For this issue of Soapbox, we invite young researchers and creatives to critically engage with the theme of the impasse. Responding to the call for papers, the contributions to this issue reflect on material impasses that manifest themselves as borders or other forms of obstacles, the feeling of disorientation that arises in such liminal situations or spaces, and the temporality of crises that throw one into a standstill.
This affective experience of navigating between two opposing states—change and stasis—inspired the theme of this issue: impasse. The authors included in this issue invite the reader to ruminate on the obscurity reigning in an impasse and on the small light appearing at its end. The contributions to this issue reflect on material impasses that manifest themselves as borders or other forms of obstacles, the feeling of disorientation that arises in such liminal situations or spaces, and the temporality of crises that throw one into a standstill. Some words appear time and again in the papers exploring the temporal experience of impasse: perpetual, becoming, stuckness, in-between, duration, elimination of boundaries, liminality, multiplicity, and movement. They describe the often contradicting states that being in an impasse evokes and present a way to find comfort in that feeling at the same time.
Foreword: Running to Stand Still
Impasse may well be the concept that has most propelled my thinking in environmental and energy humanities since I first encountered it in the work of Imre Szeman more than a decade ago. In “Crude Aesthetics,” as well as his contribution to the seminal PMLA “Editor’s Column” on energy that was convened by Patricia Yaeger in 2011, Szeman gave a name to a fundamental predicament of the present: impasse is “the yawning space between belief and action, knowledge and agency,” he writes. Although “we know where we stand with respect to energy,” we are unable to take action adequate to the situation (Yaeger et al. 324). One might summarize the main thrust of the energy humanities as a driving tension between impasse and transition: impasse is (or has been) the name for where we are, while transition to a world beyond fossil fuels is the name for where we want and need to be. (What do we want? Transition. When do we want it? Yesterday. Why can’t we have it? Impasse.)
Jennifer Wenzel is a scholar of postcolonial theory and environmental and energy humanities, jointly appointed in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature and of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Her recent book, The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature (Fordham University Press, 2019), was shortlisted for the 2020 Book Prize awarded by the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP). With Imre Szeman and Patricia Yaeger, she co-edited Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (Fordham 2017). Her current research examines the fossil-fueled imagination, in literature, visual culture, and public life.
Grabbing through the Screen: Digital Intimacy in a Pandemic
The paper focuses on the ways in which various aspects of intimacy have been reconfigured during the COVID-19 pandemic, exploring the intermingling of public and private in digital modes of intimate practices. Taking a closer look at the recent proliferation of video chat encounters, the essay examines the affective states they generate, especially in terms of the tension between visibility and obfuscation.
Maria Plichta comes from Łódź, Poland. Upon graduating from the Cultural Studies programme at the University of Łódź, she moved to the Netherlands to do a Research MA in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Currently, she works asa PhD researcher at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis.
In empire, of it. How are we to be anything but? Where can you and I lose the division but keep the difference? Oh, how powerful the difference! Hold my hand, feel shakes of ignorance, and drown with me in the dusty depths of us. Self and other complicated in a cloud. In dust, is this a home?
How do you chart a course when confronted with the institutionalised weight of history? Looking, feeling, hearing, and smelling past victories and failures, sensory overload precludes hope and fuels pessimism. Stuck with what has been given, time and resources need to be repurposed for liberatory study in the gaps that are carved away from capitalist logics. Collapse the institutionalised archive; the dust from its fallout is us, it is now, and what should be.
Erick Fowler (b.1996, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA) lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he is pursuing an rMA in Art andPerformance Research Studies at Universiteit van Amsterdam. His current research focus is on the intersection of Abolition, Art Institutions, and Institutional Critique. Previously, he obtained his BA in Digital Culture (Film) from Arizona State University.Outside of his studies he enjoys setting a routine only to break it, overpacking for his hiking trips, and writing words and drawing sketches for no one in particular. He is uncomfortable in the third person, but unsure about the first.
Road to Nowhere
Ani Ekin Ödzemir
This is a piece from my latest work, an artist book which investigates water and the color of blue through different kinds of narratives. Broadly, this book is about being, becoming, giving, receiving, searching, making sense, caring, and engaging in dialogue. My current practice and research are moving around hydrofeminism, hydrocommons, unlearning, and poetry. Thinking with water can be disorienting and you can end up in an impasse. Water may either open spaces or block ways, or leak into un-expected and unwanted places. Our fishy bodies move similarly—we may leak, discharge, float, or fluctuate. The text and the accompanying photographs are an intent to interpret and represent the theme of the impasse. The moments we hold back our tears, as well as the moment in which we weep, might both appear as impasses, as moments in which we seem to be stuck due to the inability of both holding back or holding it together.
Anı Ekin Özdemir holds a BA in Media and Visual Arts with a Minor in Psychology from Koc University, Istanbul. Since September 2020, she is doing an MA in Transdisciplinary Studiesat the Hochschule der Künste in Zurich, where she also works as curatorial assistant at the Shedhalle Zürich since September 2021.She is a visual artist, writer, book-lover, and wanderer. Her tool-kit contains photography, mapping, bookmaking/design, writing, poetry, sketches, and theory. Most of the time, her research is based around the home: losing a home, searching for a home, or building a home, while drifting between different meanings, definitions, possibilities, and questions. She understands home as an in-between space, a space for growth, support, attention, embrace, trust, safety, and acceptance. Through the medium of photography and experimentation with the page as a space she tries to explore the subject of home through fluid and alternative connections and in the influence of different kinds of narratives.
The Interval Of Nothingness: Rhythms of Liminality in Cedvet Erek's Rulers
Rulers are tools to measure fixed identities, concrete buildings, and finite materials. They are made to measure space and, hence, are apparatuses that mostly form part of a spatial imagination. In fact, every time they measure things, rulers (re)situate and (re)fix their positions within spaces. In this essay, I look at 0-now ruler, one of the rulers from the series Rulers andRhythm Studies (2011) made by the artist Cevdet Erek. Erek’s 0-now ruler is not meant to measure things within bounded spaces and consequently shakes the idea of measuring through a linear and calendrical understanding of time and space. By engaging with Henri Bergson’s and Jacques Derrida’s ideas on time, this piece rethinks the temporal concepts duration and now/non-now through the concept of liminality. The final section will then touch upon Karen Barad’s concept of the void to explore the possibilities that may arise from the destruction of objective measurement, so that time, in its full plenitude, might be experienced as heterogeneous, multiple, and multifaceted.
Suzi is a multi-disciplinary working artist and a graduate of rMA Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Previously, she has earned a BA double degree in Media and Visual Arts and Psychology, at Koç University, Istanbul. She is researching both artistic and theoretical ways to study different knowledge productions through the methodology of mapping. Fascinated by maps of various kinds, she is interested in developing ethical methodologies that mobilize different audiences and hence reveal alternative narratives and voices. As a selected guest artist and researcher, she is nowadays part of the Istanbul BiennialProduction and Research Programme at the Istanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts.
Wrapped in Cellophane: FKA Twigs, Cruel Optimism, and Journeying through Impasse
This paper explores the depiction of impasse in FKA twigs’ 2019 music video ‘cellophane’. Analysing the video through the lens of Lauren Berlant’s concepts of cruel optimism and the present as impasse, the paper illuminates how impasse is woven into the musical and visual fabric of the work. It further argues that subtle incongruities between the audio and the visual aspects of the video issue an aesthetic challenge to the viewer, one which destabilises their position as a viewing subject and draws them into the piece. As such, twigs’ piece becomes a site around which an intimate public can congregate, affording the members of this intimate public the space in which to rehearse and explore their own experiences of impasse.
Sam Ellis is a musicologist from the West of Scotland. He is currently studying for a Research Masters in Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam, having graduated from Newcastle University’s International Centre for Music Studies, and studied at Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music. His research interests are focused on sonic epistemologies, the interplay between audio and visual explorations and representations of the self in contemporary music video, and in the use of alter egos and constructed personae as a reflexive performance tool within the context of popular music.
The Sociogeny of Religious Discrimination in Indias's Surveillance State
This paper explores the relationship between religion and surveillance through Simone Browne’s theoretical framework of ‘racialising surveillance’. It investigates the use of a digital biometric device called Automated Facial Recognition System(AFRS) during mass protests in India against the 2019 CitizenshipAmendment Act which has been accused of discriminating against the country’s Muslim minority. This invasive surveillance techno-logy is understood as a social product of India’s larger socio-political context characterised by a Hindu vs. Muslim narrative, helping to maintain and reify religious inequality. The analysis shows how surveillance scholarship developed in a US-context can be expanded beyond the Western hemisphere into spaces that demand critical cultural investigations.
Nahal Sheikh is an Amsterdam-based researcher and writer originally from Lahore. She is a Research MA MediaStudies student at University of Amsterdam and a JuniorResearch Fellow at FemLab.co, covering topics from postcolonial studies to digital rights and surveillance cultures. Her writing cuts through stories about gender, culture, and social change which usually resonate with South Asian narratives.
Addendum, appendix, codicil, excursus, supplement to impasse (a state, stalemate, standoff, deadlock, of inaction (or neutralisation) resulting from the opposition of equally powerful uncompromising persons or factions). So, in essence: an extension, an elongation, a prolongation, a stretch, a train of notes, notions, ideas.
Jane Lewty is the author of two collections of poetry: Bravura Cool (1913 Press: 2013), winner of the 1913 First BookPrize in 2011, and In One Form To Find Another (Cleveland StateUniversity Press: 2017) winner of the 2016 CSU Open Book Prize.She has also co-edited two volumes of essays: Broadcasting Modernism (University Press of Florida: 2010) and Pornotopias: Image, Desire, Apocalypse (Litteraria Pragensia, 2009). Herchap book, Pretty Things, was published by The Magnificent Field in 2020. To date, she has held faculty positions at universities int he UK, the US and the Netherlands.