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The Bite: Helmut and the mosquitoes.

Aerial Kin: Isadora Neves Marques and the Art of (Re)Producing Kinship in Naturalcultural Crisis

  • Article
  • PHI Foundation
By  Fiona Vail

My politics is not at all representative, […] but speculative.

Isadora Neves Marques, “Toxicity and Immunology,” 2020 [1]

On June 12 and 13, 2023, the PHI Foundation presented a series of screenings and performances under the event title Aerial Skin. Curated by gallery manager and adjunct curator Victoria Carrasco, the event brought together multiple artists from different backgrounds to examine how technologies, representational and otherwise, become implicated in questions of identity, Indigeneity, and queerness. The through line guiding this curation was one word: freedom.

In Aerial Skin, freedom is always already a relationship—it is not merely one’s ability to act for themselves, but also a state of liberty within one’s environment, political or otherwise. [2] The event seeks to imagine a utopian moment of such liberty, where bodies can exist and relate in ever-emergent and unconstrained forms. [3] If we take the event title “aerial skin” to refer to some type of liberation, then, it is not a reference to the transcendence from the body—a shedding of the skin as a “gesture of liberation” [4]—but rather to a corporeality that is itself free, through and within its relations and environment. A corporeality that is queer, embodied, anti-colonial, and fiercely political. The works presented in Aerial Skin thus draw on various representational technologies and images—from performance to animation, dance to pensive stillness—to imagine such a freedom, often doing so specifically within the positionalities and experiences of their creators. Among these works are two films from queer Portuguese artist Isadora Neves Marques (she/they): The Bite (2019) and Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (2022).

Neves Marques’ works fill an unusual role in Aerial Skin’s lineup, notably in terms of their Cronenbergian aesthetics [5] and distinctly narratival approach, which bridges science fiction and queer drama. In The Bite, three characters; Tao, Calixto, and Helmut; engage in a polyamorous relationship amid the Zika epidemic in Brazil. [6] At the same time, Helmut, a biologist, works in a lab where male mosquitoes who carry the virus are genetically modified to disrupt reproduction and population growth.

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Becoming Male in the Middle Ages: Mirene (left) and Vincente (right).

Becoming Male in the Middle Ages presents a drama of two couples; Mirene and André, and Carl and Vincente; as they attempt (and struggle) to reproduce. While Mirene and André grapple with infertility caused by ecological crisis, Vincente and Carl make several attempts using an experimental biomedical technology that allows Vincente to carry an implanted ovary in his body, resulting in a surrogate-dependent process that the characters refer to as “male pregnancy.”

In both films, the relationships and identities of the human characters unfold within a greater world wherein questions of ecological crisis, biotechnologies, reproduction, and queerness collide. In The Bite, the character Tao, a trans woman, [7] pores over pregnancy diagrams of people with penises, while a mosquito net protects her from the virus outside. Meanwhile, Helmut engages in the production and release of a bioweapon—the reproductively impotent male mosquitoes—before returning home to his own tense and stiffly intimate relationship. In Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, the vegan André becomes ill from consuming a piece of (non)meat grown from stem cells. Elsewhere, Vincente carries in his body an uncountable number of ovaries from cryogenic organ banks; the surrogates and organ donors remain unnamed and unseen. Later in the film, a series of animal murals (a tiger, a chimpanzee, an antelope) flash onscreen; their living counterparts never appear.

These elements cascade together into a messy web of relations where nonhuman (and invisible human) actors, from mosquitoes to stem cells to potential fetuses, play roles that are just as potent as those of the protagonists. “Nature is changing,” Helmut says to the viewer. “Do you understand?” [8]

This “changing” Nature (and the multispecies relationality to which it speaks) is perhaps most clearly illustrated in the films’ approaches to reproduction. Indeed, this line spoken by Helmut is itself delivered in response to mosquito mating habits. Together, The Bite and Becoming Male in the Middle Ages present reproduction as something which is at once generative and destructive, intimate and sterile. For the characters André and Vincente, the production of babies is a kin-making process which will in turn (re)produce them as parents [9] (a shot of artist Fernando Botero’s 1989 sculpture La Maternidad flashes onscreen). For Mirene, it is a process by which women and their body parts are commodified and misused, and, in the case of Vincente’s ovaries, “made invisible in order to ensure their status as nonkin.” [10] For Helmut, reproductive control is a means to both genocide and ecocide. “If you want to modify the population, it’s obvious that no other tool will work.” [11]

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Becoming Male in the Middle Ages: Mirene (foreground) and André (background).

These various moments present reproduction as a type of relational subject-making that can both produce new kinships and (re)produce systems of violence and power. As Neves Marques puts it, “the control of reproduction,” as well as regulatory and normative intimacies, are “central” to colonial processes, and, by extension, processes of ecological violence. [12] This control is itself entwined with the modern notion of “Nature,” which Neves Marques says “has served to domesticate and “dehumanize” the land and its animals, as well as to control subaltern bodies […] and from there to rigidify notions of reproduction, gender and sexuality, but also plain kinship beyond the human.” [13]

“Nature is changing.”

When reproduction changes, when new intimacies are enacted, when kinship is re-considered, the “nature” that has prescribed their normativity is resisted.

“Do you understand?”

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The Bite: Tao.

The environmental drama of Neves Marques’ worlds, then, is not one of the Anthropocene. It is not a “nature” which is irredeemably altered by “culture.” Rather, it is a naturalcultural reckoning. [14] It marks the moment when the Enlightenment man realizes that he cannot suppress that which he has tried to for centuries: that he is an animal, embedded in a web of relations with other animals. That there is no ‘nature’ for him to dominate, no ‘culture’ with which he can create order, and there never was. That he is a “creature of the mud, not the sky.” [15] That there is no world or body fully external to his own because “our bodies never belong entirely to us.” [16] That “nature” is not “changing” insofar as it is a previously pure entity rebelling against him, but rather as its strength as a construct crumbles day by day. As the models—reproductive and otherwise—that it has enforced and normalized are increasingly outnumbered, confused, and burst open.

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Becoming Male in the Middle Ages: Vincente (left) and Carl (right).

How, then, does this all tie back to the model of freedom presented in Aerial Skin?

Much like the utopia evoked in the project’s curation, the freedom presented by Neves Marques is one which is speculative, imaginative – and potently so. The naturalcultural reckoning in her films, like the “Middle Ages”' she references, is a moment of transition: a precipice, a potentiality waiting to be actualized, to be followed by a “Renaissance.” [17] It is a moment where “stereotyped roles are under dispute,” [18] laid out in all their messy biosocial and technological potential; where ontologies crumble and are reformed; where relations between bodies are burst open and available for rewriting, for (re)production. This (re)production is yet to happen: the touch between Tao, Calixto, and Helmut is tense and full of possibility and unease, as is the as-of-yet unfulfilled family model suggested by Mirene when she proposes that she carry Vincente and Carl’s baby. But the potential is there: “we can create our own artificiality,” says Mirene. [19] A new artificiality, a new relationality, a new kinship. A new freedom.


[1] Isadora Neves Marques and Sofia Nunes, "Uma Entrevista com Pedro Neves Marques," in Toxicidade E Immunologia, (Lisbon: Contemporanea, 2020), 61-69.

[2] It is important to highlight the differences between the terms “freedom” and “liberty,” which have been assessed in detail by media and communications scholar Wendy Hui Kyong Chun. According to Chun, liberty is bound to institutions (for example, political systems) whereas freedom is not (Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press]: 10). Both freedom and liberty, or the more active liberation, also differ in key ways from “emancipation,” a difference which has been elaborated greatly in decolonial theories (see, for example: Walter D Mignolo, “Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of De-coloniality,” Cultural Studies 21, no. 2 (2007): 449-514). Because Neves Marques’ works often deal with “biotechnology as a bio-political space” (Gasworks, “Interview with Pedro Neves Marques It Bites Back exhibition at Gasworks,” May 16, 2019, Video, 4:35, for the sake of this article we might consider freedom and liberty/liberation as connected (but not always interchangeable) terms. The term emancipation, however, will not be used.

[3] Informed by the political and artistic history of her family’s home country of Chile, and particularly by the socialist presidency of Salvador Allende, much of Carrasco’s curatorial work strives to imagine a utopian moment of complete liberation. “So that’s the volatility, I guess, in Aerial Skin,” she says. “There’s a notion of freedom, of being who you are in a place that welcomes it.” (Carrasco, in conversation.)

[4] Claudia Benthien, Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self and the World (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2002): 83.

[5] Indeed, Neves Marques has cited the works of David Cronenberg as one of their key influences, particularly in the case of The Bite: Neves Marques and Nunes 2019. They also reference Cronenberg’s career in: Justin Jaeckle, “Pedro Neves Marques: Corpos Medievais,” Contemporânea, September 2021.

[6] While the connection between The Bite and the zika virus is not made explicit in the film itself, Neves Marques has referred to the film’s viral element as zika: Gasworks 2019, 00:30.

[7] Tao’s identity as a trans woman is never made expressly clear in the film. She is referred to as such here, then, because she is so identified in two texts linked to Marques’ website: Neves Marques and Nunes 2019 and Līga Požarska, “The Bite: Nervous Anticipations,” Talking Shorts, 2020,

[8] Isadora Neves Marques, dir., A Mordida [The Bite] (Portugal: Portugal Films - Portuguese Film Agency, 2022) Digital, 20:10.

[9] This notion of producing parents by producing babies (and specifically the links between the biomedical production of infants and capitalist production) is explored in: Charis Thompson, Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005).

[10] Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 66.

[11] Neves Marques, dir., A Mordida [The Bite], 11:45.

[12] Neves Marques and Nunes 2019; Pedro Neves Marques and Marco Antelmi, “Interview with Pedro Neves Marques,” Droste Effect, Jan 17, 2019.

[13] Neves Marques and Antelmi 2019.

[14] The term “nature-culture” was first used in Bruno Latour’s essay “We Have Never Been Modern” (1993) to denote how “nature” and “culture” cannot exist independent of one another. Later, the words were fully combined into “natureculture” by Donna Haraway in How Like a Leaf: An Interview with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve (2000), while around the same time their co-constitutive nature was elaborated in Tim Ingold’s Perception of the Environment (2000), where it is argued that the phrase “nature is a cultural construct” is a paradox.

[15] Haraway 2007, 3.

[16] Pedro Neves Marques, dir, Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (Portugal: Portugal Films - Portuguese Film Agency, 2022) Digital, 14:45.

[17] Pedro Neves Marques and Līga Požarska, “A Conversation with Pedro Neves Marques: Breaking the Norm,” Talking Shorts, Sept 2022.

[18] Marques and Požarska 2022.

[19] Pedro Neves Marques, dir., Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, 18:45.


This article was written as part of Platform. Platform is an initiative created and driven jointly by the PHI Foundation’s education, curatorial and Visitor Experience teams. Through varied research, creation and mediation activities in which they are invited to explore their own voices and interests, Platform fosters exchanges while acknowledging the Visitor Experience team members’ expertise.

Author: Fiona Vail

Fiona Vail (she/they) is an undergraduate art history student and illustration artist. Her scholarship focuses on naturecultures, multispecies relationalities, and the coloniality of language, with particular attention to the narrative potency of art historical writing—which she considers especially important given her white settler positionality. In her art practice, she again turns to narrative; bringing together personal histories, classical reception, and active kinmaking through mixed media techniques.

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