JAYA STENQUIST

Work in progress... Poetry Across Living Beings, Gilgamesh for Pollinators  


The narrative of Gilgamesh, like all stories, sits atop the affective work propelling attention and transformation within the reader. This project experiments with an interspecies translation of the text, playing through ways the affective shifts in the narrative can be mirrored in the relational representation between orchids and pollinators. Affect is not unique to the human animal. A shift in bodily understanding of one’s environment due to representations of other actors in the environment allow being to survive, take in nutrients, reproduce.



Enkidu’s story begins with the goddess Aruru reaching into the water. The first orchid is based on the Coryanthes macrantha, which contains a bucket shape that collects water—motivating a pollinator to crawl inside of the flower. The shape of a vessel is known to many nonhuman animals. If the water vessel is known, a certain narrative shape is also known—recognition of what it will mean to end thirst, a journey to toward the means to end the thirst, and either a victory (drinking water while unintentionally rubbing up against pollan) or tragedy (becoming trapped, drowning or starving within the vessel—to be lost in the story). A common thread in these translations is the shared drive towards water binding Earthly life forms together. Water imagery is also a common repetition in the epic of Gilgamesh, emphasizing how unexceptional (or deeply shared) the preoccupations of Earthly life forms have always been.



Though a translation for pollinators, these works would be inscrutable to a bee or a wasp. These pieces remain for a human audience to consider the limitations in our artistic practices, which are built on steep hierarchies that disqualify all nonhuman (and the majority of human) artists from creating “significant” work. They are built from human waste (plastic bags and paper from a recycling container in a graduate school office at the University of Texas), which stresses that as a species we live in states of scarcity and excess which generate waste that does not have a place or function, no method of compost. The act of salvaging these items and creating flawed, playful interspecies narratives for how we understand the process of becoming human, is as practical a use for a plastic target bag as any other.