T = 32473 - AXATXT = X-2++


Joey Holder's ‘Abyssal Seeker’ depicts a slow, aquatic journey to a fictional brine lake at the bottom of an unnamed ocean. Protagonists float in and out of the story, semi fictionalised versions of invertebrates, hybridised and constantly shifting.

This work initially might seem to recall Jules Verne’s series of novels set under the sea, which transposed themes from Homer’s Odyssey to the crucible of 19th Century colonial expansion. While the colonial project of exploration employed naming and categorization to enable ownership, the beings in Holder’s world attempts to evade identification, classification and subsequent commodification. Holder’s brine lake represents a place beyond mapping, the deep sea as a metaphor for the limit of human knowledge, a place beyond categorisation, beyond monetary value, beyond the colonial project of taxonomy.

This artwork represents an optimistic speculation of an acceleration to a dark future, an alternative metaphor for escaping surveillance and the cast of the net, and about a more positive future, an escape to a dark, safe place beyond data.


BENTHIC ZONE is the ecological region at the lowest level of a body of water such as an ocean, lake, or stream, including the sediment surface and some sub-surface layers. Organisms living in this zone are called benthos and include microorganisms, as well as larger invertebrates. Organisms here generally live in close relationship with the substrate and many are permanently attached to the bottom.


by Boris Ondreička

ἄβυσσος (abussos) === bottomless

βένθος (benthos) === depth (of the sea)

---- refers to the lowest surface and subsurface levels (of bodies of water)

“Close your eyes and descend to the deep dark oceanic caves, where bioluminescent fish dwell, and where alien sharks hunt, using their highly developed senses, each one with its special characteristics that allow them to prosper in such a hostile environment. Let your body and soul get crushed by the immense pressure of all the water around you, let yourself drown, and come out as someone who looked death straight in the eye, and realized nothing means anything, and the only reason for you to live is what you make of it.”

There are thousands of diverse or even opposing abysses (down and up, inside and between us). Abyss irritates our curiosity. Curiosity eliminates fear. Curiosity is a base of (extremophilic) creativity. Creativity (and neurosis...) is a fundament of development. This is a clear and direct relation between Eros and Thanatos = der Todestrieb = as already Plotinus writes (in his Enneads): “But it is safer to account for the creative act by nearer connection with the over-world; the souls whose tendency is exercised within the Supreme have a greater power; immune in that pure seat they create securely; for the greater power takes the least hurt from the material within which it operates; and this power remains enduringly attached to the over-world: it creates, therefore it is self-gathered and the created things gather around it; the other souls, on the contrary, themselves go forth; that can only mean that they have deserted (...who/what?) in favour of the abyss; the main phase in them is drawn downwards and pulls them along in the desire towards the lower.”

Deep down there—there is no light, so our eyes lose their sense. But an image can be produced by imagination. Here arts carry a specific competence in terms of seeking (seek, see, sea) the unknown. ‘Deep’ is both a physical, sonic... as well as (non-material) psychic (emotional...) and an intellectual quality. ‘Deep’ relates both to the ‘real’ and ‘unreal’. ‘Deep’ is dark. You have to shine there yourself.

Then there is “‘the abyss of birth.’ An abyss indeed, a gulf into which one does not fall but from which, instead, one emerges into the universal chagrin” of Emil Cioran (The Trouble with Being Born). There is the abyss as “the great yawn or void between the phenomenal world of manifestation and its noumenal source, the gap in thought between the ‘real’ which is ‘ideal’ and the ‘unreal’ which is ‘actual’” of Aleister Crowley (The Book of Lies, self-published, which was exclusively limited for ‘babes of the abyss’ = ‘Adeptus Exemptus’ of his Thelema). There is the o bservation of Karl Kraus’ apocalypse (The last days ofmankind) where “the WWI leading humanity into the abyss through lies, hypocrisy, and propaganda”. There is “a beautiful hotel, equipped with every comfort, on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity. And the daily contemplation of the abyss between excellent meals or artistic entertainment, can only heighten the enjoyment of the subtle comforts offered.” = in Georg Lukács’ critique (‘Grand Hotel Abyss’) of ‘progressive’ intelligentsia (The Theory of Novel).

Let’s follow professor Otto Lidenbrock’s abyss-lessons performed during the reversed mountaineering of him and two other pilgrims: “Science is full of errors, but errors that one should learn about, because, little by little, they lead to the truth.” (after Jules Verne‘s Journey to the Center of the Earth—as it frequently reappears in various contexts of many texts of him, in Twenty thousand Leagues under the Sea as well, as ‘abyssal negativity’—to conquer the space but climbing or diving down as opposed to flying up). The poet and philosopher of the transhumanist climbing theory (and practice) Nicola Masciandaro renamed Nemo to Omen (pNEuMenOn).

Let’s go back to Böhme and Schelling and Hegel‘s (rare) phenomenological anticipation of limitless inwardness, unconsciousness, and intelligence (imagination and the higher forms of thinking) of enigmatic, subjective spirit as “ nightlike abyss within which a world of infinitely numerous images and presentations is preserved without being in consciousness” (in his Phänomenologie des Geistes) and Lacan’s “realm of subjectivity itSELF, the depth of other personality impenetrable”. Let’s retrace “the uncrossable abyss between SELF and the other” (‘domestication and monstrosity’ and Freudian ‘das Ding’) of Emmanuel Levinas; Lyotard‘s “abyss between meaning and existence, which characterizes both nihilism and the sublime, preserves this space better than any attempt to close or bridge it”; “the abyssal point from which the call of ethical responsibility emanates” as commented by Slavoj Žižek or Jon Millis; “the abyss of anxiety / entangled freedom, where freedom is not free in itself” of Søren Kierkegaard; the evil “abyss of non-being” (the cosmological nest of the serpent of sin) of Lev Isaakovich Shestov aka Yeguda Leib Shvartsman (the black-man of the purity of despair); Battaile‘s “...and when one tried to remove flowers, the roses, that cover the abyss, one did so to make visible the manure pit over which (according to a not fully reliable anecdote) Marquis de Sade had scattered the petals of beautiful roses... ...everything noble and beautiful has its roots downfallen to the abyss...”; Merleu-Ponty‘s “...being as abyss and not plenitude...”; Gombrowicz‘s “Normality is a tightrope walker above the abyss of abnormality.”; Rorty‘s “abyss between language and thought”; Ranciere‘s “abyss between speech and classification”; Badiou‘s “diabolic absolute, nothingness—the multiple of the multiple produced by the abyss”; Haraway‘s “the edge of the future before the abyss of unknown”; Whitehead‘s NSA: The Abyss from Which There Is No Return; and for sure the most notorious = Nietzsche‘s ”Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when YOU look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into YOU.“

There are so many subterranean and aquatic, abyssal fictions: the Hollow Earth hypothesis pseudoscientific myth following Greek realm of Hades, Judaic She-ol, Nordic Svaltarfaheirm, Tibetan Shambhala, Athanasius Kircher‘s Mundus Subterraneus followed by Cellular Cosmogony of Cyrus Reed Teed aka Koresh and Edgar Allan Poe‘s narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Edgar Rice Burroughs travelling to the Earth‘s core, Giacomo Casanova‘s utopia of Megamicres’ protocosmos, H. P. Lovecraft‘s traumatic events of Randolph Carter and African amphibian nations of Mami Wata as it have reappeared also in the brutal case of Drexciya (mythos) which gave inspiration to the legendary mission and name of Detroit techno collectives...

A number of authors treatise on those (Atlantis) civilisations as sustaining prehistoricity, asexual or hermaphroditic, pastoral virginity/paradise or hell.

There is a huge effort in Orphic descent to ‘there’ (to ‘archaeo’) in terms of the draconic consumerist lust for mineral and fossil resources and (in opposite) of understanding our recent (and future) climate complexities as in Composing Blue Ecologies: Science, Aesthetics, and the Creatures of the Abyss of Stacy Alaimo, or PaleoBase: Deep Sea Benthic Foraminifera of Anne Holbourn and Andrew S. Henderson.



Demersal Zone

DEMERSAL ZONE is the area of water nearest to the seafloor. The demersal zone is variable in depth and can be part of the photic zone where light can penetrate and photosynthetic organisms grow, or the aphotic zone that extends to the ocean depths, where no light penetrates.



by Theo Reeves-Evison

Biology becomes biocapital, The planet becomes a mine, And life mutates in the depths

It took just thirteen years to sequence all 3.1 billion base pairs of the human genome, an achievement counted among the most significant breakthroughs in modern science. Before the social implications of this mega-project can be fully worked through, an initiative called the Earth BioGenome Project has begun to map the genetic information of every species of animal, plant, fungi and single cell organism on the planet. Led by the Peruvian entrepreneur Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio, the Earth Bank of Codes is a sister project that assists in this task, creating an open source database for all ‘eukaryotic’ life— that is, anything with a nucleus — and providing the basis for a new class of biological asset. In partnership with the World Economic Forum, Castilla-Rubio aims to create a digital infrastructure that codifies the building blocks of life as intellectual property, with benefits supposedly accruing to indigenous communities now redefined as custodians of biological resources. Once encoded, patenting the genetic sequence of ancient Mexican corn varieties, or finding out what makes the venom of the Brazilian pit viper so valuable to pharmaceutical companies could be made a whole lot easier, and cheaper.

Projects like the Earth Bank of Codes thrive on visibility as a key mechanism to attract speculative capital. The bigger the splash, the faster the investment frenzy. But how does the Earth Bank of Codes appear from a place in which visibility follows a different rulebook, where marine life nudges its way through a darkness so complete it gives rise to a visual universe we can barely understand? From the cocooned sphere of an underwater submersible descending through the midnight zone, it is hard not to see the ambition to sequence the genetic code of all life as doomed from the outset. Here rarely seen species such as the gulper eel, whose body quickly disintegrates when removed from the high-pressure environment of the deep sea, appear alongside creatures that haven’t yet entered biologists’ taxonomic schema. Castilla-Rubio has already explored the possibility of using drones to gather genetic information from such remote locations, something that has been put into practice by researchers in California through the use of autonomous underwater vehicles equipped with DNA sampling instruments. Gathered in this way, it may not be long before databases are teeming with the genetic information of life-forms whose existence has yet to be verified by human eyes, their ‘data doubles’ surfacing in patent applications, while their fleshy counterpart remains outside the realms of direct human experience.

Whether or not the Earth Bank of Codes and the Earth BioGenome projects are successful does not diminish the influence of the logic underpinning their efforts. A prominent feature of this logic involves what Noel Castree calls ‘individuation’, the act of ‘putting legal and material boundaries around phenomena so that they can be bought, sold and used by equally ‘bounded’ individuals, groups or institutions’.3 Here the fluidity of the ocean and the complex webs of the life it sustains are reduced to discrete units of information on a database that can be bought, sold, and broken down into ever smaller parts. Intricate relations of interdependency all the way down to the molecular level are recoded as commodities in the making, as market logic enters the smallest pores and pockets of life.

In Joey Holder’s exhibition Abyssal Seeker there is a sense in which marine life seeks protection from this logic in the oily blackness of the deep sea. The exhibition, comprising two starkly contrasting rooms, narrates a journey away from an environment of oppressive transparency where all life is parsed as information, to another in which comfort can be found in darkness. In this second space, rarely seen species such as lamprey, frilled shark, and blue chimera skirt the fringes of an underwater brine lake, feasting on the profusion of life that surrounds this curious feature of the ocean floor. Brine lakes are a cocktail of hypersalinated water and chemical compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, which collect at the bottom of the sea due to the increased density of the water. Here the lakes appear as both an oasis and a dead zone. Life able to profit from their chemical riches thrives at their edges, but these same properties make the waters toxic to anything that strays too far into the cloudy waters. Like the Chinese alpine flower that has been seen to change the colours of its leaves from bright green to inconspicuous greys and browns over many generations in order to avoid the gaze of commercial harvesters, Holder’s marine lifeforms ensure invisibility from the extractive gaze of humans through change.

Above water their life is reduced to a bundle of biological resources whose value can be quantified and patented. As a way to avoid becoming more fodder for biocapital, the lifeforms in Abyssal Seeker migrate to the blind spots of our scopic regime, and find themselves at the edges of habitable space.

In order to make this journey into the deep, Holder's creatures are forced to alter in shape, size and genetic composition, entering into accelerated co-evolutionary couplings with other species. This kind of incessant mutability is a recurrent theme in Holder’s work, which she sees as the hallmark of free-range life. It is also part of what makes it so valuable to biocapital in the first place, with life continually generating new ways to synthesise chemicals that scientists can only dream of making in a lab. Genetic drift from one generation to the next, and a continual flow of DNA between populations create a perpetual churn of biological matter, and serve as one of the great sources of novelty in more-than-human ecologies. In its vital creativity, free-range life unwittingly carries out research and development activities for those seeking to profit from the patenting of new biological commodities.

And yet perhaps the creative proliferation of life is also something inherently resistant to current forms of capture. In the same way that a seed bank can only ever create a record of crop diversity at a certain moment in time, soon outpaced by the onward march of feral varieties in the wild, the ambition to sequence all eukaryotic life is a project that doesn’t take account of temporality. It operates in what Rodney Harrison calls the ‘frozen, arrested time’ of the archive, which is populated with proxies for real living things that make their own history. Abyssal Seeker implies that life can escape the nets and snares of biocapital if only it uses time to its advantage, by accelerating processes of genetic mutation already underway. Seek refuge in mutation, the creatures of the brine lake seem to say. Sensing the world through its DNA sampling device, the underwater drone can only interpret their message as noise.



Littoral Zone

The littoral zone is the part of a sea that is close to the shore. In coastal environments, the littoral zone extends from the high water mark, to shoreline areas that are permanently submerged. The word littoral may be used both as a noun and as an adjective. It derives from the Latin noun litus, litoris, meaning "shore".

In this iteration of 'Abyssal Seeker' arrivants are situated in a photographic installation set in a rocky, arid landscape composed of architectural drawings of panopticons, subtle diagrams of DNA, human evolutionary charts – the landscape itself is formed of these diagrams and symbols of surveillance and categorisation, human interpretation of organic processes.




Pelagic Zone

The pelagic zone consists of the water column of the open ocean. The word "pelagic" is derived from Ancient Greek πέλαγος (pélagos) meaning ‘open sea’.


by Boris Ondreička

‘Abyssal Seeker’ is an intersectional mythopoetic way of understanding the unknown in the deepest valley of uncanny between a (so-called) living (bio-logisms) and non-living (techno-logisms...). Joey Holder’s oceanic katabasis (a metaphorical transfer in the form of overwhelming digitally rendered images, pictographisms, and objects) reaches those idyllic sea-beds where black-smoker hydrothermal vents have created metabolisms of future life from the stone (Iron-Sulfur World Theory = the hypothesis of abiogenetic origin of life of Günter Wächtershäuser). If life was born from a mineral and mineral is the unbreakable part of our corporeality, the division of living and non-living and dead is a pure act of linguistic, semantic economy. Abyssal Seeker revitalizes the expanded vocabulary, the data-genesis of mineral-vegetable-animal-machine complexity (‘holos’). The unknown here is not to be embraced. She and we (observers, seekers...) are (literally, spatially...) embraced by the unknown.

‘Abyssal Seeker’ provides us with the conflict, dilemma of an oxymoron: an abyss is bottomless while benthos deals with some surface. It‘s like Heideggerian meditations between ‘Abgrund’ and ‘Ungrund’, the impossibility of arché,primordium, truth... as in Lévinas‘ an-archy, but at the same time mental, creative... construction of some ‘Grund’, mythos / narrative, icon, totem... If the abyss means real bottomlessness, there must be the one and only real earthly (oceanic...) abyss = a rupture, interval, hole, probe (might be the ego-tunnel of Thomas Metzinger, becoming not yet being = khôraic phantasy, journey, story...) all the way through (dia-) the sphere. The conflict creates psychosis. The psychosis rewinds huge energy (‘polemos’) for further progress.

Abyssal Seeker is a project by Joey Holder supported using public funding by Arts Council England, Seventeen (London) FUTURA (Prague), VISUAL Carlow (Ireland) part of ‘Speech Sounds’ curated by Iarlaith Ni Fheorais, and Gray Area Festival, San Francisco.

Creatures and film scenography by Yuma Burgess.

Sound Design by 33EMYBW.

Web Design/Graphics by PARADYME.

Logo by Raphaël de La Morinerie.


Supported by: