Synthetic Becoming – book and exhibition

“On the Fall of Joy” is OBOT’s contribution for the collective publication released in December 2022 by K.Verlag, a Berlin-based publishing atelier, and curated by Lenka Veselá.

OBOT (Our Bodies Our Tech) is a project I started in 2020 with MaddalenaFragnito concerned with a transfeminist and queer perspective in the study of science and technology. OBOT addresses methods to lower the barrier to the production of scientific knowledge by making access to tools, protocols, and data more inclusive and by promoting collaborative inquiry. Starting from questions raised by different gazes, OBOT’s work unfolds between workshops, scientific and technological toolmaking, research, and texts.

The collective monograph Synthetic Becoming brings together research by artists, activists, and feminist technoscience practitioners concerned with sympoietic becoming with hormones and hormonally-active chemicals. The contributors examine effects of industrial, pharmaceutical, and more-than-human production and interplay of hormonally active molecules, asking: What does life re-assembled by hormones and hormone-mimicking chemicals look and feel like? Who are we becoming with them and how can we possibly be with them otherwise? Adopting a decolonial feminist, posthumanist, and new materialist approach, the book embraces queer ecological sensibilities and responds with a series of critical but hopeful provocations that embrace posthuman mutability and articulate our “synthetic becoming” in ways that facilitate caring relations and allow us to envision and enact hopeful futures with and despite these peculiar chemical agents.

Preface & Acknowledgments

The book you are holding in your hands tells different stories about entanglements with hormones and hormone-mimicking chemicals. It is a collection of essays, poetic interventions, and critical provocations brought to you by a group of artists, activists, and feminist techno-science scholars and practitioners united by a shared belief that we are not autonomous, self-contained, and self-governing individuals but porous and malleable, open to change and reconfiguration. A critical examination of the effects of industrial, pharmaceutical, and more-than-human production of hormonally active molecules shifts our attention to our non-innocent chemical relations and at times traumatic and harmful, even deadly, entanglements with them. Studying these effects necessitates our engagement with issues of consent, complicity, and violence attached to the consumerism and extractivism implicit in the production, use, and disposal of hormonally active substances. There is no way out: the ubiquity of anthropogenic chemicals — be them pharmaceutical hormones or industrially manufactured substances with endocrine disrupting properties — leaves us with no option but to live our lives with and against them. This book seeks to facilitate this process of learning to live well in a world that also includes these chemicals.

Like our bodies, books are entities that exist owing to multiple influences, processes, and agencies. Including acknowledgments in books is an important reminder that it is because of a multitude of actors (rather than just listed “authors”) that books come into existence. With over thirty people authoring this collective monograph, acknowledging and expressing gratitude to all those who have supported us as we kept working towards the completion of this book becomes a challenging task. Responding to this challenge, this acknowledgement breaks with the tradition of writing an exhaustive list of all our partners, lovers, parents, children, friends, colleagues, supervisors, teachers, students, academic departments, institutions, and funding bodies (as important and indispensable as their support is for us and our book) and instead acknowledges the contribution of a particular entity without which this book—quite literally— would not be possible: the paper it is printed on. You wouldn’t be able to hold our book in your hands if it wasn’t for this 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. The decision to use paper made of waste collected from recycling programs stems from our commitment to take our material relations seriously. Using recycled paper, rather than paper made of virgin fibers, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and protects natural resources—saving not only trees but also energy and water needed for manufacturing. However, the commitment to use recycled paper comes with several challenges—economic, practical, and aesthetic— and entangles us, producers of this book, and you, dear reader, in a set of relations worthy of attention. Despite being produced from waste, recycled paper is more expensive than new paper from virgin fibers. This is because of the extra steps needed to create recycled material compared to manufacturing a new product. Additional processes include paper collection and recovery, sorting, removal of adhesives, staples, and other things that may be attached to the paper, pulping, and de-inking. Another consideration of concern is that paper fibers degrade when they are recycled, losing their strength and length. As a result, paper created from reused fibers is less durable and weaker. In addition, it is not as soft as paper from virgin fibers, with lower absorbency rates and worse color retention. Since the characteristics of recycled paper depend on the properties of the waste paper used for its production, recycled papers differ greatly not only by type, but even from batch to batch, presenting the design process with multiple challenges. Because of the varying paper qualities and white tones, no standard exists for recycled paper and color-binding proofs are therefore not possible. Moreover, some studies suggest that recycled paper might be less hygienic compared to paper from virgin fibers.1 This is owing to the starches used as binding ingredients, which may serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and germs. Last, but not least— and of particular significance to this book— recycled paper contains increased amounts of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Although recycled paper requires less bleach and other potentially harmful chemicals than virgin fiber paper, it can contain ink residue and other contaminants. Ink, adhesives, and other substances, such as those used for surface treatment of paper and board packaging, are detached from the fibers’ surface during the repulping process. Studies indicate that small amounts of chemicals of concern, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as polyfluorinated compounds, bisphenols, or phthalates, can still be detected in paper made from recycled materials.2 From the perspective of environmental health, the recycling of paper is desirable; however, recycled paper containing potentially harmful chemicals may pose a health hazard to humans.

The decision to print on a more expensive, yet weaker, less reliable, and potentially toxic recycled paper is a commitment that is not separate from, but instead bound within this book and the ideas explored in it—a material choice to acknowledge dependencies, vulnerabilities, and sensitivities of contemporary life extending beyond our individual selves. Inspired by multispecies feminist theorist Donna Haraway’s proposal for more-than-human sympoietic action nurturing common well-being and survival on a damaged planet, our making-with recycled paper marks the commitment of this book to “stay with the trouble” by affirming and embracing impure, inconsistent, weak, and damaged forms of being in/with the Anthropocene.

The launch of the book took place during the exhibition opening at Galerie FaVU in Brno (Czech Republic).

Maddalena Fragnito & Zoe Romano
OBOT (Our Bodies Our Tech), 2022, posters and video 2:40

Photo of Exhibition by Polina Davydenko

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