Death and life are squeezed onto each other and time spills
An ancient form of punishment consisted in tying a dead body to the body of the condemned. The torture proceded by imposing the approximation of the abjection of death to a life considered unworthy, overreached and unfair. Tensed ropes strongly held the two bodies together: living hands with dead hands, living mouth with dead mouth. Putrefaction crossed and extended from one body to the other, and ended up infecting the living with death. In the tradition of feminist revenge narratives, Linda Stupart’s science fiction novel Virus describes how, during a witchcraft ritual, Carl Andre is brought under this punishment, and is sewn to Ana Mendieta’s dead body. The violence held in the desubjectified body of Mendieta expands to the now immobile, reduced and exposed body of Andre; in a prolonged and torturous process of infection, the worms that cover the body of the dead woman leak into the life of the man that still breathes next to her —his life is now bound up with death, his masculinity with the feminine, his subjectivity with an object, his humanity with the dehumanisation it produces. In the text, Andre finally dies and, then, Mendieta comes back to life.
The intimacy that is generated by pressing two bodies together —one against the other— restores and excites the porosity that is given between them. Both merge in a forced union that results from a lacerating form of justice which inoculates into some bodies the violence contained in others, propagating through the present an old wound and a latent pain. In the depths of the sea, high pressure makes prehistoric life forms adapt to an existence that is inseparable from the environment that gives it shape. Deep down, where visibility and mobility are minimised, life as the pure expression of an individual agency is hindered, and survival inevitably becomes the strive for ecological equilibrium: it is collective resistance and shared ailment. Wrinkled and softened by the crushing weight of the water, skins are torn and exposed to all that surrounds them; diverging temporalities are squeezed and sewn onto each other.
In an earlier time, when justice was practiced through torture, the feminine was taken to be a synonym for overflowing liquid —so fluent that it was unpredictable and uncontrollable. But in deep waters, liquidity is no channel for such capricious flowing, instead conforming an oppressive milieu determined by overpowering currents that give form to bodies and define vital rhythms. On the seabed, this feminising flux doesn’t happen by spontaneous overflow, but rather by slowly pushing and dragging everything it finds in its way —by slow contagion. In this marine ecology of abyssal depth, life is opened to the outside, to creation, multiplication, alliance and community, but all of them come with the paralysing fear of the total dissolution of the self. Across bodies made vulnerable, bacterial activity propagates, invasive decay thrives in concatenations of multiple chemical reactions, inoculating to one form of life another form of life which is indistinct from death. It is the destiny of the organic finally met, but also the transformative reproduction that guarantees futures in humidity, in putrefaction, by avid and stubborn storm, necrotising every tissue, deforming beings and possibilities of being.
black tourmaline; clear quartz; broom; sticks collected from Burgess Park,
South East London. 2018. Detail. Courtesy: the artist.
Overberg, South Africa); stones; plant ash made from indigenous fynbos;
firing cones. Produced and fired with the help of Belinda Blignaut in her
studio in Cape Town, South Africa. 2018. Courtesy: the artist.