Terraforming is an erasure

This is a segment of a longer film that forms part of weird nails, a performance work that takes as points of departure the inherent utopian qualities of queerness posited by José Esteban Muñoz, Ursula K Le Guin’s science fiction novel The Dispossessed and Yelp reviews of Giant Rock, a location in the Mojave Desert with a reputation for UFO activity.

Terraforming is an erasure: in order for it to fulfil its function, it must eliminate the potentiality of a world. It is firstly destructive.

There is a type of extreme act that I equate with terraforming in the manner in which it wipes out, specifically, queer potentiality — acts that are not fully, or necessarily usefully, described by words such as “desperate” or “tragic”. They purge the individual (the terrain) of his or her queer potentiality, and are therefore violently anti-utopian: Valerie Solanas’ assassination attempt, Fred Herko’s defenestration, Kenneth Halliwell murdering Joe Orton, Andrew Cunanan, (John Wojtowicz’s heist — possibly), etc, etc. The homicide and suicide committed by Joe Meek can be thought of as terraforming in this sense. Here we see it set against the utopian personal account of the world he has created about him in his studio. (Notice also, the reference to drawing pins, a quotidian material recurrent in my work. More about their role as time machines here.)

What then of the terraformed world — the terrain post terraforming process? Does a kindred queerness leave us with sites of redemption? Bright planets shining down on us? (“Sister planets” to reference an Ursula K Le Guin line from The Dispossessed, also used in the film.)

seltsam Nägel

drawing pins

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, Popular Lectures and Addresses: A Future History of Time Machines:

In 1903, improving upon the guidelines laid out by Alfred Jarry, the first functioning time machine is produced by clockmaker Johann Kirsten in Lychen, Germany. Due to the simplicity of its design, its scale and the cheapness of the materials required for its manufacture, the device was soon being mass produced and quickly became commonplace in homes and workplaces around the world.

However, a fire at the Lychen printing press days before launch, meant the first Zeitmaschine were sold without instructions or explanatory packaging. The resultant incidents of misuse — running into the millions — have disrupted time beyond all recognition, unbeknownst to users who began adopting the tiny devices for other purposes, namely as a means to temporarily fix paper to surfaces such as walls and drawing boards. In Germany they come to be known as seltsam Nägel. The obvious potential for profit of such a device was recognised by local businessmen Otto and Paul Lindstedt who, in 1904, acquire the rights to the invention, patenting it as a Reißzwecke.

process was all

Two complementary passages that I came across during the early stages of researching weird nails, the performance piece I’ve been developing for the past six months or so. With less than a week before the work-so-far is shared with an audience, I find it reassuring to remind myself of them…

José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, the Then and There of Queer Futurity:

An emphasis on means as opposed to ends is innately utopian insofar as utopia can never be prescriptive of futurity. Utopia is an idealist mode of critique that reminds us that there is something missing, that the present and presence (and its opposite number, absence) is not enough.

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed:

 …and the separation of means and ends was, to her, false. For her, as for him, there was no end. There was process: process was all. You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere, all commitments thus understood took on substance and duration.


Peter Shapiro, Turn the Beat Around, the Secret History of Disco:

But disco wasn’t simply an escape from the language that had divided America, it was at the same time an embodiment of the very tensions and schisms that the rhetoric sought to express and resolve. Disco was at once about community and individual pleasure, sensation and alienation, orgy and sacrifice; it promised liberation and constraint, release and restraint, frivolity and doom. Disco was both utopia and hell.

The here and now is a prison house

José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, the Then and There of Queer Futurity:

The future is queerness’s domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for the minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds.