un Projects is based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation; we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
un Projects

Dear J,


Dear J,

I’ve been meaning to follow up on my previous letter for a while now, thinking I knew what I wanted to write but also nervous about the inevitable failures of assigning words; of failing to articulate their incomparability.1 In this letter I’d like to think about clinker, a residual geology of metalworking, as an instructional framework for our collective writing practice. Through a collaborative coalescing of text — as friendship, forgery, collective ambiguity — I want to turn back to the clinker, those mineralogical iterations of reconfigured narrative that bind in togetherness before blowing themselves (ourselves) wide open. As coal burns at high temperatures, it releases the non-combustible elements stored within it, which particulate, melt and fuse into new geological formations called clinker. During our correspondence, clinker — a material surplus of extraction and burning, undoing the material economies they entail — operates as both a working metaphor for the textual excesses that write us together, and a method for rethinking materialities of excess through practices of writing.

From the growing pile of letters on my desk, clinker becomes a model to compose new social-material configurations, in the formation and reformation of rock, a momentary fusing of fragments gathered together and regurgitated here. This letter sits within an ongoing project of correspondence that began during lockdown as a way of exploring geological transmutations and embodied connections over distance. The material-narrative discontinuities of a blacksmith’s forge lay the grounds for new social compositions formed through pyrotechnic experimentation, positing a ‘social renegotiation with the geologic … Not only do flames transform the very stuff of the world, but fire has a special role in simmering, fusing, melding, alloying and annealing the heterogeneous elements of social life into workable unity. To which must be added fire’s omnipresent capacity to unravel and obliterate the very order it has helped bring into being’.2 Within this project, social formations of annealing and obliteration are performed through correspondence, a narrative restaging of collective dynamics and disruptions forged in flames and exposed in clinker.

This letter, extending from my last letters, returns to the forge as a fabricator of both objects and fictions. The shared etymology of the forge’s double meaning — as material transformation and narrative transgression — works to ‘capitalize on the confusion between fiction and reality permitted by the epistolary form’.3 The fire is kept burning and particles of ash are carried around on clouds in the forge’s exhaust, a correspondence of matter and mattered language. Fire discharges coal’s discontinuities as an undermining of linear material narratives and binary economies of resource and waste, manifesting in a kind of mutated alloy that we might speculate from. Clinker is a fraudulent geology, performing its own mineralogic composition while resisting categorical and temporal definitions of rock. Clinker’s fraudulence isn’t an enactment of fakery or mimicry so much as a deferral or displacement of authorised systems of extraction and burning. It writes its own fictions while, in its fiery transmutation, reconfiguring its allegiances to the structures (power/history/economy) of its own material production and creating a material surplus with no economic worth and a confused sense of geologic time. Like William Henshall’s coins — which undermine the development of Australia’s national material economy through their production by a skilled metalworker and convicted forger — clinker simultaneously participates in the material transactions of coal into fuel while calling into question the causal fixation of power that such transactions enact, incrementally stalling combustion towards an economy of leftovers and loose ends.4

Clinker expresses, as both a release and an utterance, a problem of definition and a proposition for rearticulation. Feigning singularity in a molten mass of contradiction — refusing and reshaping combustion — clinker as an entity of dynamic and creative exchange forges lumps of inconsistency; singular/ multiple, held/withheld, concealed/revealed. It’s not one moment, or a single phase. In the sexualities and asexualities of a fiery earth that we write through, clinker ‘provides a material register ... that “jumps” questions of inheritance to initiate new genealogical configurations’.5 Material shifts in combustion make possible new modes of contact that burn in self-perpetuating experimentation. Clinker forms a tautological deposit, a spillage enacted in our writing where the writing itself becomes a repetitive indulgence of earthly arrangements. You write me back to myself in a shadowy surplus that resonates throughout this letter.

As I write, I hold your replies close. So close that I lose the perspective necessary to gauge proximity, to read distinctions between the instant when I sign off and you react, the little fractures written between us that pull apart the unwritten, supressed accumulations leading to a tacit authorial fallout. In a collective discharge of distributed pseudonyms, our letters simultaneously perform authorship and refuse it, ‘the work produced [being] the result of neither one nor the other, but of some third entity ... “like a field of energy or a field of transaction”’.6 We write this energetic field in scattered collaborative agglomerations, rearranging the edges of correspondence, ‘a nonindividuated collective subject ... whose constant shifting does not resolve into a fixed state but instead ... “dissolves alternative, polarized, either/or possibilities into infinite potentiality”’.7 Throughout our letters, the collaborative solders of clinker are written and unwritten and the who … as embedded shifting ~thing~ that develops in relation… is ‘made incomplete’ by the other … [where] the other doesn’t reveal the who of oneself, the other destroys it. But your ‘oneself’ isn’t singular in the first place. And the destruction you describe is differentially engaged by material profusions that renegotiate their own extents in a drafting and undrafting of relationality.

If a meteorite signals the Earth’s cosmic yearning, and the bottom of the ocean collects the elsewheres of combustion, then how can we conceptualise the margins of a material arrangement that far exceeds the social alloys we write together? That is always, already elsewhere? As a mild avoidance, we narrate through allegorical formation where this writing (my writing) elicits the ghost of collaboration for the purposes of the maker. A spectral haze that reorientates both maker and made in a collective-otherwise to the conditions of its own making. You say undoing [is] opposed to the accrual of multiples but I wonder if it’s perhaps closer to an unfaithful allegiance that plays the part, while particulating in a fog of indifference. The gravitational distance of the cosmos and the irreducible depths of the ocean register a burning ambivalence through excessive reorientations of what’s at stake.

Clinker is a spatial wager — of staked claims, staked lands, staked scholarship and staked surplus — that is contingent on an unfolding contradiction of the past and a devaluing of a predetermined present/future. It accounts for the alterable and saturated conditions of material-social formation that write the grounds for knowledges and narratives of adjustment. Clinker modifies. It adapts the extractive extensions of fire through reconstitutions of what fire makes possible, an experiment made tautological by grammar, and yet in the mess of (pre)position it carries across, already elsewhere, where presence isn’t enough. Blazes burn an otherwise into being and the clinker reiteratively performs itself (subtle changes in composition, form and density making each piece of rubble new again). It is a reinvention of material promises, every gritty lump positing amendments to the geochemical orientations that made it. Clinker underscores its own speculative extensions, wagering geographies of excess from which knowledges and narratives of adjustment shift in the fire’s warm periphery.

And through its fraudulence, the clinker forges fictions in a narrative flood. It reimagines the extents of the collaborative relations it sets out; the friendships, forgeries and collective ambiguities written together in this letter. Throughout this project, clinker plays out at a point that redirects and multiplies meanings in excess of the relationship between … you-and-I. It’s a proliferation of geologic creativity. An abundance of alteration formed by ‘clusters of textual energy’.8 In reconstitutions of text, renegotiations of written friendship and reformulations of authorship — both the actual and the fabricated — clinker emerges in processes of burning across bodies that cannot remain discrete as a ‘you’ and a ‘me’ or even a ‘you’ and an ‘us’, yet rely on the outfolding of difference for their electrical charge. As I say, I hold your letters close (maybe too close), imagining friendship as a written charge, an opening out onto the possibilities of a collective, impulsive, invention of an otherwise.

Speak to you soon. Love,


Forge, made using half a corrugated steel drum; bricks found in paddocks and garden beds; cement mix; a length of iron pipe with holes drilled at one end; the welded steel base of a discarded sculpture; gravel gathered from a pile behind a shed; sand from the driveway; and, a vacuum cleaner set on reverse, Therese Keogh, 2020, Tarrengower, Vic

Therese Keogh is an artist and writer living and working on the unceded lands of the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. Her practice operates at intersections between sculpture, geography and landscape architecture to produce multilayered projects exploring the socio-political and material conditions of narrative and knowledge production.

1. This text is a reconfiguration of a broader collection of unpublished letters written in 2020 between a sprawling group of actual and fictional collaborators, narrativising the material excesses released by burning coal in a blacksmith’s forge: Katy Lewis Hood, Therese Keogh, Jacqui Shelton, Saskia Schut, The Apprentice, The Master and The Undersigned. Italicised quotes within this text have been lifted and repurposed from other letters in the same collection.

2. Nigel Clark, ‘Earth Fire, Art: Pyrotechnology and the Crafting of the Social’ in Noortje Marres, Michael Guggenheim and Alex Wilkie (eds.), Inventing the Social, Mattering Press, London, 2018, p. 177.

3. Elizabeth Macarthur, Extravagant Narratives: Closure and Dynamics  in  Epistolary Form, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1990, p. 24.

4. Helen Hughes, ‘The Artist As Forger’ in Aileen Burns, Johan Lundh and Tara McDowell (eds.), The Artist As, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2018, p. 254.

5. Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff, ‘Queer Fire: Ecology, Combustion and Pyrosexual Desire,’ Feminist Review, vol. 118 (2018): p. 9.

6. M. Barnard Eldershaw is the collective pseudonym of two women, Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw, who wrote and lived together in Potts Point in  the 1930s and 40s. Through the use of collective-singular authorship, M. Barnard Eldershaw proposes an imaginary synthesis,  a  melting and annealing of their discrete identities in a  narrative  process of invention and re-invention. Maryanne Dever, ‘No Mine and Thine but Ours: Finding M. Barnard Eldershaw,’ Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 14, no. 1 (1995): p. 75.

7. Ibid., p. 67.

8. Hélène Cixous, The Book of Promethea, trans. Betsy Wing, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1991, p. xi.