uprising and the take-over of the anty fascists is the key here.

So we have formic fascists and a genocidal gal. Both are pretty shitty, so I understand if you have trouble picking a team to root for here. It is what it is.

A mild drizzle fell on that fateful June evening, when Anna and the ants met in the bathroom.

Anna had been in town, having dinner with a few friends, so she got home around 10 PM. The rain, though it was light, managed to soak her as she walked home. She was so cold, she was just looking forward to get in the tub and have her so called “ol’ soak”.

However, when she got home and opened the bathroom door, she was faced with a veritable military formation. Rank, file, commander, lieutenant, you name it. Anna dropped her bag and ran off. Antdolf laughed at the meekness of their antversary. Subdued so soon?

But Anna wasn’t running away. Far from it. Her aunt had warned her about the ants earlier in the year. Not to forget to expect them inside as it got warmer out.

In preparation, Anna had gone shopping. A couple of times.

First she bought a little trap, to put right in the spot the ants usually appeared.

This little glue trap was followed by the purchase of a dozen different sprays, glue strips, automatic sprayers that could sense ant movement from tremors. Finally, her most prized possession was an unassuming little trap that, when walked through, would load up each ant with a freaky fungal timebomb. Each ant that entered the trap got ten tenants – fungal spores that would poison the worker and make her an unwitting suicide bomber.  After a while, the spores would produce gasses in the ant as they multiplied on the inside, and the ant would blow up and disperse thousands of spores in every direction.

Of course there is no targeting with a weapon like this. The barracks and the ant family sitting by the TV get hit just the same.

Dad fiddling with the antenna to watch the world cup game, mom cooking dinner, pretty beat up about nobody remembering her birthday, and the kids watching reruns of Frants. They hear a pop off in the distance, a couple spores come in under the door, and an hour later they go out with a bang of their own.

The spores explode, infect, explode, infect, explode, infect until they wipe out the entire colony.

Yes. Anna was prepared. Chemical weapons conventions meant zilch, there was nothing even resembling moral responsibility towards the other side, and, to be fair, there wasn’t really any law controlling human-ant warfare.

Anna remembered how her parents felt bad for the ants, because of how powerless they were. Even if they tried to bite them, their bites were harmless. How could you want to kill something so powerless? Anna’s answer was: gleefully. She could have just shut the door. She could easily have justified the use of weapons of mass destruction, been morose about the necessity for such destruction, but defended it nonetheless. Instead, she chose to be an active part of this momentous murder.

Anna appeared at the door decked out in a  t-shirt and her slippers, she had 6 cans of ant spray in two fanny-packs on her sides. It was her personal hollywood movie fantasy: killing the hell out of some ants. She wanted to feel invincible. A giant who flicks the futilely fighting formics off with ease, their bites meaningless to her thick skin. She was ready for a bloody battle.

She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. No survivors. Under her feet, soldiers of battalion 22 remained still. They remained still even as the comrade to their left was crushed to death.

Her lack of respect, clear from her lack of armor, angered Antdolf. She gave her three seconds of realisation. Three seconds to realise that not one of the ants broke file. Antdolf wanted to see fear.

Anna un-holstered two spray cans. Antdolf raised her arm, and the army prepared in anticipation of the signal. There was almost breeze blowing through the army. As the air passed the ants it entered into their spiracles – the angle just right to create a little tone as if on a flute. A giant organ, Anna’s antagonist inhaled in A sharp. Tuned and ready to play its symphony of violence. Anna took a pretty run-of-the mill human breath.

Antdolf’s arm swooped down, giving the signal for attack. As the ants swarmed her, Anna was unfortunately targeting the battalion made up of the jewish ants who managed to blend in with her gas attack. Life really is unfair sometimes.

As the ants started scaling her legs, she was looking forward to sweeping them by the hundreds from her thighs into the bathtub, where she would would drown them. With the plug in, she would collect all the ants into the basin, so she could watch the drain eat them all at once.

That was when she felt the first bite. And it hurt a lot more than she expected. Looking down at her legs, she couldn’t see skin below her knees. Surprising. She could actually feel the ants weighing her down.

Directing her weapons towards her own legs she jumped, and as she landed with a thud, half of the ants fell to the floor. She continued to spray, but there were just too many of them. As they crept higher and higher, and bit more and more, her reaction to the bites also began to kick in. It felt like her skin was burning.

She threw down the cans, largely empty, and picked out a new one. She had prepared a little mechanism for this one. With the button locked down the can could propel gas continuously, no hands.

She started it, locked it and put it onto the floor in front of her. As the can kept spraying it started to rotate in place, creating a tornado of poison. With the two new cans, she sprayed all of herself to cool her skin and repel the enemy. Anna kept stomping, slowly creating an island of carcasses beneath her.

In seemingly unending numbers, the ants kept coming. A sea of the living washing at the shores of her island of lifeless husks.

Between the pain and poison of the ant bites and the fumes of her own sprays, Anna was entering delirium. She didn’t notice that the fluffy pink bathrobe, which she was putting on as an additional piece of armor, was lined with soldiers waiting in antbush. They all bit her at the same time, bringing her to her knees. In a final moment of desperation Anna remembered the one item hidden in the robe which might save her.

Seeing the broken woman in front them the ants decided to take pity and end it. A large wave started to rise from the corner of the room. Antdolf, riding the crest, was ready to deliver the final blow.

The last ace up her sleeve, Anna took out a lighter. As she lifted her head to look Antdolf in the eye she raised the lighter in front of the can’s nuzzle.  The tsunami that had formed atop the Antlantic ocean towered above her.

As the wave broke, a spark was lit. Thousands of ants went up in flames, burnt to a crisp.

The problem was that with closed doors and ten minutes of continuous spraying, the entire room was flammable. The aerosol filling the room, the coating on Anna’s skin, it all went up in flames. The entire room was engulfed in a fireball.

So what is the moral of the story you ask? They all died in a piece of senseless, fetishistic hyper violence, straight out of a Quantin Tarrantino movie. But for what? Anna and Antdolf are dead, as is the entire army of the Ant Reich. All things considered not a bad outcome. The ants left back at the colony, now freed from their tyrantical leader, are able to move on. Unfortunately a handful of survivors manage to carry the bomb back into the colony, so similarly to Anna and the army, this story ends explosively for the rest of the ants too.

The moral? Usually there is no good and evil. Hell, it’s not even about fighting for survival, this was a dick-measuring contest par excellence. So that is the moral, that we live in this kind of a world.

It’s okay, none of it matters anyway.

 

Artwork by Salvador Dali, “The Ants (Las Hormigas)”