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D+M Thesis Writing, Excerpts

MFA D+M 2021: Zongxian Huang, Kat Jarvinen, Zhanyi Chen, Ollie Rosario, Emily Bright, Songan Kyung, Nicola DiFusco, Xinyu Li, Thomas Brett, Hannah Suzanna, Meghan Surges


Jump to
1. Zongxian Huang
2. Kat Jarvinen
3. Zhanyi Chen
4. Ollie Rosario
5. Emily Bright
6. Songan Kyung
7. Nicola DiFusco
8. Xinyu Li
9. Thomas Brett
10. Hannah Suzanna
11. Meghan Surges


Zongxian Huang

07 11 2020

It was very hard to swim this time because of low visibility and big waves. I did not swim very far and stopped many times. I used different swim styles to combat the waves. Pretty fun. Birds are struggling to fly.

07 18 2020

Love, Death & Robots episode 14 really speaks the truth.1 When people become so complicated, they start to want to find the initial motivation they had to start everything. Low impact sports, low impact art. There is sunshine on the ground. Because of the fog and the humidity of the air, the color of the sky is a very beautiful pink, orange, purple, and nice blue.

07 25 2020

The sky is mixed with purple, pink, orange, blue, and green, very beautiful. Air visibility is ok. The water visibility is not very good. Somehow, I feel like the beach becomes rockier. The small rocks hurt my feet, maybe because right now it is low tide. I see a lot of small fish, a lot more than usual. I feel like the reason I do not feel very calm in the water has something to do with the political situation around me. It makes me more anxious. I am not sure it is the direct reason, but that is my guess.

08 01 2020

You do not have to make people believe it is a good design. You only need to make them think it is carefully designed. There are a lot of small fish and a few birds. I just found out that if I go to the beach before 8:30, they will not charge me any parking fee. Somehow, it makes me feel calm. Today I swam as far as I wanted. I think that is quite an achievement because it was probably the deepest and farthest I have ever swum. I think in water, the most important things are to stay calm and focused.

Operator Post Analysis

After two years of training, H became fit for outdoor physical missions. At the start of training, H was incapable of running for a quarter mile. Following two years of training, he could comfortably run over two miles, toting gear, in any weather condition. He progressed from being unable to float to being able to swim in open water for over a mile with a cargo bag in tow. H advanced from having never seen a drone in his life to becoming a certified UAS pilot able to conduct various aerial tasks. He was accustomed to executing missions with no plan, but now had developed a clear SOP to ensure the completion of effective operations. There were elements within him that had not changed throughout the two-year mission, such as work ethic, the desire to improve himself, and spiritual exploration. With qualities he initially possessed coupled with a proven SOP, skills, and clear-thinking ability developed during Mission Otter, H was battlefield ready. H achieved his goal of undergoing self-improvements that were set at the onset of the mission. After two years of RI deployment, the goal was comprehensively achieved. New possibilities surfaced during deployment that he never knew he would encounter, such as explorations of sonic warfare training, the study of real-time situation control, and development of field instructor practices. He wanted to accomplish many tasks, and did, but there remained much more to explore in the future. Being an operator is lifelong practice. Taking on one mission after another is what H was driven to do

1. Love, Death & Robots is a science-fiction television show on Netflix. The show critically depicts the relationship between humans and technology in the future.

Zongxian Huang bio: ~myLife = {PinkNoise. ar(0.5.dup(8))}.play;

Kat Jarvinen



The Story of the Soul of a Feral Dog


The facility casts shadows on the surrounding wilderness throughout the day, shadows which could be admired from a large mirrored window on the building’s highest floor. From here one might witness the shadows shift to reveal the strange hue of the water, the glimmer of shattered glass, or the glow of a smoldering shell. And perhaps, with a keen eye, one might observe how a subtle, gold-colored dust drifts and settles atop each crooked structure in the rubble beyond. The floors below, however, offer no windows, no sun, no shadow, no dust. Only blank walls, one lonesome object (or many), one lonesome worker (or many), bathed in searing blue fluorescent light. Aside from the grind of machinery, the low hum of electricity, and the occasional thump and buzz of a dry moth’s body smacking into the light fixtures, the facility is silent.

The smoker who sat by the mirrored window was just finishing a cigarette. In her eyes resided the soul of a feral dog. She reached for the lipstick in her pocket but mistakenly pulled out a lighter. Out of habit she snapped the flint wheel and put the flame to her lips. Her skin was set ablaze. The shock of the heat to her now searing flesh distracted her from the all-consuming and eternal supervision she kept over her psyche, allowing a window of time barely large enough for the dog to finally escape. The dog’s two front paws emerged from her pupils like the wet crowning of an infant’s head, the devil escaping a mother’s womb, clawing through the corpuscular naturale eius debent. As the dog fell to the ground, she caught a glimpse of herself for the first time; her reflection in the window (or is it a mirror). She blinked. A single tear pressed out of her eye and fell from her cheek, dampening the ripe flame. In that instant her body devoured itself from the inside out. Her bones disintegrated; the marrow melted. All that remained was an unfathomable pool of bile. The dog would never go hungry again.


Pawing its way toward the bile, the feral creature’s joints cracked with each gesture forward. It was accomplished through sensation alone. Catching a breeze through soaked fur. Cold. Gasping. A wilderness surrounds. Yes, there it was—the sweet, sickly arrangement of bile, juniper, metal, anxious sweat. Viscous, rotten, foul!

The dog’s tongue emerged in a tentative shape to taste the supple pool. But making contact with the pool, it becomes clear it is not edible, no, it becomes clear the bile does not have substance, does not have flavor, does not have texture, does not have weight, does not have mass. A low rumble intensifies, a pattern emerges in the liquid. A trap! Oh yes, a trap! Turning now to run in any direction, the dog is pulled tail first into the sticky pool. It is engulfed in fluid once again. Falling. Sniffing. Tasting now, it thinks, something like hot ash wet with mucus. A layer of it coats the tongue, the fur, the eyes.

Close your mouth, swallow, and yes, we are in a dark place. It’s so dark I can’t tell if we’re really alone. The only sound is that of our own desperate howl, sixty feet above. We are falling, yes. But there is no wind in our fur and no distance we will go. There is only warmth. Yes, like a bed of soft grass in the sun, on which we rest our heads. We become very aware of our pulse; it is proof we are not dreaming. Deeper now, into the ground, the wet ash hardens into stone. Our skin is dry, our joints are stiff, and our muscles freeze: rigor mortis. No, no! Oh, Yes! Our paws are now stuck, extended forward. A body that freezes, yes, it is frozen. Hit with the force of a broken machine, hurled into the rubble. Crashing, shattering.

The dog awoke near a river, electrified. Blue fumes like scorched plastic circled the creature’s head in a wreath. The scent of pine was absent. Unsevered it would continue to form.”
Drawing influence from electronic waste,
dogs, internet spam, and science fiction, Kat
Jarvinen's work transforms digital trash and
imagines alternative contexts for discarded or
disregarded objects.

Zhanyi Chen


Let the Rain Decide

Erasure is a form of found poetry or found object art created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. It is a magical act that enables the performer to converse with (the creator of) the chosen found texts. This act helps the performer transcend the limits of time and space. It is not as precise as online chatting, which has nearly unlimited word choices and no delay. Instead, it embraces errors, misunderstandings, and assumptions. It mediates and navigates these things to make new concepts emerge from the limited lexicon. Also, “erasing” is an action that can be achieved not only by humans but also as a result of natural events. Scripts can fade after being scorched and drenched by sun and rain.

The artist remains hidden.

I began to see erasure as a powerful tool to bridge me and my collaborator. Can water perform the act of erasure? It seemed possible. I wanted water to decide which words would disappear and which would remain.

I did not go to rain directly; this experiment started with the ocean instead because that is where my story began. By covering torn book pages with water-soluble paper, I was hoping that as sea waves hit the paper, parts of the water-soluble paper would dissolve and reveal some texts while other texts would remain covered. However, the wave only moved in one direction to the shore, so it took away the whole piece of water-soluble paper. It could not really change the content of the book.

While I was disappointed by the failed collaboration, I started to think about changing my collaborator to rain. It was annoyingly wet in Providence’s late fall in 2019. Returning from one of my fruitless trips to the beach, I had an idea. If I worked with rain, the book’s pages could get water more evenly distributed on its surfaces. Suddenly, walking in the rain became more therapeutic than ever. The raindrops seemed to comfort me, calling on me to work with them. The raindrops touched my body in different positions, transmitted soft sounds through my skin to my hearing. My thoughts became caught up in the rhythm of the rain. The timing and the position of each raindrop’s encounter with me was not random but rather frozen excerpts from a complex closed loop, or a circulatory system.

However, raindrops were unable to dissolve the water-soluble paper with any ease, either. Those water-soluble papers did not go away as the raindrops hit them. Instead, they melted and stuck to the book page underneath. I also tried to scan the book page and then print directly on the water-soluble paper, but only the ink dissolved while the paper did not. It also stuck on the surface underneath. I tried to peel it off but unfortunately destroyed it.

Then I thought of water transfer printing paper. This printing method requires wetting the paper so the contents can be transferred onto a receptive surface. By using the rain to wet the hydrographic films printed with scanned book pages, I found that some text transferred to the surface underneath and some stayed on the film. I used thin planks as the receptive surfaces because they are firmer than paper yet still maintain a paper-like matte look.

I found books in the library that had content related to or containing descriptions of rain, mostly fiction. I scanned those books and put them together to let rain affect them. Through this process I was able to create a rain poem collection.

The process of trying to find an appropriate tool to help my collaborators manifest optimally by trying out a range of tools and going through multiple failures forced me to take more of my collaborators’ needs into consideration. I needed to spend time with them and think about their characteristics and habits. Then I needed to pair them with the appropriate tools to see effects. Some tools failed because they were designed for human users, not for my collaborators. Other tools worked, even if they did not fit perfectly for my collaborators. Compromises could be made. However, with the help of various tools, my collaborators and I have each taken a step toward each other. Using language as a metaphor for generating meaning and communicating,1 my process could be considered one where humans begin to read and listen more non-humanly and where, hopefully, non-humans begin to talk and write more humanly.

1. As humans, it is difficult for us to imagine otherwise. But this
is by no means an appeal for us to empirically project the constituent elements of human language onto natural phenomena. Nature talks and writes in its own way that is not in our language.

Zhanyi Chen makes agency for nature so nature can make art for everyone.

Ollie Rosario


vignette three

In a waterfall, at a river near that lake I had met eleven years earlier, I found a secret. There is a trail where the fearlessness of youth convinces people to cannonball from a cliff to the swimming hole beneath it. The water is the color of root beer, and the waterfall creates a foam on top of it. Iron deposits are in the water here, not just the rocks.

I am young, but not fearless. In the swimming hole, I pushed against the current, into the onslaught of the waterfall, and swam through its heavy sheet. Behind it, I found a series of caves. They are just big enough to sit inside, and they have a shared ledge that lets you travel from one cave to the next. Inside the cave, the waterfall sounded different, and the splash of my cousin jumping from the cliff echoed.

How do you find a sound you’ve lost? If you can return to it, how do you prepare to capture it?

I keep my instruments safe in a drybag, alongside a borrowed recorder that stores their songs. What will they sing in the cave? It will be different from the songs just outside the cave, in the swimming hole, and different still from the songs on the trail. The echo of the cave will create a resonance of some kind.1

I have a recording of a sound I heard in passing four years ago, walking through my home city. A metal plate of uncertain function2 on the side of a building had become partially dislodged. The wind around it created an irregular clang with a varying pitch. I only had my cell phone with me, so I captured the sound in a voice memo, labeled “funny sound near 11th st.” When I returned there, the loose plate had been repaired.

Sometimes the only trace of a sound is a recording of dubious quality, nearly a memory.

chamber orchestra


My instruments are born from questions that they do not answer. Instead, they pose more questions—abstractions about sound, place, and interaction—that I approach obliquely through the lens of the device. They provide a framework within which I can create a conversation and an interaction, but the framework is unspecified, malleable, and constantly in flux. earth and touch doesn’t prescribe a way to perform with plants; it is not focused towards any one mode of playing. Where one person may look at it and see the knobs as the most prominent mechanism, another person may see potential for complex gestures in the act of placing and replacing wires, and another person may view a conversation as intimate and unable to be shared, and so on. Possibilities impart many meanings to the words earth, and, touch. These choices for how to situate oneself in the idea of the instrument lend themselves to different configurations of sound. What is most interesting, for me, is situating the ideas of all the instruments in relation to one another.

If my instruments are sites for conversation with inaudible worlds, then collectively they are an orchestra for the unhearable. From the outset, I wanted them to be able to work together. My first inclination was to build them as if they were to be components in a modular synthesizer, patchable and connected. I knew this wouldn’t work for me, as I wanted each one to also stand alone. The origin of each instrument’s sound needed to be within its programming, not apart from it. So instead, to create the conversation, they act as individuals. As individuals, they can be positioned and repositioned, their sound captured as it is heard in space or through the curated decisions of a mixer. Take a dozen 3.5mm audio cables in varying lengths on adventures to widen the potential sonic fields that can be brought into awareness. Let the instruments speak across distances, connected by passive signals manifested in wire, telling each other what the land, air, water, and invisible creatures are telling them. Collectively, they sing from the space, in the space, to the space, with each other, and to each other.

1 Maybe to learn about this space, I have to perform Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room. A cave is a room inside the home of the waterfall.
2 It may have been a strangely shaped vent, or some kind of plaque commemorating the longevity of the building. Historic plaques are common around there, but generally not so flimsy.
Ollie Rosario is a sound artist, instrument builder, composer, and/or musician, depending on the day. 

Emily Bright



Asteroid State of Mind


The Cowboy gazed with a phlegmatic eye at the line of pillars facing him. Each afternoon he left his pod and walked up to the pillars, swearing that he could see something in the void of their center.

The Cowboy knew what those watchers in the saloon said about him. They wondered if he was losing his edge or losing his mind.

Mars was unable to make any sense of the Cowboy’s vague attempts to explain why he was ritually visiting the pillars.

“It’s like your mind is prepared to receive some insight. It's like they are sending out some ping that I know is coming from the future. You know?” the Cowboy would tell Mars as they sat drinking in the saloon.

Mars would just shake his head when the Cowboy talked like this. Still, he accepted the Cowboy’s assurance, trusting that the Cowboy was or would eventually make sense of it. It had always been like that for the Cowboy. The world seemed to be thinking in Cartesian coordinates and he was the only one thinking in Polar coordinates.

In A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow draws from the spirit of the WELL and the bottom-up approach of [Marc] Andreessen in his internet manifesto. The simple message of the manifesto is that the internet was a frontier.1 For Barlow, the internet is a place which is governed not by laws but the golden rule.2 To Barlow, cyberspace makes everyone equal and free of prejudice.3 Throughout his writing, Barlow does separate those who live in the frontier4 from those who live in the past.5 In doing this, he has turned the frontier to the metaphorical landscape of the future. It is any place, or thinking model, or technology, or capitalist idea, which is unexplored but inevitably slowly rolls forward.6

Silicon Valley Cowboys


Onto this frontier comes the Silicon Valley Cowboy. He rides in on his trusted steed, easily picking his way down from the mountain out across the valley. He may be in unknown territory, but he is confident in his ability not only to survive but pioneer any new space he enters.

Every Cowboy Needs a Hat


The Silicon Valley Cowboy is not just another hustler or bounty hunter and certainly is not to be confused with some dude7 fresh onto the frontier. He is a bonafide hacker. He celebrates engineering and design in all of its functional glory, accidental absurdity, and heroic feats. He sees himself in stories of cowboys who ignored/broke all the rules to create their own vision on the frontier.8 The cowboy roams the leading edge of technology, following the call of “what is possible.”

Considerations for Power Sharing


Mars found the Cowboy where he always did, squatting in front of the pillars, the way someone might do to talk to a small child.

“Here,” Mars said, handing the Cowboy a cup of coffee.

The Cowboy took it, without moving his eyes away from the pillar. After a long moment of silence, the Cowboy slowly asked, “Have you ever tried jacking in the Ledger to one of these things?”

“Why the hell would we want to do that?”

“Think about it. How many years has the Ledger been running down there, on its own. Without any of us mining it?”

“I don’t know, 70 years or so. What’s your point?”

“Well, the Ledger was half an idea. With only half the technical infrastructure to support it. I keep thinking back to what you told me about the Dev Gate.”

“I’m not following. You mean the Dev that died, the moment it came into town?" Mars asked. “That thing ain’t worth shit.”

“Or it just wasn’t the right time,” the Cowboy said, with that knowing look on his face. “What if we used the Ledger like a flywheel?”

“For what?”

“The future.” The Cowboy stood abruptly, and Mars saw he was fully grinning. “What if you used the Dev to open up a hypergate here?” 

The Cowboy gestured at the pillars before turning on his heels and heading up the road to the small graveyard up on the hillside. Mars had to hurry to follow him.

“The hypergate is theoretical! Don’t talk about it like it is a thing that exists.”

“Just listen,” the Cowboy said as he walked. “We use the Dev and the energy of the pillars to bootstrap a hypergate. Then we plug it into the Ledger and all its hardware, all its collected logic …” The Cowboy drew a circle in the air with his finger. He was trying to think of the right word for it. “...Lasso! We send a signal out then use the Ledger’s logic to boomerang it back.”

Mars stopped as he realized what the Cowboy had seen. What he was suggesting. Using the pillar as a latch circuit, they could create a bi-stable form of energy which the Ledger could maintain indefinitely. That flip-flopping between states, between hyperspace and here. That would build momentum almost by itself—that—that was a brand new form of energy. Mars looked back at the column of pillars. They could network it through the whole row. He waved a hand, dismissing the thought. This was still all very theoretical. It seemed unlikely to work.

“That’s insane,” Mars finally said as he fell back into step with the Cowboy.

“There is only one way to find out.”

Searching for the variants of all the possibilities has driven the Silicon Valley Cowboy through the fields of academia, arts, and industry. From the Silicon Valley Cowboy's adventures in these different microcosms, the Cowboy has honed his ability to balance the practical aspects of engineering, the human concerns that guide design, and the social-science perspectives of the world.9 Over the years, he has created a position for himself as part of a mobile elite, with its own tools, own legends, and humor.10 As the Silicon Valley Cowboy forges his way through the Valley, he utilizes this attitude and insight to shape how one may live with and through technology.

1 In its vast unknown network, the rules are not decreed by the government but by the community which makes up its landscape
2 Given what the landscape of the internet looks like today, relying on the
golden rule feels very naive. More importantly though, it highlights how the internet was the new frontier space being settled by a collective of cybernetic cowboys. The golden rule is a very Western idea that assumes everyone has the same set of values, culture, and understandings. It also implies that as an individual, we can shape the landscape of some global whole.


3 Communities on the WELL had discovered that the internet in its vast void did not hide race and gender. Before Barlow published this manifesto, there had already been years of debate on the WELL about how many affordances the WELL and similar virtual spaces provided women. The WELL did open new doors for women and create new opportunities for women to share research and network. Many women complained of receiving harassing emails and being sexually approached by men. Even in the early explorations of the frontier, the ambiguity of the internet was not a great equalizer. It fell into all the same problems which the fictions of the frontier cover up.

4 As Marc Andreessen puts it, “Like so much of entrepreneurship I’ve found, it’s like noticing you’re living in the future, and you notice something, and you solve your own problem. You’re not necessarily trying to get rich at the time. You’re just like, I’m working on cool stuff, and to do more cool stuff I’ve got to build this thing.” Andreessen is making that same separation as Barlow, between those who live in the past and the cowboys who live out on the frontier. This frontier is forged from the Silicon Valley Cowboys’ own perspectives and ideas about the future.

5 Now, the internet is not the distant landscape that cowboys must go out and explore; it is just here. The internet still has all its problematic frontier narratives but none of the thrill of feeling like one could wrangle the future. This is how the frontier moves . It follows each new leading edge until it finds its way into the masses and it ceases to be part of some new revolution. In some cases, it ceases to be seen as a tool at all; it becomes a regular part of everyday life. The frontier today can be seen in the redesign of this everyday landscape.

6 To enter the frontier, one must go out to the past aesthetics and look in fictional narratives to settle the new unknown technology, its thinking models, designs, and business.

7 A dude is a city dweller unfamiliar with life on the range. This term is used most commonly to refer to someone in America on the West coast who comes from the East coast.
8 Elon Musk, the Bay Area’s very own Tony Stark, is a good example of how the cowboy seeks to break the rules. SpaceX, The BoringCompany, and Tesla were all built with the attitude of “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Musk positions himself as some sort of people's savior in how he liberates institutions (like that of space travel or road construction). However, little of his frontier innovations have made it out of his capitalistic landscape to be a tool for anyone other than wealthy cowboys with like-minded personalities. 

9 Liam Bannon, “Reimagining HCI,” 2.
10 Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, 135.


Emily Bright's work explores and exposes the future/frontier narratives entwined in the technological systems shaping our world.

Songan Kyung



As a part of my thesis practice, I’ve been building a speculative figure who is a conspiracy theorist and a cult leader. He believes that COVID-19 is divine justice, and therefore, we should face and accept the consequences. He uses unscientific and fabricated evidence that stimulates fear and disgust to incite people suffering from uncertainty to follow his manipulated “truth.” The figure tries to build credibility and attract the audience by using intriguing narratives and elaborate-looking evidence. But in the end, his argument and he himself are both sloppy and break down easily.

Can you tell us about yourself for the readers who don’t know you?

My name is Jimmy. I was born on February 20, 2000. I turned 20 this year. I am generation Z. I’m an influencer and a free thinker. I believe the virus and pandemic are divine justice, and we all should be willing to face it and accept the consequences.

Interesting. Let’s start from way back. What was your childhood like? Can you walk us through your life to reveal a little about how you became who you are now? Was there some kind of triggering experience?

Well, I lost my parents when I was only two. So, I wouldn’t say I had a good childhood. I was never able to settle down anywhere, and yes, it was pretty tough. And you know, lots of weird, unexplainable things happened to me, like, for example, whenever I check the time, it always ends at 20, like 13:20, 15:20. And every day, I woke up at 8:20. 20 appeared repeatedly my whole life. So yes, I felt like the number 20 was haunting me. That got me seeking the meaning behind those numbers and incidents. It almost seemed like the things that were happening to me were a message from a higher being. And I assumed it could be the reason I was born or the aim of my life. Everything else was unclear, but this. And I have to say that I was expecting something significant would happen in 2020. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, and I was like, “This is it! This is the revelation from the higher being!” And that’s when I really started to dig in.

You said you believe that the virus is divine justice. What is your claim specifically, and how did you come up with the theory?

Yes, I do believe the virus is divine justice or the medium or the message from the higher beings. First, I researched what the number 20 symbolizes in various religions and cultures around the world. 20 represents a time where patience and suffering are necessary, a time of spiritual progress, and a new beginning. This year, 2020, is when the energy of 20 is double, and the influence is the strongest.

And let’s go back to the origin of the virus. You know, the virus started with bats. Bats represent death, resurrection, and transition very much like 20. The animal is a creature that lives in the belly of Mother Earth. From the womb-like caves, it emerges as reborn every evening at dusk.

The virus is diffused from person to person through droplets and aerosols. Droplets and aerosols are a circular form of liquid masses. Universally, a circle means completeness, totality, wholeness, circulation, and god.

The complete crystalline body originated from the beings symbolizing conversion and resurrection in the year of spiritual progression, patience, and suffering. That’s what COVID-19 is. 2020 has been and will continue to be painful. But through history, all spiritual progress involves a certain amount of pain and patience. We must humbly accept and face the suffering and the consequences. The ones who refuse, those who develop vaccines and wear masks, are the weak, the evil, and they will be punished for their sins.

Songan Kyung bio: meta - meta - meta - meta.

Nicola Difusco


Out of boredom and intrigue, I began filling my free time with combing through open source libraries of images. These creative commons provided me with an exciting opportunity: to remix. I’d search through thousands of images of ancient relics, archived documents from space expeditions, and natural history specimens. As I’d click through page after page, I’d download pieces that caught my eye. Maybe a bold color, a poetic form, or an uncanny image, all of which could serve some unknown purpose. At that time, my mind was occupied by what seemed to be the tech industry’s latest frontier: outer space. I’d bask in the wild contradictions that these firms served forward in marketing campaigns and keynote addresses. I found myself asking: how could humanity find salvation through life on Mars if it's being orchestrated by the same systems and organizations perpetrating oppression here on our home planet?

These open source libraries allowed me to visualize the history of space exploration, and imagine a new future. As I reflected on the contradictions brought about by Silicon Valley’s intergalactic quests, the famous words of Audre Lorde echoed through my mind: “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” Whatever tools these industries have to offer will never allow us to escape from the inherent racism, classism, and oppression that these industries profit from. In order to articulate this notion, I began collaging open-source NASA images with Lorde’s words. These images imagined how technology can be used by the oppressed to design an intergalactic utopia outside of the Master’s house. By placing these collages on tee shirts, I was able to think further about what it means to communicate through the body and exhibit these theoretical ideas on the body.

Though I found great benefit from utilizing creative commons and open source libraries, I realized that many objects are not shared in such an open manner, and are owned by an individual or corporate entity. This even extended, to my surprise, to the genetic makeup of my pet fish. As the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, and lockdowns were instated, I made the impulsive choice to get a pet fish to keep me company. This novel betta fish caught my eye unexpectedly as I walked the pet store aisles (as I do, therapeutically; it’s like a free zoo). Genetically modified with jellyfish proteins, the fish was able to reflect light through fluorescence and glowed a soft green. After bringing this fish home, my stomach sank with regret. Not only did I feel guilty for acquiring a pet without proper foresight, I looked upon the fish and wondered, “Does it know that its species is trademarked? Does it understand that it is being sold as a product?” This led me down a spiral of ethical dilemmas. I saw how the fish, a living body from nature, was being labeled as a product.

As the days of the quarantine blurred into one continuous moment, I began to see myself and the fish as one in the same: both this fish and I are exploited for labor, both this fish and I are confined to tight quarters. Through reflection on the fish, I began to question how one organization can ethically claim ownership over a living being’s genetic makeup and what indications this meant for the future. This harsh reality further exacerbated my questions surrounding consumer marketspaces, ownership, and now the body as technology.

Nicola DiFusco's critical work navigates systems of power, commerce, and the body through researching the blurring between digital and physical interfaces.

Xinyu Li


Walking through the village, X has awakened some old memories. It's been here before, when it was a little kid. It saw the countryside for the first time; it saw abandoned buildings for the first time, and it felt the huge cultural gap between the rural area and the city for the first time. The city is noisy and crowded with tall buildings. The heat from people and cars makes the temperature cloudy and warm. The countryside is quiet and dark. X was shocked by the ruins, but weirdly, not scared at all. The village shrouded in mist was like a giant, staring back at X, quietly. It has no expression on its face; the breath it delivers smells like a tranquility soaked in time.


Wave
-
Blood fluid in my throat
Rolling up in huge waves like the ocean
I look around
No one is around
Rashly dive into this scarlet pond
Dip
And drown


X meets other creatures and monsters.

There are fuzzy figures approaching X; their shadows move in the shallow light. Creatures living inside this village are gathering. Some stick out their dry, greyish limbs from the broken wall; in the bushes on the back of the house, plenty of red slender eyes appear; swelling and smooth faces start to float out from the pond on the right side.

“Who are you people?” X asked, silently in its mind. “They look scary, monstrous, but they don’t look evil. This is odd.”    

An old, dried-skin creature starts talking. “Welcome to the Outland.” The folds of his face press together as he speaks.

X bewilderedly turns its head.

“We are the spirits living inside these buildings. They are abandoned, and we are abandoned, so we are connected,” the old monster says.

He continues to speak. “You see that Hakka roundhouse?1 There used to be more than a hundred people living in this building; it used to be surrounded by all kinds of sounds—children’s play, people’s afternoon tea, chatting. What a wonderful time.” 

X looks around; monsters nearby are observing X and the old monster silently, listening to their conversation. Their faces seem to be covered with mist; their expressions cannot be seen clearly.

The old monster continues on. “But the cities have been developing so fast. No one likes crowded houses anymore; no one enjoys watching the clouds reflected in the well, anymore. In the end, only me, this aging soul, and abandoned toys remain here.”

Looking at the old objects scattered in the yard, X feels sad. Some people look forward to the excitement and reunion with others but are trapped in loneliness. Some people yearn for loneliness, but they have to face other people and things. This may be the meaning of Outland’s existence, an isolated place where we can understand and share each other’s sadness and fear.

“Look over there. It was a house that was occupied by the army during a war nearly a hundred years ago. And those people standing in front of the window, looking at stars. They are soldiers from afar, missing their hometowns, where they could never go back.”

Following the old monster's gaze, X sees the bodily shapes standing by the window. Their bodies are translucent, and they stand upright; the moonlight covers their bodies with a dim glow. Although this Outland is a comfortable existence to me, X thinks, for these soldiers, it is a cruel reality. Only in their dreams can they find the comfort of going back to their hometown.

“Look at the human-like figures in the rooms over there. They are the embodiment of hallucinations. More and more people leave, leading to more and more vacant houses. Pollution is gradually decreasing; the sound of streams and birdsongs are getting louder.”

The air gradually returned to cool and humid. However, the abandoned items in the house began to mold and rot, gradually turning into odd shapes. Events leave traces, traumatic manifestations left behind. Lights and shadows contain memories, and people start to have the illusion of seeing ghosts from time to time. There were no monsters in the beginning, but when more people began thinking they were seeing ghosts, their thoughts condensed into a distinctive atmosphere, which gave birth to these illusions of ghosts.

The stronger the atmosphere condensed, the clearer the monster’s figure and voice. The monsters become more intense, dense, and real with time, as people’s thoughts begin to “condense” in this way when time changes. Looking at them, X feels like looking at its own shadow. Familiar but untouchable.

The old monster slowly steps back into the house and sits back in his bamboo rocking chair. More and more monster soldiers gather by the window; they huddle, crane their necks and stare at the sky. They are so focused, as if they don’t care and are not willing to see anything else. The creatures in the bushes also begin to shuttle around, making rustling sounds. The creatures in the pond go back to swim, leaving blue-green algae to float along with the ripples. Monsters in the village return to another usual day in Outland. A quiet and undisturbed day.
 
1. A Hakka roundhouse is a large communal living structure that multiple families can live inside; the style is founded in southern China. Walled houses were specially designed for defensive purposes at first.
Xinyu Li prefers to stay with cats and lizards rather than humans.

Thomas Brett


It was the image of the boy at the window that first led me to my construction of worlds. That evening, I remember the forest of attics bellowing above my family. The gale had caught us all off-guard: it juddered down the house, down the pipes, through my uncle’s room, through my uncle.

He continued much the same way he often did, prone to mythological ravings, espousing vast philosophical treatises on the most prosaic, commonplace objects of the home. We were worried that his visit, his noise, would disturb the silent, unknown lodgers whose rooms stretched through to the back of the house. But thankfully his trip had coincided with the gale—his voice mustered a similar intonation to the storm outside (one of dreams and complication), and so his presence remained almost blissfully unnoticed.

That evening, our family congregated in the living room. It was the biggest space of the house and was decorated mostly by paintings my mother had made on her countless trips to the gloaming heath. The large window by the armchair had always appeared as just one more of her paintings, another perfectly composed view into some wild yet captured landscape. The obvious difference was that the image was not finalized or coagulated like a picture: as one moved round it, the objects inside moved, too. This, I’m certain, is why my uncle identified it as a window. He took nothing for granted but saw all without a socialized gaze, building each entity up according to a new and rigorous analysis. I believe it was for this reason his face always appeared devastatingly tired.

“Above all, dear brother, above all! That window has at its disposal a mechanism that nothing can resist. That portion of forest, that scene between the frame ... Only from it, might we understand …”

My father returned an abhorrent glare at his brother. Unaware or uncaring, my uncle reiterated:“Nothing can resist the mechanism of the window. But only nothing.”

As the saner elders returned to their silent drinks, I felt the remark disturbing me somehow, reshaping me. At the time I wasn’t sure why: the window marked a view of lawn and wood I had seen countless times over. And yet somehow, I could sense an enthralling perspective in which my uncle’s words were true. I felt a reassessment was required.

After the sham of dinner, after each member of my family receded to the shadows of their rooms, I crept downstairs to the armchair by the window. In that storm-laden light, there was something partial about the scene, something I hadn’t noticed before. It didn’t unfold on a single level of the surface as was customary, but instead continually referred to something else—something behind and without. This made it difficult to scrutinize a particular layer or object, like attempting to find an articulated point in a shifting white sky. The layers of garden, fence, and quivering tree could never stand forth in full array, and so in a sense the scene between the window-frame never arrived.

Instead I found my eyes settling only on the space between things, the sole stable form in that perpetually unfurling darkness. My mind traced its void, its chasm that isolated one object’s being from another. Thoughts spilled along these twisting gulfs, and I imagined all the sacred shadows required to formulate the countless articles of garden and forest. It was this invisibility, this hiddenness of object, that supported and gave constitution to the framed image I had so often looked on. The hidden remainder of every tree flowered omnidirectionally into the black night, and the vapor of some obscure excitement merged along a perspective I could never own.

I felt that the window now revealed only a narrow illumination, one that rested upon an infinite concealment; my sightline just a tangent of the umbral expanse in which the scene resided. It was then that my thoughts departed from the glassen frame and turned upwards upon the forces that lay outside it. The gale funnelled them away into the gaps of the wood and dove downwind through the dark remainder. Merging with mythology, I lost myself down the falling streets, past the suburban burrows and away from barrow and grave, into mountain valley; cleaving to gutters of trees, sunken pathways and brushing past the shrieking horse of the wood, into the deathly throes of shoot, root, and botanical splendor; amongst the nihilating warren, amongst the darkness impenetrable, into the hollowed oak itself.

Then blackness, vacuum, my uncle’s words … until the dark dimension of the corridor, windowed by various lodgers. Through the wise old door into the safety of carpet territory, away from nightmare, but caught in a shadowed veil. Up the stairs, through the stammering light, into the threshold of the living room, I couldn’t turn, trembling slowly past my mother’s fixed landscapes, filling them, approaching the sumptuous chair in which the boy sat, through spring and goose down, the chair goes cold, as a gaze seeps to the back of his head, the back of his eyes. The shadowed expanse of the window; the shadowed expanse of my line of sight. Trembling through the turbulent planet and out of the unfathomable depths of our house, into me. The boy made one with wood, no inside against outside: just layer after layer after layer.

Nothing can resist the mechanism of the window. But only nothing.

Thomas Brett is an artist working in hybrid processes of film, animation, and video games.

Hannah Suzanna


“Raven’s Roost,” colloquially referred to as The Roost, is home to my dad’s family. It’s an altar in the shape of a halfpipe on a berry bramble encrusted hill, in the midst of a daffodil-studded, rain-watered lawn. The Roost is filled with offerings from the four generations worth of family members who have lived in this house. My life there was one of fog-shrouded weekends, fire-warmed mornings, and chilly afternoons spent in the company of gritty-gray rocks and happy-damp dogs. Mythology has it that Edgar Alan Poe’s nephew is the one responsible for moving this Quonset hut to the coast. In its past life, The Roost was a WW II aircraft hangar. Now it’s firmly planted “up the hill” from the overwhelmingly large Pacific Ocean it looks over. “Down the hill,” though, is a different world. To get to the Pacific you have to walk on a path that winds through toxic foxgloves and ferns, under fallen trees and beside the trickling creek. The trail opens up just above the beach in an area we call the flat space. It’s a clover-covered valley filled with California poppies, vivid blue blooms, blossoms from a seed packet marked “wildflowers,” and multiple artichoke varieties that a friend gave to my dad.

When I was little and afraid of my dad dying, he told me to taxidermy his body and prop up his remains in my room for company. Later, he suggested I mount his head on a plaque, like a talking trout, so that whenever someone walks by, a pre-recorded phrase would be shouted at them in his voice. He would like to be rolled off of the path between our home and the beach so his body can disintegrate, so he can be eaten by animals.

Decomposition is not a solitary act. Disintegration of a corpse is collaborative. Some of it is eaten by carrion birds, bones might be ground down into sand, flesh ends up in the dogs’ fur and in divots within soles of shoes. The water evaporates from the body, liquid returning to the air or draining back into the ocean. Oneness is visible in blending anatomy with landscape, flesh turning to energy within a digestive tract.

Dissolution can be emulated formally. Visually a frame can be filled with melded forms—with motion blur and translucent fabric, with distortion and repeated exposure. Wind captured through digital recorders breaks apart the sounds of birds, of waves, of bugs, that would otherwise be whole. People can be guided through seven gates of the underworld—shedding bits of self at each impasse.

When someone close to the cemetery dies, a board member or a friend, Carlos creates an installation in their grave. In his own time, he gathers vivid emerald palm fronds and dusty gray green Spanish moss. He weaves together tendrils and vines. The green hues climb up the edges of the dug-up earth. Sprays of hot pink, yellow, and white flowers peek through ivy leaves and knotted vines. The oxygen trapped in flora-surrounded air pockets will help the body decompose once it’s buried.

I was handed half of a milk carton filled with bones collected on Carlos’s rounds of the cemetery. I laid them out on the table. Jaw bones and vertebrae, at least one rib. What are they from? Freddie says the jaw bones are probably from a doe.

The alligator nudged out of the plant-covered pool to go nose to nose with the doe. The soft deer skin covered with a fuzzy layer of fur nuzzled the cold and damp and weathered hide. The gator crawled closer, curling into a slender crescent. The doe lay beside her counterpart, curling, complementary, surrounding the gator, warming their body—head lain on the gator’s back. Over the years they solidified, crystalized, calcified, fossilized—the gator would kill the doe for dinner, the doe would dodge the menacing jaws and the gator would starve. 6. The Lovers enacted a cross-species ritual determining who gets to live.

Hannah Suzanna is currently researching mysticism by examining the interconnection between death, disintegration, and their family’s connection to home. Find their work at hannahsuzanna.com.

Meghan Surges


False Beacons


The dioptric lens, invented by Augustin Fresnel in the 1820s, was first installed in lighthouses as a life-saving measure. Its basic form is a glass bull’s-eye, with concentric circles like steps. This lens, bending light from a single source, could transmit signals through the fog and across long distances. The French installed them at Cordouan lighthouse in 1823. Within that decade, the British, Irish, and Scottish adopted dioptric systems for lighthouses on their own shores and colonies overseas. Fresnel’s invention, a canonical achievement of Enlightenment optics, assured that rapid maritime expansion would follow.

In a treatise from 1859, physicist David Brewster presents dioptric lighting as an unequivocal success. He asserts that the lights “will be hailed on every shore as beacons of mercy to the seafaring world.”1

It is tempting to romanticize the beacon. Nevertheless, repetitive stories emphasizing salvation obscure the role of lighthouses in colonial projects. Important gentlemen of the 19th century wax lyrical about sacrifices and treacherous voyages, but their stories mask another treachery, which spawns from the idolatry of light.

As clockwork turns the lighthouse lens, beams flash intermittently through an array of prisms and colored filters. Sailors find and decrypt these illuminated signals. The apparatus, piercing through the darkness, resembles the red and blue flashers on police cars.

An 1850 paper from the British House of Commons bears the title “Statement of what measures have been adopted respecting the Erection, Management and Superintendence of Lighthouses in the British Colonies and Possessions.” This document begins, like many of its kind, with a description of perils at sea. The text presents colonial lighthouses as valuable aids in a great logistical challenge. It includes a letter from Hume, who argues that a department ought to be established to facilitate the exchange of messages among globally dispersed officers. Channeled through an administrative center, naval communications could produce a “mass of information” useful for navigating the sprawling empire.2 

These documents on colonial lighthouses seem to reiterate the same ideology—that Western men can use their inventions, their bright lights, to triumph over nature’s tempests, and to establish control over foreign lands and people. Resistance is missing from most published accounts about lighthouses. Suppose the people already inhabiting Bermuda, Jamaica, Singapore, and other “possessions” opposed the will of British sailors to see and reach their coasts safely? When seen from below, the spinning light appears neither picturesque nor romantic, but malicious. False beacons become inscribed in history, and intentional erasures smooth out contradictions in the Enlightenment fetish, which persists today.

Soon after its incorporation in lighthouses, the fresnel lens found roles in other niches of modern life: railway signal lanterns and police beacons. I walk through Providence and notice small beacons everywhere. I see light fixtures with red lenses beneath the bridges. Blue emergency lamps line the campuses. I pass under flickering streetlights in Kennedy Plaza and recognize the surveillance cameras conveniently attached. The flashing lights of police cars glare—piercing through the night, and through my windows. Even when I’m home, I feel constantly surrounded by and reminded of their presence. Spreading light without warmth, the beacons won’t protect us.

1. David Brewster, “On the Life-Boat, the Lightning Conductor, and the Lighthouse” (1859), 38.
2. “Statement of what measures have been adopted respecting the Erection, Management and Superintendence of Lighthouses in the British Colonies and Possessions.” (1850, The House of Commons), 17.


Meghan Surges is an artist, writer, and researcher whose work addresses social demons generated through technological inventions.