How does interconnectedness create resilience? How does the observation of pain help surpass pain?
‘Systems of Pain/Networks of Resilience’ begins with research on systems and ecological theory, continues in conversation with individuals, and looks to observation and performance as means of connection. The work explores methods for the restoration of mutually entangled ecologies and human bodies. Prejudice emerges as a barrier to healing – acceptance, observation, and listening, as common tools to accelerate healing.
Human perception affects ecological and personal processes – I begin my research with human interviews and site-specific prompts. Interviewees were asked to describe their own personal and professional processes of recovery, be they emotional or physical, grounded in animal behaviour or ecological restoration. Quotations pulled from these interviews are ambiguous in nature – when heard in isolation, it’s often unclear whether the speaker is a sociologist, ecologist, or survivor of abuse. This ambiguity lends itself to a specific experience of association and connection.
The words in ‘System of Pain/Networks of Resilience’ serve as a connective tissue. Similar processes are described in interviews using different words: single words take on multiple meanings. ‘Vulnerability’ is, simultaneously, a level of emotional or personal exposure, and a term in climate science indicating susceptibility to changes in the climate – an amount that can be mathematically calculated. The project sites its exploration of recovery and strength in the words that are used to describe relevant processes – then it turns those words back on the seemingly irrelevant actions I undertake from my current location.
Chapters of the work have been developed in Omaha, Nebraska, upstate New York, Galesburg, Illinois, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. I interview local people, and perform in each location. Processes that are specific to each place – such as the care of abused horses at a sanctuary, or the musings of a local naturalist – permeate the work, but expand to take on meaning beyond their site of origin.
The clips are edited together to create scripts and performance scores for live performances and videos, depicting the actions of an androgynous person. This person that I perform labours, moves things, fixes things, sits up straight, slouches, interacts with the environment around them. As viewers, our experience of these visuals is both guided and interrupted by the audio from various interviews, and the narration of a professional audio describer.
Audio description is frequently used to make film and video accessible for low- or non-sighted people. In ‘Systems of Pain/Networks of Resilience’ its conscious use also forces the sighted viewer to check the visuals they are seeing against what is being described. The American Council for the Blind demands that the audio describer recount facts, serving a journalistic role. What those facts are, however, is largely up to the describer to determine (within some given guidelines regarding basic parameters, and volatile concepts like race). The describer decides individually what, within an image or moment, is a ‘matter of concern’.
For the sighted, the experience of hearing a description of what they are seeing while they are seeing it may disrupt the default process of perception – might make the act of looking a conscious effort. Assumptions, prejudices, and assumed meanings are challenged, asking the viewer to take the material ‘as it is’ – even to question what the material ‘is’ to begin with.
Throughout the work, swaths of wallpaper emerge, articulated in audio description as featuring ‘thin twigs’ with ‘delicate pine needles’. This wallpaper design has been inexplicably categorized as ‘Masculine’, by the Johnson Wall Coverings company, located in Galesburg, Illinois. This gendering of an artistic depiction of nature speaks to the greater processes of categorisation, stereotyping, and prejudice – processes that prevent us from really seeing. The stigma surrounding trauma and its symptoms can lead others to label and dismiss those who suffer from them as ‘weak’ or ‘crazy’. Such dismissal, which includes self-stigma, does much to prevent those who suffer from obtaining help.
Pain is understood as trauma, loss, disruption – everything from polluted landscapes to neglect, from abusive relationships to work stress. In one prolonged interview clip, a woman describes the experience of flashbacks as a symptom of PTSD, and the work her friends do to bring her out of them. Recovery is a process of observation and description, of reminding her where she is, and what her relationship is to the place and things around her. It’s important that her friends do not mock, dismiss, or label her for her symptoms, but rather see themselves as agents in her recovery. This healing process is unique to the speaker, but central to the questions within ‘Systems of Pain/Networks of Resilience’. Without assuming a normative or universal healing process for our many and varied pains and traumas, how can interrelatedness assist in our recovery processes? Observation becomes an act of listening, a key tool toward understanding, and a way of building resilience.
This first compilation of work and research in the project takes quotations from my research, clips of the personal interviews, videos, and performance documentation, and arranges them within their own system of exploration. The components of ‘Systems of Pain/Networks of Resilience’ are infinitely reconfigurable: each iteration of the project – in video, performance, or installation form – is a different way of exploring the project’s core questions, and the possible relationships between the gestures, objects, materials, and meanings involved. Interconnectedness is both depicted and experienced. Pain and resilience are simultaneously intertwined entities and disparate, isolated processes that are part of larger networks of relationships.
 see Neil W. Adger, ‘Vulnerability’, Global Environmental Change 16 (2006), pp. 268–81.
 Joel Snyder, ‘Audio Description Guidelines and Best Practices’ (American Council for the Blind, 2010), p. 10.
 ‘Citing the race only of non-white individuals establishes “white” as a default and is unacceptable.’ Joel Snyder, ‘Audio Description Guidelines and Best Practices’ (American Council for the Blind, 2010), p. 11.
 ‘The critical mind, if it is to renew itself and be relevant again, is to be found in the cultivation of a stubbornly realist attitude – to speak like William James – but a realism dealing with what I will call matters of concern, not matters of fact.’ Bruno Latour, ‘Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern’, Critical Inquiry (Winter 2004), p. 231.