In 2014 I saw the Werner Herzog film Where the Green Ants Dream (1984). It tells the story of a conflict between a mining company and the aboriginals. The fictional events take place somewhere in a desert in Australia. The company makes tests and preparations in order to start mining activities in an area that for the aboriginals is a holy land.
A particular scene* in the film draw my attention, not only because I immediately thought that it tells us as if in an allegorical mode, something essential about artistic research. More urgently, I was awestruck by the fact that this scene included a strange wooden object wrapped in cloth, not unlike my kara, hankala kapula.
In the film, the aboriginals prosecute the mining company for violating the holy land. The case is to be decided by the Supreme Court. During the court proceedings, the aboriginals bring in as the evidence of their ownership of the land a "sacred object" wrapped in cloth – the aforementioned ghost of my kara, hankala kapula. When this object is shown to the judge and to the representatives of the mining company and their lawyers, a deep confusion takes over. The court reporter whispers to the judge:
"How the hell should I record this, your honour?"
The judge whispers back:
"Wooden object, carved with markings. The markings: indecipherable. The significance of the markings: not plain to this court".
This scene (and actually the whole film) is about the encounter of two fundamentally different belief systems, one that builds on rationalized discourse with its written documents, and another that builds on oral tradition and legends. These two systems not only have very different notions of ownership, they don't share the ideas of writing, mapping and documenting. As a piece of evidence, the awkward baton wrapped in cloth incorporates this dilemma.
In this situation, communication in terms of exchange of information turns out to be highly problematic. No stable enough relation between form and content can be established. Legal texts and sacred objects simply do not communicate across the divide of the two systems. Or more precisely: they do not serve communication, they cannot be used as a means of communication. In short, they cannot be instrumentalized, since there is no common horizon of means and ends. There is no shared idea of communication, no common basis for understanding the core of the matter.
There is still another twist to be noted in the scene. The judge recognizes that the situation is challenging because the material evidence brought in doesn't lend itself easily to the legal process. What he doesn't recognize is the ambivalence of the "this" outspoken by the confused scrivener. The judge takes for granted that the sacred object brought in is, in the aboriginals' view, the key to the resolution towards which he should proceed. He takes for granted that the awkward baton is a concrete piece of evidence the credibility of which could be assessed in objective terms. For him, "this" refers unequivocally to the object.
The judge doesn't recognize the fact that "this" is as much about the gesture and the clash of belief systems as it is about the object. The aboriginals bring in a piece of evidence that makes evident something about the situation itself, as if they were saying: this is not just a piece of evidence, this is just evidence, true evidence.
With regard to this fictional episode, I consider my kara, hankala kapula a boundary object. The project is series of object-oriented arrangements (if I may say so without any particular ontological commitments) that enables something we could, with reference to Henk Borgdorff, call "boundary work".* The project is not fully instrumentalizable, which means that it cannot be reduced to one clearly delimited context, but it can facilitate various negotiations concerning signification. The performance score, especially in the Forum Box version (on the video), includes quite obvious references to Benjamin's theory of translation that figures in the background of the whole setting of this exposition.* However, the idea of boundary work relates also to Barad's idea of agential cut, since the negotiations taking place at the boundaries of different contexts or horizons of sense are effectuating reconfigurations in and through material arrangements. Further specification of the relations between these areas of reference remains, however, a future project.