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R.E. de Vos

PhD student
R.E. de Vos

Living with Toxicity: Embodied Toxic Temporalities in Contemporary Culture

This project addresses the aesthetic and theoretical implications of what will be called “embodied toxic temporalities”: it aims to analyse the effects of toxicity on time as it is experienced through and in relation to the body as explored in contemporary art and literature.

Toxicity, here understood as a human-made (by)product that can be either chemical or radioactive in nature, is everywhere today: in the water, the air, the soil, our bodies, the bodies of the plants and animals with which we share the earth. If toxicity’s longevity confronts us with enormous time scales that extend far into the future on the one hand, it is also the passing of time that renders its effects on bodies and environments visible on the other hand. Toxins accumulate in our bones, fat, and other bodily tissue, where they wreak their havoc often only years later in the form of mutations, which may also be passed on through reproduction, affecting future generations as well as present ones, making toxicity a deeply temporal issue. 

These complex temporal aspects – themselves difficult to grasp and multilayered – add to toxicity’s general elusiveness produced by its invisibility and intangibility. Given this tendency for this conceptual vagueness, scholars in the humanities have pointed towards the value of artistic and literary practices through which the relations between the two can be articulated, criticized, and re-imagined. 

What happens when we start to pay attention to the ways in toxicity forms and alters relations to time in the present? What if, as Donna Haraway has phrased it, we “stay with the trouble” and trace the knotted relations engendered and altered by living with toxicity today? I explore this question by turning to the represented body as the central object of analysis for the investigation of how toxic temporalities are recognized and experienced in contemporary art and literature (2000-present). 

Ultimately, underlying this project is the idea that to deepen our understanding of toxicity’s reverberations in contemporary art as well as it effects on mediated, embodied temporalities is also to contribute to further understanding of what it means to live with toxicity today.

Last modified:26 September 2018 08.08 a.m.

Contact information

Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26
9712 EK Groningen
The Netherlands