Issue Eight: Invisibility (escaping notice)
Allison Mander-Wionzek, C. Olivia Valenza and Faune Ybarra
We listed our deadline for this issue’s call-for-work on February the 29th of 2020, because only the leap year offers a date that operates as a silent pace-keeper for what we have come to accept as time. We, the co-editors of Issue 8: Invisibility (escaping notice) observed this as an opportunity to fix the journal in the silence, the margins of time which often escape our attention. Invisibility, according to Verónica Gerber Bicecci, acts as an intangible space where everything we don’t want to know happens (2010). Bicecci locates in this space an (in)action wherein one’s decision –or lack thereof– selectively ignores segments of what is around us. Provoked by Bicecci’s thoughts, as editors we embarked on this issue with a question - how do we begin to speak about, create alongside, sit with, and/or reflect on what cannot - by definition - be reified? This issue does not attempt to speak for any person or thing, nor does it seek to reveal what remains hidden. Rather, it aims to instigate a dialogue where there often is none - a dialogue between diverse paradigms of truth that dismantles the fixed opposition between the witnessed and perceived.
As submissions were reviewed by the editorial committee, COVID-19 uncovered much of what many of us have widely chosen to ignore. Worlds and realities we have not talked about made appearances in common conversation. Among them, the inaccessibility of health services for marginalized groups, the precariousness of life for minimum wage workers, indigenous territories’ lack of potable water, and the systemic disregard for temporary visa workers’ rights. Luis Villoro In Signifying Silence writes that “Before language, everything is new for humans –nothing is common or foreseeable. As language is acquired, things start to get a veil of familiarity, only then humans start to feel safe in their own world” (2016). Finding language to name what is happening in the present tense has come to be a mechanism to understand the interconnection of people and micro-organisms, micro-organisms to non-human entities as well as the interrelation of disciplines within fields and beyond.
In seeking these connections, we sought to highlight what goes unseen, unheard, and unacknowledged according to the works of those that have made invisibility a place of contemplation and action. The issue looks to authors and artists: Madison Mayhew, Andrea Liu, Colin Frank, Andrew Testa, Paul Reynolds, Joni Cheung, and K. Narayana Chandran whose incorporated works operate as though through centrifuge - separating out the weighty, taken for granted mass for further consideration from new vantage points.
Many Western principles in determining truth remain closed to other systems of evaluation. Andrea Liu and Madison Mayhew each offer perspectives drawn from artist reviews reflecting on processes that exit the flow of time and disrupt its continuity to help better witness these hidden truths. Some issues, such as the exploitation of labor, have the truth of its consequences disguised in its supposed transparency, and as Jonathan Crary states, “An illuminated 24/7 world without shadows is the final capitalist mirage of post-history, of an exorcism of the otherness that is the motor of historical change.” (Jonathan Crary, 2013). Liu uses visceral evidence in an investigation of globalized labor: sweat. In an exploration of the truth of “labor” from a continuous present that is dominated by demands for progress and constant productivity, Liu looks at exactly this critique in Ho Rui’s Solar: A Meltdown. Where Liu may see how we are living in the “now” times fueled by global capitalism and lasting effects of colonialism, Mayhew offers a continuation of this thread, following the past, into the present, and into the future. Mayhew highlights the reckoning that Belmore’s Wave Sound imparts with the importance of memory and land. Oral histories, a primary method of knowledge sharing and making within Indigenous communities, are often reduced to hearsay status and remain unheard. Mayhew’s look at Wave Sound reflects on truths history has rendered invisible when place and territory must be mapped to be seen by Western culture rather than narrated and lived by Native peoples. Wendell Berry perhaps articulates the sentiment the best, that “ [the] community is an order of memories preserved consciously in instructions, songs, and stories, and both consciously and unconsciously in ways. A healthy culture holds preserving knowledge in place for a long time...” (Berry, 1983)
Presented as investigations, fieldwork on foot, Andrew Testa and Colin Frank understand that “(…) to participate is not to walk into but to walk with – where ‘with’ implies not a face-to-face confrontation, but heading the same way, sharing the same vistas, and perhaps retreating from the same threats behind” (Jo Lee and Tim Ingold, 2006). Testa and Frank draw from anthropological research methods to understand their roles in the performing of non-human segments of their surroundings. While Testa inquires into the possibility of communicating, developing a language to collaborate, with what he calls “other-than-human”, Frank finds in the droning sounds of machines the enacting language of the “post-human”. Seeing in repetition a way to commence a two-sided path (a conversation) between himself and the things he failed to name and see in Port Union, Newfoundland, Testa locates in his investigation an “attempt to understand” what working with/alongside the “other-than-human” might start to look like. Frank, however, listens to what is left in the wake of electrical machines, sounds the by-product of standing waves captured on site. These sounds are for him a known path of communication, a path where post-human performances allow for “increased mutual becomings”. Testa and Frank leave us to wonder then what is the role we play in the path shared between ourselves and those things that exist beyond the human constructs of language.
Susan Sontag’s much-cited work Notes on Camp can be taken as an offering for where to initiate thought concerned with the translation of that which escapes language in one instance, and makes knowing impenetrable in the next. In it, she begins, “[m]any things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described” (1969, 1). The works included in this issue by Paul Reynolds, Joni Cheung and K. Narayana Chandran take up the notion of the ineffable through critical, creative interventions. Reynolds looks directly to Sontag’s model for Notes on Camp as a support structure to parse out the sensibility of an object whose definitive status and value is enmeshed with the presence of absence - lace. Cheung’s lens-based work _________towns and Little __________ subverts the established histories embedded in the city of Berlin by calling attention to what is and has always been otherwise, all the while inviting critical discourse with the histories of Vancouver’s own social fabric. Chandran reflects on silence, invisibility and intertextuality in learning environments, interested in the sensuous, personalized experience taking place under the surface and the networks of energy that float between individuals while reading poetry aloud.
This moment has acted as a prism, refracting and dispersing a single beam of light and revealing the myriad colours that are contained within. The world has experienced a change in relationship to time and space thanks to the halting of the everyday movings and happenings of global economies as much as those that play out at individual levels. While life takes place in the gaps between the last image and the next - before enforced physical distancing, after enforced physical distancing; before an instance of social upheaval, after an instance of social upheaval - we are tasked with thinking out of time. The leap year presents itself as a reminder of the external factors that occur parallel to our everyday, in a permanent tension between world pace and performance, a leap year invites us to rethink our relationships inside and outside the prism.
These (potential) new relationships we are creating with space and time invites room to notice, which in turn can lead to an intensification of our experiences. While much has been made visible in new ways, the legacy of this moment ought not to remain in this realm of newfound awareness embedded in the experience of the most privileged among us, but rather a widespread commitment to looking at all times to what is just below the surface - to invite what is silent, unseen, unspeakable, inappreciable, faint, concealed, unheard, impalpable, and otherwise to the centre.
Gerber Bicecci, Verónica. Invisible. Mexico City: Museo de la Ciudad de México, 2010.
Berry, Wendell. Standing by Words: Essays. San Francisco, CA: Northpoint Press, 1983.
Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, 9–10. New York, NY: Verso, 2014.
Lee, Jo, and Tim Ingold. “Fieldwork on Foot: Perceiving, Routing, Socializing.” Essay. In Locating the Field : Space, Place and Context in Anthropology, edited by Simon Coleman and Peter Collins, 67–85. London: Taylor and Francis, 2007.
Sontag, Susan. 1969. Notes on Camp. Monoskop. https://monoskop.org/images/5/59/Sontag_Susan_1964_Notes_on_Camp.pdf
Villoro, Luis. La significación del Silencio y otros ensayos. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2016.