Unravelling Text: Reading as a Polyphonic Practice


'The Five Tondos' 2020. Featuring citations from writers including ashon.t crawley, J. Kameron Carter, Sarah Jane Cervenak,  Hèlène Cixous, Edouard Glissant, alexis pauline gumbs, Saidiya Hartman, LaMonda Horton-Stallings,Dana Luciano, Erin Manning, Fred Moten, Amber Jamilla Musser, jennifer c. nash, Anne Rudloff Stanton, P.A. Skantze and Hortense Spillers. The citations in the tondos are organised around five words central to my research: Aesthetics, Flesh, Sacred, Opacity and Open. 

Research Synopsis: This practice-as-research PhD explores an artistic illumination of transformative moments of critical reading, citing and writing. Through an accumulation of textual and artistic fragments and a polyphony of citational voices, it journeys through the complex terrain of grief, interconnection and survival. Informed by a queer decolonial feminist ethics, the project is rooted in research within Undercommons and commoning practices (Emma Dabiri, Stefano Harney & Fred Moten), black feminist love-politics (alexis pauline gumbs, Audre Lorde, jennifer c. nash) and queer theory (ashon t. Crawley, LaMonda Horton-Stallings, Amber Jamilla Musser). Grounded in the domestic through reference, imagery and metaphor, this non-linear project proposes secular-sacred attention as an antidote to conventional Western academic methods based in Enlightenment thinking. It posits critical and artistic practises of illumination, gentleness and care (Helene Cixous, Anne Dufourmantelle, jennifer c. nash) as a means of survival in the face of loss and attends to the imagery of flowers as fertile ground for forefronting the inherent fragility of researching and making within the vicissitudes of temporality and late capitalism (ashon t. crawley, Emma Dabiri). 


The visual work included in this thesis takes the form of illuminated manuscripts, in which citations and original writing are woven around stylized botanical illustrations. Created as part of my ‘devotional citation’ praxis and using both illustration and embroidery techniques, these artworks live on the page alongside the writing, and act alternatively as illustrations, interruptions, excesses and provocations. Aesthetically and formally, ‘devotional citation’ is a celebration of the sacred modes of attention inherent in religious practices such as the Christian ‘Lectio Divina’ and the Jewish Rabbinic textual commentaries. Whilst honouring these religious roots, ‘devotional citation’ enacts a secular-sacred structure of feeling (Ann Pellegrini, Raymond Williams) which instead of praising a God, seeks to illuminate the ‘instant-now’ (Clarice Lisepector) and praise the myriad glories of small and specific moments of research. 


Botanical illustration and embroidery have a direct haptic bearing on the non-linear progression of the project, as this argument for the revelatory nature of small moments of study finds its accumulatory force through a complex interwoven series of illustrated and embroidered objects and fragmented critical, fictional and biographical writing. In this way, this project is a work of continuous unravelling and remaking (Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, Laura Harris), in which temporal insurgencies (Fred Moten, P.A. Skantze) created through revelatory moments of study and sedimented temporalities accumulated through citational practices (Amber Jamilla Musser) are briefly illuminated. Recognising that opacity is not the enemy of connection (Edouard Glissant), these acts of illumination do not seek to define or categorise, but rather to honour and dwell with textual, material and floral companions. Furthermore, in honouring these companions as equal participants in the co-creation of the work, the project’s ethics of care extends into a space of interspecies belonging (alexis pauline gumbs, Anna Tsing). 


Side A of Mobile Tondo 1 (Open) featuring citations from Fred Moten, Black and Blur (2017) and P.A. Skantze, Moving Home at Hayward Gallery, London  (2012) and my own notes in the margins. October 2020. 


Side B of Mobile Tondo 1 (Open) featuring citations from Ashon T. Crawley, Black Pentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (2016), Edouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation (1990), Amber Jamilla Musser, Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (2018) and Jennifer C. Nash, Practising Love: Black Feminism, Love-Politics and Post-Intersectionality (2011). October 2020.