Bawdy Stitchery: An Interview with Alaina Varrone

Alaina Varrone is not your average stitcher. With her needle and hoop in hand, Varrone creates delightfully sexy embroidery with a heavy dose of humor—subverting the otherwise staid medium. We recently got to talking about her embroidery, the occult, feminism, and all things bawdy:

 

Fameless Quarterly: Where did your family emigrate from? (Ok I have to ask this for two reasons: 1) on your blog you once wrote that you wished interviewers would ask this and 2) a little bit ago you wrote a short post about your grandma’s dating life in a nursing home, signing it off, “Perry Girls still got it. femme fatales 4 life.” This caught me off guard because part of my family settled down in CT, in the very area where you are based. That part of my family has the last name Perry. We also have a running “Perry Girls are badass femmes” trope. Are we secretly related?!)
Alaina Varrone: My father’s family emigrated from Italy, and my mother’s side (the Perry’s) are from Portugal! (I’m curious as to whether we are related! I haven’t met too many of my extended family, that side had nine kids, I believe)!

tied

FQ: How did you begin working with embroidery?
AV: I learned the basic embroidery stitches as a child from my mother, who is also an avid needle crafter, but I didn’t think to use those skills in my fine arts education until I ran out of paper to draw on one day in class, so I drew on some scrap fabric I found. This was in my freshman year of college, in 2001. It felt really natural and meant to be—in that cheesy dramatic way—and I haven’t gotten bored of it yet.

FQ: Your work is very much centered on pleasure and the erotic. Is there a specific aspect of human sexuality you are particularly interested in? Do you think embroidery lets you explore this in a way you couldn’t otherwise?
AV: For me, the pieces are always somewhat autobiographical, so the female characters are always the center of the work, and I never realized until it was pointed out that in the erotic pieces in particular the women are always dominant. I prefer strong females, so if they’re expressing eroticism I want them to be the subject, not just another object. In this way, I find my work resonates within the feminist community, and I think the medium of embroidery definitely lends itself to that, it adds a new dimension to the work. For me, embroidery is so exciting because it’s still so steeped in tradition, for a while I was bored with art—I felt like everything’s already been done—but subverting this medium feels joyful. It’s made art fun again, and in a corny way I feel like I’m part of this long and storied sisterhood.

bring dat booty

FQ: Embroidery has been, and is often still thought of as, a traditionally female craft—yet you use it to delve into a topic that has been, historically, taboo for women. Do you think of your artwork as feminist work?
AV: I suppose I do think of my art as feminist work, it’s just that those ideologies are ingrained in my being, so the idea of making feminist art isn’t this deliberate, conscious decision—the pieces just are.  I was raised by bawdy vibrant women who always speak their minds—all of my female friends are like this as well—and I love these women to the bone, so naturally I make characters that reflect what I know and love. The history of embroidery is very much a history of women, in the surviving pieces we see: snapshots of everyday life, family members and friends, bits of current news and important milestones—I feel like I’m just continuing the story in my own small way. I have more freedom now in terms of subject matter of course, but I do feel like I’m just doing my part to keep this almost exclusively female tradition alive.

FQ: I notice that while most of the work is done on a solid white background, a few pieces are embroidered on really lovely floral fabric. How do you choose the background fabric for your images?
AV: I’m an impulsive stitcher, so I use whatever fabric is available! The only rule is that it has to have a decent thread count for the type of needle I use. It can’t be too loose or too tight. If I need lots of yardage I’ll go to a fabric store with my favorite needle; I’m like Goldilocks in the aisles running that needle through every fabric that catches my eye! Some of the pieces are also done on vintage and antique handkerchiefs from my grandmother, but I only use those for special pieces.

familiars

FQ: What inspires the particular narratives in your work?
AV: For the series I’m currently working on, I’m inspired by photos and VHS footage of spring breaks and freakniks from the 80s and 90s—both aesthetically and behaviorally. The more esoteric pieces are inspired by my own experiences with the occult (knowledge and practices that I have accrued since childhood) applied to emotional situations and people I’m dealing with during the creation of each piece. Sometimes the pieces will have actual living people from my own personal life that I’ll put into surreal situations as a thinly veiled narrative of our relationship. They’re basically elaborate diary entries.

FQ: Your work has a great sense of humor! It is really difficult to create something that is both smart and funny while engaging with the topic of sex so explicitly in an artwork. How did you arrive at your particular voice?
AV: Thank you! It’s weird, because I’ll start sketching with genuine honest emotion, and I’ll start these sad heavy pieces, but they feel so forced for me. I think because I’m a pretty ridiculous and silly person most of the time, humor is just my natural coping strategy. So I’ll have these pieces that are really quite dark in subject matter, but I’ll think it’s funny to give them pencil eraser nipples or ill-fitting jorts. I don’t know…I just can’t stay serious for too long. The story’s still there, I just can’t help lightening it up a bit.

FQ: Your work is pretty small scale. Do you plan on creating any large scale pieces?
AV:  The current series I’m working on has three extra-large pieces in it, about four feet by three feet—but yes I usually work small because of the practical space issue. I’m in the middle of moving from one apartment and renovating the next one, so working small allows me to keep working during all this chaos. Also embroidery takes a very long time. Particularly the types of stitches and detail I use; so a ten square inch piece will easily take me a month to complete.

FQ: Do you have a favorite work and/or works? In the past you have said that some pieces are too important to you that you wouldn’t consider selling them.
AV: My favorite works are a few that took over a year each to complete. When you live with a piece that long, you get attached. I’m also strangely attached to the piece of the simple nude who has her hands tied to her feet stitched on plain white linen and the piece with the two pool girls in black bikinis sticking out their tongues. Some just resonate with me more than others and I can’t really explain it.

FQ: According to some random commenters on Facebook you are Illuminati–so it must be true. Tell me your secrets!
AV: Hahahaha…yes I’m the Spiritual Chair on the regional council of 13—I’m also in charge of embroidering all of the handlers’ uniforms. But if I revealed anymore, I’d have to kill you. Kidding aside, I mean yeah I was raised with occult knowledge but I’m using that term loosely; my dad was into all sorts of weird shit and taught it to me and I grew up in a heavily haunted house—I don’t see the world the same way that a lot of other people do. And yeah, sometimes I’ll use symbolism, or spirit familiars or ghosts in my work as representations for something else, but in all seriousness I’m jack squat to the upper echelon of society—my bloodline is a mess—so relax y’all, my work is not trying to program you or anything.

FQ: Favorite superhero and/or villain?
AV: She Hulk

FQ: Favorite artist at the moment?
AV: Right now I really love the photography of Wayne Lawrence.

It Drips: An Interview with Anna Barlow

Anna Barlow creates art you want to eat—really, desperately want to eat. Barlow’s ceramic and porcelain ice cream sculptures are sweet, oozing a palatable decadence that borders on the obscene. Expertly executed and slightly disappointing for those of us hoping to chow down on the sundae of our dreams, Barlow’s work resonates deeply. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Barlow about everything ceramic, porcelain, frozen, and saccharine:

AB1 (Large) (2) (1)

Fameless Quarterly: What was your initial interest in sculpting ice cream?

Anna Barlow: I started out purely trying to capture ice cream in its temporary state—trying to catch that one moment at its best.

 

I was also interested in what ice cream means to us—it’s not necessarily important but it has significance in our lives as being celebrational and therefore special.

 

FQ: What is your artistic process like? How do you construct your pieces? Do you work on more than one piece at a time?

AB: I tend to produce batches of work. I combine both porcelain and earthenware clay in my pieces, which have very different firing temperatures; I start by making lots of cones, wafers, sprinkles and flakes which are made from porcelain and are fired to a very high temperature. I then use these components to construct a piece using earthenware clay that is “scooped” to make the ice cream and piped through an icing bag for whipped cream. The whole piece is then fired again, glazed and then fired three more times.

 

I usually work on around three pieces at a time.

 

FQ: You are fascinated by the rituals of food and the ephemeral nature of ice cream—how do you think the power of pleasure informs your work?

AB: It completely informs my work—I guess I am always looking for the most gorgeous, most extravagant, most fantastical treat possible! This can sometimes run alongside another theme as a contrast to a more thoughtful idea.

 

FQ: Many of your works are incredibly realistic in detail—such as the way your ‘ice cream’ melts and drips—yet they are staged in bordering-on-the-unrealistic scenes. What role do you think fantasy plays in your work?

AB: Usually I’ll work from an image which has popped into my head—it will take me some time to work out what it’s about and usually it’s actually based on life in some way. The cushion pieces seem to be inspired from when I was trying to write about my work for a show catalogue which I find quite challenging—I have a habit of working on the sofa, and one day I looked up and realized each cushion had a leftover plate or bowl on it and I thought: “Ah! That’s why I want to put food on cushions—it’s weird, but probably quite normal to a lot of people!” I made some ice creams that have been smashed across a wall which I think might be inspired by my brother and sister telling me about the time my mother threw an entire hot fruit pudding—plus the dish—at my father in pure frustration (she’ll hate me for saying this!!), but we all think it’s quite funny now….
Anna Barlow - Look It's So You (2)

FQ: Critics of your work find it obscene–what do you think lends your art to that interpretation?

AB: I think it’s interesting how people react to my work. They either love it, are repulsed by it, or don’t get it. I have a theory that this reflects on how they feel about food or their relationship with it.

 

FQ: Recently you have been branching out into some more collaborative projects, such as creating the piece “Anticipation of a Thousand Moments” for the Big Egg Hunt–a project wherein several artists were asked to design two-and-a-half foot high fiberglass eggs which were auctioned off for charity. How do you see your artistic practice expanding in the future?

AB: I really loved that project! I am beginning to think that it might be fun to collaborate in some way as I would love another set of ideas to work with.  We’ll see…..

 

FQ: How do you, as an artist, make working in a specific medium and within a niche subject area continually interesting?

AB: It’s funny—I never thought I’d stick with ice cream for so long; just as I feel I must be done with it, a whole set of new ideas pop up to keep me going…. at the moment I am interested in how our individual tastes affect our perceived identity. I made a piece called, “Look, it’s so you!” where pink ice creams and treats dominate a mirror’s surface so that you can only glimpse a little of your own reflection.

 

FQ: Your works are becoming more and more monumental–do you see yourself moving towards creating larger pieces in the future?

AB: Yes—now I am represented by Scream Gallery, and they prefer to take larger work.  I am really enjoying spending a lot of energy on one major piece at a time and really going for it on intricacy and extravagance—it’s a really great challenge!

 

FQ: Any new and exciting projects on the horizon?

AB: More ice creams!!

 

METHOD: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is reclaiming public space with defiant portraits plastered on buildings across the U.S. Part of an ongoing series, “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” these portraits are derived from interviews Fazlalizadah has conducted with women from all over the nation on their personal experiences with gender-based street harassment.  Powerful statements accompany each drawing, culled from the stories that the interviewees have shared with Fazlalizadah—some read, “my name is not baby, shorty, sexy, sweetie, honey, pretty, boo sweetheart, ma,” “women are not seeking your validation,” “critiques on my body are not welcome” and “my masculinity is not a threat to yours.”  “Stop Telling Women to Smile” has elicited a strong national response—spurring conversations on gender, race, autonomy and misogyny—since its 2012 inception in Brooklyn.  Fazlalizadeh traffics in the dialectics of power with her work, highlighting that catcalling is not about pleasure but, rather, control. We recently sat down with the now very-much-in-demand artist (her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, the Huffington Post and Beautiful Decay Magazine as well as on CNN and The Melissa Harris-Perry Show) to talk with her about her daily routine:

 

Fameless Quarterly: How do you begin your day? Do you have any morning rituals that are particularly important for preparing you to engage with the sometimes-difficult subject material you work with day-in and day-out?
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: I’m working on making a better morning routine. I’ve never been a morning person but I think I’d be more productive and have more successful days if I had a better and earlier morning routine. I usually wake up, drink some water, open my laptop, and start tackling emails. Some days I wake up early and go to the gym, come home and begin painting.

FQ:  Walk me through the rest of your day. Your project has received a good deal of media attention and you are expanding “Stop Telling Women to Smile” to be more participatory–spread over various locations in the U.S. You must be busy!
TF: The rest of my day sort of depends. If I’m working from home for the day I’ll possibly be doing one of a few things: working on back-end, administrative stuff, or painting. I prefer to paint during the morning and day, so sometimes I’ll wait to handle work that’s done on my computer until the evening. Some days I have phone or in-person meetings, some days I work in a local coffee shop, some days I’m out on my bike running errands. Being a freelance artist gives me the freedom to have days that widely differ from each other.

FQ: So much of your work deals with the basic ability of women to have autonomy of movement, free from harassment. Prior to this project in what ways did street harassment affect how you proceeded with your daily routine? Has that changed since you began “Stop Telling Women to Smile”?
TF: The thought of street harassment doesn’t really affect my daily routine. While some days I do take a moment before leaving the house because I know my outfit might elicit some unwanted attention, I still leave my house and go about my day. The act of street harassment is what affects me once it happens. It can affect my mood but it still doesn’t interfere with my routine. Since STWTS, I’ve become more assertive in responding back to men who harass me. Responding gives me a feeling of empowerment.

FQ: On average how much time do you spend interviewing, photographing, and drawing your subjects before replicating and wheat-pasting their images? Do you dedicate specific days just to interviewing and photographing and days to wheat-pasting or do you only work with one subject at a time?
TF: Right now, I’m doing more pasting than interviewing. This year I’ve spent a lot of time in other cities meeting many women, interviewing and photographing them. I still have a lot of potential portrait subjects from all of these cities that I’m working through. I’ve accumulated a lot of content, and now the more important part is getting that work out to the public. I don’t dedicate certain days to pasting, as long as I’m going out and doing it consistently.

FQ: Your preferred medium, and what you have always worked in prior to this project, is oil painting. Do you still have time during your day to work on painting or has your focus completely shifted to the “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project?
TF: I’m a freelance illustrator so I’m always painting. STWTS requires a lot of administrative work that takes up some of my day, but I’m still very much painting.

FQ: You have made a conscious effort to include representations of women of color in your images. You have stated in the past that this is a result of your experiences as well as a way to include women of color in a feminist conversation–especially since, historically, they have been left out of these discourses. As you have continued to work on this project and have conversations with women about street harassment what more have you learned about the intersection of race and street harassment as well as race and feminism? Has this changed the way you approach your project?
TF: I’ve learned that not everyone is harassed in the same way and that there isn’t a standard definition of what harassment is. What a young black woman who lives in a black neighborhood experiences will be different from what a white woman who moves into that neighborhood experiences—or, the experiences may be similar but the perspective on harassment is very different. That’s why when it comes to race and feminism, it’s important for all voices to be heard and listened to. It’s the reason why I’m now trying to curate the subjects in the project even more. Street harassment may happen to everyone but the way that is occurs will differ if you’re a 16 year-old Latina from Brooklyn, versus a 23 year-old queer Santa Monica student, versus a 50 year-old black woman from South LA.

FQ: During your day do you often encounter men who are interacting with your art? If you do, what are their reactions to the project like?
TF: No. I never see men interacting with the art. I spread these pieces out so I’m not often walking past them unless I’ve put them in my neighborhood. These, I don’t see people interacting with them—but I do see how they evolve over time. Sometimes pieces of the work get ripped away; people write on them; street artists add slaps to them, etc. But I don’t usually see anyone stopping, looking, and reacting—though I know that does happen.

FQ: Some of the pieces you have pasted around the city have been defaced. Do you replace those pieces with new work or do you leave the defaced pieces so that people can see the misogynist statements written on them?
TF: I don’t replace them. I let them live there as long as they can. I might revisit the same spot months later after the first piece has gone but, I don’t replace them simply because they’ve been defaced. They are consistently defaced and that’s not something I can really prevent from happening. I do think it’s important for people to see the defacement because it usually highlights the point of the work—that women’s bodies are abused in public spaces.

FQ: Speaking of place and autonomy of movement–do you have any favorite spaces in the city?
TF: I’m kind of an outdoors girl, even though most of my time is spent indoors. I like being in the park or at the beach—I love Prospect Park and visiting different beaches. I work in coffee shops often and have a few favorites that I go to. I also love riding my bike around Brooklyn and discovering different neighborhoods.

INVENTORY: Cecilia Doan

During a lunch break last year, Cecilia Doan’s co-worker mentioned she was coveting a pair of shoes she had seen a favorite blogger wearing in a photograph online. Cecilia blurted out the phrase “shit bloggers wear!” and an idea was born. Doan started creating black and white drawings of sartorial items that seemingly “appeared” at the same time on all of the major fashion blogs—thanks to brand endorsements—and uploaded her drawings to her newly minted website, “Shit Bloggers Wear.” The sense of humor inherent in Doan’s skillfully executed minimalist drawings quickly garnered “Shit Bloggers Wear” attention; since the blog’s inception Doan has been asked to collaborate with Topshop, The Coveteur, Fashionista, Complex Media, Grandlife Hotels, Fashion Magazine, and Of A Kind. When we meet someone like Doan it is easy to get caught up in all of their accomplishments and makes us wonder—what tools are in this person’s arsenal? So we asked Doan to sit down and document what her essentials are, the objects that get her through the day—and we aren’t talking about those Balenciaga boots.  

IMG_0181

Cecilia sent us the following collection of essentials (clockwise from top, left corner):

Trader Joe’s Mangoes: I always need snacks because I’m constantly hungry, or at least craving to munch on something throughout the day. So a bag of dried fruit like this will be finished in just a day or two. I actually bought the wrong mangoes this time, because they ran out of the “Just Mangoes” which has no added ingredients and tastes like the mangoes I grew up eating.  

Headphones: I’m at my computer for about 10-12 hours a day. I’m constantly on SoundCloud during that time, because I’m trying to learn more about music, new music that’s out by up-and-coming artists—artists of my generation. I grew up with a very narrow scope of music and I’m trying to catch up.

Toki Doki for Smashbox Skin Tint: This has been mine for what, about 4 years? It sounds kind of gross because I don’t think you’re supposed to keep cosmetics for that long. Anyway, my natural lip color is pretty nude and I am horrible, absolutely horrible, at wearing lipstick so I opt for ‘all-in-ones’ or tinted lip balm. It requires less precision, and won’t get in the way of my snack habit.

Japanese Shortbread: Asian snacks are some of my favorite, especially things that are green tea flavored.

iPhone Charging Cable: I’m notoriously known among my friends to always have the lowest charge on my iPhone at any given point. I don’t know why, because I constantly close my apps when I’m not actively using them. This is a much needed utility, so I can continue to waste hours on Tumblr.

Sticky Notes & Instax Fujifilm: Some people use Moleskins or Field Notes, I just use sticky notes. I’m a perfectionist, or a control freak, or OCD … whatever you want to see it as. And if I used journals I would constantly be tearing out pages because I didn’t like the way I wrote a certain sentence. I stick the sticky notes everywhere and they’re really effective because they’re constantly in my face and remind me to make things happen. As far as the Instax Fujifilm … it’s a fun camera (not pictured) that I reserve for moments with friends and family. This photograph is with my niece who actually reminds me way too much of myself as a child.

Polka Dot Pouch: This is the only “purse” I carry with me. I purchased it from the Japanese Delfonics gift shop inside the Louvre in Paris. It is PVC, super cheap, and really cute. I have several in various patterns like this. They’re very “CDG” (Comme Des Garçons).  

Pens: Ballpoint pens make me cringe. I write and illustrate with ink pens only. Brand, type and point size doesn’t really matter as long as the ink continues to flow heavy. The other pen is a Pentel Japanese brush pen for calligraphy. I use it to fill in areas in some of my illustrations. I couldn’t possibly shade so thoroughly with the ink pen alone.

Car Keys: I love my Mini Cooper and I’m actually pretty proud to have this round disk for a key. I’ve wanted a Mini since I was in high school. I finally got it two years ago and it was a huge ‘adult’ moment for me, except it drives like a go-kart and makes me feel so badass.

iPhone 5: Everyone feels really sorry for my phone, which is cracked and dented to near smithereens. I dropped it in Hong Kong, after losing it and finding it again in Japan. I think it doesn’t want to live any more … but I’m making it hang on for dear life—it could be months or forever until the next iPhone comes out.

Leather Notebook: Sometimes, I do take notes in these things. I bring them to meetings (along with my sticky notes) so people will take me more seriously. Mostly, I write lists in them.

Hand Shit Hand Cream: Why do your hands feel so dry and gross after you wash them? I’m not devoted to this brand or product, it was just funny and I’m a sucker for anything corny.

Japanese Strawberry Cheesecake Kit Kat: Did I mention I liked to snack? Asian snacks?

 

Wine and Bred

Nell Stone, the ingenious young anthropologist at the center of Lily King’s Euphoria, explains to her colleague, Andrew Bankson, that the Tam people of New Guinea believe love grows in the belly: “‘You are in my stomach’ was their most intimate expression of love.”  The notion of being in one’s stomach implies a love that grows like a child, and a love that is consumed like food. This seemingly contradictory conception of love and human relationships permeates the book, consistently returning to the question: is the pleasure of love in possessing or in growing?

Euphoria is loosely based on the biographical details of Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and Reo Fortune, who embarked on a joint exploration of what was called the Territory of New Guinea in the 1930s. At its most basic, the book describes a love triangle between three anthropologists—Nell Stone, her husband Schuyler Fenwick, and their acquaintance Andrew Bankson, who narrates much of the book. While a conventional love triangle deals with the desires of each of the three individuals to possess one of the other two, Euphoria presents each of the three as needing the others in order to fulfill some aspect of love, either possessive or enlightening. Nell, specifically, is acutely aware of her desire to love without possessing. In a telling conversation, she asks Bankson, “Do you think it’s natural, the desire to possess another person?” before quoting from the Amy Lowell poem “Decade” about wine and bread: “wine is sort of thrilling and sensual, and bread is familiar and essential.” As they talk, she mentions that “people are always wine to me, never bread” to which he responds, “maybe that’s why you don’t want to possess them.” Nell wants a relationship that will send her into the elation of drunkenness, not a relationship that she can consume to sustain herself at the expense of the other person. Her husband, Fen, takes a different style, which becomes clear in their approaches to their research.

The anthropologists’ interactions with the indigenous people function as stand-ins for their search for human connection. Riding in a boat down the Sepik river, Nell laments passing indigenous villages, worried that she will miss the one perfectly compatible group with whom she will be able to forge a genuine connection, “a people whose genius she would unlock, and who would unlock hers, a people who had a way of life that made sense to her.” In pursuing her research, Nell longs for this mutual elevation of ‘genius unlocked.’ Fen, on the other hand, seeks a different kind of satisfaction, which he reveals when discussing a ceremonial flute shown to him by the Mumbanyo people; “We could sell it to the museum for a right heap of cash. And then there are books to be written about it. Books that would blow past Children of the Kirakira [Nell’s extremely successful book]. It would fix us up for life, Bankson.” In studying the indigenous population, Fen wants to appropriate their culture. Financial gain is the easiest marker of possession (selling an object implies ownership of it), but more than that, Fen desires respect. He explicitly links his pursuit of the ceremonial object to being more successful than his wife. In contrast to Nell’s desire for mutual elevation, Fen conceives of a relationship as a struggle for the upper hand—he wants to make bread (pun intended) out of his anthropological studies as well as his wife.

Nell is thus mainly another possession for him, and even as she pursues her own desires, she recognizes how restricted she is by the possessive conception of love. She writes that “it is freedom I search for in my work… to find a group of people who give each other the room to be.” She is searching for a group of people who are able to establish a community without becoming oppressive. Certainly her position in relation to her culture is not one that allows her this “room to be.” In marrying Fen, Nell is forced to abandon a relationship with a female colleague, something she describes as “the conventional choice, the easy way for my work, my reputation, and of course for a child.” But in her longing for a love free of possession, Nell objects to being forced to choose.

Fen gives voice to these feelings, and accuses Nell of supporting polygamy. “It’s what her set calls free love… multiple partners. You go in for that too, Bankson?” Since Fen’s idea of love is based exclusively in possession, the idea of “free love” is incomprehensible and threatening. The question directed to Bankson expresses these feelings in equal measure—Fen seeks Bankson’s agreement, while simultaneously seeking assurance that Bankson is not a threat to Fen’s ownership of Nell.

This question posed to Bankson is in many ways crucial, for he is the one caught between the two conceptions of love. He desires to possess Nell but knows that she is married, that he cannot have a monogamous relationship with her. While he would like nothing more than for Nell to leave her husband, he discovers the mutual elevation that does not require exclusivity: “I felt in some ways we’d had some sort of sex, sex of the mind, sex of ideas, sex of words, hundreds and thousands of words.” When all three collaborate on an anthropological breakthrough, Bankson describes the connection he feels to her: “I wasn’t sure if I was having my own thoughts or hers.” This type of kinship is the opposite of ownership, as the connection to Nell is so intimate that he is no longer in complete possession of even his own thoughts.

Bankson’s kinship with Nell allows him to experience a human relationship that is a meeting of minds as opposed to a pursuit. In a sense, this connection of minds goes beyond Western logic; Fen even references it in regards to a Tam ceremony: “if you just let go of your brain you find another brain, the group brain, the collective brain, and that it is an exhilarating form of human connection that we have lost in our embrace of the individual except when we go to war.” Bankson, who has lost an older brother in World War I, knows how destructive such collectives are when based on domination of someone else. The question is whether such a unity of minds can be achieved without the object being domination.

Bankson experiences this unity briefly when he is working alongside Nell, contributing to a scientific understanding of the world that is infinitely bigger than both of them. The titular word appears only three times in the book, always to describe a breakthrough of understanding about the indigenous people. As Nell puts it: “it’s a delusion… and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at that moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.” This is the conundrum faced by the characters of Lily King’s Euphoria, especially Nell and Bankson—the capacity to understand another person, to feel who they are as if from inside is the only way they can ever be truly, “entirely yours.” However, there is always the terrifying knowledge that this understanding might just be a projection. But this is another way to understand “you are in my stomach”—a confirmation that one has understood well, that one has gotten under the skin and permeated one’s lover. With this reciprocated recognition, mutual understanding becomes the essence of fulfilled love, something much deeper than a feeling of ownership based on a misplaced projection.