A Love Letter to Decorator Crabs





The ocean is a planetary force consisting of both surface and depth. The imaginary of the ocean is an interconnecting and interconnected force. The ocean, with its hypnotic lack of form, reminds us that who we are does not end at the skin. We bleed into our environments, and our environments bleed into us. The sea is both conceptually and materially entangled with us: we are on a transcorporeal continuum with the ocean. In this love letter, we turn toward the ocean as an ontological space of transformation and extend a dedication to our strange kin: decorator crabs. Decorator crabs are slow nocturnal scavengers. In an attempt to look “less-crab” or “more-than-crab”, they select materials, debris, and other living beings from their environment to adorn their shells, placing them over a velcro-like surface on their carapace: these crustaceans entangle themselves with their environment. In our viewing and interactions with them, we as human researchers similarly entangled ourselves amongst the crabs, all within the potent transformative fluid of the aquarium tank. We present our epistolary dedication to these critters as we conceptualise the aquarium as an alchemist’s pot of entanglements - a metonym for the ocean - to learn and become with the resident crustaceans. The letter is presented in video form here – A love letter to decorator crabs.

Trigger warning: Please be advised that this piece contains descriptions of humans confining and eating other animals.

Author Biographies

Jianni Tien, University of Technology Sydney

Jianni Tien is a PhD candidate in the School of Communication at the University of Technology Sydney, a UTS Research Excellence Scholarship recipient, and a former Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Literary Arts at Brown University. Her research lies at the intersection of Digital Media, Cultural Studies and the Environmental Humanities.

Elizabeth Burmann, Independent Researcher and Artist

Elizabeth Burmann holds an MFA in Sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design, a BFA from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and was awarded a 2019 Fondart Fellowship. Her artistic practice and research engages with the material encounters between nature and culture, interrogating the intersections between biology, craft, technique, and posthuman studies.






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