Becoming Slime: A Field Guide to a Gooier Life22 May 2023
By Lauren Prousky
1. Have your child squeeze about ½ cup (4 ounces) of glue into a glass bowl.1
For as long as I can remember, I’ve found comfort and pleasure in the sensation of soft things slipping through my fingers. I actively sought, and continue to seek out, sensory experiences I can squish in my hands, savouring the feeling of something being squeezed through the delicate space between each finger. As such, the space between my fingers has long been a murky secondary pleasure zone, producing in me an eagerness to run my hands through any dangling, soft, or gloopy matter within reach.
Beyond the physical desire, it has always seemed to me that materials with enough agency to seep from and through my hands exude a certain sensuality and intimacy. Their ability to yield to my touch somehow transforms them into seductive proxies for substances that come from the deepest parts of our bodies and the bodies of others. After all, what are our bodies if not collections of various goopy bits and slimy tubes? At our core, we are essentially goo factories, our lives marked by the emergence or lack of the stuff, with the ability to ooze the right substance at the right time being a key measure of getting older or remaining young. Our own goopy data informs everything from knowing when to celebrate, when to mourn, how to heal, and how much time has passed. To look at or touch a substance like slime and acknowledge it as something familiar is not such a far-fetched notion.
I think considering slime as a key part of our corporeal lives illuminates an aspect of our humanity that is often overlooked. Of course, we’re more than the sum of our discharge; however, reducing the body to its material texture is an act of grounding without artifice. The corporeality of slime, goo or whatever you want to call it, at least to me, feels like a viscerally honest place to begin when thinking about how we move through the world.
2. Mix in ½ cup (or 4 ounces) of warm water.
Slime, by its material nature, is a formless substance2 that often seems to evade objective categories like liquid and solid (more on that below), or alive or dead. As British artist and quantum physicist Libby Heaney points out in her performance lecture SlimQore, “slime teeters on the border between life and death. An omnipresent Schrodinger’s cat.”3 Similarly, my essay takes the liminal positionality of the slimy body to be not quite one thing or another as a direct indication of its emergent potential.
Consider the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a chrysalis and then into a butterfly. Once encased in the chrysalis, the process begins with the caterpillar digesting itself. When it’s turned to goo (or, as National Geographic puts it, “an organised broth full of chunky bits”),4 the “imaginal discs” that were once dormant in the caterpillar begin clustering and assembling into butterfly parts. These discs have always contained within them the future of the insect, but it’s only once the caterpillar body dissolves can this future be actualized. I’m not suggesting that there is any practical advice or worthwhile allegory in the butterfly life cycle.5 Rather, I’m highlighting the latent possibilities in slime—both the caterpillar version and the various slimes of our own body— to become everything or nothing (both good options) under the right circumstances.
3. Your child can add a few drops of food colouring, if they want.
Being born in Canada in 1994 to parents who paid for cable TV meant the phrase “getting slimed” was a surprisingly large part of my childhood. For the uninitiated, “getting slimed” was something that happened with increasing frequency in media from the 1970s to early aughts.6 In Canada in the late 90s to early 2000s, the most notorious instances of getting slimed happened on a popular children’s game show called Uh Oh. When a contestant lost a game, a large man dressed in a gimp/goalie costume named The Punisher would be released from his cage to dump a bucket of mysterious green goo on the offending child. The Punisher’s aesthetic has long been giggled at by grown 90s kids who’ve now come to see the character’s costume as bizarrely out of place in what was otherwise an innocent childhood cultural touchstone. Upon reflection, it occurs to me The Punisher’s sadomasochistic sartorial choice may not have been so inconsistent with the slimy undercurrent of the show as a whole. The act of getting slimed was itself fetishy in its pleasure-from-pain foundation in a way that is separate from, albeit consistent with, The Punisher’s garb.7 Risking getting slimed was a punishment one willingly signed up to receive. It was proof that you could “take it” or that being “wrong” is actually fun sometimes, allowing for more nuance within the notion of good or bad. “Getting slimed” gave kids agency by letting them say, “you cannot punish me if what I want is the punishment.” It could be said, then, that the act of getting slimed was, and continues to be, an analogy for becoming empowered to have a say in what happens to your body.
The late 90s acid green fuck-you-mom-I’ll-do-what-I-want slime continues to hold aesthetic influence over those who grew up in its shadow. I recognize an unlikely lineage between Uh Oh and some contemporary artists who now play within the goopy punishment/pleasure spectrum. For instance, Tyler Matheson’s Every Plastic Cock Ever Made (2019), in which a cartoonishly pink and fleshy, slime-like silicone is stretched over a canvas,8 making the viewer feel like they’ve zoomed out on the whole world, only to discover that it’s made mostly of dildos. In referencing the repetitive mold-making process used in the sex toy industry, and without actually depicting any of the cocks mentioned in the title, Matheson seems to be expressing a desire to neutralize the fraught history of the (queer) phallus in a performative gesture that perhaps even masticates it into something pliable and decorative. At the same time, there is a celebratory element about Every Plastic Cock in its suggestion that the artist has somehow triumphed over all the plastic cocks and hung up what’s left of the gooey, pulverized toys as a trophy.
jacqueline Beaumont also uses the gooey process of mold-making in her work, Penile Inversion Vaginoplasty (2022) which consists of a block of biopolymer waste and a cast of the artist’s phallus, as a way to critique the commonly held beliefs that threaten trans livelihood. Beaumont’s “psychosexual pit trap” acts simultaneously as a phallus fossil that subverts a traditional cis-het male desire to immortalize his presumed greatness, and an active womb nurturing a growing colony of bacteria. In her own words: “By casting a part of myself to be inherited by microbial bodies, the void left behind, becomes a receptacle for the world around it, accumulating societies’ preconceived notions of sex, gender, value, and time, within a soft architecture of decay.”9
There is a reclamation of power as Matheson and Beaumont find a recognizable artificial body halfway through the mold-making process that is not dissimilar to the kids on Uh Oh experimenting with their own bodily autonomy when they signed up to get slimed on TV. In all three cases, slime becomes the vehicle they take towards a certain type of freedom, with its alien yet humanlike form acting as their driving force into a slimy provisional zone outside of existing and often oppressive binaries.
4. Mix 1 teaspoon of Borax into ½ cup of water in a plastic container. Slowly add the solution to the glue mixture.
Around 2016, a group of Thai teenagers started putting videos of themselves poking and prodding slime on Instagram and the Internet went wild. Now, slime, usually made from a mixture of white glue and Borax, is its own ecommerce cottage industry, with slime videos infiltrating every social media platform, consistently garnering billions of daily views.10 Slime’s mainstream popularity online has naturally led to an interest in its material and aesthetic properties, as it offers an alluring and lucrative combo of nostalgia and futurism. Unlike in the artworks I mentioned earlier, I find that much of mainstream slime art, which seems to take its aesthetic cues from #oddlysatisfying instead of plumbing any personal depth, ends up quite impotent as it hides behind a suggestion of abjection without actually delivering the goods. For example, in the video for Christina Aguilera’s 2018 song, “Accelerate”(ft.Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz), an oft-cited example of post-2016 pop-culture slime art, we see repeated shots of the singer in minimal make-up, rolling around a white cube while a clear, lube-y slime coats her face and chest. The function of the slime is obvious. It’s meant to evoke sexual fluids and sweat, perhaps even paying homage and antonym to her Dirrty era that was similarly sexy and sweaty, albeit coated in a layer of MTV-approved grime. Instead of looking salacious though, a 2018 slime-covered Xtina mostly comes across like she’s hiding something, using the expertly concocted transparent goo as a screen to hide behind rather than contend with any real messiness.
According to the description of the “Accelerate” YouTube video, it was inspired by the work of American painter and photographer, Marilyn Minter. Minter has had a long career of depicting wet bodies, as evidenced in her retrospective exhibition that opened at the Brooklyn Museum a year prior to the release of “Accelerate.” Over the years, Minter has spoken often about the wetness in her work, usually chalking it up to it being an authentic way to depict sensuality, sexuality and desire. Although there are some Minter works that show more viscous liquid, her emphasis is usually on wetness rather than anything gooey. That’s why I found it peculiar when this review of the Brooklyn Museum show dubbed Minter “the fairy godmother of slime,” undoubtedly referring to the Internet craze that was peaking in popularity at the time of publishing. Beyond the occasional drip, Minter’s carnally humid work and the cold and sanitized slime of the Internet have remarkably little in common.
Even though the slime in “Accelerate” is completely transparent and runs down the singer’s mouth and bare breasts, it seems to function merely as a way to align Xtina to a fleeting Internet moment rather than reveal any of the vulnerability or desire the damp figures in Minter’s work seem to exude (to say nothing of the gaze of the image-maker herself). This is not to claim that “Accelerate” is “unsexy” point blank, but its sliminess functions more like lingerie, with its suggestion that it was put on deliberately and maybe will come off eventually, if we’re lucky. In Minter’s work however, the wetness acts more openly. It looks as if it sprang forth naturally rather than placed there by the prop department.
5. Stir the mixture in one direction until it starts to thicken. (You might not need all of the Borax solution.)
Many slimes are “non-Newtonian fluids,” meaning that because their viscosity is dependent on a number of outside factors it cannot be measured definitively. Its rheological properties are not fixed, as it is able to become more like a solid or more like a liquid, depending on what’s happening to it by an outside force.11 The glue and borax version of slime is considered non-Newtonian because the glue is a polymer made from long chains of macromolecules that create a liquid when they glide over one another. Adding a borax solution to the glue causes cross-linking between the polymer strands, or, as explained by the Science Buddies for Scientific American, “It is as if the very long molecules started to hold hands. Will the result still be a fluid where the polymers can [continue to] glide over each other, or will it become a solid?”12 The answer is, of course, that they become non-Newtonian slime, which exists somewhere in between. It could also be said that when ingredients become slime, they abandon their former rigid classification to become something more slippery. They instinctually cooperate or “hold hands.”
Using the language of friendship to describe the behaviour or materiality of slime is nothing new. Rapper N.O.R.E started using variations of the word ‘slime’ in the early 2000s as a term of endearment, which then became common parlance within multiple rap communities.13 In 2015, Young Thug released the first of many Slime Season albums and then in 2018 released Slime Language, all of which featured ample reference to slime, being slimey and “slatt,” an acronym that stands for “Slime Lifestyle All The Time.” I’ve found varying definitions for what “slime” means in the context of rap and Young Thug’s work in particular.14 In general, it seems to be a way to describe “day one” friends who you can count on, although it could also function as it does in the colloquially used pejorative “slimy,” to mean sneaky or manipulative (“slime or get slimed/these maniacs don’t have a mind”). Whether it’s being nurtured or broken, “being slime” or describing something as slimy comes with a strong connotation to trust and intimacy that is eerily similar to its mutable molecular makeup. If slime exists because of a metaphorical hand holding, maybe N.O.R.E and Young Thug were onto something when they inferred that being slime is being in a state of closeness.
6. Have your child knead the slime. At first, it will be really wet and gooey, then stringy and sloppy, until it finally holds together. Ask your child, “What does the slime feel like?” “How is it changing as you continue to work with it?”
When neon, glistening, and cupped in the hand, slime is familiar and whimsical, but what about when its origin is unknown or its spread unpredictable? While this text mostly argues that the flexibility of slime to ooze beyond set boundaries and move based on instinct is largely in/aspirational, I’d be remiss not to dig into its simultaneous ominousness. For example, there are the suggestively slimy sculptures by Turkish artist, Pinar Marul, whose forms teeter on the edge of life, looking both extraterrestrial and like ominously familiar growths, waiting to release their poison into a host. There is also the fear of an all-encompassing slimy seep, which might be best explored through the Grey Goo Scenario.15 Developed in 1986 by engineer and futurist, Dr. K. Erik Drexler, the Grey Goo Scenario is a thought experiment that describes an unlikely occurrence of nanotechnology replicating itself ad infinitum until there are no resources for anything else to exist.16 Despite the name, Drexler specifies that the scenario need not actually be grey or gooey.17 The name is meant to communicate that the end of the world by machines might not be spectacular or extravagant, but rather our demise may happen gradually from something we’d consider mundane or negligible before it’s too late.
This simultaneous denigration of slime and acknowledgment of its omnipotence was summed up by Frank Zappa in his song “I’m the Slime” over a decade before Dr. Drexler penned the hypothetical scenario:
I am gross and perverted/ I’m obsessed ‘n deranged/ I have existed for years/ But very little had changed/ I am the tool of the Government/And industry too/ For I am destined to rule/ And regulate you/I may be vile and pernicious/ But you can’t look away/ I make you think I’m delicious/ With the stuff that I say/ I am the best you can get/ Have you guessed me yet?/ I am the slime oozin’ out/ From your TV set.18
When something “turns to slime” (or sludge or goop, etc.) it has gone bad and rotted to the point of mutation. In both the Zappa song and the Grey Goo scenario, a rotten slime is the byproduct of unregulated technological expansion. It is what happens when human innovation goes unchecked or lacks some sort of objective moral compass. Although as immortal beings without a universally agreed upon set of ethics, destined to one day decompose, maybe a certain amount of slime is inevitable?19 Beyond all the mucus, cum, uterine lining, etc., that make up our day to day, there is, perhaps, a more powerful looming sliminess that can serve as a reminder to resist getting consumed by money and power, despite the short-term warmth of its squishy, seductive body.
7. Let your child keep kneading until they have an easy to hold- and play-with blob.
The slime industry that popped up on Instagram around 2016 quickly went from short-form video content to an IRL industry where creators could sell the slime from their videos.20 At least a handful of these online slime stores were run by children who, presumably with the guidance of adults, turned their favourite Internet meme into a lucrative business venture. It is interesting to me that something so “pure” (it is, after all, made from ingredients that directly represent untainted childhood creativity and actual cleanliness) has become a somewhat child-labour-driven capitalist enterprise. I’ll admit that the selling and marketing of slime as a way to relax is a predictable step in a society that has a multibillion-dollar wellness industry; however, its utter formlessness had me naively believing it could somehow smooth over the sharp edges of supply and demand. A Garage article from 2018 hypothesizes that it is precisely these material properties of slime that make it a perfect agent of capitalism, as it tends to the labourer’s frustrations by offering new and imaginative ways to participate in the otherwise unattainable domination of “lesser” forms.21 While it is undeniable that the popularity of slime is intimately tied with capitalism, I pause at the notion that its desirability comes from the fact that it allows the oppressed a few precious moments to act like the oppressors. Furthermore, this idea does a disservice to our creativity by supposing the only possible system is one where we seek mastery over one another. Instead of considering slime as something onto which we, as hypothetical happy and unbothered workers may exact benign revenge on our bosses, why not see its “alien” form as just that—something utterly unburdened by any sort of hustle?
8. For storing, put the slime in a plastic bag with a zip top or a sealable container. It will last 2 weeks before it needs to be thrown away.
Beyond reframing the painful flexibility that capitalism demands, the materiality of slime could be said to mirror the ways we organize and defy oppressive systems in pursuit of moving freely. One need only look to the forest floor (or your local microbiology lab) to see physarum polycephalum, a yellow slime mold made up of a single cell containing millions of nuclei, for an example of a “cooperative” and self-determining slime. In lab tests that looked at how the P.polycephalum finds food, scientists noted that it behaved almost humanlike in its decision making, carefully exploring its environment and growing the most efficient networks possible between food morsels. I am reminded here again of the bacterium in Beaumont’s Penile Inversion Vaginoplasty (2022) as they grow and breed, forming life within the otherwise hostile condition of “forceful insemination.” In its many forms, slime is somehow both aspirational and pitiful, reminding us of our basest animal selves and what we might be able to become under certain conditions.
Whether on the micro or macro level, we, like P.polycephalum, are always adjusting to new conditions, fitting into certain containers, making do, and working together. Despite what much of the writing on the subject would suggest, the value of thinking about or looking at slime—as art material, as life force, as fetish, as soother, as body, as indulgence, or as threat to the status quo—is not that it shows us how we can work past the limits of our sensitive human bodies, but rather, that it reminds us we have the potential to transform into something that need not suffer for basic human rights. Slime, like all of us, relaxes into new forms, adapts, slips from fingers, and continues on with what it has picked up along the way. We are all material in flux, moving and settling, growing, and condensing.
- Slime instructions from https://www.pbs.org/parents/crafts-and-experiments/homemade-gak
- Bataille’s concept of formlessness or l’informe, also feels apt here in the way that he sought to knock art off its high horse and into the gritty reality of the everyday. See here for a more expansive investigation into formlessness as it pertains to art and art history.
- Libby Heaney, “SlimQore.” https://vimeo.com/734322186
- Although you are of course free to feel optimistic about the idea of an innate capacity to change into something beautiful.
- It is generally agreed that CJOH-TV, a local Ottawa station, began “sliming” kids in the late 70s on a show called You Can’t Do That on Television. A few years later, Nickelodeon started airing episodes of You Can’t Do That, whose popularity led them to use slime, later marketed as GAK, in a whole bunch of their shows, and later as part of their overall marketing. When You Can’t Do That ended in 1990, YTV, a Canadian kids channel, started a new show called It’s Alive!, which featured a gameshow sketch in which kids “get slimed.” This sketch ultimately became Uh Oh. For a more detailed history of slime on (Canadian) TV see here. For a more global history of slime in children’s programming see here.
- I will be talking about fetish generally and in the vague psychological sense so as not to assign any specific sexual preference or intention to minors. That said, I think analyzing WAM or Vore within the frame of slime as a cultural phenomenon would be an interesting exploration and I’d happily pass the metaphorical slime torch on to anyone in those communities who would want to write about it.
- It’s worth noting that the material Matheson uses here is an at-home casting method that entails pumping large amounts of caulking into a vat of soapy water and then kneading to the desired consistency. The wordplay was not lost on the artist.
- Like, really unlikely, see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3788673.stm
- Frank Zappa. “I’m The Slime,” Discreet, 1973. https://genius.com/Frank-zappa-im-the-slime-lyrics
- For a brief history of the “slime economy,” see here.
- “Perhaps slime is appealing because it reconfigures flexibility as something pleasurable, even delightful, whereas for most people in the labor market, the day-to-day experience of bending to fit capitalism’s needs is nothing short of excruciating. Squishing around fluffy pastel sludge induces a sort of release in the viewer; its status as an alien substance allows it to become an image of another way to move through the world. You can’t hurt slime, and you can handle it with motions that might injure a sensitive being in any other circumstance.” https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/7xmw8e/slime-asmr-satisfying-slime-molds
Feature Image: Detail of Penile Inversion Vaginoplasty, 2022 by jacqueline Beaumont. Photo courtesy of the artist.