From artistic practice to knowledge production
Environmental humanities aim to facilitate development of friendly and responsible attitudes of humans vis-à-vis the natural environment, based on posthumanist and postanthropocentric paradigms and focusing on entangled relationality of earthly co-existence. Hence, they are about production of knowledges. Geoart seems to be an important vehicle for such an activity, especially because it exposes the relational nature of the earthly environment and the contingency of processes of natural-cultural production. Considering the circumstances of the Anthropocene/Capitalocene, geoart seems to offer interesting potentials for resentisizing audiences and making them aware of the tangled nature of earthly co-existence. Creative interaction with nature, in such an account, catalyzes the release of sensitive knowledge production generated through processes typical for artistic or creative practice. The origin of such eco-sensitive activities is the sensual, carnal experience of life itself uniting together human and nonhuman bodies with different agencies and capacities.
Importantly, what geoartistic activity implies is the necessity to admit the agency of matter, both human and nonhuman. As such, it offers means for transcending traditional binarisms on which the dominant Western culture rests (e.g., subject vs. object of knowledge, activity vs. passivity, culture vs. nature, matter vs. language, the real vs. the copy, etc.). The act of geoartistic inventive creation assumes and exposes an “intra-active” entanglement of the artist and the material. The work of art cannot emerge without them both operating democratically on equal terms, producing and being produced in the constant process of material-discursive unfolding. This fosters a novel concept of agency, divorced from the notion of (necessarily human) intentionality. Agency, in geoart, remains dispersed and distributed among many actors working together to produce (often unexpected) effects. Such projects expose the dynamic nature of artistic processes, its productive and generative character as well as affective and emotional potential.
Of crucial importance is also the fact, that (geo)artistic process requires a constant tangled cooperation of material and semiotic dimensions. As Iris van der Tuin aptly notices, the work of art emerges both in artist’s mind and in artist’s hand (2014) in a constant, material-semiotic unfolding, with no clear boundaries and no straightforward divisions into what is bodily and what is intellectual. Consequently, a critical reflection on knowledge production can learn a lot from the detailed inspection of artistic processes. As revealed in the discussion of the case studies, geoart is about an entangled and relational cooperation of human and nonhuman agents as well as about connectivity of the natural and the cultural forces (which cannot in fact be separated). Such is also the character of knowledge production in general. Realizing this lets us disavow the Western anthropocentric perspective and move toward new materialist ethics of connective relationality, acknowledging active involvement of all factors, phenomena, and processes as well as of matter and discourse in their various, sometimes surprising ecosystemic configurations. Recognition of the fact that we (and our products) are vulnerable, fragile, and susceptible to the environment as much as the environment is susceptible to us (and our scientific achievements)—always a movement, never a stasis—fuels reflection on a more sustainable development as well as on gentle and resilient co-existence with other lives. This may help us think more productively about how we affect (not-only-human) others and are affected by them in the processes of constant transformation and metamorphosis. Such reflection if of crucial importance in the epoch of Anthropocene/Capitalocene and the Sixth Extinction connected therewith.
Realization of the composite nature of artistic practice, whether professional or amateur, allows us to discern the entangled complexities inherent to the artistic processes. What matters in this context is the bundle of practices and not the final product. The whole creative procedure is about practices, a constant differing, or a productive reconfiguring. The geoartistic process is a vibrant assemblage of intuitive experiential activities. This allows for recognition of the fact that all knowledge production happens in the context of material-discursive practices whose agency has to be discerned and acknowledged at every stage of this process. Importantly, a close inspection of these practices makes possible a more careful and watchful engagement with and understanding of their effects. This sheds light on how and why something emerged and what is the immediate context that constantly (re)shapes their becomings. As mentioned earlier, such logic can also be applied to the practices of knowledge production in general, drawing attention to the material-discursive, and ever-changing, character of the processes from which knowledge stems. As Estelle Barrett states in the context of the artistic research, one of its cardinal strengths is “its capacity to uncover or reveal the aesthetic dimension of all forms of discovery” (2014, 6). Accordingly, conceiving of knowledge and art as “intra-action” (rather than solely as representation—whether immaculate or ideological) enables a different mode of thinking. Instead of focusing exclusively on what they are and what they refer to, it shifts attention to how they are generated and what they are capable of doing (that is, how they become). They should be seen as experiential and praxical, both the products and constant engagements with the material-discursive practices of their production. This bodily-intellectual, or material-discursive, involvement with the environment, context, and other agents present and operating on site (different from both positivist paradigm and social constructivist logic of thinking summarized in the earlier part of this article) might produce unexpected effects, which forces us to acknowledge the potential unpredictability of all research practices or scientific inquiries. New materialist approach to art lets us therefore think more thoroughly and critically of knowledge production in a more general sense, acknowledging their circumstantial and often unpredictable effects.