Presentation for a cancelled conference
The crisis was not cancelled
My practice-led research investigates the interaction of light with matter.
I aim to draw attention to the behaviour of light on a particle level, specifically in relation to the melting of the ice-sheets and the well-established hypothesis that the rate of global warming is predicted to dramatically increase due to a significant reduction in reflection of the sun’s rays from the surface of white ice.
I seek to highlight this phenomenon through a rigorous engagement with the processes and material manifestations of photography as it is experienced in the digital age. The question I seek to raise in doing so, is how (or if) the apparatus is entangled with our psychological response to an image and how I can use that knowledge to create alternative, materially and philosophically engaged, photographic responses to the climate crisis.
My work specifically considers how photography could be utilised, not only as a conventional representational tool to document the landscape in crisis, but performatively as part of a diffractive methodology which foregrounds questions of ontology and agency.
Encountering the ice-sheets is something that most of us will not physically experience – they are geographically remote and huge in scale. Most of our understanding of their changing state is mediated through documentary images, as the ice-sheets are shown fractured and floating in grand, beautiful, but perhaps alienating landscapes. The sense of the remoteness of these images is amplified by viewing them in the stream of images we encounter on the screens that furnish our lives.
For SAR 2020 I proposed to present video documentation of the act of painting out the reflective capacity of an ice-cube. In Posthumanist Performativity Karen Barad calls for a ‘performative alternative to representationalism’ (Barad, 2008). If we consider photography primarily as a representational practice, specifically when tasked to image the climate-crisis, it could be argued that it gets ‘caught up in the geometrical optics of reflection where, much like the infinite play of images between two facing mirrors, the epistemological gets bounced back and forth, but nothing more is seen’ (Barad 2008).
The performative act of attempting to eliminate the reflective capacity of an ice-cube alludes to the reduction in the terrestrial reflection of photons off the ice-sheets and situates this remote, global phenomenon on an intimate, local, domestic scale – inviting a diffractive analysis. How does this gesture foreground questions of ontology, materiality and agency and in doing so contribute to our conceptualisation of climate-change and its material processes?
One year on from this proposal — the idea of remoteness, distance, the seen and unseen have become evermore apposite. Screens are embedded into the fabric of our daily lives. During the global pandemic they have become portals to spaces we are no longer able to visit, but in their manufacture, distribution and usage they have their own collective carbon footprint that is difficult to measure.
For the SAR 2020 time capsule I have incorporated the act of painting the ice-cube into a sketch for a performance lecture that combines technical and personal texts on the entangled nature of ice, light and the photograph. This work asks us to consider a photograph capturing an insubstantial glint of light off a reflective surface as a complex material process entangled with the world on a quantum and philosophical level. The screen features throughout, both as material form and as idea.
Barad, K. 2008. Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. IN: Alaimo, S. & Heckman, S (Eds) Material Feminisms Bloomington & Indianapolis : Indiana University Press