Gary Zhexi Zhang (SMACT ’19): Parasite (物流)*

Gary Zhexi Zhang, Parasite (物流), 2018. Stills from digital video (HD color with audio). Duration: 15min 30s.
ACT at MIT

Final Review, Spring 2018
Gary Zhexi Zhang

I open my hands, I want to let go of the slimy, and it sticks to me, it draws me, it sucks at me. Its mode of being is neither the reassuring inertia of the solid nor a dynamism like that in water which is exhausted in fleeing from me. It is a soft, yielding action, a moist and feminine sucking…. Slime is the revenge of the in-itself.
– Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness ([1943] 1969)

Parasite (物流)* is a film about inter-related organisms. The spores of a single-cellular slime mold infect a human population, manifesting as a skin condition which produces strange sedative sensations amongst their hosts, including feelings of loss, openness, and empathy.

The film begins in documen-tary style, shifting into something more intimate, like an epistolary fiction. I am interested in ecosystemic perspectives that account for friction, heat, labor, and work. Symbiosis is something of an abstracted idea; at the level of the system, we evolve together. At the level of the organism, wherever one chooses to draw that line, there is almost never an exchange, almost always a parasitic relationship, a process of learning to live alongside and inside each other, a society of bodies eating away at each other. These associations of extraction and exploitation, hospitality and nurture, interference and disruption animate my practice.

In an obstinate world, slime is the substance of mediality, dissolution, and horror— probably in that order. In “The Solar Anus”, Georges Bataille elab-orates on an excremental cosmogony of cyclical contractions and entropic excess, beginning memorably with the line, “it is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words that each thing is a parody of another, or is the same thing in another form.” Slime is this thing, something like a spider or spit, resistant to representation yet homogeneously represented.

But slime is also a figure of computation, the endurance and animacy of mere matter. As Elizabeth Grosz writes, “Life is the growing accommodation of matter, the adaptation of the needs of life to the exi-gencies of matter. It is matter, the thing, that produces life.” The slime mould suggests this productive capacity through its sensitively intelligent behaviours. Headless and brainless, the slime mold is a body of pure sensation. What is its temporality? It has no capacity to remember, leaving a sticky trail in its wake, as an externalised mem-ory. The slime mould is a mascot for a computational nature, following Friedrich Kittler’s suggestion that, “if you leave out the part of engineers who write little struc-tures on silicon, you see one part of matter calculating the rest of matter.”

Lately I have been interested in the idea of  “engineering encounters”; that for all the talk of other agencies, alien natures, symbiopoeisis and interspecies relations, these gestures are worthless unless there is a capacity for openness and sensitivity for other modes of encounter. It is not enough to say that everything is connected. We are all being eaten alive, and that is a good thing. *物流 (“wu liu”) is the Chinese word for “logistics”, but its characters could be translated more literally as “matter-flow”, with the ox radical (牛) suggesting biological or creaturely matter.