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Hayward 20Intoxifornication

Hayward 20Intoxifornication

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Published by Jake Kinzey

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Published by: Jake Kinzey on Jun 22, 2014
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Disrupted Water: Notes on Intoxifornication
Society for Social Studies of Science, San Diego, 2013
Eva Hayward


Seelbach and Frank Moore

Frank Moore Anne Seelbach
Jacques and Tyrone, 1997 Troubled Water #11, 2010
oil on canvas on featherboard acrylic on Canson Montval paper
with aluminum frame with seaweed, 22” x 28”
nylon rope and scallop shell attachments
44” x 61”

For today’s talk I want to put into refractive tension two seemingly divergent geopolitical
problems: 1) marine endocrine disrupting pollution and 2) the seemingly terrestrial appurtenances of
HIV/AIDS. It may seem like an improbable friction to generate in 11 minutes, but two painters guide
me: Frank Moore and Anne Seelbach. The worlding of Frank Moore’s canvases explore the
overlapping forces of desire, disease, and toxigenic waters. His work asks us: How has, and how can,
sexuality shape our relationship to polluted places? Asking similar questions, Anne Seelbach paints
the sex-disrupting effects of EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Compounds) into fishy fabulations. These
very different artists highlight not only what Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands calls “wounds in the
world,” but also the problems associated with understanding and imaging marine toxicity.
But now that heightened, modern interconnectedness in space, which is not only
personal but social, structural, is the bearer of a health menace sometimes described
as a threat to the species itself; and the fear of AIDS is of a piece with attention to
other unfolding disasters that are the byproduct of advanced society, particularly
those illustrating the degradation of the environment on a world scale.

—Susan Sontag, AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989)
Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989) described the co-concatenating forces of
HIV/AIDS and sickened environments. In her text, she described that her “quixotic, highly polemical
strategy of ‘against interpretation’ was above all practical” because she was convinced that
“metaphors kill.” Following her guide, what metaphors co-shape toxicity and oceans?
Interconnectivity and flow, for instance, have come to define ocean-ways as well as the “spread and
drift” of contaminants, toxicities, and their ranging effects. Similarly, HIV/AIDS has been shaped by
tropes of pollution and contamination that have come to overemphasize “the healthy need” of an
optimized and militarized immune system. Anthropocentrism and transnational power shape the
poetics of these framings, but they also reveal, I think, a crisis in meaning, a crisis in the ordering of
subjects and objects.
Matters of life and death underlain endocrine disruption and HIV/AIDS—both are figural
deathly assignments in relation to a relentless, as Mel Chen describes, “reproductive futurity.” Both
enact domains of bio-political privilege that optimize life for some subjects while others are
consigned to the realm of death. Both surge with sexualized imaginings: with EDC’s popularly
represented as “sex changing chemicals” and with HIV/AIDS still sexualizing and stigmatizing bodies,
acts, and continents. It is through their shared sexualization that I want to bend and arch, as in
fornicate—Latin, fornix meaning “arch” or “bent over”—to reframe toxicity through the prefixial-
noun, intoxication, as it is enveloped by life such that life fornicates over itself to embrace its contact
with toxins—each exchanges elements with the other, emerging more and other. Intoxifornication—
admittedly a garbled neologism—suggests the undoing, the fornicating of bodily/immunity integrity
through toxicity.


Frank Moore Frank Moore
Aquarium, 1997 oil on canvas on featherboard Study for Beacon I, 1998
with half-inch copper plumbing pipe with valve ball-point pen ink, gouache and watercolor on paper
28 1/2 x 22 1/4 inches 9 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches

Frank Moore, who died in 2002 of complications associated with AIDS, painted bumptious
morbidity that conjoined the medical and pharmaceutical effects of the HIV virus with toxic
landscapes scabbed with industrial waste and oozing with chemical effluvia. [It is worth
remembering that while contemporary narratives of HIV/AIDS coming out of US communities are
told as “optimizing life and longevity,” death and illness from AIDS continues to plague poor, of
color, and trans communities globally at exponential rates.] “Aquarium,” Moore’s 1997 figural oil
painting framed with augmenting plumbing pipe and valves, depicts the molecular interleaving of
microbial life, the excesses of pharmaceutical agents, and sites of traffic: homes, sinks, drinking
glasses, bodies, and plumbing all snarled into a toxic bio-politics. An interrogative: the painting holds
unanswered relationships between treatment/disease, medicine/toxin, and life/death. What we are
left with, just as in his watercolor “Study for Beacon” (1998), is a seriously playful [for Moore always
framed his deepest worries with a giggle] portrayal of intoxication that locates the toxic necessity of
HIV/AIDS treatment into larger questions about environmental intoxification via water routes: from
tapwater to seawater.
Frank Moore also stages the site of intoxification through the refrain of sexuality (another
resonance, of course, in my “intoxifornication”); and here he plays against Sontag’s worry about
metaphors of “moral laxity” and polluted sexual acts and bodies. In “Study for Beacon,” a seascape
as hospital, the bed as sinking ship, IV fluids are tubed from body to ocean all surveyed by a luminous
walrus peaking from the threshold of water and air. Moore attenuates the sexual subject and the sick
body through a dislodging of mythic health and the fantasies of water purity. Significantly, Moore’s
ocean is populated, thick with waving hands—this is not a sublime ocean, but a fornicated one that is
also the scene of disease and care, the site of intoxifornication.


Troubled Water # 2 Troubled Water #4
Oil on Canvas Oil on prepared Canson Montval paper
24”x24” 22”x28”

Jumping too quickly – but necessary for time -- Anne Seelbach’s abstracted “Troubled Water”
series is also posed as an inquiry, and these two fishy-paintings puzzle the mutating effects of toxic
chemicals, specifically endocrine disrupting compounds. We can see the molecular structure of
some of these compounds (particularly nonylphenols) painted in fragmented forms. EDCs, as she
notes in her artist statement, alter marine fish, often putting them in a permanent state of sexual
and reproductive question. We need only to read the titles of recent National Geographic News
articles, “Female Fish Develop Testes” and “Sex-Changing Chemicals Can Wipe Out Fish, Study
Shows” to recognize the metaphors of polluted sex that Seelbach is attending to.
Seelbach is right that sex change is a perennial description of a toxic ocean, the metaphor for
global catastrophe. Endocrine disruption, it would appear, threatens to outpace Darwinian
selectivity, and sexual difference is to be monkey-wrenched by toxicity and pollution, proliferating
different differences rather than difference as usual. This sex panic is made more so in the context of
ocean space—that persistently imagined fluible medium. The invading agents of toxicity find a
seemingly sinister kinship in these marine metaphors that rinse out boundaries of ecosystem,
political policy, networked systems, and environmental racisms, propagating instead a promiscuous
Seelbach’s paintings beautifully [for the work is aesthetically beautiful – trust me I’ve just
spent a semester teaching Hegel!] illustrate the blurring of inorganic/organic as fish and
biochemistry become undone. But I wonder if Seelbach has fallen hook-line-and-sinker for the
metaphor of catastrophism by unruly oceanic toxins and their sexing effects? She is right to worry,
but perhaps the site of worry ought to be for the metaphors themselves – as Sontag reminds, “they


Birth of Venus, 1993
Oil on Canvas

I want to end with Moore’s painting “Birth of Venus” (1993) to suggest some alternate
metaphors. In this allegorized portrait of a drag queen portrayed as a mermaid lounging
languorously on the beach, her erotic gaze designed to meet and challenge us. Littered on the shore
around her we find used condoms, hypodermic needles, pill bottles, American currency, and a spilled
cosmetic bag. This mermaid is part hermaphroditic worm with annelid segments; part drainage
tubing; part tunnel of love; and perhaps part of Nicole Staroseilski’s networked cables. She is subject
to and cause of toxicity, reminding us that many of the EDCs come from our own sex-managing
pharmaceuticals (from steroids to birth control, from prophylactics to cosmetics, and the plastics
that contain them all). We [a we differently marked by global capital and neoliberalism] are all,
Moore seems to be saying, driven to change sex, indeed we all appear to desire intoxifornication.
Moore’s ocean is not a never-ending horizon, but a corner shared equally by terra firma. It is a
dirty seascape, not a sublime dream of purity. It is a material space, populated by inorganic and
organic life. Drag, here, takes on not only the promises of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, but drag as
resistance to flow, as friction. It is this friction that portends a de-subjectifying and de-ontologizing
of our metaphors about life, sex, health—indeed challenging our conceptual understanding of “the
healthy body.” This post-immune body does not function under the sign of health—the problematic
Sontag herself evinced—the body is dragged and fornicated with toxicity. We now live under the sign
of toxicity, of toxic immunity, or intoxifornication. Thank you.

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