Assemblage, Actants, Affect

Browsing through the installation project Greetings from the Salton Sea was truly an explorative experience to me. The site creator Kim Stringfellow starts off tactfully using an affect-inducing instrument—photo slideshow. The impingement of affect on the users’ bodies are immediately realized via the use of highly saturated colors, be it the sickishly orange body of water that triggers discomfort in your brain, the shiny silver skin of fish carcasses reflected against the bright sunlight, or the dusty filter that renders the stacked mattresses and the floral wallpaper a muted counterpoint to the rest; altogether they form a rich tableau that leaves traces of the prosperity the Salton Sea once enjoyed as well as its desolate status quo. Knowing that certain usage of retouching must be employed to bring out such effect, I began to think in what ways did I, as a member of the audiences rather than of the webpage creators, fully receive the affect of those photos, of the highlighted colors that guided my eyes towards the objects Stringfellow intended me to focus on, so that I was able to sit in front of my laptop and experienced (mostly) what Stringfellow saw back then.

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there’s no time for letting the affect of photo to sink in, it hits you head on

Clicking into the introductory page, I was drawn to its clear-cut “sectionality”: the detailed literary research on the left and a combination of photo and map on the right, and not to mention the smart choice of patterned background that is reminiscent of blue sea waves. Such functional layout is consistently kept throughout this website, creating a specific mindset for the audience to 1. learn about the history of the Salton Sea in its chronological order 2. gets informed about the location, its topography that explains the formation of certain inflow from the sea 3. see the harmful transformation human exploitation has imposed on the ecology surrounding this body of water.

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the map feature is interactive as the user could choose different ways of exploring the area (i.e. terrain/satellite)

While comparing Stringfellow’s project with mine, I really wanted to steal his “sectionality” move. Since both of our projects are centered upon environmental precarity, a subject matter that does not receive its due attention, it is necessary to “prime” the users with adequate background research while not falling short on the fun-filled, explorative affect acquired in the process of navigating a full-blown website.

—one Goliath is made of numerous little Davids—

The name of my website “THING-POWER” is a term borrowed from and inspired by Jane Bennett’s article “Vibrant Matter”. Bennett brings up the term “assemblage” to explicate the agentic power of things we normally deem as “lifeless” and “inanimate”, as she notes,  “An assemblage owes its agentic capacity to the vitality of the materialities that constitute it.” With the trash as the main actants in mind, I reexamined my website in the audience’s stance and soon a question popped up: “Besides being the eyesore that disrupts the scenic view, what are some other actual, solid effects that trash has cast upon the Flushing Meadows park?”

As I introduced in my previous blog post, the Corona Ash Dump, an inglorious past of this site that was dominated by huge piles of trash and animal manure, was a crucial lesson to be learned regarding the detrimental effects of trash. Therefore, to improve and possibly redesign my website, I want to incorporate a historical insight by unveiling the past, an element of this park that most people (including myself) are rather oblivious about, by 1. giving an overview of each major environmental red flag that was or still persists and its harmful effects on human, animals, environment 2. complementing with visual proof  3. pointing out (as many as I could) each actant that was part of the whole assemblage (human and other “heterogenous series of actants), which altogether has led to the negative consequences we see.

And that’s when Stringfellow’s move comes into play, as I want to divide up my page in a similar fashion: there’s the historical background (word), the visual aid (photos), and then a special section dedicated to the identification of actants that would hopefully tie up with the other two. It functions almost like the kind of “criminal board” one finds in the police station or a detective’s office, where mugshots of criminal suspects are pinned up, each with littles descriptions of the crimes they’ve committed, which in my case, would consist of not only the variety of trash found in the area (e.g. plastic bottles, plastic bags), but also the human factor, in that without which many of the environmental problems wouldn’t even surface and resurface over and over again. To give you an example of what I meant, the picture below, despite not being completely accurate, demonstrates the general idea.


by giving the trash “a voice”, the often ignored effects are made obvious to the users

By juxtaposing the aforementioned elements, I wish to highlight that behind every environmental problem that the Flushing Corona park, along with its frequenters and habitants have suffered, there’s an assemblage of countless number of small actants in play, each contributing a little push that eventually resulted in affectual events we see and should remember today.


Works Cited

Bennett, Jane. “Vibrant Matter.” 2009, doi:10.1215/9780822391623.
Boys, Bowery. “The Corona Ash Dump: Brooklyn’s burden on Queens, a vivid literary inspiration and bleak, rat-Filled landscape.” The Bowery Boys: New York City History, 15 Jan. 2015,
“Greetings from the Salton Sea | Kim Stringfellow.” Greetings from the Salton Sea | Kim Stringfellow,

~ by Lehan Zhang on March 29, 2018.

One Response to “Assemblage, Actants, Affect”

  1. Hi Maggie, you have first carefully studied the Salton Sea website both about its organization skills and editing techniques. I appreciate how you also want to give offer different sections for the audience to navigate through to learn about the ecology site in a more comprehensive way. The idea of making a “criminal board” for different types of pollutions is definitely interesting and affective. I like how you edited your photos to make the trashes “speak.”

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