Pockets of Slime
In my house there are pockets of slime.
Sitting placidly in shelves in cupboards, tucked away into the corner of drawers, sedately waiting on the landings in the hallway, well-hidden amongst the stacks of magazines stored under a sofa, or shamelessly asserting its presence on the work surfaces in the kitchen, slime has been an ever-present encounter in my domestic life these last few months.
Let me tell you why.
Slime has become the favoured subject and object of children’s play at my daughter’s school and thus it has made its appearance – continuously and oftentimes unexpectedly – into our shared domestic space.
Pursued through YouTube videos which she and her friends endlessly consume, guided by the site’s algorithms, new recipes are attempted with each batch. The resultant slime is deposited into small plastic containers, large ceramic bowls, glass cups, any vessel she can put to task in her pursuit of the perfect colour, consistency, smell, touch. And then these containers laden with her concoctions are left around our home. Oftentimes for weeks.
Sharing this story of my slime-making child with friends and colleagues, they too, somewhat surprised, told me about their children who are likewise engaged. Although of a similar age, our children do not know one another. These activities are therefore not bound to my daughter’s school, but have spread out across London.
Slime is manifesting itself through an unlinked community of post-internet kids, who are accessing digital how-to guides on laptops, tablets and phones, then searching their homes for washing powder, flour, food colouring, vegetable oil, glitter, starch before spending hours concocting, mixing and adjusting found recipes. The slime is then being deposited around these children’s homes. The reasons behind this we, their parents, do not know.
Slime-making has become today’s favoured childish pursuit, and these children have become something akin to the Midwich Cuckoos, a hive-mind determined on following its own material pursuits.
Lamps and shades, postcards, prints, electricity, painting, photographs, frames and frames and frames, candlesticks, candles, tea light holders, handles, drawers, the declining middle class, tables, chair, sofa, cushions, printing block, Britain, Brexit, Chinese lions, photographs, pots, mortgage, plants, vases, bowls, leaves, jugs, computer, salt and pepper shakers, gas, jars, books and books and books, lightbulbs, middle age, curtains, glass, children, fireguard, fireplace, grate, education, coal bucket, dog, floorboards, record player, London, dining room table, home, publishers, dining chairs, hairdressing chair, Norway, 1960s leather chair, money, television, #fakenews, Roku stick, cables, words, copper, hair, Victorian morals, wires, plugs, digital television subscriptions, sockets, switches, laptop, earth, paint, plaster, the stock market, bricks, cavities, boots, grandfather clock, velvet, horse racing.
These are the matters of concern of the communal living space of the house in which I live; this is the heterogeneous ensemble that constitutes, structures and otherwise locates my domestic. It is this assemblage into which slime adds itself; it is this machine for living into which slime oozes and moves through.
However, these ‘things’, these so-called actors and networks, are not simply matters of concern; these are matters of care, my care, and I am exhausted by them. They do not sit inert, but require – oftentimes demand – organising, tidying, cleaning, wiping down, picking up, feeding, washing, nurturing, scouring, attending, fixing, maintaining, dusting, sweeping, tending, watching, touching. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa notes that ‘we must take care of things in order to remain responsible for their becomings’ and unless these actions and activities are performed, unless I perform them, these becomings are aborted; these matters of care become merely matters. And slime – that hinterland substance, the primordial matter of no concern and no care – is the reminder.
Slime has no memory.
It serves no use except being itself; it cannot be instrumentalised. It neither carries the false consciousness of nostalgia, nor does it speak of the contemporary of neoliberal childhood. The only time it points to is deep time. It holds little capital, if any at all.
And so I do not have to care for it; I have no responsibility for its becomings. It already is.
Slime is a relief.
I do nothing with the slime. It is left where it is found. The slime on the landing stayed for over two weeks. Then, at some point, it was no longer there. Where it went I do not know. Or maybe I do not remember.
Speaking about slime in the home is a transgression, for the home as the machine for living demands its cleanliness, its order, and most importantly, a strict adherence to its hygiene. The manifestation of slime is anti-domestic. It is a substance which points sideways to other more abject matters. And yet, these material abjections in the domestic are ring-fenced, corralled into particular spaces and places in order that they can be ‘dealt with’ – the bathroom, the kitchen sink, the rubbish bin. Slime is everywhere.
However, the manifestation of slime speaks at the same time to the very heart of the domestic. Mark Grief, following Hannah Arendt, notes that for the Greeks, the home as oikos was the space to which ‘all the acts that sustained bare biological life’ belonged, ‘a hidden sphere, free from scrutiny’, which thus becomes ‘the foundation for a public person’. The more cloaked the activities of the biological body, the more the public persona can be revealed. The domestic is a civilising force; and speaking of domestic slime is an exposure.
Slime is non-identical to itself.
Each batch which emerges, emerges on its own terms. From the porridge-like substance that bubbles slowly on the kitchen counter, to the drying blue pot sitting on the landing, to the more recent burgundy ooze stuffed into a small glass cup, slime is a perpetual exercise in the heterogeneity of the encounter.
And as the hours and days pass, each batch develops along its own path, fermenting, or drying, or leaking its oil. With no stability in its form, it is the substrate which never stabilises, as its very name forever promises.
Slime keeps its promise.
Seemingly obsequious, in truth slime’s sibilance betrays its quiet dominance, quietly supported through its memoryless non-identical identity. As the word pours out – I am speaking it out repeatedly as I write – I feel its ooze rise between my tongue and teeth, before it moves back into the air pockets in my cheeks, pushes its way back over the tips of my teeth and out into space between my mouth and the screen of the computer. The word seeps its way forth, slowly, inch by inch, to impress itself onto my digital writing space.
Through all this, the algorithms carry on their work. Somehow sensitised to my thinking on slime, Instagram has been inserting advertisements for magnetic slime into my feed. Scattered through the images from museums, galleries, artists, designers and craftpeople, slime moves itself, this time magnetically, driven by forces I can neither see, nor feel, nor touch, nor hear.
As the magnetic slime is attracted towards a heavy magnetic, it moves territorially towards the object, at first slowly and then with all the speed of a predator, before its devours the other into its heart and then comes to rest. I watch mesmerised, hitting play again and again, to feel eternal recurrence at work.
And in its repetition of movement, as the video plays again and again, this magnetised ooze crystalizes its plainer sibling’s features.
Slime is weird.
de la Bellacasa, Maria Puig. “Matters of care in technoscience: Assembling neglected things.” Social Studies of Science 41.1 (2011): 85-106
Corbusier, Le. Toward An Architecture. Getty Publications, 2007.
Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie. Repeater, 2017.
Greif, Mark. “Against Exercise.” n+ 1 1.1 (2004).
Latour, Bruno. “Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern.” Critical inquiry 30.2 (2004): 225-248.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science: With a prelude in rhymes and an appendix of songs. Vintage, 2010.
Overy, Paul. Light, Air and Openness: Modern Architecture Between The Wars. Thames and Hudson, 2008.
Woodard, Ben. Slime Dynamics. John Hunt Publishing, 2012.