One year ago I worked on a lecture-performance for the SAR Crisis Collective! conference. My goal was to address the aforementioned questions by a rendition of a video piece entitled Meerstalblok, named after one of the last raised bog remnants in the Netherlands. This video, consisting of subsurface bog sounds, still images and written fragments from site-specific stories, was regarded as the score of my contribution, to be enacted during the conference. The cancellation of the event has yielded drafts, sketches, lecture fragments, a moment of apathy and finally, some new questions: how can a void be fertile, how to shift from thinking about crisis to thinking with crisis?
One of the starting points of the video Meerstalblok has been to engage myself with a remnant of a degraded raised bog through listening to its subsurface voice. That particular bog remnant is not only a body in crisis – and for that reason part of a UNESCO Global Geopark – it also is a body that has been living from primordial times onwards. The subsurface layers of this relic consist of material dating back to the start of the last interglacial we presently live in. These layers potentially contain valuable insights in how the world developed on a time scale far beyond that of human beings. Today many scientists are analyzing these organic time capsules to gain more knowledge about, for instance, climate behaviour. Raised bogs are in crisis, many indeed vanished or are being damaged, but that has also lead to acknowledgement, recognition and worldwide conservation and restoration programs to secure these ancient archives. Their crisis could as such be considered as fertile, one that potentially offers solutions for a shared future. So, also in the context of contemplating the ruins of a conference, there is all the more reason to listen to the subsurface song of a still surviving bog remnant.
The past year has been not even a ripple on the time scale of a Sphagnum body. Indeed, the substrate of previous art works, themes as well as ideas of various thinkers and practitioners has remained intact as before. My practice of entangled listening, thinking and making, roots in that substrate and new works and thoughts have been sprouting and branching off from several preceding ones, converting the latter into fresh substrate material in the process. The blanket of corona measures might have hampered its development to some extent, just as a blanket of snow presses down the freshly grown moss of many raised bogs in winter. The net growth rate of a bog is nevertheless positive, exemplifying the undulating aspect of most progress. So likewise, as soon as the corona snow is melting away, all our practices will bounce back and develop to their full potential again. After all, many of these practices together operate in an interacting network and, despite its inconsistencies and disagreements, that community behaves like one big multifaceted organism, that is capable of regulating its own means, motives and methods and able to cope with opposition and setback.
I listen, and listen again. If only I could understand.
Learning a foreign language on the spot generally goes along with mimicking gestures and repetitive utterances in order to reach some level of understanding. A mutually shared message is often joyfully confirmed by sonic or bodily imitations. If I ever want to arrive to some shared insight while listening to the song of Sphagnum mosses, I am condemned to look for analogies first. One I think to recognize and like to confirm here is that of resilience. As long as any self-regulating body remains sufficiently intact, it is able to cope with extremities and to adapt to shifting circumstances. As long as flows and breezes are circulating, remnants and ruins are safe from further degradation and able to live and sing for many more years – even on the Sphagnum scale.