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)

Check other printed matter

Call for papers: Interface

For the next issue of Soapbox we invite young researchers and established scholars alike to submit academic essays or creative work that critically engages with the theme of interface. We are inviting extended proposals (500-1000 words) that follow the MLA formatting and referencing style. We don't charge a submission fee.

Send your proposal to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by December 14th 2021.
Mediation by Murray Gibson, 2020. Gobelins tapestry, wool and cotton, 25 x 25 cm. Image courtesy of the artist: murraygibsontapestry.com

An interface is a space of contact and interconnection. Thinking within but also beyond a media studies framework, we can understand our lives to be constantly mediated by interfaces of one form or another. Broadly speaking, they serve as an intermediary between an individual and a system, or alternatively conceptualised, between experience and infrastructure. Interfaces mediate between a body and its environment, private and public, subject and object. In each instance, the interface enables interaction and activity. Think of the movement from print to digital media, the structural design of spaces and buildings, the reception of knowledge from an academic paper: as we move through the world we encounter and interact with a range of interfaces that delineate the possibilities of experience in profound ways. Their politics can be intentionally designed or inherently implicated in their operations. As such, interfaces are cultural as well as political: they connect us to a matrix of histories and structures while their imbrication in power can afford and advance the needs of one group at the expense of another. 

We invite you to think through and beyond the somatechnic view of the interface, allowing perspectives that explore the aesthetic, infrastructural, affective, material, and political dimensions of the interfaces that give shape to contemporary experience. 



March 31, 2021
Stepan Lipatov and Sissel V. Møller

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our issue 2.0 Contamination.

A year ago, we singled out contamination as the common thread traversing the events, conversations, and research unfolding within our networks. At the time, contamination had not yet embedded itself into our thoughts and actions as a virus overwriting all else. There is not only a conceptual need but a physical inevitability to re-configure the meaning and effects of ‘contamination’.

Please join us for a conversation with a group of our contributors, where they will present their unique approaches to ‘contamination.’ Taking into account how the past months may have influenced their views, the discussion will reflect on the concepts of: home, intimacy, and the commons.

  • Susana Fabre – “Surrogating Monsters”
  • David Maroto – “Hybridisation, Impurity, Contamination: The Emergence of the Artist’s Novel”
  • Ayoub Tannaoui – “Connecting Biological Processes, Lived Experience and The Production of
    Knowledge: A Biosemiotic Analysis of Allergy”
  • Jeppe Dall Gregersen – “Between Transformation and Contamination: Material Imitation in Laminate Tabletops”

Moderated by Lijuan Klassen

You can pre-order 2.0 Contamination here.

Thanks to the contributors, peer reviewers, collaborators, and friends whose continuous work and patience in the oddest of times made this possible.

Special thanks to our brilliant designers: Stepan Lipatov and Sissel V. Møller.

With the kind support of the NICA (Netherland Institute for Cultural Analysis) and the Uva department of Literary Studies.



April 13, 2021