MANIFESTO + CATALOGUE
Desendence: A Mermaid Manifesto... Journey from Atlantica to the Womb (2021)
The Idea of Enviroment, Radical Archive. Harvard Graduate School of Design.
What is it about the figure of the mermaid, that anchors a steady fascination, propelling her to swim through the vast distances between geographies, cultures, and times? Seemingly submerged by over-representation in literature and fantastical drawings, mermaid myths float around us, yet lack a critical and theoretical grounding. Even more unsettling is how this surreal figure has been, in recent history, made more human.
Descendence: A Mermaid Manifesto draws from literature, visual studies, art practices, and environmental studies to resuscitate and sustain the incommensurability of mermaid alterity. Adopting a methodology of Dirty Theory1, situated knowledge is perceptible by following the literal dirt (or shall I say water?) of material-conceptual relations. In messing and mixing disciplines, a dirty theorist accumulates more than just the usual set of readers, but also events, posters, social media feeds, and etc. A Mermaid methodology is generous in that it accepts distinctions between high and low cultures are unstable and can be easily undone; plural epistemologies seek contradictions. A mermaid politics is situated underwater. Water’s expansiveness and malleability are at times paralyzing and destabilizing. Thinking through the mermaid calls for water specificity, accepting that water is always mixed with other waters, particles, and matters. Water itself is an active agent that distorts limit visions; it bears the particles for partial perspectives and embodies mobile positioning to make the claim that subjectivity is kaleidoscopic.2
Embracing our water-planet as both precondition and future imaginary expedited by the climate crisis, mermaid politics emerges as one that vibrates between the stubborn binaries of nature and culture, subject and object. These boundaries are not rigid but vulnerable to constant toxification and fluctuations. Plunging into mermaid politics is one of ‘collaborative survival’,3 a constantly shifting assemblage that the modern conception of humanness does not usually allow us to see. Mermaid-ness in all of its fluidity, asks us to seriously question our proximity to the other, evoking a transformation - without ascendence - that reckons with the alterity and porousness of human nature.4
1 Hélène Frichot, Dirty Theory: Troubling Architecture. Baunach, Germany: Spurbuchverlag, 2019.
2 These ideas of object of knowledge as actor and agent, particle perspectives, embodied mobile positioning, and the fable of objectivity are indebted to Donna Haraway, "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective." Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (1988): 575-99.
3 This term is indebted to Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015).
4 This project is heavily inspired by the transits between human bodies and nonhuman natures in Stacy Alaimo’s Bodily Natures.