The Potential of Leaks

I've recently changed PhD topics. This decision was difficult, and hadn't even crossed my mind until my comprehensive exam supervisor brought it up this past December. It seemed as if everyone, but me, had noticed that my interests were shifting. Inspired by my final piece of coursework for Marc Couroux's class "Contemporary Theory in the Visual Arts" in 2015, my new topic considers the nature of the leak (in all instantiations) and how "leaking" can be harnessed as a means for accounting for assemblages of relations. I had presented an adapted version of this paper in last year's Sensorium SymposiumInterdisciplinary Approaches to Cybernetic Containers. At this point, I was considering the leak as it relates to aesthetic practice. I've now adapted this project even further.

After submitting my proposal earlier this year (granting me official ABD status!), I presented some introductory work on this project at the annual Queen's University Cultural Studies Graduate Symposium, UnDiscplined. Considering the nearly absurd interdisciplinarity of this project, the conference felt like the perfect venue to take my first steps with my newly approved topic. Below please find a brief introduction to this new work: The Potential of Leaks: Mediation, Materiality, and Incontinent Domains. 

"A leak is an emission of contents through a barrier intended to contain – it could imply a disruption to a given flow, a rupture through, a breaking free of contents out of form. Described in this way, the leak can be understood, in its most general sense, as a chain of effects. The vernacular implications of leaking tend to connote either the release of texts (information, images, etc.) or, in a more literal sense, the escape of a fluid. However, the leak also embodies more poetic tendencies – theoretically, it functions analogously to incontinence in philosophy, to desire in psychoanalysis and to the fluidity that qualifies the postmodern condition. It is through these contours; mediation, materiality, and theory, that this project will trace “the leak”. The leak is a difficult subject to account for – it eludes a specific discipline, its meaning is fluid, and its significance, always circumstantial, ranges from the entirely banal to matters of life and death. This project asserts that the amorphousness of the leak is valuable. In exploring the relationship between leaks and mediation, I ask how leaks are represented in media (particularly in art and journalism), and what these representations of leaks imply about their nature? As to not discriminate against the historical implication of the word “leak”, I also consider how these representations relate to material instantiations of leaks through the contexts of failing architecture and ecological conditions. Further, this project explores how the power of the leak may be harnessed, theoretically, as a means for accounting for the entangled, and complicated, realities of actors."

My previous work focused on images of ruins, which may make it seem as if radical shift has taken place. However, I've always felt that my work was about certain processes, or "entanglements", and while my previous object,/site/subject was different, the majority of my theoretical influences have stayed the same. This project, in my mind, has a cohesion and continuity that I have not yet found a way of accounting for (in rigorous academic way at least) - this continuity is there, and I am teasing it out now, but would love to discuss how I see this unfolding with anyone who has wrangled an amorphous research project. Further, I welcome all suggestions of leaky domains that should be explored!

Thank you to Sarah Murphy at Queens who introduced me to the current popularity and concern of "leaky gut syndrome" in alternative medicine circles! A perfect example of how threatening permeable boundaries can be, and how they often are the site of fear - legitimate or not.