2.0. Contamination

Spring 2021

Themes in this issue


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This issue has been printed using a monochrome risograph technique, the ink used for this issue is dark brown with the exception of Arvo Leo's visual chapter which was printed in blue. Have a look inside here.
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Alice Rougeaux

Editor in Chief 2019-2020

A year ago, we singled out contamination as the common thread coursing through the events, conversations, and studies unfolding within our networks. Contamination, it occurred to us, was already present in the metaphors we found others using, and central to some of the core concerns animating interdisciplinary research and theory in the critical humanities.

Surrogating Monsters

Susana Fabre

The city of Doha has undergone tremendous change over the past few decades. It is often described as an “artificial” city, forcefully installed upon the desert sands by the billions of pounds the oil and gas economy pour into the State of Qatar. In this place, oil—the ultimate monster of the Anthropocene—is a part of the natural environment. Dirt, understood as “matter out of place” (Douglas), needs to be redefined against a background where nothing seems to belong, especially this monstrous, underground creature. What makes oil a contaminant? What has turned prehistoric organic matter pollution anti-nature? Except, we would be wrong to think of this monster as an out-of-nature entity. This non-human creature has turned monstrous through a certain mode of rapacious energy appropriation—a specific kind of neglect which has resulted in its unrestrained expansion. Extending our notions of kinship, and surrogating this monster, might be the only way to realise it is just as much a part of nature as we are.

Becoming Unbound: A Case of Hysteria in Helen Chadwick’s Carcass and Ruin

Hannah Fagin

This paper uses fermentation as a starting point for considering Helen Chadwick’s artworks in dialogue with hysteria. Chadwick’s sculpture Carcass features fermenting organic material and the photograph Ruin figures her nude body in front of a video of Carcass. Both works place pressure on established boundaries; Carcass’ fermentation builds literal pressure on the walls of an enclosed structure, while Ruin tests cultural boundaries about appropriate representations of the body. Through the processes of fermentation, rot, and secretion, these works create modes of figuring desires as unbounded and as an act of de-repression from societal inhibitions that seek to control and contain the body.

Perpetuating the Ephemeral and “Packaged Goods”

Stepan Lipatov, Sissel V. Møller

(visual chapter)

We, Sissel and Stepan, are responsible for the design of Soapbox: Journal for Cultural Analysis, and for the third time, we have composed what we like to refer to as ‘the visual chapter.’ The intention being that we would not only produce a layout and visual design for the journal, but also contribute to it with a visual essay of our own. From the perspective of graphic design, an image is no more visual than text, or, more precisely, typography. It might even be possible to argue that typography is sometimes more visual than image. This time, the visual elements presented are based entirely on text, and the visual chapter includes no images.

A Longing for Contamination: Historiography in Hiroshima mon Amour

Felix Rössler

This essay sketches a historiographical approach to the 1945 nuclear attack on Hiroshima in a close reading of Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras’ film Hiroshima mon Amour (1959). The paper argues that Hiroshima mediates the entangled space-time of the contaminated area of Hiroshima through the erotic encounter between the two protagonists of the film. Informed by a hauntological framework and recent discourse on posthumanism, the essay proceeds towards a theory of contaminated historiography by comparing Karen Barad’s concept of diffraction and Elizabeth Freeman’s erotohistoriographical method. This contaminated historiography emerges through the sensual and tactile collaborations between human entities and forms of nuclear energy, which manifest in the film’s erotic language and imagery.

Connecting Biological Processes, Lived Experience and The Production of Knowledge: A Biosemiotic Analysis of Allergy

Ayoub Tannaoui

This paper analyses the biological and phenomenological spheres of allergy through a biosemiotic lens. Charles Sanders Peirce’s triadic model of the sign is applied to both the immune system’s biological processes during an allergy attack and the lived experience of those who suffer from those allergy attacks. This paper explores different components of the signs produced by the immune system and by the individual, as well as the role that different types of signs play. Finally, the shared qualities of these two realms of allergy, namely their penchant for diversity and mutability, is discussed in relation to their potential contribution to perspectives on the human. The synthesis of these two separated domains of life and discipline through an analysis of semiosis aims to contribute to a holistic view of the human as both a biological assemblage and as a knowing, learning subject.

The Orchids/Had the Look of Flowers That Are Looked At

Arvo Leo

(visual chapter)

A selection of self-portraits made by various orchid plants using the cyanotype process.

Between Transformation and Contamination: Material Imitation in Laminate Tabletops

Jeppe Gregersen

This paper presents the practice of material imitation, the manipulation of a material in such a way as to make it appear like another material, as a common feature of cultural production. It asks how material imitation can improve the symbolic value of products and what happens when the imitation is recognised for what it is. These questions are discussed through an analysis of laminate tabletops and their marketing on the websites of Danish hardware stores and kitchen manufacturers. This paper argues that since imitations destabilise our systems of classification, they carry the risk of collapsing into a state of symbolic contamination whenever their incongruity is recognised. Material imitation thus always lingers somewhere between transformation and contamination.

Hybridisation, Impurity, Contamination: The Emergence of the Artist’s Novel

David Maroto

Why do artists write novels? What does the artist’s novel do to the visual arts? How should it be experienced? Since the mid-1990s there has been a proliferation of visual artists who create novels as part of their art projects. They do so not with the ambition to write a literary work, but in order to address artistic issues by means of novelistic traits, favouring a sort of art predicated on process and subjectivity. In this sense, it is possible to speak of a new medium in the visual arts, yet very little is known about it.

An Interview with Toxic Commons: All in This Toxic Mess Together

Ayushi Dhawan, Caroline Ektander, Simone Müller, Andrea Finesso, Lijuan Klassen

In the age of the Anthropocene, the contamination of our commons (such as water, air, and soil) and the inequality of exposure to toxic elements have become increasingly common. As an interdisciplinary platform that researches, writes, and organises public programmes, Toxic Commons explores tools for grappling with and scrutinizing the development of toxic reality. We spoke to three of their seven members: Ayushi Dhawan (PhD candidate, member of the Hazardous Travels Research Group, Rachel Carson Center), Caroline Ektander (architect, writer and independent researcher), and Dr. Simone Müller (project director & principal investigator of the Hazardous Travels Research Group, Rachel Carson Center) about their collective. What are the pressing issues bound to dealing with toxicity today and what would toxic politics look like in the future?


Issue launch

With Susana Fabre, David Maroto, Ayoub Tannaoui, Jeppe Dall Gregersen and Lijuan Klassen (moderator)

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May 7, 2021


June 7, 2021

Clogging up the Final Frontier

On Earth, Outer Space, and Orbital Waste

The issue of outer space and orbital debris has from the outset been one of exclusion (e.g. non-spacefaring nations, women, and other minorities). However, the risk that space waste poses calls for inclusive and interdisciplinary thinking as well as a different understanding of time. This afternoon is an attempt at doing so as we engage with a journalist and poet, a space archaeologist, and a space law expert to answer questions about the future of space and space waste and our relationship to both. We’ll explore why space exploration and colonisation hold such a tight grip on our imagination, as well as issues of responsibility and accountability, and how artistic expressions (e.g. literature, performance, art, etc) can potentially reframe the dominant narrative and help create (public) awareness.

About the speakers

Alice Gorman is an internationally recognised leader in the field of space archaeology and author of the award-winning book Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future (MIT Press, 2019). Her research focuses on the archaeology and heritage of space exploration, including space junk, planetary landing sites, off-earth mining, and space habitats. In collaboration with NASA and Chapman University, she is part of a team conducting the first archaeological study of the International Space Station. She tweets as @drspacejunk and blogs at Space Age Archaeology.

Marjolijn van Heemstra studied theology with the aim of becoming an arbitrator. Before getting there, she got into theatre which led her to work as a poet, writer, journalist, theatre- and podcast maker instead. Her poetry has won various literary prizes and her latest novel has been translated into eight languages. Marjolijn van Heemstra has been writing for De Correspondent since 2019. Her focus is on how space can help us look at the Earth differently. Her more recent book on this them, In lichtjaren heeft niemand haast, will be published later in May. She also regularly makes podcasts (Sør (2018), Stadsastronaut (2019), De Binnenbühne (2020)) in which she takes the listener along on her quests.

Frans G. von der Dunk holds the Harvey and Susan Perlman Alumni / Othmer Chair of Space Law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s LL.M. Programme on Space, Cyber and Telecommunication Law since January 2008. He also is Director of Black Holes BV, a consultancy in space law and policy, based in Leiden. Moreover, Von der Dunk has acted as legal advisor or legal task manager in more than 130 projects, advising various government agencies and international organizations as well as a number of non-governmental organizations and industrial stakeholders on matters of space law and policy, including major space applications such as satellite navigation, remote sensing, and private commercial spaceflight. He has has been awarded the Distinguished Service Award of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the Social Science Award of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and the Social Science Book Award of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). He was a signatory of the ‘Asteroid 100x Declaration’, together with various Nobel Prize winners, dozens of astronauts and cosmonauts, and other luminaries from the global science and entertainment community.

Kimberly Peuling (moderator) has been an intern at SPUI25 since January 2021. She is currently completing a research master in cultural analysis at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Her research focuses on the environmental and socio-political implications of orbital debris and the imaginaries of past and future spatial infrastructures. In addition to her studies and traineeship, she is a teacher assistant at the UvA, editor-in-chief and web design coordinator at Soapbox Journal for Cultural Analysis, and a member of the events committee of the Benelux Association for the Study of Art, Culture, and the Environment (BASCE).

In collaboration with


June 13, 2021

Geographies of Freedom

(*please note that the date above is the publication date, not that of the event)

Thursday 17th June, 18:00-20:00 (CEST)

Soapbox are delighted to present a screening of the film Geographies of Freedom developed by multimedia artist Miguel Peres dos Santos and researcher Egbert Alejandro Martina.

What is freedom and what constitutes a free life? How have architecture, the law, and geography been used to consolidate the spatiality of freedom? These are questions that are posed by the Geographies of Freedom research project, developed at Het Nieuwe Instituut. The eponymous film explores these themes by delving into the neocolonial ties of the multinational Shell and the Dutch Antilles through a compilation of archival footage.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with the director Miguel Peres dos Santos, Prof Dr Yolande Jansen, Dr Floris Paalman, and Mikayla Vieira Ribeiro, moderated by Lijuan Klassen.

About the speakers

Miguel Peres dos Santos (°1976, Lisbon, Portugal) is an artist who works in a variety of media. By emphasising aesthetics, Peres dos Santos reflects on the closely related subjects of archive and memory. His works demonstrate how life extends beyond its own subjective limits and often tells a story about the effects of global cultural interaction over the latter half of the twentieth century. It challenges the binaries we continually reconstruct between Self and Other, between our own ‘cannibal’ and ‘civilised’ selves. By using an ever-growing archive of found documents to create autonomous artworks, his works references post- colonial theory as well as the avant-garde or the post-modern and the left-wing democratic movement as a form of resistance against the logic of the capitalist market system.

Mikayla Vieira Ribeiro is a student, educator, translator, and poet from Curaçao, and of Portuguese-North American descent. After receiving her BA in Black Studies and English from Amherst College (USA), she returned to Curaçao to teach middle school math and English. She is now doing her rMA in Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam where she focuses on (Dutch) Caribbean literature. She is a part of and has been highly influenced by several global grassroots communities fighting for social justice in education including Liyang Network (The Philippines and USA), Catalytic Communities (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and Korsou Kontra Rasismo (Curaçao). Mikayla dreams of decolonial knowledge building and sharing, grounded in territory and community, especially within the Caribbean and its diaspora.

Floris Paalman is coordinator of the MA programme ‘Preservation & Presentation of the Moving Image’ at the University of Amsterdam. He teaches courses on film analysis, film history, film archiving & curating, and currently researches the archiving of political films. He holds degrees in filmmaking, cultural anthropology, and media studies.

Yolande Jansen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and Special Professor of Humanism in Relation to Religion and Secularity for the Socrates Foundation at the VU University Amsterdam. She is the author of Secularism, Assimilation and the Crisis of Multiculturalism; French Modernist Legacies (2014), co-edited The Irregularization of Migration in Europe; Detention, Deportation, Drowning (2015) and recently edited a special issue of the journal Patterns of Prejudice (2020) about ‘Genealogies of “Jews” and “Muslims”; Social Imaginaries in the Race-Religion Nexus’ (with Nasar Meer). She has been teaching about political philosophy and the decolonial humanities at BA, MA and PhD levels. Yolande is currently working on a project in which a critique of religio-secular framing is connected to a decolonial approach to ecological crisis.

Lijuan Klassen (moderator) is a former research master student of Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. In her thesis, "Camouflaging Worlding in Worlds of Camouflage“ she explored the genealogical roots and speculative becomings of camouflage as a concept-object. She is committed to the more-than-human and de-colonial practices, and always uncertain about her own identity. She currently works at De Appel Amsterdam and seeks to further explore the field of contemporary art, as an in-between space for theory that is not academia.

This is a free online event but please RSVP to info@soapboxjournal.net to receive the Zoom and movie details.

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