Amy Sara Carroll asc10 at cornell.edu
Sat Dec 2 12:47:13 AEDT 2017


My apologies for joining the conversation at the eleventh hour. Many thanks to Renate for the invitation to participate this week. I’ll proceed in fragments.


What is the opposite of contamination? Containment? Container-ization?


Regarding mushrooms, I want to draw your attention to the Vietnamese court’s decision yesterday to uphold the verdict against the popular blogger “Mother Mushroom.” In July 2017, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was given a ten-year prison sentence for “conducting propaganda against the state.” At the time, Bennett Murray wrote in The Guardian: “Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said her involvement in protests against the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant in north-central Vietnam, which was linked to a catastrophic fish die-off in 2016, was the last straw for the authorities.” See:


Environmental contamination here intersects with claims about free speech and what others this month have described as “social contamination.”


I’d like to say more about social contamination and artistic work that strive to represent its effects and affects (and thus return more or less to my above questions).

Rahul beautifully detailed some of the elements of documentaries about which he is writing. My attention was drawn to the opposition he stages between “the indexical facticity of the documentary image (restricted)” and the need/drive “for the whole debilitated body” to speak. In my REMEX: Toward an Art History of the NAFTA Era, I consider greater Mexican tactics of undocumentation. For the purposes of this month’s contamination theme, I’d describe this work as conceptual, as “contaminating” or “corrupting” documentary strategies that privilege factual accuracy, verisimilitude, transparency, even flow charts of accountability; that consciously plumb the limits of “indexical facticity.”


The tactics I reference, formally speaking, are hardly unique to Mexico and United States (in some regards they represent the norm for post-1980s documentary cinema and a documentary aesthetic in the visual and literary arts). The subject matter of the work I address is site-specific, however. At the close of the book I consider several undocumentaries before looping back to other art works that I addressed in the book. For this conversation’s purposes, I want to focus on one work in particular.


Some of you may be familiar with Mexico City based artist and forensic scientist Teresa Margolles’s Vaporización. I bring up this installation because it speaks to fabricated divides, including the above of contamination/containment, suggesting that contamination subsumes any would-be opposite of itself. I cut and paste:

True to its title, Margolles’s Vaporización (Vaporization), runs disinfected water taken from the washing of corpses in the Servicio Médico Forense (SEMEFO; Medical Forensic Service), Mexico City’s central morgue, through a fog machine. Those brave or curious enough to proceed into the gallery housing the installation, step into a thick fog that converts them into participant-observers—you cannot not inhale.

In an artist’s talk associated with the Brooklyn Museum’s show Global Feminisms (2007), Margolles devoted the lion’s share of her presentation to a detailed and radical recontextualization of scientific descriptions of the water cycle. She observed that morgue water already enters the “great river of Mexico City,” evaporates, and rains down on its inhabitants; that the world’s citizens daily imbibe, inhale, ingest one another.

Nearly contemporaneous with her reflections, the Mexican government offered its own poetic platitudes regarding ambience. In 2006, in cooperation with the Bush II administration, the (Felipe) Calderón administration fired its first shots in the Mexico’s Drug War. By 2008, the numbers of dead—collateral damage—across Mexico skyrocketed. In response to public outcry, the administration offered a damning domestic narrative that re-gendered the hypermasculinity of the narco-aesthetic: “If you see dust in the air, it’s because we’re cleaning house.” Actions like Vaporización that had been deemed extreme assumed new significance; were retroactively reevaluated as prescient of both a more pervasive extreme labor situation and the “contamination” qua complicity of all.


Speaking of the above remarkable alibi for Mexico’s ongoing Uncivil War offered by the Calderón administration, I finally want to go in another direction (which may harbor some kinships with what already has been posted, e.g. observations by Melinda or Ian Alan’s interactive contribution to the dialogue). Specifically I’d note that the will to contaminate (the self, the text)—the desire to seek a form to represent contamination made manifest in a variety of procedurally generated texts by visual artists and poets as of late. I refer to tactics like erasure, redaction, strikethrough, grayscaling. In my own case, in my second collection FANNIE + FREDDIE/The Sentimentality of Post-9/11 Pornography, I still “see” the first half of the book’s title struck through despite the publisher’s refusal to do so (because of metadata issues). Elsewhere, I have sought to represent contamination with a “contaminated” text. See my response to a photograph by Tina Modotti:



I’d welcome others’ thoughts on/reactions to any of the above.


Amy Sara Carroll

2017-2018 Society Fellow

Cornell University

Society for the Humanities

A.D. White House

27 East Avenue

Ithaca, NY 14853-1101

From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Ian Alan Paul <ian.paul at stonybrook.edu>
Sent: Friday, December 1, 2017 10:22:30 AM
To: empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] CONTAMINATE! MANIFESTO

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