Reflections on Liquid, Site, Body, Bottle
In November 2017, I completed a digital artist residency hosted by online curatorial platform Peripheral Forms, in conjunction with the digital art biennale, The Wrong. I created digital and performance work that probed the various sites and structures related to the wrong water: that is, the 99.003% of Earth's water that is not freshwater readily available. Water is transformed; it is a substance distilled and distorted, one that deviates from an “original" chemical composition of H2O. Why is all of this water being repurposed to function as vitamin water, as a mere companion to antioxidants, as a cleansing, purifying elixir, and further, what do the excesses of this “water's" consumption reveal about our bodies' relationship to fluids, to nature, and to artifice? Certainly, we engage more with the processes of water than with what “water" is at all. Exposing the practices and processes behind the production and proliferation of this wrong water illuminates the sites at which our consumption-based relationship with water goes wrong, emotionally, economically, and ecologically, and reveals where the body is porous, and where it coagulates.
As a private component of my residency, I decided to track and archive my consumption of the wrong water for the duration of the month, saving the receipts and the bottles themselves; I wholeheartedly participated in the performance of quantification that has become an imperative for many processes of body optimization.
My intake of wrong waters influenced the production of the rest of the work in a quite literal capacity through lending me the mental and physical acuity to produce the work itself. (Although I often opted for the most deprived choice of wrong water, drinks that were labeled diet and caffeine free, I was consuming a large amount of artificial sweeteners every day, which definitely impacted my energy level.)
The primary objective of this residency was to investigate the operations of the ubiquitous figure of the plastic bottle, which unfold in varying intensities across lines of access and privilege; secondarily, I focused on the promise of the substances contained within, a promise of performance that could potentially restructure the consuming subject’s relations to capital, social, and political realms, largely through the possibility of increased productivity and a heightened biological state within the body.
I believe these substances and the sites from which they emerge enact new relations between the individual and the ecological. I discovered a generalized entanglement between the bottle, the site, and the body as I uncovered the fantasies and fallacies of the liquid inside through these daily self-trials.
Once you begin to look, the sites and structures of the wrong water are everywhere, having silently worked themselves into our most basic somatic processes and sensations: we drink water to stay hydrated, we make spontaneous purchases of bottled beverages to help cope with the constraints of our day-to-day, and we feel the presence or absence of liquids within our personal ecosystems; we procedurally fill and empty our bodies, at times obeying exterior reminders to do so.
Within the performance component of this project, I engaged my own personal fantasies of body optimization. I desired a body simultaneously empty and full—one empty of toxins and full of purity. I came to desire the (mythical) psychological satisfaction that came from the belief in purity. When these missions failed, when I felt discord between the sensations my body produced as it bloated and retained various wrong waters, I became attuned to their fiction.
The promise of the bottle is legendary, but this rests atop complex and problematic sites and structures. The work of the wrong water began to scope outward as I played with my understandings of reality, fiction, materialism, and simulacra. As I began to see, and became unable to unsee, the utter ubiquity of the plastic bottle, I questioned its form, and the possibility of its formlessness. What becomes of the bottle when the liquid contained inside is a performative misfire, a sham? In which realities could the wrong water actually function? I concluded that the disposable plastic bottle is the performative object, the thing enacting relationships around its incomprehensibilities.
I came upon an idea that surrounds water: the conception that water has an untapped and originally pure state in the first place. This is somewhat fictitious, and allows for the emergence of other forms of purity discourse that produce a socially-permissible form of abjection via carefully-calculated practices of “the right” consumption. The wrong water articulates itself as reality while each of us writes somatic fictions with our own individual bodies and practices. This sometimes discordant, sometimes discomforting, site, the body in disarray and the body that disobeys, is the one of true potential.
Manion Kuhn is a writer, artist, and researcher living and working in New York, where she is a B.A. candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts/NYU. Manion uses performance as research on the structures that regulate the body's relationship with itself. Her academic writing explores the performativity of Internet phenomena, including the politically productive irony of fake Facebook events in producing rhizomatic assemblages. Manion's work has been featured at a TEDxYouth conference, and she has performed at the Nerman Museum (Kansas City) and ITINERANT Performance Art Festival (New York).