A shell is a marker of its own necessity— a secreting away of all that is soft and squishy. The shell says I am not a danger to you, but you are a danger to me. But let’s imagine a world— a radically soft world— where this sense of danger is replaced by mutual trust and care. A world that would permit softness to flourish, unguarded and without fear.


The kind of world that accommodatesnurtures and supports.


The kind of world that celebrates flexibility and change. 


The kind of world that embraces vulnerability. 




Thinking about my approach to radical softness, I found myself preoccupied by the function of The Shell


Wouldn’t it be useful for all soft-bodied beings (myself included, here) to have some sort of shell?  Something tougher than our fragile and over-feeling skin— a shell just think enough to mute the world's harsher qualities. A promised sensory retreat, a secure and compact shelter. 


Couldn’t we live more gently in the world, knowing our softness is secure? 

To embody radical softness, a shell seems necessary. But an impenetrable human shell… alluring as the idea may be, might be a bit emotionally unwieldy.


How do soft, shell-less things exist in this world? 



(Warm up:  A moment to aknowledge your soft tissues.) 


 For an answer, I looked to nature (a la the internet). As it turns out, soft, shell-less creatures have developed a remarkable array of defenses against external attacks. The soft-shelled turtle has an extendable neck, bone-crushingly strong jaw, and unexpectedly vicious personality. Soft corals and mollusks ooze neurotoxins. Sea cucumbers apparently self-eviscerate, tangling predators in their own entrails.


Human culture is not much kinder to the concept of softness. Idiomatically, softness is nearly always negative, implying weakness, insufficiency, unintelligence, and inaction. 


It was in this circuitous way that I re-learned a bit of deeply embodied knowledge: 


It’s hard to be soft in a world that distains vulnerability. 




Zoey Hart


Zoey Hart is a NY-based interdisciplinary artist and educator, working at the intersection of chronic illness and the natural world. In Hart's practice, understanding begins with the body. To know a site (a body, a place, and everything existing in between) requires participation in an ongoing dialogue between body and landscape. In the language of disability justice, we arrive as we are- it's our surroundings that disable or enable us to exist with ease. As we move our bodies through the world, we are drawn to spaces that permit us to be soft, let our defenses down, and flourish.