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Home Explore low theory issue 2: the body

low theory issue 2: the body

Published by katekmwong, 2020-12-15 15:33:15

Description: The events of this year have revealed the cracks in contemporary society; not all bodies have been impacted by COVID-19 in the same way. Please join me in providing support for the vulnerable and precarious bodies. The second issue of low theory, themed around the body, is fundraising for The Okra Project ( a grassroots mutual aid collective based in New York that provides support to black trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people - and who have this past year dedicated substantial efforts to supporting vulnerable groups who have been affected by COVID-19.

Let's fight for those we don't know as hard - or even harder- than we would fight for ourselves.

Thank you for your support. 

x Kate

Keywords: art,journal,collaborative,fundraiser,body


Read the Text Version

.// ISSUE 2 - THE BODY [1]DEC 2020

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam lacinia eros at neque vulputate sagittis. Pellentesque eleifend consequat leo, eu lobortis nisl mattis ac. In aliquet leo vitae dui consequat gravida. Vestibulum a volutpat sem. Suspendisse sed luctus eros, egestas cursus nisl. Quisque cursus semper ullamcorper. Phasellus eu ipsum fringilla, fringilla arcu ut, sagittis lacus. Sed ipsum magna, aliquam vel imperdiet in, placerat ut lectus. Aliquam erat volutpat. Ut aliquam velit id urna ultricies, a rutrum odio fringilla. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia curae; Nunc ipsum enim, sodales eu tellus nec, mattis rhoncus ligula. Nullam lacinia sollicitudin sem at scelerisque. Ut sodales dictum ipsum, ut rutrum sem condimentum sed. Maecenas egestas in mauris sed viverra. Nunc ullamcorper lorem ac ligula blandit, nec posuere risus viverra. Praesent at lorem maximus, imperdiet risus vel, pellentesque massa. Etiam ipsum felis, tincidunt eu odio vel, maximus congue velit. Sed dictum scelerisque lacus, quis imperdiet ex pretium vitae. Curabitur molestie pellentesque erat, consectetur ultrices libero interdum id. Morbi maximus quam sem. In ac finibus lorem. Etiam eu erat tincidunt, ornare erat vitae, porta nibh. Vivamus lacinia interdum lacus, at dictum libero convallis sit amet. In vulputate rhoncus diam. Vestibulum congue vehicula urna at consequat. Quisque pharetra erat felis, in sagittis leo tempus eget. [2]

01.// ________ HARRIET MIDDLETON BAKER 02.// ________ OLLIE SIMPSON 03.// ________ ANASTASIA XIROUCHAKIS 04.// ________ RHEA DILLON 05.// ________ EVITA FLORES 06.// ________ EMILY POPE 07.// ________ KATJA SEB 08.// ________ MARIE-JEANNE BERGER 09.// ________ CHIS ZHONGTIAN YUAN 10.// ________ PHILIPPE DAERENDINGER 11.// ________ DANNY PICKTHALL 12.// ________ CLARA BOLLE 13.// ________ NAN XI 14.// ________ MARJA LECHNER 15.// ________ ALONSO LEON VELARDE 16.// ________ MEARA SHARMA AND LUCY SPARKS 17.// ________ KIRA BOLKE 18.// ________ BREEZY 19.// ________ ALEXANDRA BISCHOFF 20.// ________ MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO 21.// ________ KALEENA MADRUGA 22.// ________ TIM SIMONDS 23.// ________ DANIEL TAYLOR 24.// ________ IMOGEN KWOK 25.// ________ MERVE ISERI 26.// ________ ALICE MINERVINI AND GUY RONEN 27.// ________ ANASTASIA FREYGANG 28.// ________ CECILIA DI PAOLO 29.// ________ ROBERT BOLTON AND ANDREW ZEALLEY 30.// ________ PATI DE SOUZA 31.// ________ ALEX HEILBRON 32.// ________ DANIEL THOMAS WILLIAMS [3]


01.// HARRIET MIDDLETON BAKER Aeron’s Lumbar Support and the Middle Man’s Cosmology, 2020 Digital composite [5]

_______________ Biotic Conspiracy Index Azathioprine 3 x 50mg tablets The big lad. The old favourite. The reason I didn’t leave my flat between 9 March 2020 and 13 May 2020. Immunologically speaking, my body is subnormal. It responds inappropriately to itself. Biochemical paranoia. An inflammatory feedback loop that expresses itself as Crohn’s disease. These small, round, pale yellow tablets interrupt this loop by way of immunosuppressive regime. The destructive potential of Crohn’s, long defanged and banished to remission by the Regime, is reanimated in the pandemic’s wake. My relationship with a substance that, through mucosal pacification, has kept me in relatively good health for years now invites the interest of the UK government, who send letters, texts. The walls of my flat become epidermal. A fortified barrier, prosthetically occupying the space vacated by my body’s ability to resist invasion. Bricks and glass become actors on the immunological stage. I grind my teeth. Bio-Kult 2 x capsules The Regime leaves my body predisposed to microbial instability. The rainforest in my gut is precarious, temperamental. Through abdominal discomfort and gastric distress, it speaks. Where once a comradeship was reached and maintained through rigorous consumption of kombucha, kimchi, and kefir, I have grown lazy. Sought convenience. Simplicity. Branding. Two billion live bacterial cultures arrive, suspended and inanimate, in a cellulose bulking agent. Their names reveal taxonomic antiquity: bifidobacterium, bulgaricus, lactobacillus, thermophilus. Together, we imagine ourself severed. A human body and its microbiome, a pile of slimy, stinking material, laying on the ground next to it. A shattered portrait of symbiosis. A dream of sovereignty, interrupted. Nature unveiled. Caprylic Acid Plus 2 x capsules Immunologically unhindered, single-celled organisms called candida take up residence in my mouth and sinuses in robust, alarming numbers. Resisting this invasion is beyond the remit of the bricks. The glass of the windows does little to hide its indifference. Instead, a fatty acid from coconut oil teams up with garlic powder. Together they have a word—quiet, polite—and the invaders temporarily retreat. [6]

Dymista 02.// OLLIE SIMPSON 2 x 50mg actuations Particulate matter suspended in London’s air inflames my nasal lining. Invisible traces of exhausted carbon, asphalt, rubber, dust and soil wrap themselves around my face, snaking their way into my nostrils. Do candida enjoy the presence of carbon molecules, I wonder. Mucus from my sinuses pours from my face during waking hours. At night it seeks out new internal routes, coming to rest in my chest and stomach. For months I cannot stop coughing. The smell of blood and metal colours my vision. An aerosol corticosteroid brings a relief that is all-consuming, an ecstatic liberation felt from the bottom of my lungs to the centre of my eyebrows. A bottled miracle. Energy Complex 1 x capsule Having significantly lacked physical and mental energy for approximately one decade (or 10 years, or 120 months, or 3650 days, or…) I enter into a protracted flirtation with B vitamins and Siberian ginseng. We like the look of each other but are yet to achieve simpatico. The flirtation continues. Immune Defence 1 x capsule Suffocated by springtime dread and viral fear I wonder whether the immunological benefits promised by vitamin C, zinc, and turmeric might stand a fighting chance next to the all-consuming power of the Regime. An impossible equation. Eventually, persistent visions of my body lying inert and lifeless in a hospital corridor will declare to have solved it. An ironic double bind. Krill Omega 3 1 x capsule Oil extracted from tiny crustaceans that swim in the waters of the Antarctic encourages the platelets in my blood not to form clots unless it’s really important that they do so. That the oil also lowers the cholesterol in my blood and reduces inflammation is, I tell myself, a bonus. I think of my squeamishness in handling and eating langoustine. I think of Sea-Monkeys. [7]

Loratadine 1 x 10mg tablet Hounded by allergens since the sweaty, grass-kneed summers of youth, my body has long relied on this innocuous antihistamine to greet, in a calm and non-reactionary manner, those grains of pollen curious enough to enter it. With its sober assistance, a degree of diplomacy is achieved. The pollen, robbed of its immuno-provactive power, passes quietly along the spongy tissue of my nasal submucosa, its molecular signal muted. Sertraline 1 x 100mg tablet A long-lost acquaintance makes a sure-footed return. This white, ovaloid tablet increases the availability of serotonin and dopamine to my post- synaptic neurons. In turn, my post-synaptic neurons utilise this additional serotonin and dopamine to push back against despair’s clammy grip. Once in its grip, the full weight of despair feels muscular, total. It pushes the air from my lungs for months. The anti-doompill delivers, however. My ability to plan and prepare meals returns. My capacity to consume Political Compass memes increases. My physical posture improves ever so slightly. Tranquility Blend 1 x capsule Ashwagandha because my partner swears by it. Cholecalciferol from lichen. Hops. Within my body, flowers meet the product of cyanobacterial symbiosis. There they conspire, entering into friendly competition with the anti-doompill. Tranquility, it turns out, is overrated. Biotic conspiracy has a home. Biotic Conspiracy Index Ollie Simpson [8]

03.// ANASTASIA XIROUCHAKIS Birds on Stilts, 2020 [9]

Things I learnt from an east evening: // People find more comfort going in circles than following a straight line. The dizziness occupies them merrily. // Never call a baby a seed. // I’d make a great surrogate (why are they called mothers, they should be called sluice gates). // People are goldfish. Goldfish is whiteness. // ‘At least they followed for your work’ is still a plausible white guilt for the Black artist, no reverence for artistry. // Seeking refuge in video games where the goal is to kill people isn’t alarming. It can even ensue chuckles. // I am a diaspora child not a child of the state. // Non black subordination is key. // Basenjis are one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. // Real stans know when to put down the foghorn. // There is no point in buying a book and keeping it in its wrapping. Just like having a trophy wife is pointless if she doesn’t win anything.   SOCIAL CHOREOGRAPHY (OF FOLLOWING X OFF THE CLIFF)  [10]

04.// RHEA DILLON Sundays are for poetry and Daria. I clutch the flesh of my buttox and meet with the fur lined fountain as a means of understanding dissonance. A two party system: skin and hair. Sometimes more sometime less always en masse. I would love to fuck someone forever. Forever held over creased parted lipsed danced and love them only when they died. Because to love is to memorialise and to memorialise is to rest awhile in subordinate bliss I don’t wish to be subordinately blissful in this lifetime I seek to actively hold. They say all we know are mourning and mornings but all I hear is the same cry for rebirth. Tek time I’m happy to I’m learning to tek time with others my wife with life. Time must be taken for the flowers to grow. Time must be taken for the seeds to be sown. Hypothetical hypocritical lies feed the weeds of the soul so - no sheath baring - I demand time and space for me to grow. slow. flow. TEK TIME  [11]

Rosemary’s nightgown 2020 [12]

05.// EVITA FLORES [13]

06.// EMILY POPE [14]

07.// KATJA SEIB Medusa in Vain [15]

Falling in love what a joke that was [16]

A man is a wolf to another man (homo homini lupus) 2 [17]

A man is a wolf to another man (homo homini lupus) [18]


Wuhan Punk 2020, stills [20]


Trailer 24x32cm, watercolour and graphite pencil on paper, 2020 [22]

10.// PHILIPPE DAERENDINGER Legend Watercolour and graphite pencil on paper, 2020. [23]

Becoming hypno/spiral “PLEASE WAKE UP!” These words, chopped out of a nineties horror film no doubt, emerge at a disorientated pause eight and a half minutes into Curley’s Esoteric Mix Italy 5 July 1997 Side A. What… Us? Wake up? We hear chatter, an old radio broadcast, wurls and static but the plea goes unanswered, a moment of hypnogogia and we’re back under… not-yet- conscious.1 At extreme speeds the autonaturalising temporality that Jose Esteban Muñoz invites us to call straight time is disturbed. Straight time insists that there is nothing but the here and now. It is the local time zone of an anaemic political agenda that dominates contemporary techno music culture. It is the local time zone of “desires that automatically reign themselves in, never daring to see or imagine the not-yet-conscious”. 2 At extreme speeds rapid periodic kick drums become harmonic oscillators, repeating themselves in a sinusoidal fashion, becoming hypno, becoming spiral. At extreme speeds boundaries blur, including temporal ones, and to quote Derrida via Irit Rogoff “boundaries do nothing but point to the limits of the possible”. To listen to Curley, Mononom, Spiral Tribe, to really listen, is to become hypno/ spiral; is to activate the no-longer-conscious; is to utilise “the past and the future as armaments to combat the devastating logic of the hear and now”.3 Becoming hypno/spiral is to refuse the naturalising proliferation of the image, as Jonathan Crary points out: “We are swamped with images and information about the past and its recent catastrophes - but there is also a growing incapacity to engage these traces in ways that could move beyond them, in the interest of a common future. Amid the mass amnesia sustained by the culture of global capitalism, images have become one of the many depleted and disposable elements that, in their intrinsic archivability, end up never being discarded, contributing to an ever more congealed and future-less present”. 4 Within this refusal is a willingness to engage these traces, “ephemeral traces, flickering illuminations”5 and to delve into the past like John Akomfrah, for whom the archive becomes indispensable in animating a poetics of a fragmented African diaspora.6 Both past and future brim with unrealised potential that spills over and into the present, what Munoz calls an affective surplus, BAFC’s ghost of songs, a mobilisation of the image, of sound, of memory to disrupt Crary’s congealed and future-less present, to bring the then to bear on the now, with a glance toward, to collapse the future onto the present.7 In the recently republished No System, Vinca Peterson’s collection of photographs taken while traveling with various sound systems during the 1990’s (Spiral Tribe, Alien Pulse), it’s not the party that’s the focus but the moments after, before and between - fixing the van, filling shopping trolleys with food supplies, playing children caked in mud, bare feet next to a pan of porridge generously spiralled with honey. You weren’t there. But perhaps We could be. This is most intensely felt, for myself at least, looking at the photos of people sleeping, tender and gentle images. No one is going to disturb these sleepers; is going to yell “please wake up”. There is more to this collection than a feeling of detached nostalgia for the golden days of free parties, what is felt is an affective surplus that moves one to imagine a world that could be - “an escape route from the repressive socius”.8 As I write this Nkisi’s The Truth Is Elsewhere is playing through my speakers, evoking both a spatial and temporal departure from here… We exist now and in the future. [24]

1. Here and throughout I’m taking Jose Esteban Muñoz’s working with Ernst Bloch’s 11.// DANNY PICKTHALL concept of the no-longer-conscious. “A turn to the no-longer-conscious enabled a critical hermeneutics attuned to comprehending the not-yet-here.” See Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 12 and throughout, also Bloch, Principle of Hope, 144-178. 2. Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 21. 3. Ibid, 12. 4. Crary, 24/7, 34. 5. Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 28. 6. See John Akomfrah, Tina Campt, Ekow Eshun and Saidiya Hartman. Hosted by Lisson Gallery, 2020. Available at: 7. See Phillips, Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practise, with specific relation to the work of Curley and Nkisi, from page 9 - “Music created by black people has been used throughout time and across space as an agent of time and memory”. 8. Guattari, Becoming-Woman, 87. Becoming hypno/spiral is a reference to Guattari’s essay not only in title but also in methodology, Becoming-Woman is the ground from which the impulse for a turn to Muñoz grew. For Guattari “whatever shatters norms, whatever breaks from the established order, is related to homosexuality or a becoming-animal or a becoming-woman etc.” Bibliography/Discography Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London and New York: Verso, 2013. Curley. Esoteric Mix Italy 5 july 1997 Side A. Available at: Guattari, Felix. “Becoming-Woman.” In Polysexuality, edited by François Peraldi, Jim Fleming and Sylvère Lotringer, 86-88. New York: Semiotext(e), 1981. [25]

Hand 5 2020, Acrylic paint on canvas, 20 x 30cm [26]

12.// CLARA BOLLE Hand 6 2020, Acrylic paint on canvas, 20 x 30cm [27]


13.// NAN XI [29] [30]

tq8bQwatch?v=5fQ11ftq8bQ 14.// MARJA LECHNER plants at home are always a botanic garden Eva is eating alone an apple in her living-room. She paints her body in the mirror away. magic mirror, mystic light. I try to go in the Blue blue but stay in the glue glue. gut und böse, 2020 (stills) [31]

No rage without teeth (2020) Oil on linen 79 x 69 cm [32]


1 Some of us are canyons. Some of us are sheets of silk. I was encouraged to be porous. A secret: our insides dance. It still baffles me, how we crystallise, how we remain intact. The trick is: hold still. As a child, dead leaves looked to me like bodies; I was afraid of them. Another fear: the notion of a pile of skin. Today, I am sick of miscommunicating; I would rather reach my fingers into your fingers, reach my fingers into your stomach. I am looking for something bottomless. I’m a lark—I don’t mind being scalded. 2 Each day, I find new holes: in my viscera, in your arguments. You suggest that we lash them with cornsilk. I’m tempted to discard what is damaged. Me: a hedge through which small animals pass. Should I ask where they are going? Should I rewild? The song of things closing is an avalanche; I am familiar with it. I am also familiar with your mouth, fulvous and sun-flecked. I get it: pointillism was misinformed. Eventually, a hole is just a euphemism for chopped liver. [34]

3 16.// MEARA SHARMA & LUCY SPARKS No matter how strictly we ration, our vessels keep overflowing. Is it time to throw in the towel? (Your cufflinks are melting. Your tongues have occupied the corners.) Empty when full: a koan that exempts me from cleaning. Sure, I’ll preside over a houseful of pools. At a certain point, a container is a mystery. But what are the risks of rendering you into a new shape? A surplus of glycerin, of wet bronze. I would like to build something explosive. Don’t inquire. Instead, direct me toward canny emollients, those that seek the brim. 4 We were schooled in the art of disclosure. Better to bleed the matchsticks dry. Better to rip than to sew. The impulse, thus, has been to pry each other open. Seldom have we considered what might happen if we stop. If we let our labia, for example, converse. If we concede to the phonics of our knees. A breakthrough: the majority of the body is literature. Is it too late to learn how to read? We are willing to listen, from behind the follicles. We are willing to wait our turn. Flesh Marks [35]


17.// KIRA BöLKE Drying Up Acrylic on Canvas 30 x 30cm Self-portrait On Couch Acrylic on Canvas 30 x 30 cm [37]

It’s a bitter little berry Fat and wet between your fing Heavy with that pucker. Round and wily Held up, a mirror ship to the e A double in its milky whitenes The little belly button where its What will happen to the juice i Without that umbilical root? [38]

ger and your thumb,  18.// BREEZY eyeball, ss. s stem held on is empty. inside [39]

Fixing up Flop-House was an aching, futile desire. There was a RONA on the block’s edge, so I took frequent trips to daydream. One day, I bought a pot of discount paint. I didn’t know it was pink until I cracked the lid. Pierced ceiling nipple with chain. While painting its areola pink, a drop fell and stained the wooden floor below.  O wouldn’t take our rent. For six months, e-transfers expired & I would resend. Somewhere in the middle of that, we went to the Régie du logement & O didn’t even show up. Just S & I in front of a judge, B sitting in the waiting room & the wind blowing hard outside. The way I see it, you can’t illegally evict two floors of a three floor walkup & just get away  with it. When someone’s stuck out a sore thumb in the name of renters’ rights for over a year— alone on the crest of a crumbling castle—I act on the urge to do my bit. Rally around. Fight in a French court.  We won, too. It was open/shut. He wasn’t there to plead his case, so his claims remained claims, my truths remained uncontested, & the spot was ours to criss-cross. Cute. I painted egregious cracks gold & screwed towel racks slightly crooked. It was a pastel shade of chalky pink. It coated calm, went down smooth like Pepto. Made us feel slight- ly less sick, like Flop-House was on the mend. M was a residential building inspector. The first two floors looked abandoned, she said. Mail flowing out of slots, cardboard boxes full of debris on the front lawn—no wonder. But there were curtains in your window—just wanted to see how you were doing.  And later muttering, cochonnerie, while making notes & snapping pics of O’s neglect. Under the sink that wouldn’t drain, a gaping hole was always wet. I painted that, my hidden pink. I met O for the first time seven months after we moved in. H e came because of M, who was fining him per infraction every day until he fixed things. Honestly, we didn’t care about living in a state of general disrepair. We wanted the sink to drain, not drip black into a bucket, and we wanted O to own up. Or be punished. Maybe we wanted to punish him. A nd then he complained about S—a conspiracy, surely. We had paid them for the transfer, yes? (No.) We knew them from before? (No.) And how about their many girlfriends? (What?) Had we met them before? (No.) Held smirk and furrow. Flashy veneers. O was salt and pepper and a fucking flipper if I’ve ever met one. The crack in the wall used to be a bubble under skin. Our first day in, B touched it and it collapsed into itself, the pressure having built up till there was nothing left to do. So I started to paint the crack. First, gentle outlines in whites and iridescents—a french manicure. Golden gilding came next: a glimmering crack. I wonder if he figured I was straight, talked to me straight. My boyfriend makes me straight— asked about my “other boyfriend” (?) in Alberta: figment slut shame. A proper “father figure”—my reluctant landlord. Be nice to your father, his eyebrows seemed to imply. Obey your father—my feudal lord, how he doth provide. & did we know we were fucking him over? You think life is a free fucking ride. I filled many holes in the bathroom floors, lovingly cleaned out fan filters with q-tips, fingered every dark crease between the wall and tub, scraped off bits of black mold, & painted the walls pink. Suddenly, things became more under construction than they’d previously been seen to be. Like, matted upholstery. Like, gypsum dusted sinks. Like, living a squat life. [40]

A s in, even though minor fixes were constant, they became visible and turned. 19.// ALEXANDRA BISCHOFF O was there early, gone late, cursing and biting his tongue—just barely, s ometimes forgetting. Left our noodle spines on a pull out sofa as he took over bedroom after kitchen after living room, before bathroom.  & it was dirty toe & soul kind of work. The landlord’s snarling & mean kind of work.  & no one wanted us there—us included  —kind of work.  It took five days of labour. We slept in the office for seven, & in that time, we recorded all of our conversations with O, our cell-phones hidden in back pockets. Two days after the renovations finished, the pandemic made our plans to return west a priority. My classes were cancelled and then our subletter followed suit. It meant there was no coming back. A lean-to had been added-on however many years ago. It had a semi-functional washer/dryer & a squirrel infestation. Our furred friends were sick with mange; they slept in tattered pink fiberglass insulation. O built a wall to block it off.  I feel oafish sometimes. Like I’ve abandoned a lover. I can still recall groans of hardwood, sconces with old fashioned switches, copper pipes, odd angled window niches, skylight cavern to nowhere, and the tub’s clawed feet (painted pink). Flop-House was sinking and swollen and tender and perpetually ill.  My only consolation is knowing that O spent thousands of dollars in repairs and fines to mend a wound he had previously refused. And anyways, we left before telling him. Every day, I miss the columns in the office. Classique and so unnecessarily lavish. We had considered painting them pink.  Now we live in a building that used to be a mortuary. The stained glass windows bow & the bedroom window’s cracked & I sometimes crawl into the kitchen cupboard like it’s a casket. Feels safe. Excerpt from the artist book saccharine & acerbic (2020) [41]

Lucky House (Extract), 2020 Digital Collage [42]


Speak Softly, Do Well Looking in the mirror is making me crazy. I have three mirrors in my house: a vanity mirror, a full-length mirror, and a bathroom mirror. Each has different lighting, each one makes me feel different about myself. They are all some varying range of bad. I have always operated under a sense of rules. Don’t cross the street without looking both ways. Don’t eat white bread. Brush your teeth before bed. Speak softly. Do well. As I got older the list changed, sort of. Go to college, get the degree. Get a job. Make money. Get married. Buy a house. Have a family. Die. I did some of these things. I’ll definitely do the last one. But nothing has been happening the way I thought it would. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a student of cause and effect. I continued to follow the rules because the consequences favored me. Obeying my parents equated to more leniency. Better grades meant better gifts. Going to college gave me friends, freedom, knowledge, life. Graduation meant money, accolodates. The world kept getting bigger. Everything worked like an ecosystem, everything in balance. The middle part is where you get lost. I guess it’s not the middle, it’s the quarter. Assuming everyone will live to be 100, which we won’t. A friend once asked me why I did everything so fast, why I moved this way. I don’t think I’m going to live very long, I confessed. My eyes were locked on a flame and a piece of wood about to crumble. And so I have held, tightly, to what I felt would work. The steps I thought I could take to get me back to a cause and effect relationship. I continued to force square pegs into round holes. I heard my voice change, my body, my habits. I couldn’t make anything fit. I was a terrible wife. An easily replaceable employee. An okay friend. I had no money to buy a house, and besides, I hadn’t finished the other steps yet. I’m pulling at my cheeks to make my face appear tighter. I am picking up my eyebrows to feign surprise. The space that horrifies me is the place where my skin returns when I let go. Someone once told me that I have such malleable skin. It’s like you could have been anything, they said. Tall, fat, dark, light. Your skin moves with you. Another told me that my skin took the ink well. Another told me that it took the sun well. Another told me that I would make good kin. All I can see is my skin melting off me, I’m dying. I went too fast. All I see is loss. Time and beauty and purpose. Lost. Was I supposed to fill my skin up with something else? Was my skin not meant to be the dangling parachute following behind? I wake up and see the creases from my pillow canyoned into my face. My skin is taking everything on. My skin is absorbing everything. I buy a cellulite scrubber and punish my thighs in the shower. I buy vitamins to make my hair grow. I slather on creams in the morning, noon, at night. Nothing is changing, nothing is working. You will see. You will understand when you have children, someone says. The superficial things don’t matter, you are happy to see your body be useful. It’s empowering to care about something other than yourself. Someday you’ll have a real life. You won’t care about those silly things. [44]

I: An imagined theory on the status of human dark matter and trauma 21.// KALEENA MADRUGA The scientific concept of dark matter in our cosmos is the recognition of something felt but not ‘known’: it is the permeating gravity of space, accounting for as much as twenty-five percent of the weight of our universe. Its antithesis, as currently understood by science, is dark energy: anti-gravity, accounting for an even greater component of our universe: sixty-eight percent. Both entities are poorly-fitting theoretical portmanteaus: they form the mass of our existence, yet we do not see or understand them, they are only known. The rest is the tangible that we feel and experience. This theory proposes ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ as other portmanteaus: as part of a personal cosmological metaphor to understand an individual’s interaction with grief and trauma. This imagined theory attempts to bridge our individual knowings of ancestral traumas, and repeated patterns of behaviour into a style of personal myth-making. The purpose of which is to propose a ritual that is both personal and universal, manifesting intangible feelings into a symbology that allows an alternative catharsis to experiences of grief, inherited, adopted and inflicted. The following represents the imagined theory of human dark matter: 1. Dark matter is an Imaginary Scientist’s shorthand for painful unprocessed human emotions. 2. Dark energy, as in space, represents the anti-gravity to dark matter’s gravity. It is the positive particulate that can translate dark matter into neutral, obliviated matter. 3. Dark matter and dark energy cannot be created nor destroyed. They can gather, disperse and be transmuted by one another. 4. Dark matter embodies a significant mass among humans on earth due to collected, distilled, inherited, hereditary sadness and injustice. 5. Similar to gravity known and understood by Scientists on Earth, pain can accumulate as gravity interacting with human bodies and create systems beneficial, neutral or negative to the individual. 6. Pain experienced by an individual can gather gravity, bringing into orbit similar individuals (heavenly bodies) and experiences. As the weight of this dark matter is drawn toward an individual, it can precipitate events that create additional pain. 7. If mass increases exponentially, this can create a heavy-mass body like that of a black hole, consuming energy without a light horizon. In this scenario, pain builds on pain, and a human may suffer extreme psychological trauma, potentially bringing dark matter to other individuals within their solar system. 8. Similarly, dark energy, or anti-gravity, can gather and accumulate, translating into positive energies and emotions. 9. Experiences and individuals brought into orbit by dark matter offer the individual an opportunity to acknowledge inherited trauma and repeating patterns. These often exhibit themselves as a repeating cycle in the individual’s life, similar to that of planets in the solar system. 10. Dark matter draws similar cycles to offer the individual the opportunity to acknowledge and transmute this heaviness, with understanding and forgiveness, through the manifestation of dark energy. 11. This can be done with rituals that disrupt and redirect the pervasive universal dark matter. 12. Lightness, and positive dark energy can also work to draw heavenly bodies together into a positive interaction. This relationship is defined by attraction to light, similarly heavy, but supporting life as with our Sun (this metaphor has not yet been fully fleshed out). 13. It is unclear to this Imaginary Scientist if humans serve better within the metaphor as stars (with friends/family as planets or other stars within adjacent galaxies), planets, or more vaguely as ‘heavenly bodies.’ *Astrophysicists and theoretical physicists were not consulted in the making of this world view. [45]

I met a soldier a few years earlier while I was with my ex-boyfriend. We met at a bar; I remembered that he was very tall and had a beaky face. What he lacked in looks or humour he made up for in attentiveness and intrigue. At the time I was uncertain about my relationship, pulling things apart as I had in the past looking for holes. I forced it to be imperfect so I wouldn’t be destroyed if it fell apart. I would count for flaws, and then make new ones. I cultivated flirtations to feel worthy and desired. Mostly I avoided the cut line of physical romance, nurturing these relationships in the smoky space of ‘I might as well have.’ With him, I crossed the line and we kissed in my apartment one night. I froze, he left, I told my boyfriend immediately. What followed was the slow deterioration of our relationship. This incident was the first cardinal sin, casting all other events into a darker shadow that we could never emerge from. For myself it was a cruel judgement of my insecurities, the self-sabotaging impulses that would swell as I fell further in love. Years later, this soldier and I were both in ----. Our communications began out of necessity; our work at times overlapping. Loneliness began to feed my imagination. In my mind, our conversations became more charged, more interesting, and him, more attractive. I hoped to see him. I went to -------, where he was then based at the ------- base. This is not a love story. We prepared the logistics of our meeting. I made him a Christmas card. I tore a page out of a notebook, and spent hours drawing a cat carrying a handgun, wearing a military hat. Many guns and tanks were behind him. Below him, a map with stars and stripes. Everything was shaded carefully and popped on the page. I booked vehicles. They would be bulletproof. I groomed, decided that shaving my bikini zone would lead to ugly ingrown hairs, and decided to trim, using rough little scissors that I had purchased at the only store we were allowed to visit off the compound. I purchased a scented candle to feel sexy. There was no certainty that we would be alone and we did not discuss what the meeting would entail, or how it would go. There was a two-hour slot between arrival and exit, and three people would be waiting for me in the meantime. On the day of the meeting, I put on my most festive outfit: a sequinned jacket that I bought in northeast Syria. I buzzed with sexual anticipation. Sexual anticipation on a military base is a challenging concept. The space is in some ways built to suppress sexual stimulation, another distraction from the intense boredom and concentration of warfare. The base was warren-like, with high T-walls supported by sandbags that cast long shadows. Then there was an open area of people pretending to do normal things. When militias launched rockets on the base, a siren would go off. Bases are also sites of female assault and violence. I arrived at the gate. There was a sad porter behind a wooden counter. I passed, turned a corner and bumped straight into him. We greeted each other professionally and he led me through the warren to a prefab office on the edge of the ground’s open area. This was his office. He ushered me in, and locked the door. We were alone. Under fluorescent lighting we started kissing passionately. From this point things start moving painfully slowly. Neither of us remembered how to be human but craved human contact. I look at him, his skin was breaking out a bit and he had gained weight due to an injury. He was wearing a soldier’s approach to off-duty: a cheerful polo shirt, some beige ‘technical pants’ and one of those nylon belts. He unclipped his handgun from his belt and placed it between us. The office had a desk and two chairs, and a filthy-looking overstuffed brown sofa. The furniture was found on the side of the road. There was also a little fridge full of juice-boxes, to make “the people I see more comfortable.” We would use the couch. Then, I asked him to have sex with me. I had brought a condom. This was what I had wanted. He sat me on the filthy sofa and pulled off my pants, pushing my legs apart with force. I’m gonna make you come so hard. I looked up at the fluorescent lighting and thought about my home grooming, I did not feel like coming. I started to give him a blow job and he grabbed the back of my head and shoved it onto his dick, gagging me repeatedly. I mentioned this, and he obliged to stop choking me. He sat on the couch and told me ride him until I come. I pretended to come. And then he pressed me against the wall of his pre-fab office asking baby do you like this, pulling my hair back and slapping me in the butt. I was unsettled, but let him play out his fantasy. He bent me over the couch and came loudly. It sounded like an elephant screaming inside of his trunk. I realised we were not alone. He ran to the wall of his pre-fab and banged on it a couple of times, telling me his colleagues might come in thinking something was going wrong with his meeting, or worse, thinking he had a girl inside. [46]

22.// TIM SIMMONDS [47]




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