Image by Liz Rosenfeld

Issue 8: Skin Extract, Transmasculinities, by Finn Jackson Ballard & Liz Rosenfeld


Photograph by Liz Rosenfeld

‘While photographing the calendar subjects, I was also preparing for my long-awaited chest surgery. In fact, I left Berlin the very morning after the calendar launch party, and was in hospital by that evening, pre-surgical lines drawn upon my shaven chest by the doctor who would perform the operation. I had been occupied with the project, of course, but had also documented something of the simultaneous excitement, anxiety and tinge of melancholy that the upcoming event inspired in me (‘8 weeks before chest sur- gery, August 2010’). Upon the sudden cessation of all that energy involved in the calendar preparation, I felt a curious calm which certainly helped me to deal with the nerves of surgery, going under anaesthetic for the first time, and making an irreversible decision – although I had no qualms about my decision to have the operation. My partner, Liz, accompanied me to hospital, and during the night before my surgery photographed me preparing for the next morning (‘Finn the night before surgery’ by Liz Rosenfeld). I am very glad that she took this series of pictures and that we have them now for posterity, and I think that they capture the mood of that moment perfectly. Liz photographed my reflection, which I think was not only a documentary method but also a way for us to abstract the situation through a further layer of distance. This was the first time that Liz had seen my chest bereft of layers of clothing or of surgical vests – ‘binders’ which flatten the chest – and I suppose that I was not ready then to face her or the camera. We also ended up inadvertently referencing one of our mutual favourite artists, Nan Goldin, who often photographed her subjects in mirrors, although I don’t think she usually appeared in the resultant images. I took more photos than ever before in my post-surgical delirium and delight (‘One week after chest surgery, October 2010’) and indeed I was delighted when one of those ended up in an article featuring contemporary photographers with the title ‘Children of Nan Goldin.’ It seemed that I had come a long way: being open about my own transgenderism, achieving the surgery I had wanted for many years, and then being able to stand on the fringes of the world occupied by the (queer) artists whom I most admired.

Portrait of Finn Jackson Ballard, 2013, by Liz Rosenfeld, in which they discuss Ballard’s featured Transmasculinities photo calendar project.

Although the world’s awareness of transmen is increasing constantly, with the fame of Buck Angel, Chaz Bono, Balian Buschbaum and others, I suppose that many of us still have a drive simply to be represented and to increase visibility of all the multifarious ways that we configure (and often reconfigure) our gender identity. That’s also why my favourite self-portrait is the one of me doing up a tie and wearing pink lacy underwear at the same time (‘Getting Dressed’). I guess it’s a rather standard image of gender ambiguity, or simply of cross-dressing, but I think that the fact that I am trans does imbue it with something of an extra dimension. I also think that it is important, although not essential, that the photographer of individuals such as those who participated in the calendar project is also trans or at least sufficiently cognitive of queer identity to feel aligned with their subjects. Often, the identity of trans people be- comes the purview of others. I don’t mean only in terms of visual representation, which often relies on the discourse of fetish – as in earlier manifestations of trans pornography (a genre in which genderqueer, queer and trans directors and producers are now increasingly establishing themselves, representing their own community) – or that of a strange and even supposedly-threatening ambiguity (images over which the readers of gossip magazines are invited to pore, trying to discern the gender identity of their subjects). I mean also in terms of discourse. Trans people’s autonomy over their bodies is often compromised by their promotion as some sort of curiosity to whom it is deemed acceptable to pose intimate questions without asking for permission, and thereby to determine their identity even in contrast to their own wishes.

I think here of trans*people, myself included, who have been told that they are not ‘really’ or ‘sufficiently’ trans because they do not desire to have certain surgeries, identify themselves in accordance with certain preconceived gender norms, etc. I was also advised by my doctor, several years ago now, that I should simply take testosterone for as long as was necessary to ‘pass’ unquestioningly as male (preferably whilst becoming a temporary recluse) and then to re-emerge as a new self, not mentioning my past, once this process was over. This phenomenon is often referred to as ‘going stealth’ and in some cases it is simply a survival mechanism. But I didn’t want to avoid having to explain to the world my identity. I wanted to make myself visible within that world as a transman. To be not only in front of but also behind the lens will perhaps be our best chance of deconstructing these notions and showing ourselves to the world exactly as we are.’

To read the article in full, go to


Issue 8: Skin extract, Richard Sawdon Smith

Tattoo Virus: AIDS Representation on the Skin, by Richard Sawdon Smith, published in full in Nyx, a noctournal, Issue 8: Skin.

Image by Richard Sawdon Smith

Image by Richard Sawdon Smith


‘In 2009 I started a project entitled The Anatomical Man (born out of a long-standing project called Observe) in which I had part of the circulatory system tattooed onto my body. Since being diagnosed with HIV in 1994 I have documented through photographs and film my consistent, regular and repetitive trips to the clinic to have blood tests to screen for levels of illness/health. This invasive but necessary procedure induces a small amount of pain but through my work, and perhaps a fetishisation of the process, I have turned it into a ritual that the work now demands, as I have more blood tests in order to continue the project. In some ways creating the work makes the nurse (their hands visible in the pictures) carrying out the blood test complicit in my own artistic practice, and possibly the masochism of my subjection, as I submit to the needle and more painful blood tests.

In this case the observation of health, looking for internal signs of the effect of the virus living in the body in order to arrive at a perceived medical truth, occurs by the prick of a needle. The process of tattooing medical illustrations of veins and arteries on to my arms and chest, including the heart, also draws blood with the use of a needle. By referencing the former in the latter, I collapse the internal and external together on the surface of the skin.

Where I had once made the nurses complicit in my practice I now confuse them. This is not a mapping of my own veins and arteries but representations, anatomical drawings from the 1850s. I am playing with layers of the real and the imagined, in one respect the work, the tattoos, reveal the medical procedures of illness, making visible the behind-the -scenes routines, referencing not only the rupturing of the body’s surface but the repetition and banalities of life under the clinical gaze. I am no closer to knowing myself through the tests or the tattoos— I have simply arrived at an alternative, another me.

With these ideas of layering on the surface of the skin I pick up on Akira Mizuta Lippit’s discussion on the concept of recovery, which with an incurable disease such as HIV becomes problematic. He writes:

In the register of health, recovery refers to the process of healing, of restoring the body to a phantasmatic condition of wholeness. Recovery, the act of recovering, however, also initiates a semiotic chain that includes covering, that is concealing, as well as discovering. (1994: 6)

Similarly, Amelia Jones 
(when writing about the work of Franko B) explains:

The working through of the non-existent borders between the self and the other, the body and the world, absence and presence, life and death – borders we obsessively attempt to shore up and maintain in the face of all evidence that they are constructed and thus fundamentally “unreal.” (2006: online)

Lippit and Jones suggest that the idea of ‘wholeness’ that we ‘obsessively attempt to shore up’ is a constructed fantasy and that the medical/scientific drive is always “torn between the desire to recover the totality of natural phenomena as it sees it and to disrupt that closure with new discoveries, new ruptures” (Lippit, 1994: 7). In my tattooing of my skin with drawings of the internal workings of the body, drawings that speak of a virus circulating through the veins, I too perhaps end up rejecting the concept of the essence. My work is suspicious of the infinite surface; every surface can be torn to reveal another surface, another plane of intensity. I challenge the scientific drive to return to an idea of wholeness, as I know I cannot return.’

To read the article in full, go to

Issue 8: Skin launch party

Cover image by Alice White

Please join us for the launch of Nyx: A Noctournal issue 8 featuring Stewart Home, Catherine Malabou, Hedi el Kholti, Federico Campagna and many more. The launch night will include art and video projections, DJs and bands (Mean Bikini, Rude Intruder, and The Wharves) and you’ll be able to pick up a copy of the new issue. Tickets will be £3 on the door.

Where: The CLF Art Cafe AKA The Bussey Building, Peckham, SE15 4ST

When: Friday 10th May, 10 p.m.

Nyx poster launch

Collecting and Curating Sound: An Interview with the Kinokophone Collective, by Mark Rainey


Kinokophone are an audio collective based in Manchester who collect, compose and curate sounds and field recordings. Over the past two years they’ve produced installations, organised oral history projects and hosted field recording listening sessions. Their latest listening session was held at the British Library on 13 November, 2012. Titled ‘Kinokophonography’ these sessions allow participants to collectively listen to audio recordings, both professional and amateur, submitted from around the world. Stripped of visual stimuli, these sessions highlight the intensity and depth of aural experience – an experience which is often overlooked in our highly visual culture.

Nyx caught up with Michael Belantara, a member of the collective, for a quick interview outside Euston Station, before he caught his train back North.


Skin’s Dead Matter – Issue 8 Call for Contributions

“Personally, I prefer to imagine man as a machine, which transmutes in itself so-called ‘dead matter’ into a psychical energy and will, in some far-away future, transform the whole world into a purely psychical one … At that time nothing will exist except thought. Everything will disappear, being transmuted into pure thought, which alone will exist, incarnating the entire mind of humanity … At some future time all matter absorbed by man shall be transmuted by him and by his brain into a sole energy – a psychical one. This energy shall discover harmony in itself and shall sink into self-contemplation – in a meditation over all the infinitely creative possibilites concealed in it.”
– Maxim Gorky, Fragments from My Diary (1923).

Nearly eighty years ago, god-building intellectuals were celebrating the possibilities of the end of the body. Skin became mere matter, dead matter. Scavenging through history’s ashes, reflecting on what was discussed about Machines in Issue Seven, we have a sense now of where those technological utopias lie. Where is skin, and what is skin, today?

The deadline for 250-word abstracts and images for Nyx’s next issue, Skin, is on November 15th. Read the full call here.

We Know What We’re Marching against but What are We Marching for?, by J.D. Taylor, Charlotte Latimer and Kevin W. Molin

Charlotte Latimer, J.D. Taylor and K.W. Molin on the anti-cuts march organised by Trade Union Congress, 20th October 2012.

Fight the cuts


C.: Marched in London for ‘a better future’, caught up with friends, danced to reggae and got a free lunch from the Hare Krishnas. It was a great day out, but what impact did it have? While 100,000 dedicated people turned up, they only constitute about 0.002% of the UK population: a poor turn-out when compared to the severity of the cuts. The initial excitement felt at marches last year has faded away, muted in part by the extreme tactics of the police. People are refusing to look ahead to where England, and the rest of the world, are headed.


J.D.: I wasn’t expecting a better future, I’d marched enough times, knew the route well enough not to bring a map. Marches haven’t impacted policy decisions and seem to have largely depressed, rather than excited, public opinion. I came because it was a common symbolic protest against the Tory-led government and its scorched-earth political war against the working class. I’d include the majority of police, or ‘plebs’ as the Tories call them, in that bracket. Most people I talk to in the community are against cuts, but no-one knows what they’re for.


K.W.: I woke up late on Saturday, around eleven thirty, even though I had not gone to bed particularly late the night before. At some point in the day, I remembered the march was going on. I was just outside the building where I live, talking to a Greek neighbour, and the topic emerged, with some air of resignation. I don’t wish to argue against marches as a form of activity, far from that. Sometimes a march is more than necessary, even from one point to another, but sometimes not doing something might be even more ‘useful’. Hard to know when or what. I ended up spending almost whole day reading new Ofsted regulations, in force since September, and realising that some of the documentation is more loose than expected, and that school leaders or inspectors or teachers themselves use a lot of their own interpretations, amplifying its perverse basis upon constant measurement, evidence, impact to a force it originally lacked.

One example: I know at least a couple respected teachers who have been tortured with constant evaluations and forced to change school or job by school leadership, as a consequence of not having filled in a ‘lesson plan’ proforma in preparation for inspection. Stories are legions. These are the typical forms that eat your hours away and require high level copy-pasting skills, for generally little educational benefit. Well, the surprise was that the official documentation requires no lesson plan whatsoever. None. I was shocked. To my knowledge, most schools if not all demand that all lessons are planned by the minute beforehand, all year round.

C.: There needs to be some shared aims and objectives and more empowering forms of resistance. Marching from one designated point to another is a weak form of resistance as the largest global protest in history, against the Iraq war, taught us. The best thing the march can offer is a place from which to build collectively, but build what? We have to start acting now unless we want the coalition government to continue to rip apart our institutions in a careless and irresponsible way.


J.D.: There’s some religiously righteous element to marches I struggle with: the politeness, the hymns, the exhortations to a congregation of brothers and sisters, the near-annual vigils. The countless marches against Thatcher are forgotten now, the riots and battles less so. -like nature of themMarches are always so polite, like a long queue to a tourist attraction where you know exactly what will happen, wave a placard from A to B; a cheeky song with rude words in; jeer at a line of fascist pig !!!! policemen or at an otherwise popular coffee-shop. It does have its limits, this kind of ‘resistance’. There was a shared objective: possibly, perhaps, organise a 24-hour general strike, because, after all, cuts are bad, for ordinary children and for ordinary families! The problem lies in the vagueness of this call, and the lack of political will for such a strike. That if such a strike were organised, a 24-hour strike would not disrupt infrastructure, say compared to a one week strike. That the unions haven’t been an effective mobiliser for precarious, non-unionised workers, the unemployed, and college students. That attempting to speak to ‘ordinary hard-working families’ is also the very same normative language of the Tory-led government. And that the mass mobilisation of bodies, against scantily protected institutions, results in, what, an orderly line of people queueing up to hear Ed Miliband talk?


K.W.: When I hear the term outcome or objective, I shudder. It’s again a remnant from school expectations. Ofsted are no doubt keen in formulating anything that is valuable as a learning experience in terms of having clear, observable, objectives set and shared with students at the beginning of the lesson. Documentation does not state this, but from my experience, I’ve been always been ‘trained’ to think that a lesson is poor if the aren’t clearly written lesson objectives on the first slide of the PowerPoint. This seems to be independent of the fact that the majority of kids I speak to have no idea what the word ‘objective’ even means, after at least twelve years of it being mentioned. Perhaps, that’s a good attitude. Still, I have no problem with objectives per se, more with the idea that these are always visible, measurable, explicit, fixed, known in advance. I seem to be only talking of schools, but there is a certain order that is instilled or begins somewhere, with no great authority demanding this other than a general culture of compliance. Even the march complies with the protocol march, gestures, songs, etc.

Hard to know where problems reside, what unit of measure to use, who to blame, how to do something about it. Marching can be good. I’d like to see some more marching on the tune of non-compliance, however. Marching instead of working, more than marching outside of work or as an extension of it. Besides reading the Ofsted guidance, I endured two hours of a very bad French movie, despite falling asleep a couple of times, and I kept hoping that all my suspicions that the plot wouldn’t turn out as predictable as it seemed were misguided, that there must be some twist coming at some point, some of the internal dialogues and music seemed suggestive of something more to happen – only to be disappointed by the two protagonists eventually kissing with an overlaid Fin. Not I have anything against love.

C: Nobody from any of our major political parties represents me or my views, I can’t even begin to imagine how alienated others must feel. Why is the current political systems so narrow, inflexible and archaic? Why can’t they be more fluid and inclusive? Wouldn’t living in a society that offered up opportunity and opened up possibility create citizens who were more passionate, engaged and driven? I know this is a vague, undeveloped argument but I’m not claiming that I know the best way to reform the political system, but the belief in that possibility has to exist before it can happen. The classism that is deeply rooted in English culture is no longer able to hide behind the affluence of the past few decades, austerity has made clear who owns what and who has power.

J.D.: ‘No future'; ‘no escape’ – I wake up most days and see the evidence of these words, feel the consequences of these words, hear them echo round my brain in snatches of song. Compelling feelings I wish to be rid of. They are not new feelings, but marks of domination and passivity, a cynical peace-making with powerlessness. So much hard work already goes into grassroots political organisation. It’s impossible to keep up with the new work of critical theorists across the world who devote their waking hours to theorising alternative political movements. There is no shortage of ideas or meetings! But ideas or meetings alone won’t convince demoralised peoples, or topple smug governments. I think the Left has always had a charming but doomed faith in the rationality of its opponents. Neoliberal leaders like Thatcher and Murdoch, Branson and Blair, have never been interested in free markets for their own sake.

K.W.: … 

C.: The tax scandals that have been revealed over the last year, the most recent being Starbucks shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The raison d’être of capitalism as an economic system is to accumulate profit. The laws in England, and across the globe, have evolved with that system to serve and protect money. All the different groups representing at the march today all had one thing in common, they were all campaigning for a system that doesn’t prioritise money over all else (arts, education, health etc). Money is a tool that we use to distribute the resources that we have in the world; how it gets regulated, inflated, manipulated and distributed is up to those who have it. What is crazy is a culture that encourages businesses, organisations and individuals to make money their primary focus and target. At this point the system is not working, the liberation that was promised by the free market has not been delivered, it’s time to start finding alternatives. As difficult as it is to unpick and understand the complex global economic situation we now inhabit, the only way to smash it and stop it is from the ground up. There is no one at the top controlling it who can reign it back in.


D.: Consider the huge level of state intervention to protect financial capitalism. Neoliberalism as an idea was generated precisely as a counter-ideology to communism. Perhaps the naivety of political neoliberalism was to believe its own propaganda: money cannot be made, it is a power-relation. It has always belonged to banks which possess it, and governments which regulate it. Compare two responses to the 2008 credit crisis: decline in the UK, with the failure of quantitative easing in the UK and the cuts to public services, a naïve ‘balancing of the books'; versus investment in infrastructure that will in turn produce demand, reduce unemployment, train the workforce and improve overall quality of life. Again, there’s that danger of rationalising our opponents.


C.: You have to spend money to make money; the cuts are illogical. Hacking away at public services and selling what’s left off to private businesses is irresponsible. So many people will be left in crisis by the reduction of services and benefits, the human cost is going to be astronomical and this will impact the economy massively. Most public services, like education and health, enable and encourage people to work, without this infrastructure many will find it hard to cope. The inevitable rise in crime and homelessness will create chaos, the attractiveness of London to tourists and finance capital will start to fade. If nothing else, why, when there is so much scrutiny on public spending why would a government give its taxpayers’ money to private companies who will utilise those contracts to boost their profit margins?


J.D.: Maybe I’m giving Gideon Osborne too much credit: it seems mass unemployment and social crises in low-income areas aren’t a problem in what has been a very well-organised effort to turn the UK into a tax haven. All the political parties are near-identical in their Oxbridge-educated neoliberal fervour: appealing to the wisdom or clemency of well-fed politicians to affect change will get the working-class nowhere. Power is something already possessed by workers, the problem is that, so far, there’s never been confidence to assume it, act it, and use it. But arguing against the effects of government cuts based on their inconsistency with its propaganda, well, it feels a bit like trying to persuade a child’s imaginary friend not to burn down houses. Let’s grab that matchbox away.


C.: At the moment narratives of austerity and necessity are continuing to hold power over many people in the UK. Small grassroots groups are working hard to try and beat down those stories and create a space for alternatives. Amongst others there were local services, workers collectives and educational groups present at the march; all affected by the cuts, all asking for a reassessment of priorities. These groups are small and fragmented and are working hard to strengthen their resistance While we need to work collaboratively to create its important not to lose sight of the importance of that diversity and retain a variety of perspectives. The government is not listening. We need to start asking ourselves ‘What do we want?’ and ‘When do we want it?'; we know what we’re marching against but what are we marching for?