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widely used in the symbiosis literature today, parasites and pathogens are rarely considered as examples of symbiotic organisms. | Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A GreekEnglish Lexicon | σύμβιος — living together | word frequency statistics: 4/ 146389 in Basil, Saint, Bishop of Caesarea, Epistulae; 2/ 121554 in Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, Books I-V; 2/ 103320 in Aelian, De Natura Animalium; 3/ 99674 in Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica; 4/ 56626 in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; 2/ 24954 in Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus | A Dictionary of Biology (6 ed.) | Elizabeth Martin and Robert Hine | symbiosis | An interaction between individuals of different species (symbionts). The term symbiosis is usually restricted to interactions in which both species benefit (see cooperation; mutualism), but it may be used for other close associations, such as commensalism, inquilinism, and parasitism. Many symbioses are obligatory (i.e. the participants cannot survive without the interaction); for example, a lichen is an obligatory symbiotic relationship between an alga or a cyanobacterium and a fungus. | A Dictionary of Biomedicine | John Lackie | symbiosis | The mutually beneficial but obligatory cohabitation exhibited by some organisms (and probably by mitochondria in the ancestral eukaryotic cell) | Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2 ed.) | Edited by Richard Cammack, Teresa Atwood, Peter Campbell, Howard Parish, Anthony Smith, Frank Vella, and John Stirling | symbiosis ( pl. symbioses) | a long-term association between individuals belonging to two different species. The term is often used in a restricted sense to denote associations that are beneficial to one or both partners, although strictly it refers equally to neutral or harmful associations. —symbiotic adj. | A Dictionary of Dentistry | Edited by Robert Ireland | symbiosis n. | The intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship.| World Encyclopedia | Publisher: Philip’s | symbiosis | Relationship between two or more different organisms that is generally mutually

New Oxford American Dictionary | symbiosis | simbē ōsis, -bī-| noun ( pl. symbioses | -sēz | ) Biology | interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both. Compare with antibiosis. [antibiosis | antēbī ōsis, antī- | noun | Biology | an antagonistic association between two organisms (esp. microorganisms), in which one is adversely affected. See also symbiosis. ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from anti- + a shortened form of symbiosis.] • a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups: a perfect mother and daughter symbiosis. DERIVATIVES | symbiotic | -ätik | adjective, | symbiotically | -ätik(ə)lē | adverb | ORIGIN late 19th cent.: modern Latin, from Greek sumbiōsis ‘a living together,’ from sumbioun ‘live together,’ from sumbios ‘companion.’ | A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.) | symbiosis n. | A mutually beneficial relationship between two different species, especially between species living in close proximity to each other. symbiotic adj. [From Greek syn together + bios life + -osis indicating a process or state] | Encyclopedia of Evolution | Edited by Mark Pagel | Symbiosis | Symbiosis is often defined as an association from which all participating organisms derive benefit. It is usually assumed that the partners in a symbiosis are members of different species and that the association is persistent, lasting for much or all the life span on the organisms. Fleeting interactions, such as the pollination of flowers, are nonsymbiotic mutualisms. Although apparently simple, this definition of symbiosis can be difficult to apply to many real associations […] As a result of these difficulties, many researchers prefer the meaning of symbiosis as originally coined by Anton de Bary in 1879 the living together of differently named organism. This definition makes no reference to the significance (benefit or harm) of the association to the participating organisms, and de Bary explicitly included parasitic and pathogenic associations as examples of symbioses. Although de Bary’s definition is


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Acknowledgements The printing of this publication was made possible from the generous support of the Kelly Writers House. We are grateful to continually develop our publication on both print and digital communicative platforms. The printing of corresponding advertising materials was made possible by the generous support of the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. We greatly appreciate the support of many of our professors and mentors — especially Jessica Lowenthal, Lily Applebaum, Susan Bee, Orkan Telhan, and Kenneth Lum. Comments or Questions? Please email our team at upenn.symbiosis@gmail.com. Getting Involved Our team encourages the talents of various creatives. Email us at upenn.symbiosis@gmail.com.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Letter from the Editor

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Our Team

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The Symbiotic Process

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Writing Art: How to Begin | Connie Yu

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On Collaboration | Ciara Stein

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Curatorial Motifs

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Collaborations

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Faith | Tahir Bell + Benjamin Finkel

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Deflowered | Ayla Fudala + Phoebe Goldenberg

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Trans(n)lation(al) | Caroline Kim + Connie Yu

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Light Exposure | Maura Reilly-Ulmanek + Connie Yu

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Norma | Alec Hill + Ila Kumar

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Empty Limits | Sara Ramirez + Isaac Silber

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Aspectabund | Anthony Chen + Hatixhe Kupa

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The Aesthetics of Uncertainty | Sam Sherman

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Shaping Our Art with Empathy | Alina Grabowski

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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR For me, the ideal of collaboration evokes an image of a balanced scale. However, pragmatically, collaboration means that the parties involved have each lost and gained something in the swapping; the scale is never perfectly balanced. In such a way, collaboration is about a negotiation of power—it does not belong to a sole individual, but to the collective. This third issue of Symbiosis is an embodiment of such creative sharing and compromise, celebrating the idea that cooperation, rather than competition, leads to greater enrichment. This year’s issue of Symbiosis required communicative industriousness, as I was abroad in London for the first four months in the fall semester. Nevertheless, the physical distance did not prevent me from both leading and leaning on our our team of twenty-five. With the help of Deputy Editor Connie Yu, Managing Editor Alina Grabowski, Creative Director Claire Keener, and Blog Editor Andie Davidson, each member of Symbiosis fulfilled a different niche, from editing critical essays to posting art and literary happenings on our Facebook and Twitter feeds. While I was abroad in London, I attended an art book fair at the Whitechapel Gallery and listened to a talk with AA Bronson, the former president of Printed Matter. The common question of what is becoming of commercially impractical artistic publications in today’s digital age led to a discussion of what “the young people” were making. In a room where most individuals were at least middle-aged, I raised my hand to mention Symbiosis. We’re making printed matter, digital matter, and gallery matter. And we’re building bridges across the disciplines. What’s so exciting about Symbiosis is how it is an evolving embodiment of the creative spirit of young artists and writers today; it is a collective consciousness and an energy. It is our goal to continually build upon that energy. We’re grateful to celebrate our third issue and delighted to push ourselves to further engage with the hybrid inventions and interdisciplinary discourse of the contemporary literary and art worlds. Through the pages of this publication, the gallery space, and the cyberspace, we hope you’ll join us in our continued exploration of the intersection of art and writing.


OUR TEAM


Editorial Gina DeCagna. . Connie Yu. . . . . Alina Grabowski. Sam Sherman. . . Maxwell Bolno. . Meg Pendoley. . Ayla Fudala. . . . Ruihong Liu. . . .

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Editor-in-Chief Deputy Editor + Gallery Curator Managing Editor Visual Art Editor Poetry Editor Prose Editor Multimedia Editor Copy Editor

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Administrative Sherry Huang. . . Allison Bingham. Ciara Stein. . . . . Esther Yoon. . . . Eli Cory. . . . . . . Tina Gao. . . . . .

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THE SYMBIOTIC PROCESS A TIMELINE OF THE TEAM’S PROCESS

S E P T E M B E R

N O V E M B E R

O C T O B E R COLLABORATE + INNOVATE

CONTACT ACT T++ RECRUIT Artists and writers contact us to A express their interest. They su submit samples of their portfolios. por

indepe Collaborative pairss independently work on a joint creative project at enta that entails both written and visual components. Projects can span different levels of commitment. We hold weekly workshops for our collaborators to find inspiration and feedback throughout the semester among our creative community.

On average, 66 campus creatives have participated in Symbiosis each year, since 2012. Participants have spanned all schools of the University of Pennsylvania.

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D E C E M B E R

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MEET + GREET After reviewing portfolio samples, we individually pair artists and writers based on styles, interests, and their potential to creatively connect. Once connected via email, we encourage collaborative pairs to meet in-person and share their past work with each other.


J A N U A R Y

FINISH H + SUBMIT Collaborators olla come to a conclusion in their creative process and submit their collaboration for our review. We include a select amount in our annual nnu print issue and galle gallery show.

F E B U R Y A R Y

REVISE + EDIT DESIGN + CURATE o select s We encourage revisions to on collaborations, finalize content, and e collaborate among ourr editorial and duc a print issue, design teams to produce w, aand an online a gallery show, p pe experience.

M A R C H

A P R I L

LAUNCH U + OPENING We release the print issue in W c conjunction with our gallery opening in the Brodsky Gallery of the Kelly Writers G House.

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Writing Art: How to Begin Connie Yu

To call for collaborations between writers and artists, as Symbiosis does, can reinforce a division of labor that seems necessary for the binding of two mediums: art plus writing, one artist with one writer, and one piece between the two. The difficulty in collaborating is in the act of beginning together, and on a joint work rather than on discrete elements marked by medium-specificity. Realizing what it means to make something contingent on both writing and art, on writer/artist and artist/writer is the challenge and reward of such collaborations. As we begin rethinking a collaborative project like Symbiosis, we can rewrite our understanding of art and writing as individual spaces. They need not be superimposed on each other to involve both forms of creation; they need not be bodies of work coming from different directions. We can dwell instead on the syntax of art, and on the ancient and contemporary need for visuality in written vocabularies. A tried-and-true history of writing and art-making emerging as one process is that of Egyptian hieroglyphs. To explain, in part, hieroglyphs served as a modifiable writing system, pictographic in appearance and phonographic in communication. The system was comprised of figurative elements (stylized representations of man, throne) that could semantically signify these figures themselves (man, throne), and could also be phonetically interpreted. That is, hieroglyphs could be uniliteral consonantal signs reassigned to signifieds not ideographically associated with the figure (to graft English onto the system: mint, throng), so that the sound structure of the words (m-n, thr-n-) is associated with the image, and the image with the consonants that embody each idea (hieroglyph of man to signify “mint,” of throne to signify “throng”). To further underscore their functionality as language, hieroglyphs accompanied illustrations, larger and more detailed images serving narrative and symbolic purposes. On the Palette of Narmer (circa 31st century BCE) — one of the earliest discovered objects featuring inscribed hieroglyphs — and on the colossal columns in the New Kingdom’s Hypostyle Hall of the Karnak temple complex, image reliefs are juxtaposed with hieroglyphs. While the latter assumed meaning from its pictoriality, the images abided by a strict canon of proportions almost linguistic in its uniformity. Important figures were depicted according to a tradition of stylized figuration in order to be read as important — a portrait view of face and legs, a frontal view of eye and torso — a prescriptive grammar for conveying esteem. A more contemporary understanding of the processural layers of text and picture is exemplified by the work of the OuBaPo, a comics-making collective that had grown from the writing-focused OuLiPo. The latter group had been founded in Paris in the 1960s by mathematicians and writers who believed that constraint-based writing 10

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exercises, like extreme lipograms or poems written according to the tempo of the city’s métro, would open up the practice of writing to greater creativity. Termed “mannerist” by para-Oulipian conceptual poet Christian Bök in “Two Dots over a Vowel,” the carefully intentional but non-expressive writing of the group inspired heavily the work of the OuBaPo. Oubapians would consider the Oulipian constraint of word as it translated to the image, and question the transposability of text and image within the frames and lines of comics. Effects such as reduction (redrawing long serial comics in as few panels as possible), reversibility (creating comics that could read in multiple directions), and transposition (altering the standard geometry of the comics frames to encourage open visual-textual readings), thrust into question the fundamental components of comics, the newly-realized always-fluid dependencies of text on image, image on text, narrative on illustration, illustration on frame, and frame on narrative. Bök, in categorizing conceptual writing like that of the OuLiPo into quadrants of intentionality and expressivity — “willing” and “telling” — parses Steve McCaffery’s “conceptual novel” William Tell. The novel comprises an uncanny alternation of the lowercase letter “i,” with two dots aligned vertically over the linear body. As Bök recalls in the folk story, the expert marksman William Tell brought his son on an out-of-town jaunt, on which the hero refused to bow to the overlord and was demanded to shoot an apple off his son’s head as punishment . William Tell succeeded, and his son was safe — one dot struck off his body, and his head, the remaining dot, intact, “returned to normalcy.” Bök points out the resonance of the narrative in the context of the reader/writer/hero complex — each embodies the “i,” puts “I” in a compromising situation, and saves the “I.” The conceptual novel demands an understanding of the visual sign as altered letter, potential figure, and illustrated story all, and harnesses the implications of writing and art as one body. The collaborations undertaken — as a culmination of communicative modes, as in Egyptian hieroglyphs; a play on the structures of varied mediums, as in Oubapian work; and a conflation of these fraught systems of storytelling, as in Steve McCaffery’s conceptual novel — are multimodal approaches to creating. Not only does each collaboration hinge on the textual and visual forms already established as discrete structures, but each also reveals the active and innate participation in each mode by the other. These considerations can be reinvented in new collaborations, by new approaches, and through re-appreciation of art and writing as a continuous symbiosis of their mediums, their methods, their makers, and this magazine.

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On Collaboration Ciara Stein

I, similarly to many others, consider art to be a form of selfexpression. When I draw, paint, or design anything, I am releasing some of my thoughts onto the page — my portal. Sentiments mix with the fiber of the paper, transforming it into a portrait of some facet of me. The weight of each linestroke bears the weight of my experiences. Therefore, when thinking about art as self-expression, artistic collaborations can seem contradictory. They are divergent to the stereotypical image of the introverted artist. In this theatrical persona, the artist is huddled in a poorly heated room, armed with his pen, paintbrush, or other artistic weapon of choice whilst surrounded by crumpled balls of paper documenting layers of frustration and angst. However, if we shine a light just a bit further on this well-known perception of the “tortured artist,” we realize that more often than not, artists do not work in such perceived isolation. The swapping of ideas through collaboration occurs all the time, both formally and informally. A collaboration requires an artist to relinquish his or her narcissism and individual ownership — that is, to an extent. If works of art — visual, literary, or otherwise — are portraits of their conceivers, than works amounting from collaborations depict a third individual. This third persona is made up of the combined emotional DNA of the collaborators. It is a third face arising from two. Like an androgynous Adam of Biblical times, it is an ambiguous combination, conceived in the image of some higher order or understanding, from or as if from, a singular maker. Marina Abramovic, the deemed “grandmother of performance art,” said of her own collaboration with the artist Ulay, “At the beginning it was very difficult to forget all this ego thing, I, I, I; it was very clear which was each other’s part. Later there was a real symbiosis, a total mixture, so that we could melt everything together, so it didn’t matter who was making the work, or that it should be signed.” Though Abramovic and Ulay were lovers and artistic collaborators for thirteen years, their relationship culminated with The Lovers (1988), in which they each walked 2,500 kilometers from two sides of the Great Wall of China in order to meet in the middle “to say goodbye.” This final project is just one example of how the pair challenged each other. Of a likewise nature, artist George Passmore, one half of the collaborative artistic duo George & Gilbert, had asserted that self doubt is removed in such shared projects, as questions in the creative process can be answered by the other half: “We don’t think we are two artists. We think we are one artist [...] We always say yes to each other.” By stifling the self doubt or hesitation, as George points out, such shared responsibility encourages greater risk and momentum beyond what only one could do.

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Thus, despite my previous apprehension, the collaborative work I have studied and personally engaged with has not resulted in a loss of self-expression. On the contrary, it has challenged my “go-to” artistic habits, and it has expanded my own palette. Collaborative work brings forward a whole new set of ideas—suddenly, the pool of inspiration becomes an ocean. Although this is exciting, it is overwhelming. Thankfully, one has another to cling to during the process.

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Follow the motifs throughout these pages and the rooms of the gallery.

the order of narrative, the process of language, the procedure of work

sequence


body of text and of flesh, as a site of conflict, celebration, and growth

space outer space,

public and private space, canvas space; to be occupied or evacuated, contained or diffused


collaborations


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faith


Faith Tahir Bell + Benjamin Finkel

Senna could not think of the moment he lost his constancy. It might have been on his sixth birthday, when he learned that his brother would not be coming back from the war. Maybe he cast it away with the unanswered prayers he wrought in the dirt. He posited that he may have struck it away just now, resting in the murky purple mud among the dead. Their bodies were sprawled and scattered in the new wasteland as heavy rains beat them further into their graves. Senna stood on the sloppy earth. His plated armor weighed him in deeper. The pouring rain was washing away the filth. He once thought he must seek purpose in the state. They had named him a warrior, and a victor of his enemies. Mages, archers, elves, or any detestable creature that dared — he had won every time. But that mattered very little to him anymore. He knew that any songs reverberating in his name would be forgotten in time. In the present, he could only gloss over the gore in front of him. He looked up to the looming skies. They were thunderous and booming — a deep grey. Deep blue flames burned and twirled. Senna could see bits of dark space and masses of dusty rock. He imagined that they were other worlds. Then, suddenly, he saw a burning piece of metal fall from the swirling sky and into the nearby tree-laden part of the earth. The abrupt impact made him slip. He fell in his heavy armor. He rushed to the site of the crash. Senna looked down into the crater. At the center was a long, flat throng of metal parts that reflected light against the encompassing dark clouds. The pieces smoked, but the heavy rain soon swallowed them. It was a fallen ship. He slid into the crater and felt around the edges of the foreign metal object. He searched for a way inside. When his hand reached a switch, steam rose into the air as a compartment opened. Something then crawled its way out. Senna snatched his blade from its scabbard and stepped back. “Who’s there?” he called. A woman peered out of the opening. She proceeded to crawl out and hummed with every movement of her limbs. She seemed unnatural.

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“Due to a mistranslation in my system’s algorithm, I have fallen off course,” she said as she looked to her ship. Her yellow eyes gleamed. “Repairs must begin, immediately.” “Who are you?” he asked, despite the fact that, in thinking about his fate, he decided none of these interactions mattered. “Faith,” she replied. “I am not from this plane of existence. I am from Earth, a planet located in another dimension.” Senna sheathed his sword, for it was useless against a metal woman. “You need to go home?” He asked. “Yes,” she said. “My metal pieces that have fallen off cannot be reused. I need new metals to convert.” “I can get you metal.” He spoke before he knew what he was doing. She smiled at him. That was something Senna hadn’t seen in a while. Senna spent his days stealing. He stole the heads of spears from the armories. He stole blades, knives, and metal trinkets from smelting stations. When the King called on him, he was now always absent. Many of the King’s consultants thought he should be arrested. Others thought he should be forgotten and dismissed, as there was no place for him anymore. Senna asked question after question about Faith and her home. He learned much from her; they quickly were learning from each other. Slowly, Senna was growing embarrassingly affectionate. He had feared her and hated himself for being incapable of dismantling the strange metal wires that constituted her body — the way he assumed he could kill her — but, his fear was gradually fading away. Soon, he no longer even wore his armor. Instead, he gave it to her — along with his blade. Faith was progressively repairing her hulk with the metal that Senna retrieved for her. She turned the metal into a malleable glue. Senna helped by floating the metal pieces in place: some were used to patch the ship and some were used on the damaged metal body of Faith herself. When the ship was fully repaired, its size surpassed that of the adjacent crater. It towered over the surrounding trees and held immobile against wind gusts that would have blown similar machines back into its pieces.

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It was sleek and shiny. It was ready. “I wanted it to take you longer to build,” Senna told Faith. He hesitated. Then, he whispered, “I want to go to Earth with you.” Faith was silent, but then she turned to the ship and motioned for its hatch to open. There were two seats built in. She smiled. Streaks of blue burned for them in the night sky overhead.

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deflowered


Deflowered Ayla Fudala + Phoebe Goldenberg

One touch is all it took for him to love me. But he is the kind of boy who doesn’t know the difference between carnations and roses, Misreads my pages with his fingers As he traces me in the dark, Doesn’t hear my vertebrae colliding like gravity’s dominos because we’re always lying down, Who macerates me until I’m summer berry pulp, licks his fingers when it’s done and smiles. He tells me that my dirty sheets smell like lavender before he falls asleep. SYMBIOSIS | 2015 | ISSUE 3

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trans(n)lation(al)


Trans(n)lation(al) Caroline Kim + Connie Yu


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light exposure


Light Exposure Maura Reilly-Ulmanek + Connie Yu

1: ROOM OBSCURA alright and we’re live too much light in there do you think where coming in through there coming in through where I can’t there’s a little shadow coming in from there where this side or from here like the cracks I think it’s ok should we reinforce it let’s let’s just no I think much time and I’ve seen like worse ok well here we are do you want to to a all all of the game of thrones I feel pretty horrible I’m already eight years I’m on the sixth series and everybody hates it no no no don’t give me a spoiler don’t give me in sort of academia it’s like I’m here so I’m sure there’s like these kinds of things who are we so full of oh I mean whatever dynamic tension too some element yes that physician that situations sit down yeah yea YEA and on one hand I sure ok I don’t even know where my phone is wow we should call this sleepover and then we should call the sun the sun thing we should call it picnic wow yea this is like so this is so as it as it develops it’s just going to start like look well I love windows simply I love windows as a light source as it as it develops it’s just going to start like look and the effects of that light on the shapes in the room and the shape of the room itself wow yea this is like so this is so the effects of the light on the people in the room and the displayed choices of some artist as to which room we should call it picnic which people to depict with light falling on their faces sleepover and then we should call the sun the sun thing and activities yeah sure ok I don’t even know where my phone is wow we should call this the other thing of course about windows is that they show the outside they show the outside to the in its kind of a menu ok well here we are do you want to sit down of activities an array of weather options much time and I’ve seen like worse and a simple explanation of why you may or may not let’s just no I think want to go out and the window should we reinforce it let’s is the ongoing painting of somebody’s life like the cracks I think it’s ok early film one fixed film you planted your house right there and where this side or from here that’s what you saw and yet other things happened out there that were beyond your control a tree grew or was knocked down there’s a little shadow coming in from there and a building was built right there someone across the way got blinds and previously you might have watched them naked coming in through where I can’t for years what’s interesting is that the painter paints the people inside the house for the viewing pleasure coming in through where I can’t of the people outside outside the painting entirely coming in through where I can’t us it makes of a painting an imaginary window coming in through there and opens a house or a room from the other side thus this dollhouse in there do you think where view of life which is what I like and why too much light retrospectively I think I wanted to see alright and we’re live these people inside have some power

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like yea I think the city should just wow do you see the one can can be like human wow that human is being weird so just not because what was happening is there’s such a coded tie because she doesn’t want her job she doesn’t want something to upset her system come on baby, shut up, what’s the name of your you see the one point of I see it on the lens already what if we start a fire by accident oh god and then we’d be trapped in here ’cause we can’t get out I wonder yea you see that gleam you see that like are we supposed to see that or if it’s supposed to like I think it’s ok there’s always like a yea I think that’s ok have you did you go to the Whitney Biennial mm I don’t think I did it right but there was a camera obscura there and you would be able to see like the New York skyline in the room like sit there for fifteen minutes until your eye developed I’m also wondering if I should move that mountain of yea so they successfully he’s the only other person I told there would be a lot of explaining so you rented a cabin that’s your dream just Vermont my friends weren’t there hmm? you know what would be nice oh shit well my intention just because it’s very cheap five acres for like fifty grand I see what he’s trying to say but you’re like in the desert interact with the desert environment I had a realtor show well the weird thing thing again, are you going to plug the cord, no I want it to do something, what are you doing are you are you SoundClouding it I’m I’m downloading it they need a wakeup call well it happens to everybody it does it it’s a particular personality stripe I’ve definitely seen it before conjugation content the organization yea it’s it’s really and there’s an interesting talked about the sanctuary organizational trauma it was developed, it’s one of these long-range things curled I wasn’t going to see you’re part of one process, but it addresses these problems do you wonder trained edge parallel processing, clock a disturbance, is I do this but like I don’t know where the money comes from meet what happens is that another apartment doesn’t come together very well in Vermont yea it’s a Japanese farmer from the seventies I could do with a cup of coffee [clears throat] same Wi-fi I think gelato from [chuckling] you can aerial drop them so they won’t desiccate or be

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clothes to make way for the city let’s give it fifteen minutes and and how that like, organizational principles, you got it, yea yea yea [cups clanging] [sitcom theme song] nice wishbone you can download it ignore it give you a link I wish you can violent mmhm right and it just proliferates because parallel processes that is just you know how it has to do with core constructions once you connect acting out there’s certain you know or some kind of punitive more at risk and then then we can adjust it’s it’s so weird to think about it’s like it’s there and then it’s not or it’s not there and then and then it is wow and it’s a function of like your own eye not necessarily of this this like yea it’s mechanism like we’re pre- like inside a camera we are this is wild yea it’s such a different it’s so it’s not exactly sinister it’s kind of cozy maybe there are little people inside your cameras yea what should we talk about don’t ask that question the talking is just how was lunch parade is different it’s called holistic management let’s say you’ve heard of house so I I hit that nerve not an option what if this happened to someone who I mean I consider myself somewhat resilient I’m gonna use words like what’s good for the goose is good for the gander I mean and clearly us working in the same small office YouTube design I’m gonna watch House I’m just mostly loading statically that’s fine I got just not and for her to stand and kind of like a Citizen Kane dictator American oh you have that the the movie oh the yea she I don’t know exact sling it’s nice cause American Psycho top film gonna watch that for her because if I didn’t if I couldn’t go to him it like uh putting me right in the face of just putting me in the face it’s almost this kind of hubris it’s almost as if there’s this sense of therefore we don’t have to think think I used one life something so let them graze for coffee or ice cream [violin over radio] [door creaking open] [bells] I mean the guy some of of yea take a look at me now kind of something cold so I don’t wanna drink something cold and be even colder I mean I wanted to get their support but Leslie knew so I said I did well she yea they saw me say that she just she’s the one who texted me later at me now because Leslie was like I thought she was gonna say something on my own, cool, yea this this some of this moaning just blue and just woke me up really taste like ridiculous I’ll get it I’ll get it having investors buy I generally like very sweet cause by itself I don’t get it sugar drink directly or varied violence or [floorboards thunk] I don’t know I have no idea that’s huge it sounds like yea it does sound like it sounds like economy buying or is is more, what we have nowadays is, YouTube cos-play something all-star shit, codependent conversation, like we were trying to protect the organization but also live with Bob’s it’s it continuous no it’s not continuous what can I get for you so now it’s

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And pLeasure eaRly choIces thinGs activiTies Activities aNd anD Window rEtrospectively foR intEresting Light lIfe loVe powEr

And bLinds foR theIr thinG activiTies A iN anD Why wEre arRay treE Love fIlm loVe makEs

Artist pLanted eaRly choIces thinGs activiTies And aNd anD Whats wEather weRe lovE Light rIght loVe somEbodys

And bLinds foR optIons thinG activiTies And iNside anD Was pEople foR treE Light rIght loVe nakEd

2: SUN PRINTS I don’t know that’s my roommate wow have you ever um I don’t know if I’ve talked to you about this but there’s this place I really wanna go to it’s like somewhere around Rittenhouse it’s like a sensory you go to it’s like a sensory deprivation chamber oh my god is it a restaurant or a museum no it’s just just an interesting experience to go through, what I would do, be assertive don’t have anyone supporting me, it’s amazing, you know how to do this OS stuff alone, once you have this idea, well if you want to talk to this person, very direct, just because boundaries have to feel like like a oh my god “I was addition and subtraction: sunlight, bumpy white walls, millions of windows, Cafe Bustelo, my feet, the yellow phone, the foam mattress on the floor, the utility table on rolling wheels, the pink metal edged restaurant table, the mug that I liked, the coffee sock. Throw it away, grinds splashing up, beer bottles (clink), the heel of the bread. My notebook margins, a studio: beginning of a tiny place the whole world is sucked in (pulsing) in and out like a plume. Like gas—like a giant slab of stone anciently budged to let the world in and I slipped out.” dedicated to sensory deprivation like it’s like a uh because you have to be like naked so there’s like a room like a little sitting room and you like put a robe on and you whatever and it’s like spas and then there’s door to the ground sort of and it’s this giant pool and it’s like water with Epsom salts in it and it’s completely dark and soundproof and you just lie in there and you have to like cover any cuts with Vaseline because you become like hyperaware of like pain like the feeling of the Epsom salts the way in water it doesn’t feel like you’re in water apparently that’s terrifying and you have none of your senses so it’s just like you and your mind completely and that’s it and it’s Coffee table, still, center, concentric ellipses and four quadrants for compartments, two axes for base, medium grain and today holding, farthest from the window, books stacked two by two, an anniversary edition tissue box, pouches of varied florals holding jars of cosmetic things, eyeglass case holding jewelry, phone case holding phone, open book at center, empty hot water bottle, half-full coffee jar, mug mass-produced like hand-painted, near empty, now cold water, placemat, plastic bag and dregs of trail mix, used tissue, mine, green mug, back now at farthest end, a cream. 40

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like kind of cool though I think it would be really cool to go in with another person I think it would almost block that experience because then you’d be aware of another person sharing your space yea I’m sure there’s a reason like it wouldn’t just like I think they would both be really cool but like relating to someone if you feel if you’re just like voices The broad yellow-glazed bowl with the holly leaf detailing and twelve clementines clustered at the bottom, three of which are overripe. A Russian nesting doll with her arms all misaligned, the Christmas copy of the Radio Times, a glass paperweight inscribed “VIRGO: 24 AUG 23 SEP,” beside that a two-socket five-metre cable reel from home base. Then, a squat white pillar candle with a stag’s head in gold on its side, the third prong on the left antler worn away. A box of German rum candies arranged neatly in a four-by-three grid. Five missing and the rest forming an “L” shape. A bent lottery ticket with a coffee stain on the top left corner. First twelve numbers: 01 07 08 38 43 49. A few spots of wax, an orange peel coiled loosely. 3: ALRIGT AND WERE LIVE seen any good movies lately The Town blew me away like its predecessor Gone Baby Gone that Ben Affleck also directed last movie I watched was American Psycho on Netflix right before they removed it The Town has lots of great raw Boston footage of faces and corners and a kind of tight lostness that’s particular to my town I have mixed feelings about Christian Bale Ben is kind of the Pasolini of Boston if you’ve ever admired Pasolini’s miles of gorgeous grim looking Italian human faces as a person or as an actor both men read deeply and shallowly which is the true depth of film into the mien of us I don’t know him as a person I contend that in this moment in time Boston is a place we’ve never seen before controversy on how he treats people on set oh really like Baltimore Boston is a particular city and has been allowed to rot and fester in its own particular way and that’s probably vanishing now in the mow down of gentrification but something in it wants to be seen as it’s gone baby gone I feel like method acting the idea that you just like become this person for this span of time like are you then not like do you like if Daniel Day Lewis becomes Lincoln for two months like is he Lincoln like living out Daniel Day Lewis’ daily life Bostonians reflect the hardness of being lied to for so long about the significance of history it just seems like very complicated to say like I’m Lincoln for this month yea and it would impossible you would have to be like so conscious of the deception like everything would remind you like you’re not actually Lincoln a criminal Boston face is doing much behind a rock while pulling on a tennis sweater or something tweed in order to do a job there’s this one screenshot that I took that is so good in the beginning when he took off his weird gel mask oh right and then he’s saying like our lives may seem comparable the nightmare of

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class is Bostons trick or treat all year long I think he’s one of the best actors oh the thing about him is like he goes through incredible body modifications its like everyones a counterfeiter you can’t recognize him physically almost so he works that to his advantage but some of the money is real the dark pleasure is trying to know I don’t know if I respect that more or less because it’s definitely it takes a lot of what’s the word willpower yea it takes a lot of willpower I love that Ben Affleck unlike his luckier counterpart Matt Damon did all the wrong things drug problem dating J-Lo taking lousy parts and then he went home I think both of these guys are from the right side of the river Cambridge not the wrong Boston but once you find yourself on the wrong street as maybe Ben Affleck did you begin to understand the wrong side is the more interesting story and it’s always there to be experienced and read Ben understands noir he’s like he does incredible accents which should be abundant in these times everywhere I go and everyone I meet seems ruined which is why I’m so always upset about the Batman accent it’s time to tell it dark The Town blew me away like its predecessor Gone Baby Gone that Ben Affleck also directed The Town has lots of great raw Boston footage of faces and corners and a kind of tight lostness that’s particular to my town I don’t know why but I mean I just feel that he does he has a very good sort of range Ben is kind of the Pasolini of Boston if you’ve ever admired Pasolini’s miles of gorgeous grim looking Italian human faces both men read deeply like he was incredible in The Fighter and shallowly and I really liked him in American Psycho which is the true depth of film into the mien of us it’s very and the fact that it’s a female director I think I contend that in this moment in time Boston is a place we’ve never seen before like Baltimore Boston is a particular city and has been allowed to rot and fester in its own particular way it reminds me of how in Wolf of Wall Street and that’s probably vanishing now in the mow down of gentrification but something in it wants to be seen as it’s gone baby gone they were like no it’s a satire but so many people genuinely enjoyed it Bostonians reflect the hardness of being lied to for so long about the significance of history a criminal Boston face is doing much behind a rock while pulling on a tennis sweater or something tweed in order to do a job and the types of people who were just like appreciating something that was like sexy and violent but the nightmare of class is Bostons trick or treat all year long being able to say like oh I only enjoyed it because I realize it was a satire on the way the world operates it’s like everyone’s a counterfeiter but some of the money is real the dark pleasure is trying to know I don’t know sometimes I feel like Quentin Tarantino has incredible I love that Ben Affleck I have a lovehate relationship with him unlike his luckier counterpart Matt Damon did all the wrong things yea it’s like there’s an incredible amount of violence drug problem dating J-Lo taking lousy parts but his justification is that violence is fun and then he went home and sometimes I just think that’s a little more honest I think both of these guys are from the

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right side of the river Cambridge not the wrong Boston but once you find yourself something like American Psycho it doesn’t make you me it didn’t really make me hyperaware of the kind of underlying violence of like business class on the wrong street as maybe Ben Affleck did you begin to understand the wrong side is the more interesting story and it’s always there to be experienced and read it made me like excited by it or maybe numb to it a little Ben understands noir which should be abundant in these times everywhere I go and everyone I meet really it really jarred me really yea seems ruined it’s time to tell it dark this switch is gone The Town blew me away like its predecessor Gone Baby Gone that Ben Affleck also directed The Town has lots of these two lights have gone great raw Boston footage of faces and corners and a kind of tight lostness that’s particular to my town Ben is kind of the they can’t have gonePasolini of Boston if you’ve ever admired Pasolinis miles of gorgeous grim looking Italian human faces both men read deeply and shallowly which mum what have you done is the true depth of film into the mien of us I contend that in this moment in time Boston is a place we’ve never seen before like Baltimore Boston is a all the lights have gone then particular city and has been allowed to rot and fester in its own particular way and that’s probably vanishing now in the mow down of what happened gentrification but something in it wants to be seen as its gone baby gone Bostonians reflect the hardness of being lied to for so long about the significance of

cause yours is on history a criminal Boston face is doing much behind a rock while pulling on a tennis sweater or something tweed in order to do a job the nightmare of it doesn’t work class is Bostons trick or treat all year long it’s like everyone’s a counterfeiter but some of the money is real the dark pleasure is trying to know I love all I did was switch it on that Ben Affleck unlike his luckier counterpart Matt Damon did all the wrong things drug problem dating JLo taking lousy parts and then he went have you got a lamp in there? home I think both of these guys are from the right side of the river Cambridge not the wrong Boston but once you find yourself on the wrong Lily, Lil, come on street as maybe Ben Affleck did you begin to understand the wrong side is the more interesting story and it’s always there to be experienced and read Lily, pleaseBen understands noir which should be abundant in these times everywhere I go and everyone I meet seems ruined its time to tell it dark

You do not have to be good: this switch is gone blew me away like its predecessor that also directed has lots of these two lights have gone great raw footage of faces and corners and a kind of tight lostness that’s You do not have to walk on your knees: particular to my town is kind of the they can’t have gone of if you’ve ever admired miles of gorgeous grim looking Italian human faces both men read deeply and shallowly which mum what UNCENSORED nipple selfies: have you done is the true depth of film into the mien of us I contend that in this moment in time is a place we’ve never seen before like is a all the lights have gone then particular city and has You know he doesn’t stand a chance: been allowed to rot and fester in its own particular way and that’s probably vanishing now in the mow down of what happened gentrification but something in it wants to be seen as it’s gone baby This Japanese soup, just in time for the new year: gone reflect the hardness of being lied to for so long about the significance of ‘cause yours is on history a criminal face is doing much behind a rock while pulling on a tennis sweater or SYMBIOSIS | 2015 | ISSUE 3

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The intimate relationship between children and animals: something tweed in order to do a job the nightmare of it doesn’t work class is trick or treat all year long its like everyone’s a counterfeiter but some of the money is real the dark pleasure is Millennials breathed a sigh of relief: trying to know I love all I did was switch it on that unlike his luckier counterpart did all the wrong things drug problem dating taking lousy parts and then he went have you got a lamp in Me, me, me and my therapist: there? home I think both of these guys are from the right side of the river not the wrong Boston but once you find yourself on the wrong Lily, Lil, come on street as maybe did you begin to Oh, that might be the problem: understand the wrong side is the more interesting story and its always there to be experienced and read Lily, please understands noir which should be abundant in these times everywhere I go And the news of his death slightly surreal: and everyone I meet seems ruined its time to tell it dark Who would have ever guessed she wasn’t a pillar of society?

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KEY: 1, 2, and 3: BLACK – Transcription of the first 15 minutes of conversation while waiting for eyes to adjust to room obscura, Fall 2014. LIGHT and BRIGHT BLUE – Transcriptions of overheard conversations at The Green Line Café, Spring 2014. DARK BLUE – Excerpts from Eileen Myles’ blog (http://eileenmyles.com/blog/), stripped of markings (most punctuation and capitalization). “The Town,” October 28, 2010 and “Wide Peep,” July 21, 2011. 2: LIGHT AQUA – Excerpt from Eileen Myles’ Inferno (page 85), 2011. AQUA – Description of nearest coffee table, Connie, Winter 2015. DARK AQUA – Description of nearest coffee table, Maura, Winter 2015. 3: ITALICIZED – Transcription of overheard conversation, Winter 2015. GRAY – Excerpts from Facebook newsfeed, Winter 2015.

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norma


Norma Alec Hill + Ila Kumar


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empty limits


Empty Limits Sara Ramirez + Isaac Silbur

Wait for it Is all I can say Wade in its cold Fogged up hilltop Stillness

Until it fades Until their

This dark Buried in your Brooding I’ve watched it From my Pounding On the glass

Reflecting light

Reflect on days

Tired stories Punch Like pillows On the sand We’re sinking Deeper Into your Silence Claw eyed and Dug up raw Memories In moments come To torment To teach If you will listen But who would listen I found myself sitting lost within it and I watched the words pouring from inside it. I alone can pull me out of it is me is it me is it self or me and I alone can pull my self out of it. Separating shades of self is me I see a shady patch in light. Separating out and watching is pulling me together. I dug up the sand and I filled up the hole again. 52

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aspectabund


Aspectabund Anthony Chen + Hatixhe Kupa

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy I You asked me on your birthday where my ring was. It was well past midnight when the last of your friends left. The sloppy remnants of ice-cream cake were mixed in with seven slender candles. It was a shrine of sorts in my memory. I could inhale the lingering scent of wax. “Did you have fun?” You had nodded, clinging to a stuffed seal you had received. Its stitching was haphazard and its seams were misaligned. According to one of the mothers, Kaley and Anne had devoted an entire weekend to making the ball of fluff. II You asked me on your first day of third grade where my ring was. The drive home from the parent-teacher conference had been interrupted by a detour: I had to drop off my date. She was a pleasant girl and had insisted on coming with me after a long lunch, pointedly remarking that I didn’t trust her after six months. You told her that she sucked. The ring turned fourteen last Tuesday. It is wedged in a cup holder under an Altoids tin and doesn’t gleam like it used to. I inhaled the lingering scent of Chanel No. 5 and remembered. “Did you see Anne today?” I had asked. “Yeah. Why does she always show up?” I had glanced at the rearview mirror. You had held the seal’s flippers, making it wiggle back and forth while humming. “She’s my friend, honey. You don’t like her?” III I waved my left hand at the car.

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“C’mon honey, let’s go.” “But, why?” “We’re visiting mommy. ” You fiddled with the seal on the way over. It looked like it was doing the hokey-pokey this time. “Dad?” “Yeah?” “Does mommy still like seals?” “Mommy loved seals.” “But, how can mommy still love seals, now?” “She still does. And she still loves you.” “Then, where is she? Why isn’t she here?” “She’s out saving seals, honey. They really need her help.” “Maybe, she needs a sidekick like me.” A few couples had picnics on an adjacent hill. Their dogs were yipping. I stood silent for a while, knowing that logic couldn’t help right now. I laid a bouquet of white roses next to the stone seal nestled in the grass. “I think she’d like that.”

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The Aesthetics of Uncertainty Sam Sherman

Editor’s Note: This essay introduces the various implications of wavering uncertainty in our world from a theoretical standpoint. It seeks to ask what it means to counter-psychologically embrace — and take comfort in — unfixed narratives and the multi-perspectival, disjointed depictions of our world. The merging or the blurring of disparities from one indistinct object to the next — and the consequent formation of hybrids — is what we have discovered comes to the forefront in these amalgamations. In the spirit of Symbiosis, this often means the trial of one subjective individual’s mind working to meet another’s. —Gina DeCagna

In the 1940s and 1950s, the splatters and color fields of Abstract Expressionism became the predominant American art form. Regarding the movement, Clement Greenberg proclaimed, “If American Society is indeed given over as no other society has been to purposeful activity and material production, then it is right that it should be reminded, in extreme terms, of the essential nature of disinterested activity.”1 In a world charged with goal-oriented action, Greenberg argued that Abstract Expressionism gave the populace an opportunity to submerge itself in an entirely different place that is devoid of referents to any reality or narrative element. He famously termed this concept “disinterested contemplation.” However, given the aloof quality of such art, it was not long before Abstract Expressionism was challenged, and elements of the real, physical world were reintroduced into the picture plane.2 The story of contemporary art over the past fifty years has in large part been the story of the reassertion of the world in art. One of the most impactful methods by which the world has been brought back into conversation is with the index, which has had wideranging implications both aesthetically and politically. The index is a lasting residue of a transient event in the world.3 1 Clement Greenberg, “The Case for Abstract Art,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993): 80. 2 Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972): 82-91. 3 Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Pierce (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1974), 144. 60

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A quintessential example of the index is a fingerprint — a mark left behind by the fleeting touch of a hand. Yet, the fields of photography, history, and even physics are equally relevant to the index. Photographs, which are impressions of the world taken by light-sensitive surfaces, are indexes. They are enduring fragments of temporal moments of existence.4 Similarly, history — a chronology of moments — is indexical as it is mostly derived from documents that have come to us from the past. These documents are the indexes of past events and actions, and the conclusions drawn from these indexes make up socalled “historical knowledge.” Furthermore, science — the quantitative investigation of the world — does not escape the index but is, in fact, grounded in it. In the laboratory, for instance, data points of a measurable macroscopic property are recorded as a reflection of the underlying microscopic processes of interest. The data points serve as indexes that are used to construct a picture of an event that the human eye cannot directly witness. The implications of the index’s use as a tool for new knowledge in all areas of study — be it art, history, science, or otherwise — should not be overlooked. Given that so much knowledge is based on conclusions drawn from fragments rather than from actual witnessed events, the accuracy of knowledge comes into question and uncertainty arises in its place. Uncertainty is not a uniquely human concept, but rather, a unifying theme in the physical world. It is, for instance, an essential property of quantum mechanical systems — structures of a tiny, often subatomic, scale. Electrons, which have both wavelike and particlelike behavior, obey the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that simultaneously, the velocity and position of an electron cannot be known precisely. That is, as the velocity of an electron is defined with greater precision, it becomes more wavelike in nature, resulting in greater uncertainty in its location in space. Conversely, if a particle’s position is defined with greater precision, it becomes more particlelike, which prevents its velocity from being known. These “uncertain” conclusions are neither the result of imprecise experimental equipment nor the result of human error. Rather, they arise naturally out of fundamental mathematical descriptions of electrons.5 Uncertainty as a physical, not just psychological, reality is therefore an essential component for understanding the universe. Thus, contemplation of the world from the perspective of the index as a starting point naturally leads to the realization that uncertainty is an omnipresent characteristic of the entire foundation of the world that must always be considered. However, we as humans have a natural psychological disposition to avoid uncertainty in an attempt to establish concrete, explanatory narratives. This refusal to 4 André Bazin, What is Cinema? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967): 15. 5 Donald A. McQuarrie and John D. Simon, Physical Chemistry: A Molecular Approach (Sausalito, CA: University Science Books, 1997): 23. SYMBIOSIS | 2015 | ISSUE 3

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acknowledge and embrace uncertainty as a fundamental condition of the world has profound implications for politics and aesthetics. Rather than being open to fluid, reasoned discussion, political leaders and communities often develop increasingly entrenched ideas, which they are unwilling to reconsider or adapt for changing purposes. The resulting gridlock leads to a complete inability to progress. In art and aesthetics, humanity’s rejection of uncertainty results in a judgment-based system of visual principles that guide thoughts on what is “good” and what is “bad.” We are conditioned to quickly judge appearances, and some of humanity’s greatest blunders — particularly discrimination based on aesthetics — arise in these judgments. Rather than realize the suspect nature of these judgments, we tend to internalize them as fact, yielding destructive attitudes whose persistent consequences often end up far outlasting the very attitudes that created them. Incorporation of the index in art has the potential to counteract this culture of judgment by forcing uncertainty to the forefront of the discussion. Use of the index as an art form is rooted in the inclusion of multiple human perspectives in a single work and the subsequent uncertainty that arises from that multiplicity. Much of the art of the past fifty years has dealt explicitly with this multi-perspectival fusion based on various aspects of the world.6 This art has begun to replace humanity’s preference for fixed narratives with an understanding of the essential role of uncertainty and ontological multiplicity in the world. Through art, the world as a hybrid of multiple realities — established by various indexes — can be directly visualized and its inherent uncertainty made more apparent. As a result, art is a fundamental tool for the progress and liberalization of the complex human condition.

6 Some artists over the past fifty years who, I would argue, have dealt with hybridity in some capacity are Robert Rauchenberg, James Rosenquist, Gerhard Richter, Hans Haacke, Robert Mapplethorpe, Glenn Ligon, Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman, Helen Chadwick, Chris Ofili, Richard Tuttle, Sarah Sze, Terry Winters, Arturo Herrera, Nicole Eisenman, Julie Mehretu, and Michael Williams. 62

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Shaping Our Art With Empathy Alina Grabowski

Current upperclassmen at the University of Pennsylvania will remember last spring 2014. By March of the academic year, the university had three student suicides The Kelly Writers House on campus opened up its dining room one day, so that we could talk and feel together in the wake of the events. I remember sitting with people I knew but did not know crying on both sides of me. Afterwards, I walked to the bookstore, feeling overwhelmed and numb at the same time. I searched for the book I wanted, and to my relief, I found it: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. First, to give some background: I was one of those kids who went to writing camp. Instead of playing in a summer softball league or lifeguarding, I chose to spend my time in a moldy dorm room at a Midwestern American university, where I talked with other sixteenyear-olds about literature and writing as though we knew what the fuck those entailed. It was there, at creative writing camp, that I met Leslie. She was my workshop teacher, and probably the most generous person I had ever met. She talked about the fear of never fully connecting with someone, the distance that can never be spanned between two people, because in the end, I am me, and you are you, and there are hidden parts of me I will never peel back. Before Leslie’s class, I had always considered writing a sort of sophisticated pretend, giving little thought to the real world ramifications an imaginary world can trigger. Leslie’s class taught me about myself as a writer: it showed me that I don’t write just to play pretend. I write to search for some human connection, SYMBIOSIS | 2015 | ISSUE 3

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to find the overlap between myself and all the other people I share the world with. At the time, I thought this was a unique and highly sophisticated revelation. I didn’t realize that nearly all artists are looking for the same thing. This is all to say that Leslie stayed with me in the way that people who teach us truths about ourselves tend to do. We are friends on Facebook, which has made it tremendously easy for me to follow her and stay up to date with her news. Last year, I saw in my Newsfeed that her book was coming out. I’m not sure if I’m superstitious, but I do believe that certain books come to us during certain times for a reason. The Empathy Exams was one of those. It is a series of essays that asks what the best way to care for one another is — how we can feel for one another responsibly and authentically. While searching for it in the Penn Barnes and Nobles, I was feeling deflated. I wanted to care so desperately for those around me in the Kelly Writers House and elsewhere, and I knew others did, too, but I felt like I was doing it wrong, or not enough, or maybe just not soon enough. Reading The Empathy Exams helped me feel like all was not lost: we have the tremendous and incredible gift of being able to put ourselves in one another’s shoes. As artists, I would argue that we do this more often than most. Reading this collection of essays made me realize that perhaps art is the greatest catalyst for empathy, because it only takes words or an image for us to imagine ourselves elsewhere, in another time, another body, another situation. But this is dangerous, too. Leslie said of empathy: “Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia—em (into) and pathos (feeling) — a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person‘s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?” As artists, we are often creating our own worlds, our own characters. Does the excuse of the imaginary, of the pretend, give us a free pass on making art out of whatever we would like? Not quite. Consider the following passage from Paul Harding’s novel Tinkers, where he describes a grand-mal seizure: “It was as if there were a secret door that opened on its own to an electric storm spinning somewhere out on the fringes of the solar system […] The opened doorway framed and unbounded darkness. There was the black of the universe surrounding a pinwheel of light.

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Needles of electricity forked out of the whirlpool of sparks. Most of this lightning flashed was gone in an instant. But when one of the charges found its way through the door and into Howard, it stuck fast; it latched onto something inside of him and held and held. In the cold, blasted, numb hours following a seizure, confusion prevailed; Howard’s blistered brain crackled and sparked blue behind his eyes and he sat slumped, slack-jawed, blanket-wrapped, baffled by his diet of lightning.” This is a beautiful description. Stunningly beautiful, even. I cannot forget it, because it was the first passage of a book that ever made me uncomfortable with its beauty. That is because I used to have epilepsy. And seizures were never sparklers lit by the electrical currents of my brain. A seizure was the imprint of the grooves of my school bus’s rubber mat on my cheek after I convulsed off my seat. It was the taste of the blood of my mouth and the gravel of the floor after I bit my lip during an episode. It was the way I first realized that the control we think the brain has over the body is a lie. I believe Harding had good intentions with that passage. But I believe he let the aesthetics of his art overshadow the human experience underlying it. It is easy for me, as someone who has experienced seizures, to point a finger at this description. But reading this not only made me squirm because of personal experiences — it made me squirm because I then wondered, in my own fiction, how many times have I done this? I do not have the answer on how to responsibly empathize, besides the obvious response that we must create art with an acute awareness of —and dedication to — our subject. It is not fair to allow ourselves to write or paint or draw whatever we please because it is not real, because it is a product of our imagination rather than real-life events. Everything we put into our work comes from somewhere. We are all influenced, consciously or not. Nothing exists in a void, and we must be aware that all words and images carry histories within them. It is difficult to take all of this into consideration, but we can do it. Leslie writes of “the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.”

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Many engage in collaboration. Collaboration is a process of working with another person, of imagining together. It is examining each other’s experiences, and experiencing each other’s art. Artists are each other’s best teachers: you have the opportunity to help someone understand your perspective, to teach them the nuance and detail you carry within yourself every day. Empathy strengthens art, because empathy is that very human connection. Human connection is what we all look for when we go to a museum or when we open a book. We may be looking at a painting of a melting clock, or reading about a werewolf, but we are asking to be shown something about ourselves and the world we inhabit. Oftentimes, we are asking to be less lonely: we want to know that someone else has felt alone in a crowd of people, that others have felt guilty for experiencing misplaced sadness or happiness. We want art to take us to places that we know of, yet are foreign (the moon! Paris! a submarine!) while also taking us to places that are secret, yet, all too familiar (shame, confusion, anxiety). If you give your audience emotional truth to grip, they will trust your art more, engage with it more enthusiastically. In Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex, he writes from the perspective of Cal, an intersex male who begins life identifying as a female before establishing his male identity as a teen. Though Cal’s experience is wildly different than my own, the book is one of my favorites because of lines like, “Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness,’ ‘joy,’ or ‘regret.’ Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling,” and, “Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.” I empathize with these thoughts. I realize that, although Cal isn’t like me, he is like me. Empathy can be difficult to navigate, but few things are worthwhile that aren’t. I hope you all strive for the complicated, yet universal, in your work, because these are things we have to acknowledge — these are the things we want to empathize with, because they make us feel less alone. Do our messiness justice. As Cal says in Middlesex: “We’re all made up of many parts, other halves. Not just me.”

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This publication was printed by Art Communication Systems, Inc. in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in April 2015.

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Symbiosis 2015 Issue  

Symbiosis 2015 Issue  

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