Consider: Whether you're a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true.
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
(Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Talents)
To begin, I’d like to start from behind, with what is trailing and tailing. The background - a space that builds and nurtures the conditions for making something a thing or form. Normally delegated to the rear, it’s an interiority meant to fade into invisibility. I want to move from the inside-out. A sound: Whirrrrrrrr. This is the voice of an Osterizer Galaxie; the household blender was a popular domestic staple of the 70’s and 80’s. Outfitted with heavy-duty motors, the appliance assisted mostly women in shredding, beating, and creaming their dreams and duties. This is the object and tool of our background: the Osterizer Galaxie used by Thea Yabut in her studio, where ingredients whirr into a slimy soup before becoming the hardened forms we see in VIBRISSA. Vibrissae are the hairs around an animal’s snout. Sensing the world around them, these organs of touch create knowledge through physical contact. Yabut’s equal may be her hands; she mixes torn bits of paper and old drawings with water, blends and then strains them. Glue, joint compound, powdered pigments and chalk pastel are added, blended and strained again. This process produces thick wet blobs of pulp in hues of alien greys, sandy browns and faded pansy purples. She’s aiming for a specific consistency in her mush, repeating this process until it is found. The paste is soggy and cold; it feels regurgitated.
We have lived before. We will live again.
We will be silk, stone, mind, star.
We will be scattered, gathered, molded, probed. We will live, and we will serve life.
My memories of the Osterizer Galaxie are around my mother doing her best to make a no-bake cheesecake, grinding down graham crackers and whipping up cream, set in layers and topped with canned blueberries. It was the only dessert she ever really made, and stood in sharp contrast to the other culinary treats in our household: kimchi, oxtail soup, seaweed, squid jerky, dried anchovies, funky fermented soybeans. Her being an immigrant from Seoul, this simple cake, in hindsight, symbolized her integration into western domesticity. The exciting, violent sounds of the strong motor desiccating its contents together still linger in my memory. Yabut pulls a bit of gunk from the lump, pinching and placing it down on a drying rack constructed from mesh window screen laid atop a gridded light diffuser. This DIY rack is the skeleton holding the mush, for now fleshy and soft, soon to become skeletal forms of their own. The eventual forms emerge from squeezing and sticking small bits of the goo, one finger-ful at a time. The water drips out of the guck as she lays it down; her fingers remain imprinted on each pinch. It’s arranged in wormy lines and blobs, resembling fish skeletons whose vertebrae have become curvy mazes of knots. These shapes come from Yabut’s intuitive movements in relation with the material’s necessity to clump in one way more than another in order to hold form. The forms represent this blurry union of matter and body. Sometimes these lines congregate around clay nodal ovals, coloured by hand-burnished graphite that gives a dull mirror-like effect. Air-dried over several days, the hardened forms resemble auras, tentacles, lichen, skeletons and whiskers emanating from cloudy nodes. They are soft scaffolds of mush, for now.