36-3 / Editorial

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Survivors and Survivalists


Pop cultures of fear mingle with the influence of monotheism’s unremitting redemption fantasies to deliver surprisingly potent visions of apocalypse. Our media landscape is inhabited by the grotesque undead and threatened by a perpetual barrage of meteors and superstorms. [1] Plans are being made to send people on what can only be described as a suicide mission to establish a colony on Mars. [2] Amongst this frenetic cacophony, in this issue of FUSE, we queer the notion of apocalypse and examine the kinds of practices either engendered or obscured by apocalyptic mindsets. While apocalypticism is ostensibly about the impending future, what concerns us here is the type of present it fosters. While we are busy predicting and preparing for a variety of elaborately imagined disasters, what are we are building in the present?

In March of this year, FUSE sponsored Fallout: Visions of Apocalypse, the annual symposium of York University’s Art History Graduate Student Association (AHGSA). Select content from the symposium has been adapted for this issue of our magazine, and appears here in combination with commissioned pieces. In the mix we’ve got zombies, black metal, queer survivalism, Cree language resurgence and atomic bombs. In other words, this is a grab bag of carnivalesque realness, the rowdy party in the middle of the apocalypse that is always to come. After all, in the face of so much doom, what is there to do but get wild and wily?

Apocalyptic thinking has an origin point, and hopefully, an ending. Kathryn Denning provides a brief but somewhat sweeping history of Judeo-Christian apocalypticism, while Natalie Kouri-Towe shows how imagining the queer apocalypse can be a tool for social justice in the present. Atom Cianfarani presents Queer Survival 101 (2012) in the form of a kit and a zine. Starting with the queer skill of building ways of life from the scraps of dominant culture, Cianfarani’s kit provides tips and tools for surviving the first 48 hours after a major disaster. On a conceptual level, the idea of queer survivalism exposes the heteronormative bias of the typical apocalyptic scenario and points towards futures in which we “strategize collectively, share skills and foster collaboration.” [3]

These pages are populated with many different types of survivor. Moving away from abstract fantasies of apocalypse, this issue of FUSE foregrounds complex processes of responding to trauma on collective and individual levels. In the process of reporting on the Toronto Zombie Walk, Richard Moszka casts zombies as “dysfunctional survivors,” [4] and muses on the potential for the grotesque performance of walking undead to push on societal anxieties around illness and death. Jumping back a century and across continents to Soviet Russia, Kathleen Tahk tells the story of a photograph depicting a beleaguered group of survivors of the Soviet Famine of 1920–22. Switching scales and perspectives, Sarah Mangle reviews Jessica MacCormack’s book The See (2013). Both Mangle and MacCormack’s texts bring emotionally saturated, dreamy stylings to the subject of surviving childhood sexual abuse, evoking the layering of memory within bodies, across trauma and recovery.

With “The reports of our cultural deaths have always been greatly exaggerated,” Chelsea Vowel evokes language as a key tool of self-determination for Indigenous survivors of genocide, and calls for an end to the colonial era. Her essay is accompanied by an image folio of Raymond Boisjoly’s ongoing project The Writing Lesson (2011–ongoing), which writes Indigenous languages and histories into the practice of text-based post-conceptual art. Each image is a black-metal-styled graphic presentation of a place name with an Indigenous origin. Reinforcing Indigenous histories and knowledge of the land through both language and pop culture, Boisjoly’s project offers an example of the resurgence Vowel describes.

On a parallel track, we provide here a translated and edited transcript of a talk by Denise Jourdain, delivered in Montreal in September 2012, in which she describes Innu resistance to the Quebec government’s Plan Nord and the Hydro-Québec development projects that it enables. Jourdain underscores the importance of land-based knowledge for the survival of Indigenous ways of life — “in order to defend the land, you must be connected to it.” [5] Lucas Freeman reviews Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater’s film A Modest Livelihood, in which the two artists engage in the land-based practice of hunting.

In a special supplement to this issue, Andrea Pinheiro presents a revision of her project Bomb Book (2012). In its original form, it is a twelve-volume book cataloguing every nuclear detonation since tests began in 1945 up until the time of publication. The name of each detonation gets its own page, and where the name is not known, the page is left blank. For FUSE, Pinheiro presents Bomb Book as a poster, accompanied by a pair of archival images from the US National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Testing Archives in Nevada, transformed into photogravures. The sheer volume of these tests suggests that perhaps the nuclear apocalypse is ongoing, and we’re all already its survivors.

The apocalypse may never arrive as a single catastrophic event. Rather, human life is always at the edge, always vulnerable and precarious and simultaneously robust. Short of full-scale extinction, catastrophic loss does not affect us all evenly, with impoverished communities worldwide suffering the brunt of the havoc wreaked by today’s (un)natural disasters. We dedicate this issue to those who grapple with catastrophe as a key element of the present — the survivors and survivalists.

— Gina Badger, with the FUSE Editorial Committee and AHGSA

[1] Viz., The Walking Dead and zombie everything, including art school recruitment ads; recent films such as Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) or Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, 2011); not to mention the influence of news media, which emphasizes disaster and doesn’t shy off of the superstorm prediction game.

[2] Applications for Mars One, a private space project with the goal of sending humans to live on Mars in 2023, opened on 22 April 2013.

[3] Kouri-Towe, this issue of FUSE, 5.

[4] Moszka, this issue of FUSE, 8.

[5] Jourdain, this issue of FUSE, 7.

Image credit: Raymond Boisjoly, The Writing Lesson: Nanaimo (2012). Sunlight, construction paper, acrylic glass. 20 x 24 inches (61 x 51 cm). Image courtesy of the artist.

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