This Is the Sea, Isn’t It?

Commissioned by Mohammad Salemy for the project This Is the Sea, this text was presented at artmonte-carlo, April 2017.

The CIA World Factbook has listed one Belgian-owned ship that flies the North Korean civil ensign.

Even the two largest landlocked countries in the world, Cambodia and Mongolia, have been offering flags of convenience to foreign-owned merchant ships since the mid-1990s.

Registries are often run out of office buildings in countries other than those nations whose colors flag the vessels, managed by corporations that specialize in engineering legal leeways and anonymous mobility like no wishful cyberutopia could promise.

There is a history of how compositions of venue and vicinage can pave the way for a walk, arranged to escape trials, right across the narrow strips of near-impunity.

Before 1548, the English jury did not have the power to pursue cross-county homicides.

The Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice or, simply, the Murder Act of 1774 secured Britain’s supreme authority over the American dominions, maintaining the principle of local jury trial.

Yellowstone National Park, one of the first of its kind, overflows the almost impeccably rectangular territories of Wyoming into the neighboring Idaho and Montana, preserving a potential death zone, a federal enclave immune to the enforcement of state law, reserved for the perfect crime (Brian C. Kalt, “The Perfect Crime”).

The suspension of legal command is still looming in the loopholes that, 370 kilometers away from the shore, float in the high seas of evasion and efficiency.

A shade of gray folds back on another, waves of indeterminacy stratify into zones of exception.

On the horizon rests the utopia of independent jurisdictions, looping whirlpools of self-regulated counter-sovereignties, proxies for secrecy…

The platforms of floating seasteads are raised to let the consequences of every action or transaction exceed the limits of maximum entropy, leave behind the retroaction of an ex post facto law, deviate and descend, discover new regions of disorder, dissolving in the patterns of the wild tides.

A company’s solid performance should match a solvent’s molecular capacity to dissolve the grains of debt into smooth solutions.

The logics of fluidity through the ducts of global capital often recommends meeting insolvency with enforced liquidation. The logistics of flux necessitates an extended process of molecular intensification, passing through unheard-of potentials for full-fledged sogginess as phase transitions that pursue the principal ends of entropy dissipation.

Planting loopholes into the ducted network is an alternatively oversaturated solution, formed by flowing in directions more varied than those defined by entropic tendencies, which slide into an equilibrium of perfect internal disorder.

Loopholes are isolated infinities. Popping up infinitesimally and folding inward infinitely, they stir the network, further complicating its whirling turbulence to no foretold end.

A system too loopholed to stay inside its enclave, or to remain well demarcated from a surrounding environment, spills over into the looping infinity of sub-spiraling special administrative regions.

Growing complexities take advantage of defined boundaries, displacing them not by pushing back or forward, but by folding them deep in or far out.

The high seas warp the mainlands.

Trafficking slaves from the Swahili coast to the Arabian Peninsula, Omani ships sailed off into isolation, at the height of the Sultanate in the 18th century, unmoored into independence from land-locked state institutions, and developed on-board tendencies, whether cultural, idiomatic or sexual.

Xaniths in Oman, Hijras in Pakistan, Mashogas in Kenya… Washing up on coasts that border on the Indian Ocean and turning inland, gender fluidity is a feature of maritime identities. Not mermaids springing from the shape-shifting volume of the sea, fantasies stemming from heterosexual frustration and melting away into watery fairy tales, but exercising their being as doing, they originate in the characteristic versatility of marine societies (Ahmad Makia, “Treading Gulf Waters”).

Carried over to shore leaves and pouring into the land are relationships and practices born at sea, the registered birthplace of lives delivered on the ships surrounded by water.

Some would say that amidst the transoceanic nightmares that colonialism induced in and out of wakefulness, certain gifts were also granted, right on the deck, an “anarchic mix of sailors and slaves and riff-raff plying the waves… humming with creolized languages and music and preindustrial visions of the Rights of Man” (Michael Taussig, “The Beach (A Fantasy)”).

The water gleams in the first rays of a rising sun. What else is carried over to the shore by the approaching waves?

For the slightly indeterminate purposes of this text and the context it shares with the contemporary state of plastic arts, it would sound almost nothing short of corrupt to invest even a single line in a vain attempt to engage with the ruthless currents that fatally devour the lost futures of millions of tormented souls on the run and in search of a refuge, whose bodies often end up washed up on coasts.

Not a message in a bottle, but the plastic bottle itself is plastic enough. Although lauded as the very idea of its transformation, branded by the promise of tracing the movements of a shape in flux, plastic is nothing but a container, acting as “a sealant, a barrier… materializing the desire for impenetrability, for objects, bodies, and selves to be discrete, for categories not to mix, for a monadic identity separated from its environment” (Heather Davis, “Life & Death in the Anthropocene”).

The pressures of molecular obduracy exceed the excitations of formal versatility. This is a war of polymers, waged by a more commercial than scientific matter that is best deployed by the chemistry of biofinance.

The only shape traceable in its reluctant footprint is that of a still extractionist capitalism, rejuvenated in the substrate spirit of a cheap substance and the conditions for a commodity society post WWII, which is still struggling with the sporadic waterspouts of the neo-Empire — surely more frequent than their meteorological counterparts.

The will to conquer distant territories, once resisted on an unprecedented scale, folded back into a river of black-boxed vortices, unpredictably flooding its banks.

If fluxional self-regulation bounces off the “inmost end” (Brian Massumi, The Power at the End of the Economy), if the molecular scale is where the capitalist frontline is drawn, then what are the chances for bypassing the middle phase of liquidity altogether? What does it take to organize more directly across the full spectrum of intermolecular extremization? The seasick dream of phase transitions: a politics of deposition, a politics of sublimation.