Heteropolis | Adaptive Actions, ed. | Ancestors [forthcoming]
The Power Plant, Switch On | Unsettled Objects (2013)
No More Potlucks 17 | In And Out of Time: An Interview with Dori Midnight (2011)
Scapegoat 01| In the Presence of Another Being: A Conversation with Wendy Jacob (2011)
N52: On Art + Research at MIT | J. Wheelock, ed | Perverting the Terms, or, Knowledge Production as Extradisciplinary Critique | With A. Upitis, co-author (2011)
Intellectual Birdhouse: Artistic Practice as Research | U. M. Bauer et al, eds | Rodopi | On the Research Paradigm in Contemporary Art Discourse: A Ruse | With A. Upitis, co-author (2011)
cheyanne turions | guest blog post (2010)
On Making Sense: Some Recent Investigation in Time, Metaphor and Ecology. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Master’s thesis) (2010) *UPDATED & DOWNLOADABLE PDF* Made available in honour of Aaron Swartz, 13 January 2012.
Writing Cities 01| C. Dinari et al, eds | London School of Economics and Political Science | Digging, Sowing, Tending, Harvesting (Making War Fair) (2010)
Byproduct: On the Excess of Embedded Art Practices | M. Jahn, ed. | YYZBOOKS | There Are Shitty Jobs Everywhere; That’s My Freedom | With A. Bobbette, co-author (2010)
Vague Terrain: Citizen Engagement and the Open City | E. R. Michaud, ed. | Artefatica | “In the Fall We Plant Bulbs” (2009)
Proposal | A. Mak + A. Novak, co-eds | Skol (2008)
For Ground 01 | “Whispering, Shouting, Singing / Of Course Walls Can Talk” (2007)
Reading Montreal | “Garden Stories: Creak and Spin” (2005)
Excerpted from On Making Sense.
Preface: Oyster Blood and Bones
It is hard to imagine that something is alive when it doesn’t move. When it appears to be as dense, solid, and still as a rock. So it is with an oyster, plucked from its ocean bed. Members of the Mollusca phylum, adult oysters are soft-bodied, slippery animals with a thick, stratified shell. Though fixed to the ocean floor, when oysters are underwater they are not entirely still. They feed with shells ajar, cilia fluttering water over gills to filter out inedibles, snapping shut to expunge them or when startled. Earlier in their life cycles, like their cousins the clams, oysters are mobile mollusks with symmetrical shells. They swim and drift around, looking for a spot to settle. The best kinds of surfaces are rough and hard, rocks and other oyster shells being at the top of the list. They’ll also settle for bottles, shoes, and other capsized objects, but a muddy bottom is death to an oyster, who will sink and suffocate in the muck. Once a juvenile oyster finds a proper resting place, it plants its mollusk foot and excretes a kind of glue, affixing itself permanently. From that point on, the “left” shell of the oyster (so called because of its proximity to the heart) deepens and the “right” shell flattens, the body of the oyster settling in the roomier left side. When plucked from their beds, oysters close their shells up tight, conserving their vital fluids for as long as multiple weeks. Beguilingly still, baroque-edged in grey and off-white, the oyster sits in the hand like a peculiarly shaped rock.
Oysters are delicious, and humans seem to have been eating them for about as long as we have eaten anything. Oysters settle in large reefs in the brackish waters of river estuaries, historically also prime locations for human settlements. There are two ways to get an oyster out of its shell. The first is by cooking it. Exposed to the heat of a fire or a gas flame, oysters will steam cook, and their shells will pop open, exposing a delicious morsel of tender meat. The second way is more complicated and more intense, subjectively speaking. An oyster shell can be pried open with a sharp pointed knife, lifting the adductor muscle first from the right shell and then the left. If done quickly and carefully, the shucking process does not kill the animal. When consumed right away, the oyster will be swallowed with a functional heart, kidneys, and digestive system. For a few short seconds, the oyster is alive inside you.
My first shucking experience, I was in a dimly lit room, surrounded by familiar folk. I had asked a more experienced friend for a lesson, knowing that my initiation would go more smoothly if I knew a trick or two. The oyster in my hand, left shell down and hinge end pointing towards me, I hesitantly pressed the tip of the shucking knife into the pinched crevasse between the two shells. At first the knife didn’t really go anywhere, and when I wiggled the tip, it sent a small shard of shell flying into the air. Pressing harder and trying to get the angle right, I felt my face flush as a wave of anxiety washed up my body. The oyster certainly could tell what was going on. Was it as anxious as I? More, even, concentrating the full force of its will on contracting its adductor muscle, keeping me out. I tipped the blade down again and it suddenly slid in by an inch or more. I felt another wave of ambivalent exhilaration. Stretched between the sadness of realizing my own brutishness and the pleasure of the challenge, I spun the blade around to vertical, prying the shell open. Following my friend’s lead, I slid the blade around the circumference of the right shell, loosening the mantle and slicing through the adductor muscle before lifting the shell off. Dismayed to see that the flesh had torn, the adductor not fully severed, there was nonetheless an urgency: loosen the mantle along the bottom of the left shell, slice the adductor on that side too, squeeze a lemon wedge and slurp! The oyster, sliced, soft, seemingly amorphous, slipped over my tongue and down down my gullet. That clear liquid is oyster blood, salty and gentle on the palate.