The Happy Hypocrite #7: Heat Island


On the morning of 4 July 2013, I walked down the baking streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side with Dena in search of air conditioning and a place to talk over what we might each contribute to the next issue of The Happy Hypocrite which was, at that point, a blank slate. The building heat was unbearably radiant, and it was hard to think. Dena told me Manhattan’s increasing draw on the national grid had affected the year-round temperature of the island to the point that its warmed soil could produce and sustain, for the first time in recorded history, fig trees.

A few weeks previous to our meeting, there had been a remarkable series of events, some local, some farther flung. A spate of brutal anti-gay assaults in the city had left a number of people hospitalised, presumed by some to be victims of an unexpected backlash against the country’s increasingly open legal stance on gay marriage and the visibility of LGB people in the military*. A Democratic Senator for Texas, Wendy Davis, had worn sneakers and a back brace so she could more comfortably stand, uninterrupted and unaided for eleven hours on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, to deliver a filibuster to block an anti-abortion bill. Back in my newly relocated home of the United Kingdom, the ‘legacy’ talk of the London Olympic Games was switching over from a discussion of health and athleticism, to one of corporate ownership and privatisation.

Regardless of my personal views on the aforementioned sequence of events, they each felt in some way contingent. Moreover, they appeared to me particularly emphatic at a time when discussions of dematerialised labour, invisible networks, and deregulated economies were peaking in the trade presses of contemporary art. The body is our most essential material, our primary limit. It has always been subjected to change, invasion, adaptation, and enhancement. But information surrounding such intrusions seemed, in July 2013, more pronounced than ever before. Regulation of the body – whether self-imposed or via external legislation – was increasing apace. Our physiology too was changing by soft increments, though swiftly, to adapt to external technologies, and presumably continues to do so. (Among users of smart phones, for example, the musculature that supports our thumbs has developed to such a size that we substitute previous activities of our forefinger with that of our thumb – when we push a button for the pedestrian crossing, when we ring a doorbell.)

Attentive to the conditions of bodily regulation, I did not seek to find writers that dealt explicitly with such events, but rather build a temporary assembly of individuals who are acutely and intelligently aware that what we choose to do with our bodies, how we express it alone or with others, can provide valuable cultural openings and resistances to the regulation of which I speak.

— Isla Leaver-Yap, Glasgow, 24 May 2014

* Transgender people are currently barred from entering the US Military.

A version of this text appears as the Afterword to The Happy Hypocrite #7: Heat Island2014, Book Works, London.