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Queer Artist Collective

Parasite (物流), a film by Gary Zhexi Zhang

Alex Foley

Gary Zhexi Zhang is the master of slime. Parasite (物流) begins like the French nature documentaries of the '60s. There are slow, panning shots of riverbeds; the sounds of wind and rustling grasses mix with the breathy narration. The narrator begins by considering the unique behaviour of slime moulds, single-celled eukaryotic organisms that under certain conditions come together and behave as a single organism, a multi-nucleated plasmodia. These slimes exhibit traits of 'intelligence' we once thought only possible in creatures with nervous-systems. Constitutive parts of the slime that have been separated are capable of finding one another and reuniting, they are able to solve mazes, and anticipate periodic negative stimuli. 

After the narrator contemplates this brainless intelligence, there is a shift accompanied by the whirring stage of a microscope, and the film descends into a meditative body horror. We come to understand that a pathogen has spread throughout the populace, with symptoms that range from tingling sensation and lethargy to complete ego death. Moths infected with the parasite lose interest in flying or eating, and pair off to copulate until exhaustion. Human bodies pulsate with slime growths; fingers feed gelatinous excrement into slightly ajar mouths. The parasite is making the boundaries between individuals porous, transmuting the human race into a many-nucleated slime.

Zhang says of the piece, '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.'

I cannot help but think about the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead, with his subtly revolutionary understanding of the nature of subjects and objects. To Whitehead, the object was not an inert thing on which the subject acts, but rather a participant, provoking the subject to action in events Whitehead referred to as 'prehensions.' The object and subject are irrevocably bound to one another, and incapable of existing without one another. As Judith Butler says of Whitehead's theory, 'It is as if everything living has tentacles of one kind or another, and these prehensive activities are part of the organism, not something added on, and certainly not something inessential. They are aspects of the organism, but they are also modes of relationality, open-ended, not fully knowing, bound to the world, seeking to further existence on yet one more occasion.' 

Zhang is imagining a complete breakdown of the subject/object relationship, where the 'tentacles' become so inter-tangled that we cease to be able to find the beginning of one individual and the end of another. It is the logical endpoint of what he explored in his workshop The State of Erotic Communism, in which Zhang explored the dimensions of sensation and the networking of human touch. Participants placed (slimy) wearable devices on their bodies to experience sensation unfettered by the limitations of bodily proximity. There he explored the breakdown of temporality and proximity of touch on a body, here he explores the breakdown of bodily boundaries themselves.

'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 () suggesting biological or creaturely matter.'