07 Jun

Planetary Female Figures

Design operates within the timescales of a Same-World[1] centered in the figure of the Human. This figure is severe and inflexible; it manifests itself through discourses, problems, and intentions that are consequently materialized in city-architecture. "Solutions" are designed to problems constructed from the frame of reference of this World, which, in turn, dictate meanings, functions, and utility of gender, technology, and design - for the permanence of the Human. This Human, while not compatible with all human[2] beings, embodies and operates as an absolute totality. What then about other figures that do not correspond? One of these is the feminine figure. The feminine figure is other timescales, pauses, energies, and needs that are in friction with other timescales, one being the economic system of the Same-World: i.e., the neoliberal work schedule. This scheduling of work and production is designed from a male's figure frame of reference; most of the time, feminine figures are ignored, ashamed, excluded, and forced to 'adapt' and 'include' themselves in these systems to survive. Therefore, it is imperative to appropriate the design of cities that are thought, imagined, configured, and constructed from Same-World models and systems. 

Reappropriating design techniques requires rethinking epistemological categories that are limitative; delineating them implies working with unknown scales of information in tension with existing information. These delineations are xeno-entities. These xeno-entities are openings towards worlds that do not coincide in scales of time or space with the World of the Human. The multiple possibilities of xeno-entities reveal figures outside the Same-World and may dismantle its established categories. One of these xeno-entities being planetary feminine figures. Planetary feminine figures are conceptions, capacities, scales of time and space that defy notions of what signifies a planet, an ocean, a human, a woman. 

The Same-World is an infinite present; it is an accelerated continuity without pause that flattens any timescale that is not compatible with its interiority. Some instances have been crucial for its solidification: one of these is the global image of the Earth. Philosopher Likavčan mentions that "without the image of Earth as a whole, there is no international order, hence no geopolitics.[3]" More than a representation, this image became an operative "abstract machine" that accelerated the exploitation of alternate figures of the Same-World. Another instance was Colonialism, one of the conditions that have had the most prominence in the shaping of Latin America. Colonialism consists of the unknown's epistemic sovereignty; in 1494, pope Alexander VI assigned sovereignty rights to any territory to be discovered in the south and west of Spain and Portugal[4]. It is a totality financed and legitimized in the name of sovereignty and divinity. The Same-World allows a free mobilization to continue the operative image of the global and the exclusion of worlds that do not correspond to that image; a divine right over what is not known. 

Any understanding of the planet from other worlds outside the Same-World, were, for the most part, erased by Universal History being 'told' from the World of the colonizers/conquerors, erasing other histories; other worlds. The way histories, problems, and worlds are formulated with their respective positions and standards "will get the solutions they deserve according to the terms with which they were created as problems.[5]" The conditions that construct these worlds and their stories directly affect design. Architect Fernando Luiz Lara exposes histories that have been erased in service of colonial powers. He cites as an example the commissioning of the Tempietto (Bramante). The Tempietto was commissioned by the Spanish crown (Isabel de Castilla) to celebrate the conquest of Iberia and the 'Indias'.[6]" Kingdoms, prosperous by their c.'quests, had a fundamental role in the construction of this architectural building. The Tempietto was one of the projects[7] that marked a rupture point in architecture and how it operates today: Architecture turned from explaining how to read the past (Vitruvio) to prescribing how buildings will be constructed in the future (Alberti)[8]. The discipline as projection towards the future comes global thought, colonization; not because of its impact on form/design, but because of the actions, flows, and resources that led to its construction. While this was occurring, other worlds were being alienated. 

There are other cosmotechnics, alternate to this World, usually considered alien, rare, strange, or victims; worlds with other compositions and techniques. 'Cosmotechnics' is a concept defined by the philosopher Yuk Hui; he explains: "scientific and technical thinking emerges under cosmological conditions that are expressed in the relations between humans and their milieus, which are never static.[9]" In short, it is the cosmic order and its materialization in techniques and technologies. These do not correspond to the fixed references of the Same-World, which is why its techniques, technologies, designs, and mainly, what a human means, vary. Diversities of these cosmotechnics originate from female human figures. Kunyaza is a practice, for example, that composes one notion of the origin and formation of the Kivo river from a feminine figure: An Ancient queen from the Third Dynasty in Rwanda.[10] Techniques of education and music were developed from this figure. Kunyaza lies outside the references of the World: women are not an object of fertility but a figure that feels and expresses pleasure. As well as this brief example, there are others that may be observed from an alternative history, or an ignored present, where there were notions of the feminine on a cosmological-planetary scale: pre-Hispanic goddesses and/or priestesses such as Ixchel, Xtabay, Metztli, among countless others. Although, the feminine roles within many of these cultures also kept women within given categories and functions that were specific and rigid. The past, even outside of Universal History and the pre-colonial, is not ideal. The Same-World is centered around the Human; however, pre-Hispanic cultures were centered on their deities. Although more decentralized from the Human with more open and flexible notions of the feminine, women not born Goddess were often subjected to non-negotiable gender role norms. What these past/present cosmotechnics accomplish is that they aid us in delineating the nuances of what the feminine can be/do. 

What other figure may we delineate? What if the unknown is enabled-to-be-adhered? 

Xeno-entities are infrastructural relations of a planetarity. Thinking from a planetarity is not preserving diversity, but creating diversity, says Hui. This diversity must come from a locality[11]; these localities may be xeno-entities. Xeno-entities compose two categories: scales of the known and the unknown; they are the tensions between these two scales of information. An entity is the usual definition of unit, individual, and object that is complete and classified; it delineates available information. This information is designated from the reference of the Human, usually Man. In tension with the entity is the Xeno. The xeno, rather than a destination or an adjective, is the practice of going beyond the incomplete boundaries of the Same-World. The tensions and relationships between these two categories may produce systems of knowledge, measurement, economics, and above all, designs out of our Human orientations. These relations/tensions happen from planetarity. In this sense, what we know as an entity is only a part, a specific temporal manifestation. Xeno-entities are delineations from discontinuous planetary flows of time and space scales. 

To adhere to xeno-entities - not bound to our recursive system that produces knowledge or conditions what knowledge could/should be - is to construct new worlds. What remains is the attempt to delineate variations of xeno-entities.  The planetary is not only an external fixed frame in which human bodies "inhabit." Bodies are connected on a meteorological and geophysical scale, i.e., they are planetary[12]. They are more-than-human. Some contain alternate time and space scales to the Same World. The feminine figure is planetary energy that does not correspond to the female within the World. It does not refer to a single-sex or gender. From these energies of the planetary feminine figure, epistemological categories can be thought of. 

The planetary feminine figure composes perceptible and imperceptible time scales. Water(s), as an example, composes part of these figures. This is not a metaphor, as feminist Astrida Neimani puts it: "It is radically material. These complex and shared cycles - body, to body, to body - comprise our hydro-common planetarity.[13]" The human body has a percentage of water that has flowed for millions of years throughout the planet. Bodies are more like a medium of circulation between diverse waters. It is discontinuous circulation but fluid, as is the concept of Hypersea, coined by scientists McMenamins, which "ripple through all plants, insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, all cells.[14]" Planetary female figures are oceanic times, influenced by extra-planetary (lunar phases) and reproductive systems. These various planetary scales are not part of the Same-World. They transcend our bodies, our life. 

Planetary female figures compose biological scales. For example, menstrual cycles, which vary in form, regulation, and manifestation, are interruptions to the continuous and accelerating system of the Same-World. This biology, as xenofeminism exposes, is not to be mistaken as 'natural,' as a category of resignation and expulsion; this means that "the glorification of 'the natural' has nothing to offer us.[15]" The "natural evolution" of our biology can be challenged and intervened. This is an evolution, but not an evolution with the same concepts of the past. There are biological aspects that some planetary female figures contain that challenge what it means for the Human and the Same-World: Strength. Female figures are strong, but it is not the strength of Universal History, where strength is attributed to a male's muscular composition or victory over others. It is an alternate strength, long-term patience. Strength does not only correspond to one gender, Male. These biological scales, while not rigid, are part of the female figure. They are not signs of weakness but of biological strength. What other capacities, characteristics, and scales could make up the planetary feminine figure? What other gradients of concepts, besides strength, can we de-constitute from this figure? 

The reappropriation of techniques and technologies starts from rethinking our systems that extend to techniques and our designs. This requires thinking in epistemological categories, from xeno-entities. But understanding the possibility of their existence is not enough; it is necessary to adhere to them. A dispositive of adhesion may be manifested from possible infrastructures in tension between available information, unknown information, and the relationship between both: xeno-entities to-be-delineated. Adherence is a strategy that seeks to move away from the dichotomy of colonize/include, accept/reject, towards a dismantling of the World. 

Some of the characteristics and capacities of female figures can be directly considered or related to the male figure of the Same-World. Dispositives of Adhesion do not reject or dismiss these notions but deliberately permeates between the unknown and the known. Adhesion is a property that causes two or more elements or particles that are different from each other to remain open to each other without mixing and without losing their individual properties. In mechanics, adhesion between two substances is made possible by the "porosity" between them. Adhesives are "bridges" between substrate surfaces. A dispositive of adhesion enables a strong bond, honoring differences, being flexible enough to design before designing. To think about the systems that make systems, the stories that make stories. 

What composes, signifies, and actuates a planetary feminine figure is to-be-constructed; it is a space to discover alternative ways of constructing worlds. For this, the myth of what the feminine and female body means must be dismantled, not for the erasure of differences but for the liberation of its limiters. Neimani describes that bodies are always more than what they "are." Feminine figures are intra-active appropriations; therefore, any qualities bestowed upon them must always be temporary and subject to revision. To adhere to these figures and others that may be discovered is to redesign a past, a present, and a future.

To my grandmothers: Hilda & Alicia


[1]  In this text, the use of capital letters in words indicates that it is being referred to as a condition. For example: Human, World. 

[2]  In this text, the use of lower case letters in words indicates their definition in general terms, outside conditions. 

[3] Likavčan, Lukás. 2019. Introduction to comparative planetology. Moscú: Strelka Press. 

[4]  libid. 

[5]   Cited from Turpin, Etienne. 2013. Architecture in the Anthropocene. Michigan: Open Humanities Press. 

[6]  Lara, Fernando Luiz. 2021. "El otro del otro: cómo las historias canónicas de la arquitectura borraron las Américas." Anales del IAA. http://www.iaa.fadu.uba.ar/ojs/index.php/anales/article/view/373/628#.

[7]  As well as the works of Brunelleschi, Alberti, y Palladio, Lara notes. 

[8]   libid. 

[9]  To further explore the concept of Cosmotechnics: Hui. Yuk. 2016. The Question Concerning Technology in China: An Essay in Cosmotechnics. Falmouth: Urbanomic Media LTD. 

[10] “Rwandan legend has it that female ejaculation originates with an ancient queen who experienced earth-shaking orgasm while her husband was away at war, producing enough water to fill enormous Lake Kivu.” Accessed June 06, 2021. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/sacredwater2. Film: 2016. Sacred Water. Directed by Olivier Jourdain. Performed by Vestine Dusabe.

[11] The locality is not separated from a planetarity. To read more about planetary thinking:  Hui, Yuk. n.d. Caja Negra Editora: Para un pensamiento planetario. Accessed May 25, 2021. https://cajanegraeditora.com.ar/blog/para-un-pensamiento-planetario/?fbclid=IwAR2qMRCWpnAp6vH2FFot2Fsz1ffCVqhRnryGFY-UGtrBFEPad_EANmJZFS8. 

[12] Bodies may encompass femenine figures. 

[13]  Neimanis, Astrida. 2016. "Posthuman Gestationality: Luce Irigaray and Water’s Queer Repetitions." Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London: Bloomsbury Academic. P. 65–108. 

[14]  Zimmer, Carl. 1995. Discover: Hypersea Invasion. September 30. Accessed May 10, 2021. https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/hypersea-invasion. 

[15]  Cuboniks, Laboria. n.d. Xenofeminism: A politics of alienation. Accessed February 05, 2021. https://laboriacuboniks.net/manifesto/xenofeminism-a-politics-for-alienation/.

About the author:

Denise Luna Acevedo is an architect, researcher, and professor from Mexico. 

She studied architecture at Universidad Iberoamericana CDMX-Tijuana. She was a researcher in the program “The New Normal” iteration 2018 at Strelka Institute, where she collaborated in research and design projects for cities, exploring the impact of emerging technologies on new types of interdisciplinary design practices. She is recipient of the full Certificate Scholarship for the Post-Planetary Universal Design Program at The New Centre for Research & Practice. 

Partner of estudio santander; co-director of TIOC Think Tank (Temporary Infrastructure of Commitments); recently authored “Dispositivos de Adhesión: Diseños que diseñan” in the book “Repensar los diseños” from UABC. Currently, she is co-writing a text for an upcoming publication for Actar, Nature of Enclosure. Her work intends to seek alternative forms of architecture practices and explore the possibilities of diverse techniques (analogous, computational) through thinking and practice at a planetary scale, especially from a Latin American context.

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