OutliveAlexis Pauline Gumbs


Dominique White's installations live at the place where a particle meets a wave—Or to say it more accurately, where particleness meets waveness. Studying the ocean as a scene of disaster where colonialism turns dispersed space into enslaved time, her installations use remnants of ships, ropes, sails, nets, and other weapons of capture, to infer an oceanic context. And though the ship became the cruelly enduring model for the nation-state, she does not build her installations to survive. The artworks themselves, she explains, are precarious, vulnerable to rust and their own weight and fragility. Often, you can see evidence of their disintegration day by day. A practice of ruin.

I think of her work as a prayer.
May that which destroys all of us finally destroy itself. May we somehow outlive this meaning of life.

Or an experiment.
Which, like other experiments, builds on earlier work. Uses a set of previously used materials to consider the possibility of a different result. The danger is that sometimes the whole point of those secondary experiments is to validate the results of the first. The other danger is that the entire scientific method, colonial not only in application but at its very soul, is itself a weapon of capture.

And yet. There is an older science. For example, Nanny of the Maroons is known in Jamaica as “the great scientist” because of her ancestral listening and multi-species attunement. She knew how to sing ancestral songs that combined the multiple stolen languages of the free. She knew when the hot springs would rise and fall—washing away her pursuers. She knew how to feed her community on the move. And I say the science that she practiced was older than the colonial method. I say the colonial method is only a variable in an experiment proving a larger possibility. The colonial method and its centuries constitute a troublesome variable masquerading as a constant.

Dominique knows what I mean. Her work puts colonialism in its place as a variable and asks whether the same materials in their contingency and fragility might reveal themselves otherwise. When she adorns a harpoon or a net with the same raffia that adorns ceremonial masques she is both revealing a masquerade and drawing on very old technologies of transformation. With her acts of placement and suspension she is not building a scaffolding for a house. She is turning the tools of the colonial encounter upon themselves to find their own breaking points under our watch. It is up to us to fashion and remember different tools.

So maybe there is no difference between a decolonial experiment and a prayer.

Or the song of a whale?

In some of the titles for her installations, Dominique uses the same words or references I used in my own prayer experiment of marine mammal apprenticeship in Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals. I wondered could I use contingent / fragile / culpable tools, in my case the words of the English language, to access, or witness a relationship between my ongoing love, my queer Black feminist freedom, and the freedom and genius of marine mammals? An older relationship than the kinship wrought by the ships that captured people and hunted whales for the same goal: to fuel and power the colonial project? And so our prayer converges in multi-species wonder. This is where we breathe together, inspire each other:

We want forms that will unharpoon us. What is the angled opposite of impale? Exhale?



may they never catch you

once upon a time this asphalt was air. before that it was under the sea. and so the harpoon could have been aimed at you. it could have been. aimed at me. one of us showed up in Hiro Murai's dream. beat on Kendrick's tongue. never catch me is a taunt we had to learn young. praise to the daughters of rust. praise to their over-dyed hair. praise to the thickness of skin. thanks for the buildings i'm forgetting. thanks for the place i begin. at the large hadron collider they only throw neutron harpoons the size of a pen. thank you for stopping time for me. again. stop it again.

Harpoons dug into the sand at shore
Dominique White, May they never catch you, 2022. Cast iron. Photographed by Deniz Guzel. Courtesy of the artist, Bold Tendencies, and VEDA Firenze.


can we be known without being hunted

if particle was a wish for you. if particle was a dream. i would wash over you with every wave at once.

if escape was your only ceremony, the mast your only tree. i would claw the makeshift branches. set you free.

if timespace was your fashion, the only thing you wore. i would wait for you. wait for you anyway. on the shore.

Art installation
Dominique White, Can We Be Known Without Being Hunted, 2022. Kaolin clay, burnt mahogany, sisal, null sail, raffia, cast iron, forged iron, rust, and damaged rope. Installation view of "Cinders of the Wreck" at Triangle - Astérides, Marseille, 2022. Photographed by Aurélien Mole. Courtesy of the artist, Triangle - Astérides, Marseille, and Veda, Florence.


a fugitive you cannot find a record for is the most successful fugitive of all

the fugue i knew was my repair. a healing. my gift to you. my secret future. the possibility that i was never there. and if there were millions making the impossible believable, like flesh can be bought, like time marches on. there were uncountable us, uncounting on purpose. unweaving another song.

if there were citadels to insist on the knowable and barter it as god, there were bush-held temples, arbors, groves unlearning the word as a rod. refusing one life as a knife, relevant only to its ends. we nourished our pointless destinies. we hid. we loved our friends. confessed to vines. and danced with trees.

i prevail when you don't need to imagine me.

Art installation
Dominique White, A fugitive you cannot find a record for is the most successful fugitive of all, 2021. Mahogany and cast iron. Installation view of “Hydra Decapita” at VEDA, Florence. Photographed by Flavio Pescatori. Courtesy of the artist and VEDA, Florence.


Who showed up?: Alexis, Dominique, Hiro Murai, Kendrick Lamar, My Cousin Gretley, NourbeSe, Eric A. Stanley, Fred Moten, Édouard Glissant, Christina Sharpe, Dionne Brand, Torkwase Dyson, Sharon Bridgforth, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, Tavia N'yongo, Nanny of the Maroons

Where?: the car park, Hiro's dream, Kendrick's tongue, the buildings i'm forgetting, the Large Hadron Collider, the ceremony, the shore, a very good hiding place

How?: story, memory, conjecture, dance, praise, observation, gratitude, request, wish, dream, cleansing, escape, clawing, waiting, repetition, generosity, uncounting, unweaving, unlearning, refusal, nourishment, hiding, loving, confession, dancing, release

Why?: because of the youth of the built structure and the age of the sea. in case particle is a wish for you, a dream. in case escape is your only ceremony and mast is your only tree. in case timespace is your fashion. because there were millions making the impossible believable. because we have destinies. and friends.

What (is the next experiment)?: Breathe the words above. Show me what happens.