Liquescence

spilling


As I painted, intent on umber and verdigris, cinnabar and chrome, the colours, let out from their tight tubes, escaped under the studio door and up and down the public staircase to the black and white family rooms… Fawn carpets turned to blood and all the beige bedding there was couldn’t suppress a single sheet of crimson. [1]

Now, immaculately reinvented in digital unconscious – a mind without intuition – I become pure concept: a fire burning away the tangible sensory. Earth-bound pigments translate into intensities of light as fluctuating outputs of RGBs, chromacity-defined, hex-coded; detached from palpable origins. I circle continually. [2]

The dematerialized fluid subjectivity of Instagram performance-images and physically quantifiable deterritorialising flows of paintings play out, between multiple bodies of canvases and screens, a liquescent erotics of paint and digitality. Paint escapes the frame, spilling over her body, crusting on her jeans, work boots, skin, silver high heels, concrete floor; over her flexed, strong, vulnerable, contorted, nude, muscular, female, resilient, queer, fragile body that holds the cumulated experiences of four and a half decades. Digitally streaming, coursing, flooding, proliferating, evading binaries.

Clare Price was around for the first iteration of all the post-Gibsonian cybers [-culture, -feminism, -punk, -queer…][3]. As cyberfeminist theorist Sadie Plant described it:

By the mid 1990s, a digital underground is thriving, and the Net has become the leading zone on which old identifications collapse. Genders can be bent and blurred and the time-space coordinates tend to get lost… The Net is becoming cyberspace, the virtuality with which the not-quite-ones have always felt themselves to be in touch. [4]

Price is now part of a new online art subculture, made up largely of millenials, that doesn’t describe itself as cyber anything, or even particularly define itself, but in many ways connects to where the gender-fluidity and technomysticism of 90s cyberculture broke off abruptly in the mid 2000s (around 2004, with the advent of web 2.0). Price’s practice addresses the phenomenology of paintings – that is, painting as a structure that contains experience. She is particularly interested in the phenomenological traces of the making process, of the residues of a body’s physical presence, and the ‘affective resonance’ left over from the performance of making. Her Instagram images reveal fragments of rituals that usually remain hidden in the safe/sacred space of the studio. They are overcoded by accounts of other painters in their studios, the postfeminist combat zones of representation, and the material erotics of oilpaint: wetness, fluidity, fleshiness, viscosity. This is set against the phenomenological battle-ground over whose experience and cognition is recognized and validated. [5]


My paint was becoming thinner and more fluid and cried out to be soaked… I spilled on the drawing in paint from the coffee cans. [6]

In the socially mediated context of Instagram, however, liquescence dematerialises and enters a new dimension. This transubstantiation from embodied fluidity to digital viral fluidity was theorized in the 90s by Sadie Plant. She addresses embodiment via French Postfeminist philosopher Luce Irigaray’s critique of the ‘specular economy’ (the Levi-Straussian / Freudian economy dependent on the subservience and exchange of women between men). Irigaray suggests that thinking sexual difference is the problem of our age, specifically how to insert the female (Freud’s ‘blind spot’) into psychoanalytic and philosophical discourse. She foregrounds bodily experience and morphology as the key to this, and theorises female thought as shaped by women’s ‘incontournable [un-outlineable, or un-distortable] volume’ and relationship to fluidity. For Irigaray, woman is a volume “neither open nor closed. She is indefinite, in-finite, form is never complete in her.”[7] Plant takes this as an ideal for disembodiment, and enters the virtual multiplicity of cyberspace. Given the cybercultural histories and current online flows, what could it mean to replace binary, arborescent identity and kinship structures with liquescent contingencies? What effects might this have for rethinking ideas of difference or alterity? And how might the affective point-cloud of aesthetic tensions (fragility, vulnerability, desire, release…) inherent to Price’s work enhance or complicate this?

liquid

Nina Wakeford’s 1997 critique of the term cyberqueer centred on the lack of specificity of both cyber and queer, and the term’s consequent status as an overloaded, undersignifying hybrid.[8] But can a lack of fixity be a strength? What could constitute an alternative ground for identity, as disidentification? Fluidity does not (necessarily) mean vagueness; as cyberfeminist Faith Wilding said: “definition can be fluid and affirmative – a declaration of strategies, actions, and goals.”[9] For me, the problem with 90s cyberfeminism lies in its infatuation with (Irigarayan) mimicry and over-identification as strategies for critique, but for Helen Hester the failure of Plant’s 90s identity-fluid idealism is its conflation of distributed networks, neural nets and parallel processing with femininity.

Helen Hester’s proposal for a Cyberfeminism 2.0, in the form of Xenofeminism, is rather more pinned down than its predecessor, and doesn’t approve of such flagrant fluidity. Hester’s primary Xenofeminist hypothesis is gender abolitionist, but simultaneously ‘-feminist’ and ‘unmanned’, which appears contradictory.[10] If Hester’s critique of Sadie Plant is based on an assumed essentialism, and her feminism is post-gender, how is it useful to reinforce these binary oppositions? Even if, like postfeminist philosopher Julia Kristeva, she separates gender description from sex – feminine from female, masculine from male – the binary structure is still upheld and maintained. In fact, Sadie Plant’s position on this is far more complex. Plant takes femininity not as anchored to the female, but as the ground zero necessary for the erasure of fixed identity:

If fluidity has been configured as a matter of deprivation and disadvantage in the past, it is a positive advantage in a feminized future for which identity is nothing more than a liability. [11]

As Xenofeminist colleague Amy Ireland shows:

The positivity of zero grasped as a circuit that does not need the concept of identity (or indeed the identity of the concept) to anchor its productive power. [12]

All online platforms are constructed over a substrate of binary code, but the space between the ones and zeroes contain recursive, self-organising systems of infinite possibility: “the one and zero states of digital circuitry… exclude an unpredictable, dynamic middle, a narrow band of intense, nonlinear activity”,[13] while the Cantor set demonstrates that the gap between zero and one contains a more-than-infinite number of points. So what does that do to undermine faith in binary structures?

In Sandy Stone’s groundbreaking 1993 Posttranssexual Manifesto, transsexuality is not about introducing a third term of opposition between the binaries, to fit with hegemonic assumptions of the ‘wrong body’ problem. She positions transsexual bodies instead as “a genre– a set of embodied texts whose potential for productive disruption of structured sexualities and spectra of desire has yet to be explored.”[14] Related to this, in a textual narrative sense, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s complex concept of the (In)appropriated Other refuses to fit into a specific type of identity. It constantly avoids classification, and articulates being and identity as permanently contingent and constantly renegotiated: “that which does not readily lend itself to (demonstrative) narrations or descriptions and continues to mutate with/beyond nomenclature.[15]

fragility, vulnerability, desire, release

Clare Price and Benjamin Whitley’s collaborative images – intimate photographs taken by Whitley – constitute a queer, intergenerational gaze that refuse easy gender binaries in the same way that Price sets up multiple positions between manifold painted and digital bodies. The network of tensions between fragility, vulnerability, desire, strength and release contained within those bodies is constantly renegotiated. As Price relates, “Benjamin Whitley… said it’s like pushing something very extreme out there to protect something that’s very vulnerable.” [16] Where alien is defined as “anything – and everything – to everything else”[17], these multiple positions and affective coordinates of Price’s work represent an ‘alien anthropology’ for thinking alternative, constantly shifting, modes of (dis)identification.


references:

[1] Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies, p46

[2] Alien Ontology / Marmalade Undertaking, script for Zahir, available at http://marmalade-undertaking.com/Projects_zahir.html. Accessed 18/11/2018

[3] William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy (1984-1988), which coined the term ‘cyberspace’ and defined an aesthetic for a generation’s tech developers and subculture

[4] Sadie Plant (2000). On theMatrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations. p268

[5] See Mira Schor (1996). Wet: on Painting, Feminism and Art Culture

[6] Helen Frankenthaler on making Mountains and Sea. Alison Rowley (2007). Helen Frankenthaler: Painting History, Writing Painting. P17

[7] Luce Irigaray (1985). Speculum of the Other Woman. P229

[8] Nina Wakeford (1997) ‘Cyberqueer’. The Cyberculture Reader, 2000, pp. 350-359. Bell and Kennedy eds.

[9] Faith Wilding (1998). ‘Where is Feminism in Cyberfeminism?’ Old Boys Network.

[10] Helen Hester (2017). After the Future: n-Hypotheses of Post-Cyber Feminism

[11] Sadie Plant, (2000). On theMatrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations, p270

[12] Amy Ireland (2017). ‘Black Circuit: Code for the Numbers to Come’. E-Flux journal #80

[13] Mark Pesce (2001) ‘True Magic’. P225, True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace

[14] Sandy Stone (1993). The ‘Empire’ Strikes Back: a Posttransexual Manifesto. p12

[15] Trinh T. Minh-ha (2009). Woman, Native, Other

[16] Stephanie Moran (2018). Unpublished interview with Clare Price

[17] Ian Bogost (2012). Alien Phenomenology, or What its Like to Be a Thing



Originally published in the exhibition catalogue accompanying Clare Price’s exhibition Fragility Spills at ASC Gallery London 9th November – 20th December 2018. Curated by Cairo Clarke, with photographs by Benjamin Whitley. The publication was supported by Marcelle Joseph’s Girlpower Fund.



Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s