When Housewives Were Seduced by Seaweed | Collectors Weekly

“A darkness in the dark water”: En-tangled Approaches to Seaweed

Dates 20th May 2022

Call for Papers

Abstracts due on 10th January 2022


  • Abstracts due 10th January 2022
  • Responses anticipated w/c 31st January 2022
  • Pre-recorded presentations due by the 6th May
  • Presentations available to view from 16th May
  • Live sessions during 20th May

This conference investigates cultural representations of seaweed and invites contributions from any discipline. Irish author Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin dedicates her poem “Seaweed” (2016) to her grandparents who were “married 23 April, 1916” (2020, 349), commemorating a hundred years of their union as well as the Easter Rising of 1916 (Éirí Amach na Cásca), an event in which her family is deeply entangled (Villar-Argáiz 2017, 225). The presence of algae in the poem is attached to her grandfather’s interest in the aquatic plant as a chemistry professor, but can also be interpreted in a myriad of ways – especially in the historical context of liberation and unrest in the Republic of Ireland. The poem concludes with a depiction of seaweed as “a darkness in the dark water” (Ní Chuilleanáin 2020, 349). This description relates to other moments of strife and turmoil for coastal and littoral spaces, whether interpersonal or in wider socio-political spheres, and it reminds us that different types of algae have borne witness to multiple violent moments, including when Columbus stumbled onto the Caribbean in 1492, after crossing the Sargasso Sea, and thereafter throughout the Triangular trade, as Sargassum weed became entangled with the rudders of ships, bringing them to a halt while transporting abducted and enslaved peoples across the Atlantic. This depiction of seaweed, however, also engages with the eco-anxious manner in which algae have traditionally been depicted: lurking under the surface, slimy and rootless weeds scaring swimmers as they graze their legs.  

Hence, seaweed embodies a number of socio-ecological anxieties, from Graeco-Roman Ancient times during which their value was dearly understated, as Horace’s famous quote demonstrates: “High birth and meritorious deeds, if not linked to wealth, are as useless as seaweed” (Satires II), to Victorian and contemporary eco-gothic and horror, in which rootlessness and slipperiness address deeply rooted anxieties about nature and anthropogenic climate change. Indeed, seaweed is depicted as an invasive species and a nuisance for tourists lounging by the sea. However, for many insular and coastal communities, seaweed has been a valuable source of sustenance and health, as this poem from the Japanese medieval The Tales of Ise reminds us, in which a storm is described as a blessing through which one receives algae on the shore: 

For these lords
The god of the sea
Has gladly relinquished 
The seaweed he treasures 
To adorn his head
(McCullough 1968, 131)

In a time of climate crisis, the value of seaweed is multiplied given the plant’s use for sustainable and gourmet cuisine, or phycogastronomy (Mouritsen et al. 2018), and is its function as a powerful carbon sink (Cheqrouni-Espinar 2021). The questions this conference asks, then, is why does seaweed continue to be depicted in eco-gothic ways when it is such a source of goodness? This event aims to open a multicultural space which extends beyond institutional and geographical boundaries to foster discussions and to listen to a variety of voices engaged in addressing depictions and uses of seaweed. In this space, we seek to explore the various figurations and conceptions of algae across disciplines – from philosophy to literature, from the arts to the social and the natural sciences – and beyond territories. This space is not only open to scholars from all over the world, but also to activists and artists who wish to discuss their political engagement with and artistic approaches to algae. Other presentation format proposals such as roundtables, discussion, jam sessions are also welcome.

We invite abstracts on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Figuration and representation of seaweed in the arts (literature, poetry, music, visual cultures, performing arts, film, tv and media studies, theatre and drama, literature and graphic novels, etc.)
  • Consideration about seaweed and climate change
  • Depicting seaweed as food and sustenance
  • Seaweed as an invasive species
  • The eco-horror and eco-gothic seaweed
  • Algae and vegetation coming alive from ancient aquatic deities to the Swamp Thing
  • Victorian and Contemporary seaweed scrapbooks and botanist illustrations
  • Seaweed collection and conservation in museums and heritage site
  • Seaweed and the tourism industry

We invite individual proposals for 20-minute papers, as well as proposals for panels (three 20-minute papers), for roundtables, jam sessions, or any other format to present artistic production or to address activism, etc. Please send an abstract (200-300 words) and a brief biography (150 words) to hauntedshoresinfo@gmail.com by 10th January 2022 with the subject line ‘SEAWEED’.

For more detail, please see https://haunted-shores.com/ 

We strongly encourage submissions from scholars at any stage of their careers and from practitioners, artists and activists. The programme will take into consideration time zones as much as is possible. We envision that pre-recorded presentations and asynchronous discussion opportunities will also help to allow a wide range of participation from many locations.