kinship / 2019

Kin is a wild category that all sorts of people do their best to domesticate. Making kin as oddkin rather than, or at least in addition to, godkin and genealogical and biogenetic family troubles important matters, like to whom one is actually responsible. Who lives and who dies, and how, in this kinship rather than that one? What shape is this kinship, where and whom do its lines connect and disconnect, and so what? What must be cut and what must be tied if multispecies flourishing on earth, including human and other-than-human beings in kinship, are to have a chance?
—Donna Haraway, Staying with the trouble, p. 2

Kinship is an A1 poster depicting ‘spheres of memories’—memories associated with ‘inherited’ objects—tethered to physical points around my home, which is drawn as a blueprint. Each sphere is surrounded by a fuzziness, as a translation of uncertainty and precarity around truth and knowledge. In Bloodlines, the ‘document’ or ‘record’ carries forth the archival evidence of the state. Here, in a domestic space, familial objects take on that role. Emanating from them (the objects) are stories; memories of passed time and past relations, and I am their captive subject. Objects like these are passed down through blood lines enforcing genetic logics of inheritance and pulling them, discontinuously, into affective and temporal relations between the original owner and the current one.

The system of the blueprint, much like the system of the family tree, functions as a system to systemize systems (and it matters[1]). A blueprint is flat and has a technical language: it defines space and delineates between what is inside (unproductive/family) and what is outside (productive/work). Rather, my apartment walls as represented in Kinship are gradations—allowing seepage from one room to the next as well as from the inside to the outside (and vice versa), complicating the legacy of the industrial-age separation that subordinated women in unproductive spaces and condemned them in productive ones. The blueprint is also utilized metaphorically, as something that can be found in one’s DNA, in order to fulfill one’s destiny. However, our destinies are predetermined by these systems (which systemize systems) that dictate rules and roles.

Atop the blueprint, but behind the ‘spheres of memories’ is the phrase ‘biology does not define kinship, kinship does not entail ownership.’[2] Normalized preferences for biological attachments upholds heteropatriarchy as the ultimate family-forming method. This, in turn, dictates rules of inheritance—ownership is being passed down as well as the object itself. As an inheritor, a family member, I am not only being given the object, but the responsibility to preserve biological definitions of ownership. The phrase (atop the blueprint, behind the spheres) breaks these definitions, opening up a productive space of discomfort in an unproductive space, the domestic space, in order to redefine kinship.

Biological attachments are not neutral. In order to examine the precarious definition between ownership and object, the objects in my home have been abstracted into disembodied ‘spheres of memories.’ Within the blueprint, they remain tethered to the real space in which they physically inhabit. Further, the abstracted emotional space they inhabit is translated through a fuzziness that emanates from them. The fantasy of ancestry is present here as well—I am stuck in imagined relations with previous owners and I may or may not be able to unstick.[3] Many of these ‘spheres of memories’ are accompanied by the passed down narratives which is a part of the inheritance. Unlike genealogical research carried out on, I alone contain the knowledge and ability to verify this truth. The precarity of my ability to hold (both the abstracted memories and the physical objects) is a direct reflection on my ability as a worthy inheritor.

How might we ‘trouble’ these narratives and attempt to break ourselves from these attachments? To break from these definitions? Can we unstick ourselves from these kinship objects? Can we uninherit legacies? Whether it is the tree in Bloodlines or the blueprint in Kinship, the systems that we use to organize our families have their own lineages that regulate our kinship ties. Leaving definitions unresolved and uncomfortable (‘bloodlines does not give us data,’ ‘bloodlines is not an archive,’ ‘biology does not define kinship,’ ‘kinship does not entail ownership’) opens up possibilities to redefine that which has become normalized under the matrix of oppression (settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism).[4] In this space of discomfort, we can begin to reimagine and redefine contemporary kinship beyond biology.

[1] Donna Haraway Staying With The Trouble: “It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts, Mathematically, visually, and narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize systems.” P. 101

[2] This is a paraphrasing of Sophie Lewis Full Surrogacy Now.

[3] These words reference Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness: “Good and bad feelings accumulate ‘around’ objects, such that those objects become sticky. Objects become ambivalent in the conversion between negative and positive feeling states: “happy objects” can become “unhappy” over time, in the contingency of what happens, which is not to say that their happiness no longer persists as an impression, available as memory.”

[4] Patricia Hill Collins 2002.