Heather CONTANT | FR |




Batteries of Hope: Collective Listening for Utopian Life.




This paper explores how long-term, multi-iterative, and collective artistic practices lead to new methodologies, technologies, and narratives for survival through practices of listening and attending to the environment. It proposes that such practices have the potential to produce tangible results that act as what I call ‘batteries of hope,’ which empower future collectives of producers to produce. In particular, this paper focuses on the writings of Russian Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov and the work the post-Yugoslavian media collective Zavod Projekt Atol and its founder Marko Peljhan. It demonstrates how collective practices produce new ways of life through their attention to the sonic realm by examining Peljhan’s and Projekt Atol’s work Here we go again… SYSTEM 317 (2019). This work aims to manifest Khlebnikov’s utopian visions of the future from the 1910s by refunctioning hypersonic military technology into the survival vehicles for life in the future. Since 1992, Peljhan and Projekt Atol have enacted the futuristic dreams of Khlebnikov and other utopians by intercepting and listening to radio transmissions that are generally inaccessible to the public. Their landmark project Makrolab (1997-2007) featured a mobile, energy-autonomous, and environmentally sustainable vehicle for living and working in remote terrains. It supported artists, scientists, and media tacticians as they conducted research on global systems of migration, weather, and communications by listening to their electromagnetic and physical surroundings. Makrolab’s research resulted in a plethora of artistic, scientific, and tactical media outputs as well as new methodologies, technologies, and narratives for survival and knowledge creation, which can benefit future generations as they face climate change. Here we go again… System 317 continues Makrolab’s utopian quest by creating a stage for speculating on the future of open-source space travel. Its multi-media installations, designs, and publications present plans for the construction of a hypersonic escape pod that human and non-human companions can use to flee the Earth when it becomes uninhabitable. Negative spaces, blueprints, animations, theoretical texts, and an eerily quiet soundscape supply viewers with the power to produce their own speculative imagery of the future, literally filling in the blanks of the various artefacts on display. In November 2019, an extremely high acqua alta in the Venice Lagoon destroyed Here we go again… SYSTEM 317, demonstrating the urgency of the artwork’s central proposition: to face climate change, collective art practices need to make utopian dreams of a sustainable future a reality in the present. They need to do more than simply speculate. They need to listen and attend to their environments and surroundings in order to collectively generate new methodologies, technologies, and narratives for the continuation of creative life in the future.


Heather Contant, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities @ Università Ca' Foscari, Venezia Associate Lecturer in Sound and Media Arts @ University of New South Wales Art & Design, Sydney Bio: Heather Contant explores the collectivist tendencies in sound, radio, and media arts production throughout history via her research, teaching, and creative practices. Her award-winning research on the history of wireless media has gained recognition through multiple publications and has led her to the development of a theory, which she calls ‘generative collectivism’ in media arts. This theory describes how creators work collectively to explore the possibilities of media in a manner that produces new theories, practices, and technologies that make it easier for other collectives to form and explore the possibilities of media in their own unique circumstances as well. Education: -Doctor of Philosophy (2018) University of New South Wales Art & Design, Sydney (International Postgraduate Research Scholarship) -Master of Arts (2013) The New School for Public Engagement, New York (Chair’s Scholarship) -Bachelor of Arts (2007) Eugene Lang College, New School University, New York Awards & Prizes -Postdoctoral Fellowship (2020-2021), Humanities and Social Change International Foundation, Venezia -Dean’s Award for Excellence in Higher Degree Research (2018), University of New South Wales Art and Design, Sydney