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Karen Bolender’s The Unnaming of Aliass performs a paradoxical quest for wildly “untold” stories in the company of one special donkey companion, a femammal of the species Equus asinus and, significantly, a registered “American Spotted Ass.” Beast of burden that she is, this inscrutable companion helped carry a ridiculous load of human longings and quandaries into a maze of hot, harrowing miles, across the US South from Mississippi to Virginia, in the summer of 2002 – all the while carrying her own onerous and unreckoned burdens and histories.

Over two decades, the original journey evolved – from the cracking-open of a quasi-Western novel-that-never-was by an implosive pun, into an ongoing philosophical and assthetic adventure: a hybrid roadside- and barnyard-based living-art practice, wherein “Aliass” un/names something much harder to grasp than the body of a lovely little ass: protagonist, setting, and traditional Western narratives turn inside-out around this “name-that-ain’t.” Through a deeply dug-in questioning of its own authorial assumptions, The Unnaming of Aliass makes space for untold autobiographies and bright dusty lacunae, tracing ineffable tales through the tangled shapes and shadows that interweave in any environment.

The Unnaming of Aliass is full of wonderfully goofy (and unrelenting) word-plays, and an endless, undying love for non-human others. Seamlessly stitching together a diverse and compelling array of animal studies and ecocritical scholarship, this book is a motherlode, yoking gothic southern literature, American imaginaries, human-animal relations, crazy-ass artworks and the importance of the pun, into an exquisitely rendered package that is sometimes impossibly, painfully beautiful. Nor is pain sugar-coated, as the author ponders the ethics of her relationship with “her beautiful ass,” who she consistently coopts into dangerous, uncomfortable situations in the name of art and poetry. The R.A.W. honesty of all of this is breathtaking, and the more profound for its acknowledgement of the difficulty of these relations, so often glossed over.”

~ Tessa Laird, University of Melbourne, author of A Rainbow Reader and Bat

“In an attempt to teach us what it might mean to ‘unname,’ Bolender asks the reader to dwell in her love of language, to play with it, while at the same time paying attention to its limits and insufficiencies. Accordingly, throughout the text ‘unnaming’ is presented as an act of resistance grounded in a deep respect for the power of wordplay as invitation to defamiliarize and notice-better. The Unnaming of Aliass is methodologically experimental, bringing feminist science studies, literary studies, visual arts, and experimental writing together, and weaving these into an original contribution to the emerging fields of artistic research and multispecies studies.”

~ Natalie Loveless, University of Alberta, author of How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Manifesto for Research-Creation


Karin Bolender (aka K-Haw Hart) is an artist-researcher who seeks untold stories within muddy meshes of mammals, plants, pollinators, microbes, and many others. Under the auspices of the Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.), she cultivates a homegrown, collaborative living-art practice that explores dirty words and entangled wisdoms of earthly ecologies through performance, writing, video/sound installation, and other experimental arts of multispecies storytelling. Durational and site-specific projects and performances, includingR.A.W. Assmilk Soap, Gut Sounds Lullaby, and Welcome to the Secretome, have taken place across the US and in Canada, Europe, and Australia. Her family herd lives in the forested Coast Range hills between the ocean and the Cascades in the US Pacific Northwest.