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Issue – 6

Edited by Sam Grabowska, PhD

Summer 2023

Vague Force is Femme Salée’s sixth zine issue. According to the editor, “all the works in this issue center around the body simultaneously constrained and emerging.” F&S publishes issues twice a year, online & in print. These biannual publications include, but are not limited to, art, poetry, fiction & non-fiction writing, & scores. The fundamental objective of each zine is to promote & support creative bodies working within exceptional art communities while bringing intersectional, disability, queer, BIPOC, & feminist narratives to the forefront of art & writing practices.

def: /ˈvāg/ adj., indefinite (without end); indistinct (unseen, blurred); inexact (without form); v., to wander or, roam; to ramble idly or as a vagrant.

def: /ˈfȯrs/ n., an attribute of living beings (power of endurance, resistance, strength); an influence measurable on the body; v., to exert constraint, compulsion, coercion upon a person; binding power.

Artists & authors include Nadine Valcin, Mary Willette, Esther Hz, Meca’Ayo, Amanda Kleinhans, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Danielle Fauth, Kara McMullen, and Sophie Kahn.



Vague Force is a collection of work from nine artists currently working in North America.

“Vague” because power is the most dangerous when undefined. 

“Force” because of an adaptation without choice.

All the works in this issue center around the body simultaneously constrained and emerging. On a daily basis, we endure unspoken norms, gendered squirms, racialized assumptions, and the entrapment of caregiving. We are left with a two-fold adaptation of fragility and strength. 

“Vague” because we fumble about seeking the limits to endure or to act. 

“Force” because of the life energy inside of us. 

Thank you to the following curators for introducing me to these works: Collective Misnomer and Quinn Dukes (Dong’s The Sign), Sharifa Moore and Cherish Marquez (Kahn’s work), and Mikiki (Valcin’s Emergence).




2-channel video installation

Emergence is a silent, 2-channel video installation shot in extreme slow motion. This piece re-asserts the beauty of Blackness and challenges the reductive nature of contemporary Canadian blackface through extreme close-ups of black faces in all their diversity. Serene images contrast with ones where black bodies are trapped and struggling to break free.

Nadine Valcin is a Toronto-based, award-winning bilingual filmmaker and media artist whose practice spans documentary, experimental and narrative film as well as installation and virtual reality. Her work explores questions of memory, identity, language and Blackness in the Canadian context. She holds a professional degree in architecture from McGill University and an MFA in Digital Futures at OCAD University. She is a professor in the Bachelor of Film and Television program at Sheridan College.


Reluctant Gravities

2014 – 2016

Sculptural performance

Shared breath, accommodation, glass, gravity

Sometimes we need to still our communications to trace the pressure back to its most vulnerable points. Reluctant Gravities freeze the air exchange between participants as they pass breath back and forth between two molten glass bubbles. Poisonous and nourishing gasses meet, without thought.

Mary Willette is a multidisciplinary artist working at the intersection of sculpture and performance currently living in Vancouver, British Columbia. Inspired by the complexity of human relationships, she mines the seemingly mundane functions and structures of our bodies (breath, tongues, bones, wrinkled skin, etc.) as tools for creating performative gestures and sculptures that exist within the gaps of our verbal communications.




Time-lapse video, 0:16

Rubber head cast, wig, oyster mushroom mycelium

Genesis is a portrait of a young person amid grief, a collaboration between the artist and her youth mentee. After losing both parents, suffering from various traumas, and in recovery from addiction, the mentee wanted to create a portrait for healing. Mushrooms bioremediate soil, removing environmental pollutants and clearing the way for the healthy repopulation of life. They fruit from the cast of the mentee’s head.

Esther Hz is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, program director, and youth mentor in Denver, Colorado. She has worked with PlatteForum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Black Ball Projects, and Redline Contemporary Art Center. Hz has become well known for installation and performance, setting up interactive and creative experiences for the viewer. She is currently Chief Curator at Union Hall in Denver.


Boneyard Meditation



Boneyard Meditation considers the body, our body, our relationship to being in a body, and stitching it together when it is broken. The act of stitching is not quite right, nor is brokenness, though often we do not have a better word than “broken.” This poem is a sort of ceremony towards wholeness, and also a ceremony towards accepting what we cannot change and/or what we are ready to let go of. Something holy: inviting change and accepting change.

Meca’Ayo (Tameca L Coleman) is a queer poetry-centric multi-genre writer and artist who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. Their writing and photography have been featured in literary magazines, art exhibitions, journals, anthologies, and other venues and publications. Their first book, an identity polyptych, a multi-part, multi-genre work that explores familial estrangement, identity as a mixed-race Black person, and movement towards reconciliation, debuted in The Elephants on the Salish Sea in the fall of 2021. 

Boneyard Meditation

My body feels heavy

I’m going to take it out into moonlight

and hold it against the stars               smudge it

with holy smoke

dig a hole into the earth               and cover me

til three moons turn black and full again and low

plants cover the scar

May I become                           one

with the soil      before


roots have moved                                    through

my        barriers

feed it with ghee and seeds and prayers for direction

take this body              hand it to the flames

stare into the light until it is ash

scrape it all

into a deep

red urn

throw it in                 wash me clean

travel the coasts and find a place upon the water


Fitting XVIII


12” x 7.5” x 6.5”

Rubber foam, artificial sinew, wood, screws

Fitting XIV


12” x 13.5” x 10”

Rubber foam, artificial sinew, wood, screws

The Fitting series focuses on the act of fitting. “Do I fit into these pants?” “Can I fit in that seat?” “Do I fit with these people?” Sinew wraps around the soft, plush foam to conform it to a predetermined barrier, bringing to mind centuries-old body-shaping garments used to fit into an ideal standard. A determination to fit into a mold at any cost. These pieces are an exploration of what happens when the subject is denied the opportunity to fit because of set parameters.

Amanda Kleinhans is a queer, fat, interdisciplinary artist living in Tallahassee, Florida. Kleinhans received their MFA in Studio Art from Florida State University. She is an arts educator and also works within a non-profit organization focusing on national suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. Their work brings the fat body and the fat experience to the forefront by confronting audiences with how the two are perceived within modern society. Although we are in the throes of the “body positivity” movement, there is a lapse in fat acceptance. Through their work, Kleinhans calls out these oversights and seeks to find resolutions.  


The Sign



The Sign draws back the curtain and points to the deeply embedded feelings of shame. In this performance, eight female performers are tied together with a rope. They perform transgressive gestures, two minutes at a time: sniffing armpits, sucking fingers, lifting dresses… Shame is made visible as a feminist strategy of resistance—an ethical practice of altered states moving toward dignity and humanity.

Performed by Alida Esmail, Lucy Fandel, Emma Lee Iversen, Alex MacLean, Kim L Rouchdy, Eryn Tempest, Emilie van der Waals, and Mary Williamson

Photo Credit: Adrián Morillo

Video: Michael Wees

Editing: Chun Hua Catherine Dong

Chun Hua Catherine Dong is a Chinese-born Montréal-based multimedia artist. Dong received an MFA from Concordia University and BFA from Emily Carr University Art & Design. Dong’s work has been exhibited at the International Digital Art Biennial in Montreal, Phi Foundation, The Rooms, Quebec City Biennial, MAC VAL in France, Hubei Museum of Fine Art in China, Museo de la Cancillería in Mexico City, and so on. 


Escape to CVS


Variable dimensions


Escape to CVS unearths a personal account of a textured and delicate terrain lying just below the surface of a monotonous, suburban landscape. Sand-casted letters ground the work in a sense of place, but subject themselves to change. The text draws on experiences of codependency, loneliness, ephemerality, and love.

Danielle Fauth is an interdisciplinary sculptor, educator, and designer born in Long Island, New York. She received a BFA in Sculpture from Towson University in 2015 and an MFA in Sculpture from Tulane University in 2022. Fauth’s work builds a dialogue that unpacks the ordinary to find layered relationships between time, place, and material. She currently lives and works in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is a 2023 Volland Foundation Artist in Residence. 

Escape to CVS

In a dream I had

You were there

I grabbed fistfuls of sand

As if to put in my pockets and 



Your teeth are orange when you smile and then

You’re gone

Halfway down the shore already


My shoes are still on

Our skin is a dark blue

Our hoods are up and our

Amber halos whip in the wind


We are thieves of the last bit of sun


I don’t remember leaving but I remember




Our Star, The Sun, Will Die a Quiet Death



No answers, just questions all the time. Why did it turn out like this? What was it like before, and what will it be like after? How do we live? What is consciousness? This piece explores these mundane and transcendent questions through the accumulation of small details and the illumination of interior states. Where does the mind utterly fail to respond to minute gradations of thought, emotion, feeling, and the experience of having a body?

Kara McMullen is an artist and a research scientist currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been featured in DIAGRAM, Quarterly West, and elsewhere, and was nominated for Best American Short Stories 2022. In her fiction and non-fiction writing, Kara explores (among other things) connection and disconnection, human/nature interactions, bodywork, and grief work.


He told everyone that something really good was coming, something amazing. He walked around the neighborhood, touching shoulders, reaching for hands, pointing up at the sky. You couldn’t see it yet, he would say, but it’s on its way. You couldn’t see it, but everything will be revealed. 

Soon he had told everyone in the neighborhood. Everyone, with every color of hair on their head, knew what he knew. They walked around normally still, encasing their feet in shoe leather or shoe canvas and then using them to move through another day, and because of this he couldn’t tell if they’d listened to him. 

He decided that he needed a bigger audience. Something is coming, he told the city. He hiked up and down the hills of the oldest neighborhoods, the ones with the best sea views. He pointed out to the water, which always sparkled because the sun was always on now, and told them that things were changing. He tried to touch cheeks but heads darted away from his hand, out of its path and into the path of empty air. Blonde hair, black hair, no hair—they all moved away from his hand.

He pointed up at the stars, which you could now see even in the blue sky. They pulsed up there, tickles of light, waiting. He knew it would be soon. He pointed down at the concrete-encased soil, and tried to describe what it has been through: how it has worked so hard for us and now is the time for it to rest. The birds, he said, as he waved a finger towards them. The birds are ready for the amazing thing that’s coming. As he was talking to one woman, so elderly that her hair was just a wisp on her head, like a dandelion gone to seed, a hawk paused above them in midair. It hung there in the sky and behind it were stars. Him and that old lady, the one who was going to die soon, looked at the suspended bird. They knew, same as the hawk knew, that something really good was coming, something amazing.


In preparation for the sun’s death, we are all uploaded to the cloud. Once there, we merge into one consciousness. Together, we think of our own retirement, when we were given a watch and a hearty pat on the back. We also think of our own death in the school cafeteria and of our own persistent spreading cancer and of our own feet, wading in the ocean.

The poem about the dying of the light—now literal, rather than metaphor of death—was written by Dylan Thomas in Florence in 1947, which we know because we are Dylan Thomas. We have all the poetry that’s ever been written inside of us. We know everything now and we do not forget.


With no electricity, everyone meets at the high school gym. They have a generator there, and a supply of gasoline that the farm equipment store donated when it was clear that farms were an outdated concept. There we watch the most important things, televised and then expanded by a projector until the images fit onto an entire wall, obscuring gold and purple state championship flags—the most recent celebrating a 40-year old basketball victory.

The whole town comes out tonight, for the sun’s death, even the people who skipped the Super Bowl and TMZ’s coverage of the Hollywood bombings. Mrs. Ranzic leaves her house for the first time in decades. We all nudge each other and watch as she makes her way down Elm Street, leaning on a cane and trailing a shimmering train of dead skin cells from her ancient scalp. 

At the school we sit on folding chairs and pass the popcorn. Before the grand finale there’s a retrospective of the sun’s greatest hits. We watch time lapse videos of leaves unfurling, fruits bursting from branches like tumors. There’s a science class loop of chlorophyll photosynthesizing. We watch crops grow and bees pollinate. A few of us blow our noses or wipe away tears. Others laugh and clap, goaded by the atmosphere into a kind of suspended present.

After the event itself—nothing more than a candle snuffed out, mildly disappointing to us, an audience used to always bigger and more colorful explosions—we head home in groups of three and four. There’s a current of expectation running through us, from one to the other human body on the sidewalk, almost visible in this new dark. We feel as though we’re ready for our forever night. Children skip and yell and adults talk loudly, voices calibrated by the champagne we’d passed around at the final moment. There’s talk about how the moon will finally take its rightful place as our most important companion. We never see Mrs. Ranzic again.


The forest waits. Clouds shudder past overhead and on the ground nothing moves. Pine needles carpet dirt, fungi expand and collaborate with tree stumps. Every so often something blows past in a rush of wind. These objects are always old things, things that haven’t been useful in years. Doritos bags. Mylar balloons. And once, in a black and forceful breeze, the door of a Porta-potty. The trees are still and silent, but their roots, entangled beneath the surface of the earth, send messages back and forth. Now that the rest of the world is quiet they can hear each other again. Their dominion has returned. Across the crumpled hills, pine trees post status updates that the elms, unanimously, dislike.

The last thing to breath oxygen was a fox. Lungs expanding and contracting, she trotted by, not looking to her left or to her right. Through the network, the trees learn that a different part of the forest saw her die, slowly,  leaving nothing but a red smear of fur and blood on dirt. That section of the forest laughed about it, but not here, not where the forest waits. This part of the forest, the waiting one, is brave and full of tall cedars and hemlocks and firs. This part of the forest wants someone alive and strong to run through it. Chasing something, or being chased by something. This part of the forest waits, dreaming of footsteps that will never come.


They don’t know anyone but themselves. The sky overhead is always black. Many days pass like this: hunting and then eating the flesh of the caught thing, resting at the mouth of the cave. Watching the clouds above them for signs that it would soon be wet. Piecing together the strange images that trip and tangle through their dreams. They live in the mountains. Sounds enfold them: crickets and running water in the summer, the tumble of avalanches in the winter. 

They have a language and they are the only ones who speak it. They do not need names because they are the only people. The smaller one favors thunderstorms, because the lightning crawling across the sky makes her think about what else could be out there. She favors squirrel meat: its rich and savory flavor. The other is larger, with more and curlier hair. The larger one likes to go swimming in the river at the bottom of their valley. She likes to run down the hill from their cave to the river so fast that it feels like the trees and the mountains are the things moving—that she is the one standing still. She never thinks about what else there is. Together they invent painting: a chart of the stars on the map of the cave. Together they invent the word for sun and its synonym, darkness.


Machines for Suffering I


24″ x 35″ x 47″ (without base)

3D print (laser-sintered nylon) from 3D laser scan, gesso and acrylic paint

Inspired by experiences with chronic illness and disability, dancers re-enact the supposed choreography of an attack of hysteria in the Machines for Suffering series. Their bodies were 3D scanned and printed. The resulting pieces express the complexities and poetics of capturing the human body in the digital age, embracing the glitches of movement and breath and a body in a state of constant construction and demolition.

Sophie Kahn is a Brooklyn-based sculptor and digital artist who uses 3D scan data to create videos, digital prints, ink drawings, bas reliefs, and large-scale 3D printed and cast metal sculptures. Kahn holds a BA (Hons) in Fine Art/History of Art from Goldsmiths, London, and an MFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited in major cities across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Kahn is an NYFA Digital and Electronic Arts Fellow.

Institutional Support

The Denver Theatre District enlivens a 16-block area of downtown Denver through interactive, immersive, and experimental arts and culture events and experiences. They provide creatives with a platform and financial support for sharing their work.

Special thanks to Denver Digerati & Vicki Myhren Gallery for their additional support. 

Artists & authors include Nadine Valcin, Mary Willette, Esther Ez, Meca’Ayo, Amanda Kleinhans, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Danielle Fauth, Kara McMullen, and Sophie Kahn.

This zine was published in 2023 by Femme Salée. 

© 2023 Femme Salée

Individual artworks & essays © 2023 the author/artist. 

Cover: Sam Grabowska, PhD © Sam Grabowska, PhD.

Definitions on cover written by Sam Grabowska, PhD & The Oxford English Dictionary. 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any other information storage and retrieval system, or otherwise without prior permission in writing from publisher.