Maria de Lima and Nicole Morris invited me to contribute a piece of writing to a conversation published to accompany their exhibition INGEST/digest/excrete at [SPACE]. You can read my contribution below.
From: Natasha Bird
Sent: 27 May 2018 14:42
To: Nicole Morris
Subject: FW: Other Homes / Deviant Flows
Pasta water boils over, leaving starchy residue stuck to the hob.
The river rises through the slats of the jetty, soaking our shoes.
The bath water drains too slowly, soap and hair floating on its surface, scum marks left at horizontal intervals on the sides.
The train sits outside London Bridge for 40 minutes. Other platforms are open and the trains filter into the station past our windows as we wait.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the river Thames underwent huge re-engineering in order to maximise the flow of capital - through, what Stuart Oliver describes as the ‘solid construction of locks and weirs designed to discipline the unprofitable, unseemly and disturbing flows of the river’. Oliver explicitly relates the ‘disciplining of the Thames’ to the quest of a ‘new’ ‘sexless’ ‘masculinity’ by the men that oversaw its re-engineering. ‘This manliness manifested itself in individuals with a well-developed determination to control both self and alienated other.’ This ‘disciplining’ of the waterways therefore coincided with a strong repression of the display of public emotion and sexuality. By structuring and regimenting natural flows into controlled paths (paths beneficial to the needs of capitalism) the engineers adhered to the Cartesian idea of disciplining the body –that if we are in control of our bodies, then we are civilised.
She erupts / She flows / She is stuck / She boils over / She changes direction / She goes against the tide / She lets loose / She stagnates / She oozes
The metaphor of the flood or unruly flow in regards to women is used as something that is unpredictable, destructive, and extremely powerful. It is outside the woman (the threat of her power as a whole gender) but it is also within her – a fear of menstruation and other bodily fluids; of terrifying displays of emotion and female sexuality. Desire flows, and is a distraction from the set path. The history of metaphor in relation to women and flow or floods is extensive. As Klaus Thewelit puts it ‘if desire flows at all, it flows through woman’.
We can pit a battle between witch and engineer; between nature and those who set themselves apart from it. Silvia Federici explores how the witch hunts of the 16th Century were motivated by the suppression of the body, and of a knowledge and belief in natural cycles and chance – a threat to the mechanisation of the body as a capital producing tool. ‘Witch hunting was really the repression of women’s autonomy and knowledge of nature’s metabolism’ (Maas and Pasquinelli ).
The concept of the witch can be used as a model to explore deviant systems. In the city, in order for capital to flow, it must be facilitated by infrastructure - transportation of goods and workers, sewage systems to keep the workers healthy, waste disposal in order to make our consumption appear as though it is a free flowing stream, rather than a massive fatberg accumulating beneath our feet. The witch is nature, desire, non-conformity. Desire and emotion are unpredictable and unstoppable, they dominate flows and re-route them. Natural cycles of the body are not linear. Menstruation seeps through, anger bubbles to the surface, tears burst out and flow, mixed with snot and ugly crying – turning the inside out, disrupting, deviating. In the city, we are both mechanised and metabolised – hard edges directing our flow, bodily functions pushing against the prescribed rhythm of the working day.
I sit on the train, watching others flow into the station, perfectly choreographed, each slotting in. I can visualise it from above, like a circuit diagram, evenly spaced. Our train stagnates outside the station, occasionally humming with the anticipation of movement. We are parallel to the Thames. The familiar feeling of an unexpected period seeps into my clothes.