Metabolic aesthetics: on the feminist scentscapes of Anicka Yi

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Artist Anicka Yi has gained notoriety as a smell portraitist due to her collaborations with perfumers and her use of bacteria sourced from women’s mouths and vaginas. This essay explores Yi’s fabricating techniques, her thematic riffs on consumption, and her recycling ethos, to draw out the artist’s concern with three scales of metabolic interaction: the microbial, the interpersonal, and the ecological (re food systems). In outlining how Yi’s art attends not only to care work and cooking but also to metabolic support labor, this essay queers the parameters of reproductive labor to include as well the work of recycling the waste of one body or species into the fertility of another.

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... Our final essay, Rachel Lee's homage to the subversive art of Anicka Yi offers the reclaimed scent molecules of women's bodies as catharsis for racism, sexism, and sensory alienation (Lee 2019). Mirroring the technocratic capture of vaginal volatiles discussed by Spackman, Lee shows us how Yi invites visitors to her multisensory installations to imbibe funk and musk. ...
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This introduction and special issue takes as its inspiration Kyla Wazana Tompkins’ 2012 articulation of Critical Eating Studies. We examine how value is produced through the circulation and transformation of the parts that constitute eating and edible bodies. Guided by the presumed dead, done, and discarded, we find material and structural meaning by focusing not on finished goods but on by-products – both intended and unintended. The Edible Feminisms special issue foregrounds scientific methods through which neoliberal market relations write-off matter and bodies as wastes and metabolic discontents. We explore how devaluation, or systemic discard, is built into technical modes of capitalist value production and echoes in social structure and cultural forms. In asking: what does feminism have to do with edibility? with waste and metabolic science? we illustrate the stakes of how, why and who of devalued parts and bodies. In the eleven essays of this special issue, we examine how cultural logics of devaluation (classism, racism, sexism) are related to the technical practices of revaluation (e.g. quantitative reductionism, nutritionism). We attune our readers to the messy insides of things, to food science through the Marxian concept of creative destruction.
This article advocates further examination of the role decay aesthetics can play in artificial life (ALife or AL) and art. Opening with the poetics of decay and the shadow that decay taboo has cast in western culture, firstly, we reframe decay as a constructive process of transformation. Secondly, we perform a brief historical survey of early artistic developments in the field of ALife, assessing how these early works addressed decay. We follow with a deeper analysis of contemporary artists through a lens of decay and decomposition, identifying new tendencies of ALife art (deep time simulation, slime intelligence, molecular agents, techno resurrection and ecohybridized computation). Finally, we look to the peripheries of ALife to see how decay is rendered in current technical research and examine these projects with an eye for turbulent production in the form of ‘decaying’ matter. We conclude with a number of open questions on decomposition and decay aesthetics, both within the artistic and technical realms of ALife.
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Apple's commercial triumph rests in part on the outsourcing of its consumer electronics production to Asia. Drawing on extensive fieldwork at China's leading exporter—the Taiwanese-owned Foxconn—the power dynamics of the buyer-driven supply chain are analysed in the context of the national terrains that mediate or even accentuate global pressures. Power asymmetries assure the dominance of Apple in price setting and the timing of product delivery, resulting in intense pressures and illegal overtime for workers. Responding to the high-pressure production regime, the young generation of Chinese rural migrant workers engages in a crescendo of individual and collective struggles to define their rights and defend their dignity in the face of combined corporate and state power.
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Through examination of four examples from contemporary metabolic sciences, this article characterizes the rise of a post-industrial metabolism. Concerned with regulation, timing, and information, this understanding of metabolism is analyzed as a shift away from the factory or motor model of classic metabolism, in which food was fuel, providing energy and building blocks to the body. Accordingly, metabolic disorders - treatments for which are the explicit aim of much of this research - are increasingly explained and intervened in as regulatory crises, asynchronies, or instances of misinformation. Close empirical examination of the explanatory frameworks and experimental design of the metabolic sciences answers, with some specificity, the question of the knowledge effects of the demand to translate directly from research to treatments for obesity and diabetes; or, fat knowledge.
Attempts to trace the social origins of the sexual division of labour, and challenges the view that the dominance relationship evolved either out of biological or economic determinants. Describes the history of the related processes of colonization and 'housewifization'; extends this analysis to the contemporary new international division of labour, and the role which women have to play as the cheapest producers and consumers. Then focuses on the role of violence against women in the establishment of production relations which are not based on wage-labour proper, using the experiences of women in India. After arguing that present socialist countries cannot provide the desired alternative for women's liberation because the socialist accumulation process is based on 'housewifization', the last chapter attempts to develop a feminist perspective of a future society based on a self-sufficient economy. Sees the first step towards this as a consumer liberation movement started by women in the 'overdeveloped' classes and countries.- from Author
The act of eating is both erotic and violent, as one wholly consumes the object being eaten. At the same time, eating performs a kind of vulnerability to the world, revealing a fundamental interdependence between the eater and that which exists outside her body. Racial Indigestion explores the links between food, visual and literary culture in the nineteenth-century United States to reveal how eating produces political subjects by justifying the social discourses that create bodily meaning. Combing through a visually stunning and rare archive of children's literature, architectural history, domestic manuals, dietetic tracts, novels and advertising, Racial Indigestion tells the story of the consolidation of nationalist mythologies of whiteness via the erotic politics of consumption. Less a history of commodities than a history of eating itself, the book seeks to understand how eating became a political act, linked to appetite, vice, virtue, race and class inequality and, finally, the queer pleasures and pitfalls of a burgeoning commodity culture. In so doing, Racial Indigestion sheds light on contemporary "foodie" culture's vexed relationship to nativism, nationalism and race privilege.
This interdisciplinary study examines the theme of consumption in Asian American literature, connection representations of cooking and eating with ethnic identity formation. Using four discrete modes of identification--historic pride, consumerism, mourning, and fusion--Jennifer Ho examines how Asian American adolescents challenge and revise their cultural legacies and experiment with alternative ethnic affiliations through their relationships to food.
Having set global warming in irreversible motion, we are facing the possibility of ecological catastrophe. But the environmental emergency is also a crisis for our philosophical habits of thought, confronting us with a problem that seems to defy not only our control but also our understanding. Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects”—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place. In this book, Morton explains what hyperobjects are and their impact on how we think, how we coexist with one another and with nonhumans, and how we experience our politics, ethics, and art. Moving fluidly between philosophy, science, literature, visual and conceptual art, and popular culture, the book argues that hyperobjects show that the end of the world has already occurred in the sense that concepts such as world, nature, and even environment are no longer a meaningful horizon against which human events take place. Instead of inhabiting a world, we find ourselves inside a number of hyperobjects, such as climate, nuclear weapons, evolution, or relativity. Such objects put unbearable strains on our normal ways of reasoning. Insisting that we have to reinvent how we think to even begin to comprehend the world we now live in, Hyperobjects takes the first steps, outlining a genuinely postmodern ecological approach to thought and action.
Today, axilla odours are socially stigmatized and are targeted with deodorants and antiperspirants representing a multi-billion market. Axilla odours aren't simple byproducts of our metabolism but specifically formed by an intricate interplay between i) specific glands, ii) secreted amino acid conjugates of highly specific odorants and iii) selective enzymes present in microorganisms colonizing our skin, providing a natural 'controlled-release' mechanism. Within a multidisciplinary research project, we were able to elucidate the structure of key body odorants, isolate and characterize secreted amino acid conjugates and identify the enzymes responsible for odour release. These enzymes then served as targets for the development of specific active compounds in an almost medicinal chemistry approach, an approach rarely used in the cosmetic field so far. Here we review the key new insights into the biochemistry of human body odour formation, with some remarks on the experimental steps undertaken and hurdles encountered. The development of deodorant actives and the difficult path to market for such specifically acting cosmetic actives is discussed. The basic insights into the biochemistry also opened the way to address some questions in population genetics: Why have large proportions of Asians lost the 'ability' to form body odours? Do twins smell the same? Are our typical body odours indeed influenced by the immune system as often claimed? After addressing these questions, I'll conclude with the key remaining challenges in this field on an ecological niche that is 'anatomically very close to our heart'.
Affective and biological labor such as that found in call center and surrogacy work are indices of new forms of exploitation and accumulation within neoliberal globalization, but they also rearticulate a longer historical colonial division of labor. In this essay, feminist materialist scholarship provides the grounds to continue to scrutinize which kinds of exchange and subjectivity can even be represented by categories of labor. Leading to the question of what stakes are involved in asserting that gestational surrogates and others whose productivity occurs primarily through biological and affective processes are subjects of capitalist labor power. This essay argues that tracking vital energy, rather than value, as the content of what is produced and transmitted between biological and affective producers and their consumers holds on to the human vitality that Karl Marx describes as the content of value carried by the commodity and absolute use value of labor power to capitalist production, while also describing the content of these value-producing activities as greater than what can be described in terms of physical commodities and their value as represented through exchange.
While ideals of racial purity may be out of fashion, other sorts of purity ideals are increasingly popular in the United States today. The theme of purity is noticeable everywhere, but it is especially prominent in our contemporary fixation on health and hygiene. This may seem totally unrelated to issues of racism and classism, but in fact, the purveyors of purity draw upon the same themes of physical and moral purity that have helped produce white identity and dominance in the US. Historically, this is where the purity rhetoric gets its power. To invoke purity ideals in the US is to mobilize this genealogy of racialized associations. Today's zealous preoccupation with hygiene is part of our living heritage in a racist culture. Just as ideas of race and racial purity were debunked by biologists long before the public would begin to question them, ideals of extreme hygienic purity linger with us, even flourish, despite scientific evidence of their futility and harm. Why are we still so enamored with purity? Because, to some extent, our very self-conceptions are at stake. Other scholars have described how our process of self individuation is based upon exclusion. The unique contribution of a genealogical approach to this issue is that, instead of merely locating the problem in ideologies held by others, it can evoke self-recognition and self-transformation. We will tend to assume the problem lies elsewhere until we learn to recognize ourselves in practices that reproduce cultural ideals. As inheritors of this racist culture, we are all lovers of purity, and we are all responsible for rethinking this value.
Transfers in economic values are shadowed in complex ways by real material-ecological flows that transform ecological relations between city and country, and between the core and periphery. Directing material flows is a vital part of intercapitalist competition. Ecological imperialism creates asymmetries in the exploitation of the environment, unequal exchange, and a global metabolic rift. The 19th-century guano/nitrates trade illustrates the emergence of a global metabolic rift, as guano and nitrates were transferred from Peru and Chile to enrich the soils of Britain and other imperial countries. This global metabolic rift entailed the decline of soil fertility in Britain, importation of Chinese labor to Peru, mass export of natural fertilizer, degradation of the Peruvian/Chilean environment, war over possession of nitrates, and creation of debt-laden economies. It allowed Britain and other imperial countries to maintain an `environmental overdraft' in their own countries, imperialistically drawing on the natural resources of the periphery. The social metabolic order of capitalism is inseparable from such ecological imperialism, which is as basic to the system as the search for profits itself.
‘Odor di Femina: Though you may not see her, you can certainly smell her’, articulates the primacy of visualism in the history of psychoanalysis. In the first half of the study Mavor reveals how both the photographs of mentally ill women made under the direction of Freud’s teacher Jean-Martin Charcot and the use of the visualist rhetoric in the writings of Charcot and Freud were regarded as proof of an always already diagnosed and conceptualized vision of sexual difference. Charcot’s and most emphatically Freud’s conception of the senses conventionally marked vision as masculine and the others (touch, hearing and especially smell) as feminine. Mavor then turns to Lacan to undo this historically gendered, power-hungry split between sight and the othered senses through his theory of the gaze as objet petit a, which reticulates the gaze and its conventional singular authority. Taking a cue from Lacan’s provocative claim that ‘a wild odour emanates’ from the‘function of seeingness’, Mavor pushes Lacan’s theory of the gaze (which, she argues, has often been sorely misrepresented in feminist film theory and art history) towards an expanded constellation of the senses. Her excavation of Lacan loosens the gaze’s hold on the site of seer/seen, subject/object and, especially, sight/smell. As a result, sight loses its historical pride of place among the senses.
The place of opium in the history of the Chinese diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean has received scant attention. This article is a preliminary attempt to look into this history, based on fragmentary evidence available. From 1847 to l874, as many as 225,000 Chinese indentured or contract laborers (coolies), almost all men, were sent to Cuba, still a Spanish colony, and newly independent Peru. Both the human trade itself, as well as work and life on the plantations, closely resembled slavery; indeed, the coolies in Cuba worked alongside African slaves. Opium was part of the coolie trade from its inception, distributed in the holding pens in South China ports, on the long, arduous voyages across the Pacific or Atlantic, as well as on the plantations. Cuban and Peruvian planters permitted, even encouraged, the sale, barter and consumption of opium by their coolies, in effect creating a mechanism of social control by alternately distributing and withholding this very addictive substance to desperate men. But this cynical use of opium might also have backfired on them, as sustained and massive ingestion lowered productivity, caused premature death (often by suicide), and resulted in high absenteeism.
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