Mapping Sea Slugs

September 21, 2020

In my previous post I uncovered three broad areas of investigation for my field guide:

1. Nudibranchs, the benthic organisms commonly known as sea slugs. Diverse in appearance and color, over 3000 species have been described.

2. Sea Slug Press, a small poetry press out of Oakland that was active in the 1970s

3. Mollis, the latin root of both mollusk (the phylum that nudibranchs belong to) and my last name, Mollica. Some of the English words that mollis may translate to are pleasant, irresolute and effeminate.

I like the idea of three overlapping systems used to describe this topic. It speaks to the broader theme of “The Deep” as well as the lessons of multivalent identity outlined in Emergent Strategy. I created diagram that maps words and names I came across in my research, through this exercise I found some resonance between these systems.

A system of ecology

How does the sea slug fit into the broader ecology of the deep? As animals they wander benthic zones and prey on sea sponges and jelly fish. They can appropriate the defense mechanisms of their prey for their benefit: sting like jelly fish, emit the toxins of sea sponges they consume. They are hermaphrodites. They are soft, shedding their shell before adulthood.

This system is observed through empirical evidence and based in objective measurements and phenomena.

A system of pleasure

A small press in the 1970s Bay Area counterculture that sought to recalibrate the discourse around pleasure through poetry and art. Where does this press reside in the greater historical moment? Why is it not extant? Was it designed to be ephemeral?

This system is observed through ephemera and metadata. Like the folks at Forensic Architecture we have to reconstruct the nature of this system through its remains. It cannot be directly observed. This is a system of ephemeral experience that can be described but not relived.

A system of personal discovery

The words that mollis may translate to are illustrative of the many valencies of the topic. Irresolute, pleasant, effeminate, pliant. The process of becoming and personal discovery, the willingness to change.

This system is observed through personal history and relationships. Where one tries to construct a coherent narrative from a series of events that may have no meaning.

Characteristics of a field guide for sea slugs

Multivalent. This guide needs to communicate on multiple levels. An example of this is the book Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard. This is an experimental novel where some chapters have section headings that tell a separate or complimentary story to the sections themselves.

How can the personal and general commingle?

Ephemeral. At the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts there was an exhibit that was a modified ATM. You would enter your card and go through the steps of getting cash, the ATM fee was $5.00 and the receipt was an art book including instructions for its own assembly. Something one would normally discard became the object.

The form of the guide could reinforce the ephemeral nature of Sea Slug Press.

Nonlinear. A field guide is a participatory medium. One cannot anticipate when a specific part will be needed. Like a game or a choose your own adventure story, it should be difficult if not impossible to have reproducible experiences with it.