HomeSteven Cottingham

Spectral Marks


In 2013, a ready-made garment factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh was shut down after workers went on strike, naming repeated ghost attacks as the reason for the interruption in production. The ghost’s relentless hauntings had caused mass hallucinations and illness. Agitated workers vandalized the factory and refused to work, eventually forcing management to take steps to drive out the ghost. [1]


Capital production turns humans into masses that can be produced and destroyed. [2] Bodies are not only left behind by the dead but also by the alienated living. In the process of production, the life-force of a body is extracted through coercive labour. [3] Human energy is divested of its character and independence in order to produce a product. [4] As capital hordes vitality, precarious bodies are forced to purchase their subsistence as a deferral of death.


Ghosts leave bodies in various ways under colonial neoliberalism, but also present a modality by which bodies haunt capital. Like energy and matter, ghosts can be neither created nor destroyed. They are atemporal and generative, moving through vessels in time and space. Capital’s erasure summons ghosts, and its various incarnations are entwined in the generations of the past, present, and future made invisible. [5] Haunting is bound to capital production—it is the relentless debt of capitalism’s systematic subjugation. [6] Hauntings are a confrontation of the historical foundations of violence that persist and regenerate. Ghosts undo the current moment as progressive and exceptional, since hauntings persevere as long as paradigmatic structures remain. “If history is an archive of what is visible, it is important to work with the invisible.” [7] What does it mean to commune with our ghosts?



–Text engraving on a 1797 British two pence [8]

Throughout the 18th and 19th century before being transported to colonial Australia, convicts from England would smooth and engrave messages onto coins as mementos for loved ones. Defaced and evacuated of their exchange value, coins were returned to their material value, left behind as stand-ins for the disappeared.


Real estate speculation has fuelled the rise of housing prices and aggressive gentrification in Vancouver, the city populated with storehouses for capital on unceded land. [9] The hoarding walls used to surround a new building development have been recycled here into a set of chairs and a table that evokes the domestic. Walls and chairs are vessels for the body, and stand in for fractal time. “For every productive moment, there is a corresponding moment in terms of reproduction.” [10] The non-direct and the reproductive or the housework, the sex work, the unseen, the “dark matter.” Although separated in time and space, they are located within the same mode of production. [11]


During the First World War many soldiers spent their downtime fashioning empty ammunition shells and bullet casings into art objects. Elaborate patterns and images of vegetation were carved into recycled weapons of war—brass artillery shells transformed into flower vases. At the same time, women were recruited as productive labour for the war’s munitions factories, using scarce metals to produce the very shells that flooded the battlefields. WWI was the first major industrialized conflict that required an enormous labour force, and is also the war in which a trench art proliferated. The energy and life-force forced to fuel the war inserted propositions into its very chain of production in the form of mementos.


Consider these artworks as a series of propositions. The installation includes objects that bear a provenance generated through social relations in separate times and spaces. Stained with the traces of ghosts, their hauntings are the marks of creative energy, the life-force generated outside of “productive” time, the interruptions to mass production. They are the actions and materials that stain the coat, the coin, the condo, and the canon. As coexistence and deferral, these efforts challenge our constructions of subjectivity that upholds the myopia of capital. By directing our attention to the spectral, these works invite us to commune with our ghosts, by naming and attributing vitality to both the dead and the living.

–Tatiana Mellema


  1. For a description of the ghost attacks in Gazipur’s RMG Factory: “Prayers to drive out ghost at Bangladesh garment plant,” June 19, 2013, web. “Ghost related protests close Bangladesh factory,” June 20, 2013, web.
  2. Eve Tuck and C. Ree, “A Glossary of Haunting,” in Handbook of Autoethnography, ed. Stacey Holman Jones and Tony E. Adams (Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2013), 649.
  3. Maya Gonzalez, “The Gendered Circuit: Reading the Arcane of Reproduction,” Viewpoint Magazine 3 (2013), web.
  4. Karl Marx, “Chapter 48: The Trinity Formula,” in Capital, vol. 3, ed. Friedrich Engels, (New York: International Publishers, 1849).
  5. Tuck and Ree, 642.
  6. Tuck and Ree, 643.
  7. Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Fractal Thinking,” aCCeSsions 2 (2016), web.
  8. “Convict Love Tokens,” National Museum of Australia, Accessed March 9, 2017, web.
  9. Cottingham.
  10. Gonzalez.
  11. Gonzalez.