Monthly Archives: February 2012

new materialism spring

This spring for me  is filled with reflections on “new materialism,” and I’ve got the conference schedule to prove it. I will be presenting work at three conferences in April and May exploring the ways in which new materialist practices can engage important issues of embodiment in my research. And I’m using (you guessed it), Moby-Dick, as a core site of investigation. Each of the presentations offers a different angle on the issue, but collectively I’m hoping to probe more deeply ways in which I can think through (think with) materiality within emergent digital media space and develop my (re-)Mapping Moby framework. My three upcoming  “talks” are:

  • “Mapping Moby: digital cartography, affective bodies, and a whale of a text Gender, Bodies, and Technology International Conference. Virginia Tech, Roanoke VA (April 26-28 2011)
  •  “’Call me Ishmael’ and other (new) material performa(c)tivities and ontological entanglements.” The Non-Human Turn in 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee WI (May 3-5 2011)
  • “(F)lensing and Reading the Whale  with New Spectacles” (working title). Entanglements of New Materialisms. Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden (May 25-26 2011)

I say “talks” because I’m not entirely sure the format they will take. I’m trying to incorporate at least some more performative elements in my presentations, reflective of the issues I’m dealing with, so we’ll see how that goes. I haven’t actually confirmed the format of my Linköping presentation either, so I think I may be able to be especially “loose” with this one. When I was in Linköping for a  research residency in the fall, I discussed with the organizers a kind of (re-)Mapping Moby demo for the conference, but since I am quite behind in technical development, I will have to figure out a way to 1) develop technology more quickly, or 2) demo in a way that bypasses some of the technical constraints in development. Hmmmm,  we’ll see.

I must say, as much as we academics all try to veer away from the conference format, it does create a familiar (if often dull) mechanism for succinctly presenting ideas. Dusting off the Powerpoint and propping oneself on the podium for 20 minutes is unimaginative, but safe. The irony, though, of working through such complex “new-material” theoretical patterns, those that evoke non-representational models and onto-epistemological perspectives, while clicking through ppt. slides, or worse, shuffling papers, is rich. The philosophical dilemma from theory to discursive practice is not new, of course, but it is really resonating with me these days. Creative critical practice is a bitch. As much as I long for the camaraderie necessary to think with the ideas at appropriately-themed conferences, I balk at the idea of another conference listening to academics read theory at me. And by balk, I mean I have  a strong visceral affective reaction that propels me to the hotel bar, rather than to that exceedingly ugly little conference presentation room, badly lit by ppt. and its Microsoft kryptonite properties that weaken even superhero academics. Ahh, Lex Luthor, you are powerful.

Anyway, I’ll share more of my new materialist dilemmas in more detail  as I’m working through each of this conference talks. Stay tuned.


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sea journeys

So for my inaugural post, I thought I’d share some details from a small project I recently participated in with my fellow artists in residence at the Nida Art Colony in Lithuania. We were each busy with  our own works and research but decided to come together with a “message-in-a-bottle” project to document our residency and to connect our experiences while in residence. I’ve included below an overview of the project and each artist’s description of the messages she chose to send over the border to Kaliningrad. (We were all women, by the way, at the colony.)

snowy dune

Looking across the snowy dune in Nida to Kaliingrad (icy Curonian Lagoon on left)

This was a particularly emotional and reflective time for me, as I had learned of the death of two old friends while I was there in Nida, and I found myself with long hours in my studio, and out on the stunning dunes, to reflect on the nature of connection and lost communications. Regretfully I had fallen out of touch with both friends for extended periods of time, and never imagined I wouldn’t have the time to reconnect again in person. Both were friends from periods in my life of creative intensity and personal growth (from college and high school) when art and theater were, appropriately, center-stage in my life, along with these friendships.

This “bottle” project allowed me to channel my reflections, and though it is quite simple in its method and aesthetics, my message (described further below) and the way I came to select it, was surprisingly therapeutic and meaningful to me.

ship at sea

the ship's railing (at sunrise the next day) where I threw the bottles overbord

This is particularly true, as in the end, I was the one who cast all the bottles into the sea for the artists. Originally we were going to send them out into the Curonian lagoon with local fisherman, but the water froze the day before we were going to give them to the fisherman. Fortunately, I was traveling by ferry back to Sweden via the Baltic, and so I threw them overboard a few hours out to sea, on a very dark and chilly night. Given the great distance away from Kaliningrad (as opposed to the Curonian route), they are even less likely to make their way to their intended destination, and yet  I like that even better…

Message in a Bottle: Nida Art Colony, January 2012

 (*The text below is a modification of the collaborative project description we  wrote  together while  at the colony)

The Message in a Bottle project takes its starting point from the desire to go for a trip to the Kaliningrad region during our stay at the Nida Art Colony. We quickly discovered that travel to the region would be impossible during our residencies as we couldn’t obtain visas in time, and the procedure was cost prohibitive for some.


all the bottles, from left: Heidi; Yulia; Lissa (2 blue); Cecile

In the midst of the frustration of being so close to a border we couldn’t trespass, we decided that we could still cross over using the Baltic Sea as our slow and more uncertain collaborator. We then each considered the personalized messages we might send out in bottles to begin a dialogue with Kaliningrad.

Historically, messages in bottles have traveled worldwide and vary from love notes found floating at sea for more than 80 years to historical messages sent from prisoners during WWII. Drawn to the diversity as well as to the uncertainty, we each designed a message for the sea.  In our digital age when communication is so often defined by its speed (near synchronous models of email and text messaging, for example), and when technology claims to erase our borders and to globalize our villages, we decided on a slower alternative to distribution and connection. Using the sea as our carrier, we embraced the uncertainty of reception and reached out to those who might never know us, but to whom, nonetheless we entrusted with our personal expressions, affirming (we hope) our mutual and borderless bonds.

The participating artists are: Lissa Holloway Attaway (CA/SE), Cecile B. Evans (US/BE), Yulia Startsev (CA/RU) and Heidi Hove (DK).

Bottle Messages:

Deep Blue (for both): Lissa Holloway-Attaway

This project is inspired by the recent deaths of two old friends whose passing I learned of during my residency stay in Nida. Both have connections to times of my life strengthened through intense periods of creativity and self-discovery. Both too represent the ways in which we may find intimacy through our unspoken secrets. To say is only one way of telling. These bottles contain both memory and anticipation. Both entreat connection and appeal to a spirit of compassion and universal co-belonging that bypasses prejudice. Both balk at conformance and celebrate difference without dissent. Both trust that borders invite trespass, and both welcome the opportunity to test territorial and political demarcations with natural human curiosity. Both are Blue.

blue bottles

"Deep Blue": assembling the messages

The first bottle contains images of art-work, made by my painter friend Steve, along with self-portraits and photographs from our past.  The paintings are focused on the sea as a setting for unspoken narratives of intimacy, particularly among men. Although silence was a recurrent theme in his work, he said too that “the body of my work has given a voice to my life, the lives of others, and in doing so, the dignity of all people.” The second bottle contains one of my poems, inspired by my friend Gordon, about the heavy work of drifting, both away from one life and towards another. Included also are phrases from his obituary, which I found online when searching for his contact information.

cut up text

cut up poem and obituary fragments

The opening line, which declared that Gordon had died “after a period of prolonged suffering,” haunts me with what it says so directly and yet asks me to complete with compassion and deep sadness to process the reality of his passing. Cut into pieces, the two texts will require perseverance and curiosity to know more about the man beyond the message in the blue bottle. My name and email address are taped to the cap inside both bottles with the words “Are you curious? Ask me more.”

[Blue is pejorative slang for “gay” in Russian.]

The Buried Robot: Cecile B. Evans

My contribution is a request, stored on a USB stick, for the finder to upload a picture of the House of Soviets in Kaliningrad to a live blog.

Never having faced restriction from crossing a neighboring border, I started researching into all the things that I would miss. I came across the House of Soviets, a cinderblock bastion constructed in the 1960s on the site of the majestic but severely damaged Königsberg Castle.

This construction, reminding me of my own Eastern Bloc plattenbau (‘cement-house’) apartment building in Berlin, is commonly referred to among the locals as “the Buried Robot”. Its bizarreness and symbolic endurance seems similar to other soviet monuments that many wish to demolish, make it a site I regret I am not able to visit on this journey.

In a time where these images are so accessible, I saw this as an opportunity to challenge my own notion of digital access by transforming it into a physical vessel. I have written a letter to a citizen of Kaliningrad and asked them to take a personal  photograph of this buried robot for me- from Wikipedia to personal media, their perspective on the experience. The letter is stored as a JPEG on a USB stick and dressed for the journey in rice, a nod to the technological device’s stronger support but uncertain longevity. Rather then send the image back, I’ve asked the finder to upload it to a blog: (included is the user password). The blog, visible to the public, adds an element of suspense, and more likely, absence.

More rationally, it alludes the impossibility of this challenge. The likelihood of this bottle making it to the Russian shores, to be found in a rural area by someone who has the desire and ability to follow the instructions, points to certain greater problematics that this wide open platform still retains, especially in regard to a population from a recently dissolved social regime and the persistence yet of others.

The bottle is a Russian soda bottle; I found it interesting that though I could not easily travel there, I could very easily buy one of their products.

Invitation Letter, 2012: Heidi Hove

A bottle with the message of an invitation letter, that is inviting the finder of the bottle to Denmark.

bottle with invitation

Heidi's bottle with formal invitation inside

This is a reaction to the fact that you need an invitation letter and VISA for entering for instance, Russia and also to the discussion, that has recently taken place in Denmark concerning the increase of border controls. Before 1914, it was possible to travel from Paris to Saint Petersburg without a passport but today the land borders have increasingly been highlighted again and free movements controlled. With this bottle, I am trying to start a discrete cross border communication and inviting the finder of this bottle to Denmark. However, the changes for this bottle to vanish on sea are at big risk – and the communication will then get lost.

Язык: Yulia Startsev

My approach to the Message in a Bottle project is directly related to my experience of the Russian language. I was born in Moscow, and have a high comprehension of Russian, however my attempts to speak are broken. Full of pauses and searching. Further, my associations to the language are of a child, where words become connected on a purely formal basis. For instance the similarity of the sound of sand (pesok) and the verb to write (pesyat) have become connected. As the words to breath (duhat) and soul/spirit (dusha) and breathing (dihshat). My letter is a broken poem, hand written and full of spelling and grammatical errors; full of associations and misplaced words, which, for a native speaker of Russian will probably be little more that gibberish. Included with the letter are cut words and phrases that are the correct phrases and spellings of what I was trying to say. If it is found the letter becomes a puzzle that must be spoken aloud, in order to connect the correct phrases; in order to understand the meaning. In this way I hope to recreate my speech in the speech of a native speaker; or; to have my tongue travel in a bottle.

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