{ permeance }


In this project, I would like to propose permeability (or to permeate, permeance, permeation and permeating) as a conceptual lens through which to approach the entanglements of earthly life. In many ways, permeation is similar to the organic process imagined by Donna Haraway as a zoophagous chain of critters engulfing one another. However, I envision permeability also as a mode of operating through principles of physics and chemical processes, as well as molecular exchanges and biological absorptions. In the book ‘Staying with the Trouble’, Haraway also reflects on rehabilitation, or making livable again, if we manage to recognize “the porous tissues and open edges of damaged but still ongoing living worlds” (p. 33). Comparably, permeability can also stimulate exchanges between bodies and natural entities. Through a permeable vision we all, living and non-living, become part of a greater, more penetrable world. The impermeable membranes, so desirably sought after by modernity’s categorizations, deteriorate into a pile of compost which stimulates exchanges of substances, nutrients, molecules and microorganisms.

Permeance also implies an awareness of our participation in symbiotic relationships with Earth. Dismantling our parasitic use of the environment and its forms of life requires us to permeate through them in mutualistic, reciprocal encounters. Anna Tsing in ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’ writes that “we are contaminated by our encounters” (p. 27); we cause and absorb pollutions through our interactions with earthly beings and matter. We all, living creatures, also carry the record of past encounters. This is the key to evolution; it is in the matter that composes our beings that we hold the histories of our contaminations. Not only do we carry pollutants in our biology, in our permeating encounters we contaminate through social interactions and relations to the land—colonialism and extractions are among those practices—generating a “contaminated diversity [which] implicates survivors in histories of greed, violence and environmental destruction” (Tsing, p. 33).

Permeance uncovers the tracks of such happenings, allowing us to look into the past by following contaminations along a chain of events. Tsing states that in order to acquire the necessary skills to be able to live in ruins, we must be able to recognize and accept these contaminations. In contrast, the notion of permeability enables us to trace and understand the ruins we inhabit. This emphasis on permeance as past remains can be aligned to the exposition of contamination as ‘tracer’, as Tsing writes in ‘Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet’: “Our modes of noticing, however, are themselves monstrous in their connection to Man’s conquest. Much of what we know about ecological connection comes from tracking the movements of radiation and other pollutants. Contamination often acts as a ‘tracer’—a way to see relations. We notice connections in part through their ruination.” (p. M8). This research indeed follows a history of pollution, which has been the ruination of both ecosystems and indigenous cultures. Unfortunately, these histories still need to be uncovered, as the ability to notice has yet to be refined by the Western eye. Too often we—in the West—are blinded by our perception that our actions are impermeable. Instead, permeating is only possible if we see beyond our limits and borders: rivers flow between confines; histories of pollution can be displaced but not erased; contaminations can be absorbed but do not vanish; material histories can take you back to their geologies; and along them stories of extractions and colonial violence emerge. Permeating unsilences.


Steffie De Gaetano