Viral bodies: ‘are you repeating yourself?’

Jones-Barlow, Katie (2019) Viral bodies: ‘are you repeating yourself?’. Orlando.

Abstract

Are you counting yourself?* We tend to think of a virus as something airborne: a disease that visits us.Yet, the structural qualities of the virus are about digging in, catching on, and spreading outwards. The virus replicates and, as a result, produces parasitical forms beyond its host body. The viral extends to the condition of the photocopier machine, in its ability to replicate images as well as expelling reproductions with a difference. Taking the photocopy works of artists Barbara T. Smith and Helen Chadwick as focal studies, this text explores the historical lineage of the female and the copier; with a specific interest in the subversive materials produced at the point where they meet. In Adjusted Margin (2016) Kate Eichhorn explores the mimeographic qualities of the photocopier and offers examples of how the photocopier helped to expand industrial workplace capitalism, while also galvanise artistic subcultures. Within Western frameworks, women have long been inscribed within narratives of repetition in both professional and domestic frameworks. The workplace copier—its commercial use dated to the late 1940s entangles gender norms, perhaps most literally, as a proxy for the office work undertaken by women. As a result, the act of repetition in place of the female and/or reproductive machine allows for a shared empathy. This essay proposes that the political traces of the copier and the female may be understood as a type of material entanglement, and questions how – despite in the face of the photocopier’s demise – reproduction can be a useful tool for contemporary feminist ontological thought. *This phrase is indebted to Jenny Hval, ‘Mephisto is in the Water,’ from the 2013 album Innocence is Kinky.

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