Writing with Multiple Appendages

Scratchings of the Skittering Limbs of Stygofauna





groundwater, coal, posthuman phenomenology, commons, contemporary art, stygofauna


Four pairs of images from the Postcards from the Underground (2022) print series are presented here as experiments in translating invertebrate underground worlds. Artist Perdita Phillips and cultural theorist Astrida Neimanis collaborated to create an interdisciplinary ‘walkshop’ event to the coal mining town of Lithgow, as part of Phillips’ Artsource both/and artist in residence at Artspace, Sydney in 2017. The many forms of stygofauna—small invertebrate animals including worms, mites, snails, insects and many crustacea—can be found in the millimetreswide in-between spaces in groundwater. Short-range endemism is common—due to their distribution in isolated patches beneath semi-arid to rainforest landscapes in Australia—and sporadic relic distribution world-wide. Working between Neimanis’ text and Phillips’ drawings and found images, the conversations with and through stygofauna, underground water and mining were then developed into colour postcards, that use a red/cyan optical masking technique. The images can be decoded with a red filter that is held up to the eye. The previously invisible cyan delineations are then revealed from beneath—alluding to the layers of concern and the double state of both/and—“caught up in both the noticing and notnoticing of each other” that the artist/author were articulating (Neimanis and Phillips 137). The swirling patterns of swimming and the complex fingering of many limbs were rendered into cryptic scores. The postcards explore notions of hiding/revealing and comprehension and miscomprehension of subterranean ecosystems, through the multiple scratchings of the skittering limbs of stygofauna.

Phillips, Perdita and Astrida Neimanis. Postcards from the Underground. 2022. Private Collection.

Author Biographies

Perdita Phillips, Independent Researcher and Artist

Perdita Phillips is an Australian artist/researcher/writer who has long concerned herself with interactions between human and nonhuman worlds. She works across a range of media: from walking and photography to digital works, books and installations. She has inhabited/exhibited widely including We Must Get Together Some Time (2021-2022, CASM/MPAC, Mandurah and touring), online exhibition and book Embodied Forest (2021, Ecoartspace, USA), online exhibitionListening in the Anthropocene (2020, Charles Stuart University), Invisible monsters: A tour of Perth’s underground pollution (2018, Perth), Make Known: The Exquisite Order of Infinite Variation (2018, UNSW Galleries). She has published ‘Fossil II’ with A Published Event, ‘Thirteen figurings: reflections on termites, from below’ (2016, Animal Studies Journal), ‘The case of the lengthening legs: cane toads in northern Australia’ (in J. Bull Ed.), Animal Movements - Moving Animals (2011) and the Lethologica Press books Tectonics (2021), We Must Get Together Some Time (2021), birdlife (2011) and A Simple Rain (2012, with poet Vivienne Glance). 

Astrida Neimanis, University of British Columbia

Astrida Neimanis is a feminist researcher whose work focuses on weather, water and bodies. Her most recent book is Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (2017). She is currently Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Feminist Environmental Humanities at UBC Okanagan, on unceded syilx territories in Kelowna BC, where she is also director of the FEELed Lab.






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