Tessa Laird Debris Facility is a Melbourne-based entity dedicated to jewellery-in-the-expanded-field; that is, the propagation of affordable adornments fabricated from waste materials, but also permanently embodied colour in the form of abstract, geometric tattooing, installation practices, guided meditations, the imbibing of elixirs and ritual ablutions. The Facility’s verbal interface with the art world often parodies and parasitises the neoliberal cooptation of self-care. Nevertheless, the Facility’s ethics are as impeccable as the dress of its employees.
When meeting a representative of the Facility in early January, they are engaged in numerous projects including a new video work, Infestment Advertisement, the creation of an inventory of their resources, material and immaterial, for the exhibition Queer Economies; and an installation and video, De-afficiency, at ArtsHouse. A Facility representative attends our interview wearing a purple plastic rain jacket, below which another even more colourful jacket is hiding. As the weather gets warmer they reveal a fluorescent green mesh tank top underneath it all, which is when multitudes of tattoos become visible—blocks of colour, geometric shapes, and what appear to be bacterial forms.
The representative also has iridescent eyebrows and eyelids, and they are, naturally, festooned in the Facility’s infamous jewellery. Even their teeth are embedded with jewels, leading me to my first question, about the role of colour in the Facility. I am curious to know if there is a code of colour conduct that employees adhere to, and just what kinds of signals and codes do employees send out about the Facility and its products?
Debris Facility The Facility does indeed have in place a Dress Code that employees are expected to adhere to, although it’s not comprehensively enforced. This is a mutation or aggregation of other professional standards seen in other industries, as well as enacting policy around OHS and transport and logistics. The Facility is a human body, as well as an expanded corporate body, therefore the dress code is often perceived as the headquarters of operations, meaning that our professional profile must be maintained and developed.
The code was developed as an enactment of multiplicity, showcasing the breadth of our aesthetic imprint, while also maintaining our specific agenda. There is an overlapping of industrially produced garments—second hand items which have been cycled through commodity and disposal processes—with customised pieces and items from various corporate entities aka “designers”. Appropriate work attire should enact elements of labour and utility, speculative fashion, corruption of new age vibrational theory, and tactile pleasures while highlighting the visibility of the Facility.
Taking frames of reference of queer vernacular aesthetics, employees are encouraged to blend notions of hi-vis from an OHS perspective with that of the material realities of visibility of gender non-conformity and the potential for violence. We’ve been particularly drawn to bio-mimetic protocols, such as the biological function of Aposematism: warning or poison colouration found in plants and animals. In many cases this toxic economy/ecology is enacted by the ingestion of poisonous plants by an animal than then generates its own toxicity.
Often the more brightly coloured something is, the more toxic. In our case, this enables a practice of weaponised colour, and the vibrational noise it generates creates protective packaging around all our operations. As the facility is a Corporation, it is a commodity, which also produces commodities. Tightening the cycle of production, marketing and distribution, it’s important that our wearable works travel with us at all times, and employees represent and market our products. These commodities/works exist in the forms of jewellery, tattoos, hair and make up, garments and styling.
These are services that we’re able to offer clients, so having samples of them on hand is in our best market interests. This also enacts the packaging of the Facility itself: acting as architectural dressing, or a constructed facade from which to interface with potential clients. The signals and codes that are enacted are those of industrial production and the bodies that constitute those systems. The labour practices of subjecthood, and the economy of significations are put into critical play.
The overlapping visual signals relating to class, gender, race, cultural identities, species, age and attitude are all political attributes we challenge. Increasing the intensity and complexity of our operations is a bio-mimetic protocol we engage in order to queer evolutionary and cyborg theories. Technologies of garments and body adornment are central to industrial and capitalist interests. By critically enacting our relationship to these processes, we highlight, reflect and corrode those operations. We also note the utility and pleasure these practices bring with them, and enact a visual and tactile protocol of being in the world, which is generous and generative in its complexity.
TL I’m interested in the “practice of multiplicity” that you espouse. These days it is quite common to hear the personal pronouns “they”, “them” and “their” in relation to individuals who wish to live outside of proscriptive gender binaries. Yet in the case of the Facility, “they” are more than an indeterminate individual, they are, as you say, a multiplicity. The Facility’s insistence on multiplicity not only draws attention to corporate bodies in the context of the Capitalocene, but to the fact that bodies are always already multiplicities—made up of millions of micro-organisms, which are referenced in some of the Facility’s tattoos.
And all of this biodiversity, this teeming multinaturalism, we shoehorn into highly individualist first person pronouns: I, me, mine. There are apparently thousands of different sexes of fungi, which makes me think of the phrase “another world is possible”, except that, this world is already a reality, here and now, offering an alternate reality to the human world in which we labour so intensively under binary divisions. In thinking of fungi, I’m also led to think of the non-human worlds that the Facility’s colour schemes seem to resonate in sympathy with, in particular undersea creatures—for example, nudibranchs, which are perhaps speculative fashion at its finest.
Sometimes I even wonder if the Facility is using these creatures as daily style inspiration. In the online ABCs of Multispecies Studies, the entry on “spectacular” reminds readers that the words “spectacle” and “species” come from the same root. Your allusion to “weaponised colour” is powerfully pertinent in terms of issues of personal safety, and interestingly you used the term “noise” in relation to high‑vis colour, which seems like a mode of synaesthesia. This kind of entanglement of the senses reminds me that there is also a flip side to the warning of the poisonous snake, frog or butterfly, and that is the lure/allure of toxic colour.
Perhaps you could talk more about the Facility’s sensuous relationship to colour and tactility, which is so well exemplified in the video, Entangling with Cunjevoi (2016) made with a member of the Facility exploring a sculptural landscape by Isadora Vaughan.
DF The overlapping of boundaries, leakage of categories is at the forefront of our operations, so a synaesthetic approach has been used. Information within phenomena always has multiple sensory dimensions to it, but is generally only coded in a singular way. Colour itself exists within all materials, but it’s only when the chromatic density reaches certain socially constructed levels that it’s recognised. Through pushing for an overlapping intensity within colour, we highlight the mechanics of optics, and specifically the speeds in which colour travels. In this increasingly hastened world, speed of information delivery is kept in high regard, while we simultaneously oppose accelerationist agendas.
Chromatically, we preference combinations of high speed and high intensity colours: neon yellow being the upper most shade that human eyes can perceive, vibrating at a higher frequency, making it of prime utility for our operations. The construction of allure in its optic and haptic sense is part of our marketing strategy to generate desirous a/effects. This Mobius continuum of productive confusion between attraction and repulsion is a method of highlighting our employees bodies in specific ways, and the ways that these tactile assemblages move through the world. Non-human bodies are some of our aspirations and inspirations, especially those from the ocean.
When climate change is making more of the world into an ocean, we follow an aqua-futurist agenda as expressed in the 1990s by the Detroit electronic collective Drexciya. Nudibranch’s evolutionary freedom from their shells allowed for their proliferation of bodily difference, complicating themselves within their environment, becoming both corally entangled, and alienated from their surrounds. Another touchstone is cuttlefish and octopuses, their highly iridescent cephalopod skin being able to not only change colour, but also mutating texture to camouflage themselves.
Our understandings of camouflage are disrupted by the networked neurological body of the cephalopod that directly responds to the sensory information of its environment in its skin. The persistence and resilience of these bodies is something we greatly appreciate, and the knowledge of their survival after inevitable human extinction gives us great hope. Our desires are chromatically linked: the sensuousness of colour as a method of enhancing and mutating our relationship to bodies, and the systems through which they move. The multiplicity of bodies, that ecological assemblage which is enforced by the “me/I”, desires other bodies to enfold: that evolutionary and queer desire to morph bodies and methods of being in the world; survival and pleasure are interlinked.
We look to colour as a sensuous force much like a drug, whose effects are addictive, in which increased dosage is required through prolonged use. Colour is, in this sensuousness, a parasitic force, in that it’s always with and of a host material-body. Colour cannot exist in and of itself, but must rely on some material substrate for transmission. This parasitic relationship is also useful for the host. Entangling with Cunjevoi was a parasitic inhabitation, an interruption of Isadora’s installation at Station gallery in its final days. Born from a desirous tactile relationship to the work, the video traces the corruption and expansion of the work through the addition of our own materials and processes. Our employees’ bodies were put into a new working environment with the job description to complicate the work site. Protective barriers were employed, and obliterated in the process of becoming-with the works.
TL Speaking of videos, you have just completed Infestment Advertising (2019), a high-paced montage of microscopic close-ups of the Facility’s jewellery. To my eye they look like frog’s eggs, mosses, and slime moulds. It’s interesting that you mention colour’s relationship to speed, and the Facility’s predilection for colours resonating at higher vibrations. I think about the abilities of various animals who can see colours that exceed the human spectrum, such as ultra-violet. And also the way in which some animals, such as birds, see vastly more “frames per second” than we do, so that humans must be moving perpetually in slow motion to them. Thinking about choice of colours, and the pace of editing, who are you making your videos for?
DF We make work for a broad range of audiences, any potential Consumer-Constituents that could host our parasitic practices. This extends beyond human audiences to enfold non-human animals, plants, minerals, and phenomena existing beyond those categories. The speeds we produce seek to amplify perceptual ability, to generate a/effective sensation, textual blur, and flipping between and out of scale and recognisable form. We articulate higher-amplitude, including colour. Red is the slowest wavelength human eyes perceive, which is some of the reason we’re very much not interested in that base level chroma, and its adaptation into symbolic discourse: i.e. the romance industry and its constructed emotional intensity. While human blood is currently red, we look forward to oncoming mutations.
We recently had a gold disk inserted into the flesh of the hand of the Body Corporate: we now have the capacity to administer a Golden Handshake: a tactile rupture and an inversion of the Midas touch, which was enabled through scholarship funds. This value-adding, investment and infestment of “materials” and the “body” we pursue as a driving force of operations in which colour as a coded system pivots centrally. Additionally, recently we’ve initiated becoming host to another colour ecology: that of being mouldy, lichen-encrusted, in the form of tattoos spreading over our legs, made in collaboration with Mossy 333. This starts an ongoing symbiogenesis, as growing clusters of pigment take root and proliferate over time. The specific ways in which colours are inhabited and embodied through our operations, respond to their im/material contexts, giving vital resources and pleasures; we infect and inflect the world with parasitic hungers and survivals beyond the individual.
Tessa Laird is a writer, artist, and lecturer in Critical and Theoretical Studies at the School of Art, VCA, University of Melbourne. She is the author of A Rainbow Reader (Clouds: Auckland, 2013) and Bat (Reaktion: London, 2018), and is one of the organisers of Hacking the Anthropocene IV, a symposium of feminist, queer, and anticolonial propositions, featuring Jack Halberstam, Macarena Gómez-Barris, Zena Cumpston, Jacynta Fuamatu and Debris Facility. Further details at
Debris Facility is a corporate entity working parasitically in multiple contexts, levels of visibility and professionalism. Recent projects include De/Afficiency at Arts House, Queer Economies at Bus Projects, and Craftivism at Shepparton Art Museum, touring nationally with NETS Victoria from 2019–20.