[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 3

Rahul Mukherjee rm954 at cornell.edu
Thu Nov 23 03:12:05 AEDT 2017

Renate, thanks for the question.

MCS has been a controversial subject in toxicology and immunology with MCS sufferers finding various “pesticides, perfume, vehicle emissions, fabric softeners, magazines and carpeting” to be triggering symptoms. Conventional biomedicine has often suggested that MCS is outside disease, an impossible condition, with MCRers imagining symptoms (sometimes even terming it psycho-somatic). However, MCSers point to the fact that different human beings are differently sensitive to particular chemicals, and so blanket threshold levels for various chemicals/toxins cannot just be made to work. Some very nuanced writing by Michelle Murphy and Stacy Alaimo on this topic has insightfully noted that if biomedicine actually recognizes MCS as illness then one would have re-evaluate the impact of synthetic chemicals and petro-modernity (and more generally of modernity itself) [Julianne Moore’s character in Todd Haynes’ “Safe” might come close to the description]. Furthermore, Alaimo and Murphy’s work on MCS contests rigid outlines of human bodies and things with furnitures potentially leaking formaldehyde, which then is interacting with chemicals inside human bodies etc. What I was attempting to suggest is that the MCS figure makes it very difficult to categorize what is a contaminant and what is not. Contamination becomes deeply relational, because the same chemical could be contaminant for some, and not be for another.

Tim mentioned how oil money could contaminate art exhibitions, and at the same time, self-reflexive artists might find a way through their art practices to critique the co-optation of art by corporations. Here I am interested in social contamination as a discourse in/about corruption. That made me think how late-capitalism has tried to demonize figures like media pirates in “developing” countries and vishoka in Tanzania as corrupt or parasitic, and yet media pirates and vishoka continue to successfully challenge every regulatory framework put in place to check them: one of the reasons for this is the gross iniquity of infrastructural access. Tanzania Electricity management repudiates vishoka as unskilled and untrustworthy while still relying on them to do repairs of transformers/electrical lines as a form of cheap labor. Residents (and particularly low-income household groups) turn to vishoka for bureaucratic shortcuts and for extending electricity lines without permit. These ordinary electricity consumers while fearing legal repercussions or scams can also report Vishoka to state-corporate electricity management. So, vishoka are caught up between state-corporations and ordinary consumers. Both need them and sometimes trust them, and both can sometimes try to abject-ize them. For more on vishoka, read anthropologist Michael Degani’s work. For more on informal electricity extensions in Indian cities like Kanpur, see the film Katiyabaaz by Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa.

This has already become too long a post. More on Andrea’s fascinating projects around movement, embodiment, and exposure to contamination next time.

From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Andrea Haenggi <1067pacificpeople at gmail.com>
Sent: Tuesday, November 21, 2017 9:46:59 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Welcome to Week 3

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