An essay by Angeliki Tzortzakaki
“A lone island is part of an endless free-thinking and lost imagination. However, an archipelago signifies relations of un-relation between each island. Humans often think each island in an archipelago resembles the others. It is not true. Although each island forms part of a terrestrial totality, they are not all the same. An archipelago creates conditions that function to justify exceptions.”²
I recently read this, and it made me think of our endless conversations about islands, a recurrent theme in our friendship in the past years. As we often spoke about ways to enact the abolishment of the deterministic approach to living, I thought that maybe islands can help in this work. What if we look at them as mutable bodies in constant movement within an archipelagic organisation? This can deeply challenge our relation to the world: as symbolic assemblages of bodies–in sync–they praise their dancing selves, connecting tissues in multiple relations. Although they do not resemble, the islands of an archipelago enjoy their potent capacity for reciprocity while the waters surrounding them are receptible of those powers and resistances, all in deviant connections. Archipelagos are worlds in process of unlearning. They defy the binarism of mainland/island and instead engage in island-island interrelationships³. Within their ecosystems, bodies like islands, are in continuous transformation, open to infinite possibilities that allow us to reinvent ways of making and sharing. Think of the word pelagic so commonly used in Greek to talk about the deep, abyss, sea.
Dear, our lives are interconnected through breathing and water in so many ways. Gumbs would say “It’s not the world on our shoulders, it’s the ocean on our hearts, on top of our whole torsos”⁴. While lying down, I imagine the ocean above and within my lungs, breathing between worlds: by allowing air or water to penetrate, we allow breakthroughs, or better a sense of euphoria, a burst of love (bouffé d’amour⁵). I encountered this sentence in Tremblay’s work: “feminists train themselves to keep inhaling without the certainty that there will be a world to welcome their exhalation”⁶. In the spectrum of collective feminist and queer healing practices, you can imagine breathing taking an exceptional position.
The archipelagic thought makes us aware that no/body is self-sufficient in its fluvial corporeality. Thinking with our transcorporeal selves we understand that matter cannot be disentangled from our networks but is bound in a swirling landscape of uncertainty⁷. How can we attend to matter and biology otherwise, leading to a new embodiment? You know the conflict between the — troublesome — biology with capital B⁸ and transfeminist studies has been a long one. Lynda Birke stretched out the need to rethink this relationship and look at the biological body as something changing, changeable and transformable. That’s why new materialist thinkers across disciplines are calling for a moving beyond the biologically essentialist (normative) and towards a new mutable understanding of things. They presume identity and difference as products of complex interactions between matters inside and outside bodies and between the social and environmental conditions in which bodies exist and situate themselves. Few years later, Luciana Parisi also added her layer on a molecular scale: her notion of abstract sex designated the potential of its intensive mutability. The latter develops across all layers and stratifications, offers pragmatics of encounters, abductions and contagions between bodies, laying out dynamics of sociability that emerges in situ rather than being determined by social positions⁹.
Once, in a lonely bar I heard a womxn affirming: “our struggle must begin with the reappropriation of our body, expand and celebrate its powers, individual and collective, articulate and striving for our being¹⁰”. Do you think our struggle can begin by restoring our breathing? I am puzzled by the contradiction of underwater breathing as a practice of resistance, unless we turn back to the oceans being archives of breathlessness (see: anti-blackness and white supremacy) following Christina Sharpe. Breathing with water can reshuffle the dynamics of our political assembly¹¹, and therefore its inexhaustiveness is not to be taken for granted. The weaponisation of air and breath within communities is made evident by its very nature: breathing became a parameter that physicalised the inequalities persisting even in spaces that yield coalition.
The archipelagic communities allow therefore singular (- plural?) and collective identities not to be fixed in time and space but to be constantly quaking and floating. Dear, a voice inside me is humming: “if you move, you disturb their order. You cause everything to fall apart. You break the circle of their habits, the circularity of their exchanges, their knowledge, their desire: their world”¹². There is so much joy in these words, don’t you think?
You were right about euphoria and pleasure being militant commitments towards a fierce togetherness in our tomorrows…Shall we turn towards the political value of pleasure? Maree Brown calls this “pleasure activism”: the work we (should) do to reclaim our whole and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions and limitation of oppression and supremacy, make justice and liberation a pleasurable experience.
In taking back our bodies to talk back with our voices, we have to fight against our alienation from them and from the oceans (are we there yet?) first. Our largely mediated perception of the ocean contradicts our essence as water beings. We are born in the ocean but have no memory of it. After all, how do we still ignore these signs of body alienation not only from ourselves but from matter overall? We do not have bodies, we are our bodies and we are ourselves while being in the world¹³. Archipelagos are created via explosive moments of desire among oceans’ and volcanoes’ myriads of micro-affective acts. Great time beings and knowledge bearers, they carry and forward their extreme energy potentials that give shape to vibrant ecologies. Archipelagos are not static gatherings but dynamic constellations. They can neither be tamed nor defined because of their fugitive essence.
Dear, do you see now how new epistemologies come to urgency? Halberstam’s book on desire and disorder is shaken by the prefix un-. Unnaming, untaming, un-art, un-world when going through the archives of sexual otherness. How do we go from the polarised for vs against nature to after nature?
We need access to other forms of knowledge, ways of knowing and not knowing and even forms of knowing that depend on not knowing¹⁴. Looking beyond the domestic “things” opens multiple doors to a larger world of matter, where vibrating life forms engage in ontological choreographies. These doors allow different possibilities of living and dreaming together where new and better pleasures are being enacted, where other ways of being in the world and ultimately new worlds come to the horizon. Queerness is what keeps this horizon at bay and runs to greet it¹⁵.
Perhaps one day, we will find ways of understanding ourselves beyond the universalised European definition of the human: abolish institutional sexism, lust criminalisation and science mystification. We shall call, look for, move towards the poetics of bewilderment, a continuous disruption of the human-burgeois-adult-male gaze.
But today, I leave you with Ella Finer’s words:
Let’s take the conversation into action and not wait for the citation to do the work¹⁶.
PS: islands can only exist if we have loved in them¹⁷
Yours truly, Angeliki Tzortzakaki
Angeliki Tzortzakaki (Heraklion, 1990) is a curator, writer and editor, living in Amsterdam and Milan. Her current research looks into self-organization, hospitality, agency, storytelling and feminist economies of knowledge production. Since 2018 she co-organizes the artist residency bi- in liminal and rural areas favouring loitering and friendships. In Amsterdam she works as a studio coordinator of the artist Mercedes Azpilicueta and runs the reading club ‘Readings with friends (of friends)’. In 2019 she co-founded Scores for Gardens, a study group working on the intersection of performance and critical theory.
Angeliki Tzortzakaki 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.Neimanis A., ‘Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water’ in: Undutiful Daughters: Mobilizing Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice, eds. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni and Fanny Söderbäck. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012
2. Tan P., Pelin Tan on an Island, Letters against Separation, e-flux conversations, 2020, accessed on 8/11/2020
3. Pugh J., Island movements — Thinking with the Archipelago, Island Studies Journal, Vol. 8, №1, 2013, pp. 9–24
4. Gumbs A.P., Whale Songs, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, Volume 18, Number 1, April, 2019, pp. 8–13 (Article), Duke University Press
5. Wittig & Zeig, Brouillon pour un dictionnaire des amantes, Les Cahiers Rouges, Grasset; GRASSET ET FASQUELLE edition 2011
6. Tremblay J; Feminist Breathing. differences 1 December 2019; 30 (3): 92–117
7. Alaimo S, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self Indiana University Press, 2010
8. following Karen Barad’s science with capital S and Ehrenrich & English’s stance on medicine in Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women Healers second edition by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2010
9. Parisi L., Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire, Continuum, 2004
10. Federici S., Beyond the Periphery of the Skin: Rethinking, Remaking, and Reclaiming the Body in Contemporary Capitalism, PM Press/Kairos, 2020
11. Moraga C., Preface. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.
Ed. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. 2nd edition, Kitchen Table, 1983.
12. Irigaray L., When Our Lips Speak together, 1980, Feminist Theory and the Body, Routledge, 1999
13. Minh-Ha T.T., Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, biblioteca pirata, 2020 (1989)
14. Halberstam J., Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, , Duke University Press, 2020
15. Muñoz J.E., Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, U of Minnesota Press, 2013
16. Finer E., Composing Feminisms @ ResearchWorks at Guildhall, November 23 2020
17. Walcott D., Islands, In a Green Night: Poems 1948–1960, Jonathan Cape, 1962