work in progress
The works in A spill that stays streaming attempt to capture the moment when materials settle into one another, adapting to the often goopy, brittle, destructive or generative processes of matter moving and evolving. Working with the idea of “cooperative materiality”, these sculptures are my experiments with making materials work together to grow with or against their neighbours and surroundings. Using methods of squishing, stretching, spreading or sticking, my goal is to punctuate the life cycles of my materials with a little romance, like how a kid might smush their doll’s heads together to make it look like they’re kissing.
I’d consider the works in this series acts of research creation, prompted by a desire to explore and interrogate what it is about my favourite materials and textures that make them so appealing to me. To that end, I’ll begin with the following statement: I’ve always been drawn to gloopy, slimy things. Really anything that looks soft, drippy and viscous fills me with joy and doubly so if it’s also brightly coloured and shiny. Aesthetically, slime and goop have always seemed like an honest and visceral way to reference the body without actually depicting a human form. They look “gross” without truly being gross, lightly satisfying my need for an abject openness of the body without really having to get my hands dirty. On a more tangible level, I’ve always found the sensation of soft things slipping through my fingers to be excessively calming to the point where I actively seek out clothes with fringe and sensory experiences that I can pull through my fingers. I’ve long been toying with the idea of “the space between my fingers” as a pleasure zone, both in the tactile ways I described, but also in the metaphorical sense of this space somehow belonging to my loved ones to slip into at will. I think that in this way, there is an intimacy or sensuality when it comes to materials that can seep from our hands. They stand in for substances from the deepest parts of our bodies and the bodies of others.
So naturally, I began to think about the recent slime phenomenon. If you ignore all the examples of slime and slime-like substances in the toy and media landscapes of yesteryear, you could say the trend began around 2016 when I group of Thai teenagers started putting videos of themselves poking and prodding slime on Instagram. Now slime videos infiltrate every platform and garner millions of daily views. If you know anything about the slime of today, it is probably these two facts: 1) it’s made from borax and glue and 2) kids and teens are making bank selling it online. It is interesting to me that something so “pure” (it is, after all, made from ingredients that directly represent untainted childhood creativity and actual cleanliness) and so in pursuit of the simple desire to feel good, has become somewhat of a child-labour-driven capitalist enterprise. Of course, the selling and marketing of slime is a predictable step in a society that has a multibillion-dollar wellness industry, but the utter formlessness of this relaxation tool had me naively believing that it could somehow smooth over the sharp edges of supply and demand. A Garage article from 2018 hypothesizes that it is precisely these material properties of slime that make it a perfect agent of capitalism, tending to the labourer’s frustrations by offering new and imaginative ways to participate in the otherwise unattainable domination of “lesser” forms:
“Perhaps slime is appealing because it reconfigures flexibility as something pleasurable, even delightful, whereas for most people in the labor market, the day-to-day experience of bending to fit capitalism’s needs is nothing short of excruciating. Squishing around fluffy pastel sludge induces a sort of release in the viewer; its status as an alien substance allows it to become an image of another way to move through the world. You can’t hurt slime, and you can handle it with motions that might injure a sensitive being in any other circumstance.”
While I agree that watching or playing with slime has an aggression release factor, I’d say that in terms of the materiality of slime, it goes beyond reframing the painful flexibility that capitalism demands, and actually mirrors the ways we organize and defy oppressive systems in pursuit of moving freely. Whether on the micro or macro level, we are always adjusting to new surroundings, fitting into certain containers, making do, and working together. Slime is somehow both aspirational and pitiful, reminding us of our basest animal selves and what we might be able to become under certain conditions. Slime, like all of us, relaxes into new forms, adapts and continues on with what it has picked up along the way. We are all material in flux, moving and settling, growing and condensing.