Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Mermaid
Austin McQuinn, Vox Materia, 2018

Thirteen ways of looking at a Mermaid.[1]


1.   Hydrofeminism 

2.   Being a Hybrid

3.   Flowing

4.   Mirroring

5.   We Ourselves

6.   Body to Body

7.   Combing

8.   Transspecies

9.   Laughing

10. Becoming Double

11. Body Language

12. Sympoiesis

13. Singing




1. Hydrofeminism.

 ‘We are all bodies of water...What might becoming a body of water – ebbing, fluvial, dripping, coursing, traversing time and space, pooling as both matter and meaning – give...?’[2]

Astrida Niemanis


Hydrofeminism is both an awareness and an assertion of the fluid nature of being in and of the biological world, of being singular in a complexity of circulation with other fluid water based bodies, female, male, animal, microbial, bacterial, creative, productive and destructive. Alice Maher’s work is examined here in light of Astrida Neimanis’ provocation to think of ourselves and our identities not as isolated beings but as microbial, biological organisms, sharing air and liquids with other water-based entities, hybrids and bodies of all kinds. The fluid body, writes Neimanis, ‘is not specific to women, but watery embodiment is still a feminist question; thinking as a watery body has the potential to bathe new feminist concepts and practices into existence.’[3] Fluid bodies generate fluidity of thought and offer potential creative escapades into a type of giving of something of the self, a symbiotic sharing and making of materials, bodies and ideas.








2. Being a Hybrid.


Being a hybrid means being messy, impure, heterogeneous and involved. Biological hybridity is messy because it allows for bacterial accident, confusion and copulation with other fluid-bound beings. Being a hybrid generates new worlds. In a hybridized world, nothing is pure. Purity, or singularity, is impossible because everything is involved with everything else, meshed and melded in a constant oily state of becoming itself. Being a hybrid is not just an unlikely union of two elements, like a mermaid. Woman and fish are only two elements in a more slippery set of relations out of which the mermaid appears, as a real idea. The creature lives and breathes in and out of water with her attributes such as her tools of comb and mirror, her bacterial life systems and her thoughts and desires. She is water-borne and of this planet, not divine and not without material weight. This note is important in that the mermaid may be imaginary but she is a secular creature: she is not a saint, she’s not a miracle worker, she has no powers. But she is a real idea.


Mermaids appear first, it seems, in the sailor’s imagination, then on prows of ships and on whale bone carvings and maritime mappings. Alongside these fitting contexts the mermaid also appears in medieval carvings in Irish inland churches, on vellum manuscripts in monasteries and eventually on celluloid. This hybrid creature is always already hybridizing herself with other materials, contexts, ideas, languages or politics of becoming that transcend the minor details of the technicalities of her existence and instead embrace the necessity of her presence in a sailor’s imagination, a monk’s imagination and, now, in our imagination. Hybrids are traditionally and academically perceived as a this-and-that, a dualism. Nature/culture and human/machine are dualisms that have generated much discussion about what can be called hybrid and what they can mean. Until now. The idea of a hybrid as a clean and identifiable union of this-and-that and especially of the nonhuman “other” is no longer sustainable. Why? Because the world has revealed itself to be a vast network of entangled life which is becoming unsustainable because of human action. We can no longer maintain notions of human exception to animal vulnerability. We must acknowledge human destructive dependence on natural and technological life and we must open ourselves to the flourishing discussion on the messiness of what constitutes embodied consciousness among species. 


Collapsing worlds produce hybrids. In the medieval age, the dark age of flux, multiple hybrid creatures were borne from sophisticated imaginations. The Manticores were first to arrive as man-lion-scorpion hybrids, majestic in their blue pelts and attendant threat of annihilation. The Cynocephali were a dog-headed human fantasy that gained ground because of their intelligence and physical prowess. More passive, and perhaps more relevant here, were the Skiapodes, who sported one leg and one large foot which they used to shelter from the hot sun. They appear naked in manuscripts holding up their enormous foot, contradicting reason and igniting imagination. The race of Blemmyae were supposedly discovered in “Africa” and other New World territories. They were well documented as having no necks or heads but faces in their chests. As a warring tribal people, not having a head was an advantage because decapitation was not possible. But one could say they, and the Skiapodes, are technically not a hybrid. The latter have a single big foot. Blemmyae are not hybrids of this-and-that. Theirs faces are simply in the wrong place. Based on standard logics of Hybridity this is true. They are technically ‘monsters’. But in these pages, which are framed by the art work of Alice Maher, I want to loosen the strictures around the ways we think about hybridity and show how Maher has given us stepping stones across moving, fluid theories of what it might (or might not) mean to be a stone/cloud/woman/artist/fish/thorn/snail/star/nettle/goddess/tongue/mountain/turd/tower/child/baobab/gut/blackberry/bee/dress/magdalen/ostrich/stake/ice/bed/hedge/ledge/garden/surgeon/monster/human/animal.


The means and politics of becoming hybrid are multiple, inky, and sprawling. From a hydrofeminist viewpoint, Maher’s art work releases ideas about what it might mean to be a hybrid (which we all are, as we shall see). Her praxis asks for an openness, a relaxing of all fixed ideas of identity and a warming of bacterial-level excitement about thinking about being a thing.




3. Flowing


In me everything is already flowing and you flow along too if you only stop minding such unaccustomed motion, and its song. Learn to swim, as once you danced on dry land, for the thaw is much nearer at hand than you think. And what ice could resist your sun? And, before it disappears, perhaps chance will have the ice enflame you, dissolving your hardness, melting your gold. [4]

Luce Irigaray







4. Mirroring

The medieval carving of a mermaid on the sacristy wall of Kilcooley Abbey near Thurles in Co.Tipperary shows the woman-fish with her technologies of becoming herself - her comb and her mirror. She faces us and faces her mirror towards us. A woman with her mirror has traditionally been interpreted as a sign of vanity and, therefore in a church context, sinful. Indeed, unless the woman on the wall/altar/niche of a church is a virgin then she is there most likely to illustrate how deceitful and threatening the female sex can be. A mirror wielded by a woman is a weapon for male destruction. However, there is another way of looking at a mermaid.


As a hybrid creature with a hybrid name, the mermaid’s tools of mirror and comb become her technologies. She becomes extended by her objects which empower her to control how she will be perceived and how to perceive her world. As a creature of fiction, she becomes a cyborg, a hybrid of body and technology, flesh and machines for looking and being. When Donna Haraway wrote her ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ she called it ‘an ironic dream of a common language for women in the integrated circuit.’[5] Haraway’s vision was to see women and technology as cybernetic organisms in a socialist-feminist context where, she says in the twenty-first century, ‘we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism.’[6] Haraway called for an embracing of biology and technology as the route to empowerment for women, of ‘seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.’[7] By seizing the tools of power the cyborg gains access to the power of signification, of depicting themselves not as men see them but as how they see themselves, or through what Jill Solloway has called ‘the female gaze’.[8]


By looking and devising strategies of overcoming oppression and being empowered, through technology for example, the (female) cyborg overcomes the boundaries of the body and rejoices in ‘the illegitimate fusion’ of flesh, mind and machine. Before rejoicing in cyborgean possibilities and freedoms, Haraway takes a moment to reflect on the nature/culture of dualisms – mind/body, male/female, right/wrong, maker/made - that have dominated Western perception and which, she says, ‘have all been systemic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of colour, nature, workers, animals – in short, domination of all constituted as others, whose task it is to mirror the self.’[9] This self is the God-made man as a mirror of Himself, the one beyond domination, autonomous, singular and pure. To be Other is messy, multiple, creative and fluid.


What contemporary digital technologies have achieved, according to Haraway, is to challenge the purity of the maker, because ‘it’s not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine…we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras. Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communications devices like others.’[10] The outcome of these ‘experiences of complex hybridization’ Haraway says is a liberation from the matrix of dualisms which have defined our perception of ourselves for so long. Instead, if we are willing to depart from the ‘mundane fiction of Man and Woman’, becoming a cyborg or a hybrid opens experience and thinking into uncharted waters. Here oily sets of new relationships emerge and flourish but not without agency. Haraway concludes that “the machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment…We can be responsible for machines: they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they.’[11] Therefore, cyborg bodies, our current state, are always involved in identity and power – of images, of languages – and, like all traditional fusions and confusions, like all monsters or mermaids, they/we define the new limits of identity. One way of remaking boundaries is through art, the mirror that predates all mirrors.


When Alice Maher sets out to make an animated drawing she becomes cyborgean in her choice of machines – her body, white paper, a pencil, an eraser and most importantly here, a scanner. The scanner becomes the mirror of her process of liberating the material drawing into a technological extension of herself through her hand via the pencil, creating and erasing an image, which at chosen instants the scanner is used to capture and record. By turning the lens of the scanner into a tool for processing her imagery Maher usurps the traditional Platonic view of the mirror as a limited mimicking device (unlike the lamp which, Plato insists, illuminates). Instead both Maher and scanner become uniquely cyborgean under Haraway’s terms. By placing each drawing stage on the glass/mirror/scanner and then joining those scans together to make a projected animation, the artist illuminates her drawing into action and transcends the intended purpose of her tools.


The meetings Maher instigates, in the form of artist/material and scanner/digital technology, reveal images of the monstrous, the marginal, the sexual and the mythic. For example, in Flora, an animation from 2009, the projection opens with a drawing of a squat bird with a woman’s head who morphs, somehow, into a rock which bleeds and becomes a temple crowned with leaves (figure 7). Furniture, fluids, animals, vegetation and humans meld into each other in this procession of hybridity. Snail shells give birth to people with antlers instead of breasts. A woman stands upright through a lying man’s body. They slowly become covered in hair which sprouts wildly out into a mass of energy. Then they are naked and then they are covered in dots, then insects which swarm and disappear. The erasure of each drawing marks the paper as the processes of creating images and destroying them is repeated until the final motif, an egg, is erased and a cloud of rubbed-out graphite is all that remains.


In another animation, The Music of Things (The Double) (2009) there are more antlers protruding out of chests (figure 8). People become tables and there are many births. Some hybrids are made up of three or more elements, like the twins whose heads become trees while they give birth to snails. Often two figures look intensely at each other, sometimes they look intensely at us. A sphynx breast-feeds three decapitated heads, discards them, looks out at us and then dissolves into water. The artist is using her technologies as a way of looking deeply into a fluid mirror, always in flux, always in a state of becoming, ephemeral, seen briefly and then gone, like a mermaid.













5. We ourselves.

We ourselves are sea, sands, corals, seaweeds, beaches, tides, swimmers, children, waves, ...seas and mothers. More or vaguely swelling like wavesurge indistinctly sea-earth naked, and what matter made of this sea-rth would deter us? We all know how to finger them, mouth them. Feel them, speak them.[12]


Helene Cixous and Catherine Clément









6. Body to Body


Water as Body; water as communicator between bodies; water as facilitating bodies into being. Entity, medium, transformative and gestational milieu. All of this enfolding in, seeping from, sustaining and saturating, our bodies of water...We ebb and flow across time and space – body, to body, to body, to body.[13]


Astrida Neimanis



7. Combing.

Alice Maher’s drawing Andromeda, (1999) and her series of coiled hair drawings of this period all present hair as ordered, always combed, having passed through some system of taming, control and then released to become potentially knotted and tangled, though we don’t see this process (figure 9). Even in the monumental Ombres, (1997), baroque charcoal representations of hair-covered bodies and constellations such as Coma Berenices (1999), these hair drawings have a kind of luxurious order to them. They are sensual but every hair is in place. Even in Keep (1992), Maher salvaged real human hair, from hairdresser’s floors, which has already passed through the combs of countless women (figure 10). She plaited this strangely abject material into long ropes and fashioned them into a tower sculpture. Standing in the hair tower was an uncanny experience. It was an immersion in both a mesmerizing object of power and a pillar of human detritus. Both as material and symbol, hair has been a constant concern and resource for Maher, representing a lexicon of art historical and socio-political gendered references. Combing hair, real or virtual, becomes the means through which Maher explores and expresses what it means to be a politicized social body, a codified (female) body, a natural hybrid or mythic body (like a mermaid) and an abject body of material matter in a state of constant regeneration and becoming. 


To comb is to take control. It is not about vanity but a method of maintaining the hirsute body. Hair pushes out from the body, from the head, the face and all over the body, growing and dying in an endless cycle of reminding us we are mammals before we become humans. Neolithic bone combs from 6000 BC mark the beginning of hygiene. Hygienic practices of combing fleas, nits, lice, crabs, dirt and oil out of the hair and off the body marks the emergence of the human, of homo sapiens. Neolithic people made combs before they made anything else domestic like pottery. Combs made of bone are among the earliest finds of objects that defined the new tool-making species. Neolithic and Paleolithic people concentrated their energies of staying alive by hunting, combing themselves and making art. Combs and musical instruments appear alongside arrowheads and painting as the technologies of the cave. Animals and humans were entangled at every level of being and the tools are testament to this mesh. Combs were made of animal bone, ivory, fish bone, horn, tusks, antler and tortoise shell. By keeping the body clean of unhelpful microbes, through combing hair and cooking food, other useful bacteria were allowed to flourish inside (the gut) and outside (the skin) and so the human body began to strengthen.


According to Lynn Margulis, bacterial life determines all life in an eternal circle of symbiotic living and dying. Accidental matings of different kinds of bacterial and microbial cultures generate new orders of species, creatures and hybrids. She describes her view of the history of the living world like this:

‘Cellular interliving, an infiltration and assimilation far more profound than any aspect of human sexuality, produced everything from spring-green blooms and warm, wet mammalian bodies to the Earth’s nexus.’[14] For Margulis, bacteria are sexually liberated, transgressive entities. They roam freely through different kinds of fluids and gain complexity, even at a genetic level. The origin of the human is a bacterial accident, she says, and everything after that event is elaboration. She explains that ‘the bacterial cell, today’s minimal unit of life, self-maintenance, and reproduction, is where we must begin.’[15]


By thinking bacterially above all, Margulis began to notice ‘the abundance of symbiotic encounters in nature, especially bacteria living together with, and sometimes inside cells of insects and worms. This ‘living together’ or ‘sym-biosis’ suggests some ways of looking at the origins of life, our life, through our bacterial ancestry. We can look at what we have in common in paleobiology, the study of micro fossils, how volcanic activities generate bacterial developments, chemical shifts and accidental ruptures but keeping in mind that no gene, no DNA can ever exist or have existed outside a bacterial ‘host’. Therefore, there is nothing ‘pure’ or individual in the plasma of the bacterial world, in spite of the centuries of research into the origin of life. Bacteria are creative and generate anew, and what Margulis refers to as ‘symbiogenesis’. [16]


She outlines her origin theory straightforwardly here: ‘First, a sulphur- and heat-loving kind of bacterium, called fermenting “archaebacterium” (or “thermoacidophil”), merged with a swimming bacterium. Together the two components of the integrated merger became nucleocytoplasm, the basic substance of the ancestors of animal, plant, and fungal cells. This earliest swimming protest was, like its descendants today, an anaerobe; that is, it was poisoned by oxygen. It lived in organic rich muds and sand, in rock crevices, puddles, and pools where oxygen was absent or scarce. Animal, plant and fungal cells are all nucleated cells because, watery and translucent, they contain a visible nucleus. Fungal cells include those of mushrooms and yeasts. In plants, animals and some funghi and protoctists, the membrane-bounded nucleus disappears as the membrane dissolves.’[17] The processes of becoming a microbe is further complicated by cell division and multiplication until eventually ‘the oxygen-breathing three-way complex (acid-heat lover, swimmer, and oxygen breather) became capable of engulfing particulate food. Complex and startling beings, these cells with nuclei, swimming and breathing oxygen, first appeared on Earth as early as some 2,000 million years ago.’[18]


For Margulis, not much has changed since then. All is a continual repetition of the mutating, copulating, accidental nature of what happens when fungi meets mud meets water meets heat. We, mammals, are massive complex derivations of these messy molecular excitements and entanglements. We are living cell-based organisms, highly complex descendants of millennia of symbiogenesis and we still function, primarily, at a bacterial level of survival. As living hybrids, maintaining the balance of bacterial and microbial health has become our unique talent. Bacterial maintenance now requires elaborate tool systems of medicine, industrial levels of food production and sterilized mud-free environments. These tools have their own origin histories which developed alongside and in tandem with human histories and bacterial histories.


Developing bacterial health meant developing the tools to maintain the body as host for inner and outer balance where the skin is a delicate membrane and meeting point of other cells, other bacterial life. The hairs in the nostrils filter and defend the body as best they can. Body hair grabs and sheds microbes that otherwise would overtake skin structures and begin cellular invasions. In the actions of shaving, grooming, cleaning, brushing, cutting and combing, hair hygiene is broadly a method of becoming human. The human body is a site of multiple, bacterial actions which generate reactions and is already a hybrid of many generations of couplings, imaginings, accidents and environments. By combing, we must first shape ourselves and then we can succeed in mythologizing ourselves, through art, in and out of the mud and in and out of the cosmos.






8. Transspecies.

Few things are more planetary and more intimate than our bodies of water. New feminisms thus must also be transspecies, and transcorporeal.[19]

Astrida Neimanis








9. Laughing


You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing...I, too, overflow;... my body knows unheard-of songs...She alone dares and wishes to know from within, where she, the outcast, has never ceased to hear the resonance of fore-language. She lets the other language speak—the language of 1,000 tongues which knows neither enclosure nor death. To life she refuses nothing. Her language does not contain, it carries; it does not hold back, it makes possible.[20]


 Hélène Cixous,





10. Becoming Double.

Symbiogenesis, is a hybrid word (Greek: σύν syn "together", βίωσις biosis "living", and γένεσις genesis "origin or birth"). Hybrid words and hybrid languages emerge out of hybrid bodies, out of sympoiesis, out of making-with. These expressions of experience are fluid forms of communication and are global. If spoken languages are hybridized then so must art languages be and become hybrid. Equally Alice Maher’s lexicon of drawing, painting, bronze work, bees and snails, beef hearts and lamb’s tongues, print inks and artificial trees can be read as hybrid/hydro methods of communication. For example, look at the sculpture Double Venus (2005) (figure 11). For this piece, Maher delves down into the mess of the mythic and the abject where art, technology, myth and matter converge in an oiled and sliding set of relationships. The “Venus” in question is based on cast bust of Canova’s original Venus (1810), where the goddess is hiding her naked body and looking nervously over her shoulder. Here, in Maher’s reconfiguration her gaze is turned into a gesture of enquiry, confident and not passive but still a goddess. Maher interrupts Venus’s autonomy by doubling her image and physical presence and then transforming her classicism into a poetic aberration of transspecies mutation. Out of the back of one Venus head emerges a muscular section of a snake-body, anaconda-like, twisting once and then entering the head of the double Venus. In this moment, materialized in bronze, the layers of art history, mythology, goddess cultures, classicism and visceral body-to-body transmissions are played out in extraordinary ways. Maher uses bronze casting in a very immediate, urgent method of manifesting ideas. Bronze as a material, for Maher and other artists like Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick and Rosemarie Trockel, has properties of fluidity, malleability as well as the possibility of diffusing its own histories as the classical material of male art power.


In the Double Venus, just as in the interpretations of Bosch’s garden, Maher is unafraid of meshing classicism, hierarchies of human and animal and liquid histories.  By bending and reshaping the Canova piece to her own vision, she becomes strongly hydrofeminist where all experiences of ‘woman’ as being/becoming/bacteria/animal/goddess/sculpture collide. The Venus, as a real idea, having been born of sea foam, now becomes a hybrid with a snake body (like a mermaid), molten bronze, concrete plinth and most importantly, a philosophical question of selfhood. By becoming double, through a snake/muscle head extension, Venus becomes a hybrid of herself and all that surrounds her. She is no longer individual, god-like, or even beautiful. She becomes altered in a Deluzean sense of becoming where everything is changing, mutating, connected and imminent. In ‘What is Philosophy?’ written with Felix Guattari, Gilles Deleuze states that: ‘Becoming is always double, and it is this double becoming that constitutes the people to come and the new earth.[21]. Both Venus heads look in opposite directions, the female gaze becomes omni-directional and still connected through the snake-body head-organ. Female head hybrids (Medusa, Gorgon) alongside woman-reptile-fish hybrids (like a mermaid) can be embraced, and even reclaimed, as imaginative, timeless, elements, infusing and informing the the new field of hydrofeminism. By becoming double, the Venus indicates the beginning stages of becoming-multiple, a desire to fluidly extend out of the embodied mind into multiplicities of selfhood.








11. Body Language.

Watery bodies sustain other bodies, but biological life buttresses our language, our ways of making sense of the world, as well. Hydro-logics suggest to us new ontological understandings of body and community, but how might feminism ensure that this aqueous understanding of out interbeing become not another appropriation and usurpation of the more-than-human world that sustains us?[22]


Astrida Neimanis



12. Sympoiesis


Where the theory of symbiogenesis stays close to the biological moments of origin, of becoming a hybrid of this-and-that, Donna Haraway develops Margulis’ idea of creating or making into a broader activity of making something with multiple others.  This she calls sympoiesis: ‘Sympoiesis is a simple word: it means “making with.” Nothing makes itself; nothing is really autipoietic or self-organizing. Sympoiesis is a word proper to complex, dynamic, responsive, situated, historical systems. Sympoiesis enfolds autopoiesis and generatively unfurls and extends it.’[23]

In Haraway’s biological examples of her theory she describes relationships of oceans of co-dependent bacteria and squid for example where entities and organisms have developed in such a way as to be dependent on each other in specific contexts and necessary to each other’s completeness or ‘becoming’. She writes about the bee and the orchid example where, in order to pollinate itself, the flower has developed to mimic the characteristics a male bee seeks in a female. But her larger point is to extend this theory out from the molecular and the microbial and expand into all experiences and systems of life to look at how entities fit together, how they cooperate, or not, and how the webbing and interdependence, this sympoiesis of making worlds within worlds, keeps us connected at all times to each other and to all of life. Her message is that we must never lose sight of our dependence on each other, in this time of great danger and endangerment.


Haraway has consistently argued that art offers us a method of looking at these complex webs of materiality and ideas. Or more specifically, she is enthusiastic about art that is concerned with biology and technology and how artists acknowledge, and deeply understand, that we are of the world, steeped in its bacterial, messy origins and responsible for its future. She expresses it like this: ‘The biologies, arts, and politics need each other; with involuntary momentum, they entice each other into thinking/making in sympoiesis for more livable worlds.’[24]


In the drawings that preceded Alice Maher’s animations, she immersed herself in the world of Hieronymous Bosch and his Garden of Earthly Delights, (1505). Her interests in the intersections of the biological and the vegetal world and the sexual politics of natural life in all its interconnected forms, found fertile ground in Bosch’s Garden. Maher’s interpretation of the famous painting melded figures and animals and objects in a series of very large silhouette drawings. Pattern, figuration and abstraction produced a parade of mutating images and creatures where camels, tents, women, plants and eggs become folded into each other so as to become something completely new in this drawing moment. Elsewhere two elements become one mutating ‘thing’ (like a mermaid). In the melding, flattening and dissolving, nothing is separate from anything else. These new hybrids, and our imaginations, are free from any conventional mode of understanding and are operating in sympoiesis in a brave new world. This kind of liberation is central to Maher’s ideology. She says: ‘The concept of true freedom…is an ecstatic embrace of the future and of possibility. It is in the mind that real freedom is born and that is where it lives. The imagination must first grasp the ideal and it is with our imaginations that we win battles. The imagination unbound, undefeated, timeless, endless but most of all – hopeful.’[25] In an earlier garden series of drawings, The Thicket, (1991) changeling girls battle and embrace the vegetal world of berries, nettles, brambles and rushes as they contemplate their world and their potential place within it. In the more adult world of The Night Garden (2007) the sedate matt charcoal and Victorian decorative patterning masks the wild and even anarchic imagination at work in these pieces (figure 12). By tracing an outline of a figural grouping in the Bosch painting, and flattening this a silhouette, bodies, sexes and species are released from what was only barely legible in Bosch’s world and flung into metamorphosis, with sexual undertones.


These drawings prefigure the new print works presented in this book and exhibition There is an opportunity here to focus briefly on the confidence of the line in Maher’s drawing work and suggest that it is not her ability to draw something “well” that is particular but perhaps to think about what her line drawings, especially the silhouettes, contain inside their perimeter bodies and in the action of their making. She has described her experience of drawing in this way: ‘The very best part of doing a drawing is not when you are finished, not just before you start, but when you are right in the middle, like the centre around which a knot is tied. The reason for starting the drawing is in the past, and you haven’t quite turned the corner towards its end. It is an incomparably tactile and timeless moment…It is the time where the concept, content and activity are at seamless play. You are not “lost” in your own occupation but surrounded by it, exquisitely busy, on an island between intellect and instinct.’[26]


These Boschian hybrids, and now the new woodblock prints, dwell on this state of eternal flux, between states, floating between islands of ideas. The details that usually mark us out from each other – eyes, faces, genitals – dissolve into a new fluid form of being, becoming and becoming-with others and objects. The suggestions of sexual unions and mergings produce new beings which now appear before us, globular, self-forming, reaching and collapsing in their own microbial watery universe. We see them briefly, (like a mermaid) in metamorphosis, where, as Haraway wrote, ‘with involuntary momentum, they entice each other into thinking/making in sympoiesis for more livable worlds.’[27] Hybrids become silhouettes so the silhouettes become something else. Double becomes multiple. Plywood and ink become flesh and water. With Maher’s art as a guide, it might be possible to consciously become the hybrid bodies we already are, to inhabit our watery bodies and become fully hybrid with the world.












13. Singing


I have heard the mermaids singing,

each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair

of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water and back.


We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed

with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.




 T.S. Eliot,

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”























[1] This title and structure is based on Wallace Steven’s poem, Thirteen ways of looking at a Blackbird, 1954.

[2] Astrida Neimanis, ‘Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water’ in Undutiful Daughters: Moblilizing Future Concepts, Bodies, and Subjectivities in Feminist thought and Practice, (2012) eds. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni and Fanny Söderback. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p96

[3] Ibid Neimanis, p102

[4] Luce Irigary, Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche, trans Gillian C. Gill, (1991) Colombia University Press, p 37

[5] Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century”, in  The Cybercultures Reader, eds. Bell, D & Kennedy, B.M, (2000) Routledge. p294

[6] Ibid. Haraway

[7] Ibid Haraway, p311

[8] MASTER CLASS Jill Soloway - Toronto International Film Festival - - Accessed 23.10.2016

[9] Ibid Haraway (2000), p313

[10] Ibid Haraway, (2000), p313

[11] Ibid, p315

[12] Helene Cixous and Catherine Clément, “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays” In The Newly Born Woman, Trans Betsy Wing (1986) University of Minnesota Press. p89

[13] Ibid Astrid Neimanis, p99

[14] Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic planet (A new look at evolution), 1998, New York: Basic Books. P20

[15] Ibid Margulis, P71

[16] Symbiogenesis was an original idea, much derided, by a Russian scientist Merezhkovsky (1855-1921) who was the first to suggest that symbiotic mergings formed new organisms, fusions and incorporations of cells.

[17] Ibid Margulis, 1998. P36

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid Neimanis, p111

[20] Hélène Cixous, ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ in Signs 1:4 (1976), p881


[21] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, (2013) Verso, p109

[22] Ibid Neimanis, 107

[23] Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, (2016) Duke University Press. P58.

[24] Ibid Haraway (2016), p98

[25] Alice Maher Speaking at the National Library of Ireland March 2011. Quoted by Catherine Morris in her essay “Breathing it all in” for Alice Maher: Becoming, IMMA, 2013, p85

[26] Alice Maher, Knot, (1999), Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, p5.

[27] Ibid Haraway (2016), p98

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