An essay by Panos Giannikopoulos
“ Feel then that I’m near springs, pools and waterfalls, all with abundant waters. And I free.
Hear me, hear my silence. What I say is never what I say but instead something else. When I say “abundant waters” I’m speaking of the force of body in the waters of the world.”
Clarice Lispector. “Água Viva”.
We start with a body and its skin, a boundary, a way of detaching oneself from the rest of the world, or a porous membrane, an opening of fluid exchanges with it. We align ourselves with a flow of thinking, which creates the context we live and act in. The body as an enclosed sea -Mediterranean- channelling through the rivers and undercurrents and a landlocked state of existence, permeated by torrents.
It is the flexible outer tissue of my fingers that separates me from being effused onto the plastic keyboard I am using to write this text, or my paper notes — preventing me from turning into soft pulp- but it is the aqueous reciprocation with all that surrounds me that affects and moves the writing.
The body lives because of water and is co-constituted with its connections. It exists in a process of cognitive evapotranspiration. Our water relations submerge the western individual entity myth. To channel Neimanis (2013), we drink and weep, perspire, discharge, ejaculate, release, and absorb liquid. The percentage of water in our bodies reacts to other watery materialities and thus creates stories and memories. I flow with the thoughts and the existence of other critters and my entrenched personal pronoun is diffused with and among them.
As Haraway argues, this is not to say we are connected with everything (2016, p. 31), our fleshy and digital water exchanges happen somewhere. This specificity is important for the limits of its rippling effect. We are here and not there, or we are here and there but not elsewhere. We are connected to something that is connected with something else, and consequently the net of connections untangles.
Thinking with water, what if we read our geographical location as this porous membrane instead of a border? What if this difference is also transmutable and exchangeable? What happens to the notion of the self or the nation-state in this wetland?
As Neimanis argues, to think with water is to both think the substance and the semiotics of water (2013), the materiality and its metaphors. Water as a source of life but also as a cause of death, liquid metaphors of togetherness and sexual fluidity, waves of feminism, but also neoliberal hijacks of watery terms, the commodification and exploitation of water and the terraqueous necropolitics (Presti, 2020). This is to think about care and danger.
To think with water is to think (and live) in more than human worlds (De la Bellasaca, 2017) with other animals, machines, organisms, objects, forces and their forming relations. We do not start and end with the human. The story must change (Haraway, 2016, p. 40). This phrase echoes Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Ursula Le Guin, Jason W. Moore, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum¹, the earthbound² and the biotariat and many others in this journey. New stories are coproduced human and extra-human, conditions of unpredictable plurality are embraced.
In these new conditions, feeling and thinking is not restricted to the human body the skin and the fingers. Another exchange is introduced with slippery epidermes, transparent mesoglea, tentacles making attachments and detachments…patterning of possible worlds and possible times, material-semiotic worlds, gone, here and yet to come (Haraway p.31). Myths are recreated or rerouted towards a multispecies alliance, where all become collaborative interspecies. As algae, fungi and yeast we form lichens and articulate them with punk punctuation (ahoy Milne)³
To go with and beyond metaphoric language is to provide jet propulsion for efficient locomotion. We create our myths in solidarity of algae, in the symbiotic alliance of lichen. The sonic pulsation by Drexciya moves us and aligns us with the deep-sea dwellers and the wave jumpers⁴. We dance. A secret subterranean city emerges in the oldest extant sovereign state of the known cosmos⁵. Along with deep-sea companions, a strange “we” operates collectively against the commodification of everything, reclaiming the microbial mythologies of the past and the future. We catch a wave with the octopus and other squishy invertebrates. Create suits of armour made of seashells and kelp and found objects. With Chus Martínez and an octopus in love, we sense what parts being totals mean, and how to think through the skin. As Martínez mentions, the octopus’ nervous system is spread throughout its body, distributed instead of being centralized. Nodes in the nervous system are connected to each other. Fingers and tentacles think. We are at school with the tentacular ones. Is this possibly the way to relationally unmake some of the present’s violent conditions (call it Captitalocene or Anthropocene)?
The octopus’ body is a vessel for narration; an oracle and a storyteller. To think with the tentacular ones is a way to imagine a form of decentralized perception, a relational network, and cultivate conditions of ongoingness. It is a way to see a possible future. What if the political body felt and sensed not necessarily with a central system, but with its parts being totals? What if we thought of our institutions in that sense? Could art imagine a way it all connects? The alliance of vulnerable and precarious bodies, thinking with water, thinking/feeling with tentacular creatures, playing, making or unmaking together in naturecultural worlds.
Panos Giannikopoulos is part of the curatorial board of Mediterranea 19 — School of Waters in the occasion of which, the current text was published among other curatorial essays with Archive Books (2021).
The 19th edition of the Biennale of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean takes place in the State of San Marino between the 15th of May until the 31st of October 2021, under the title School of Waters, as proposed by the participants of the third edition of A Natural Oasis? A Transnational Research Programme (2018–2020) and will comprise of exhibition, film, performance, research and educational programs.
1. Rhinolophus ferrumequinum with the common name Greater horseshoe bat, lives in very small numbers in San Marino. This critter is listed as “Near Threatened” due to its very low numbers. Its horseshoe noseleaf helps to focus the ultrasound it uses to ‘see’.
2. See Haraway, 2016, p. 41
3. See Lichens for Marxists (Milne, 2017)
4. Drexciya was an electronic music duo from Detroit, that developed an Afrofuturist mythology. Drexciya’s undersea civilization descended by the unborn children of the drowned African women who were thrown off slave ships during the Middle Passage. The babies had adapted to breathe underwater in their mothers’ wombs. According to Kodwo Eshun, the myth was partly built on Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Deep Sea Dwellers and Wave Jumpers refer to this mythology and the respective song titles.
5. San Marino claims to be the oldest extant sovereign state and the oldest constitutional republic.