Un fluido non è uno spazio o un corpo caratterizzato da assenza di resistenza. Non ha niente a che vedere con le fasi di aggregazione della materia: i solidi, così, possono essere dei fluidi senza dover passare per la fase liquida o gassosa. Fluida è la stessa struttura della circolazione universale, il luogo in cui tutto entra in contatto con tutto, e arriva a mescolarsi senza perdere la forma e la sostanza proprie. (Emanuele Coccia, 2018, kindle loc. 439)
Note: This exibition is a time capsule of a never-fully-actualised conference. As it is a work that will permanently stay in its incomplete form, it does not have a clear beginning and an end. This is an unactualised relic, that, however, may propell new processes. A highly modified and short version of this piece was published in the Kelp Congress Book. Please check it:
Trento, F.B. (2020). Kelp Spillages. In: Cahoon, N; Methi, H; Wolfsberger A. (eds.). The Kelp Congress. (pp. 84–90). Svolvær: NNKS Press.
This multimodal essay resonates with the experiences I had at the Kelp Congress, as part of the Lofoten International Arts Festival (LIAF), 2019. I participated in a workshop navigated by Sabine Popp, Kelp Diagramming Collective. Other artists and researchers joined the collective, like Anne Luise Blicher, Heidi Hart, Marcellvs L, Robin Everett, Annette Wolfsberger, and Hilde Methi. During several days, we participated in activities related to the northern algae ecologies in the intertidal zone of Napp, Lofoten, Norway. Our collective’s propositions were intensively activated by the theoretical framework of the Italian Philosopher Emanuele Coccia. We mainly focused on his works on the thematics of the vegetal and algae worlds, their modes of existences, and non-human relationalities. What can we learn with the plants and algae to rethink and deconstruct what Rosi Braidotti calls the anthropocentric exceptionalism? Is it possible to fabulate how our human bodies would behave if we had acquired some tendencies of these creatures?
As a constraint, I planned to write this text (or at least to build its basic structure) and gather these materials on the week after I came back to Finland. The text is divided into some ‘drops’ or agglutinations of kelp-related thoughts and the concepts that emerged in relation with them. Concepts and reports from the event do not - or at least, they should not - be hierarchized, as if the former was used by the latter to confirm an argument. After observing and tasting the Grisetangdokke (Polysiphonia lanosa) brown weed that parasitically grows along with other algae over the sea rocks, I think the relation between the concepts and the practice in artistic-research must happen only if it is in a parasitical way.
The philosopher Emanuele Coccia claims that not only sea animals like octopuses - that became a trend in the humanities after Lovecraft, Flusser and others -, but actually the plants, are the dominant paradigm of a metaphysics of openness into the world. Before moving to the earth due to centuries of millions of years of evolutionary adaptations, they transposed into the air what the sea provides: full immersion and mixture. It means reaching the point where one does not see the point where something begins and ends.
Coccia reminds us that plants have transformed the atmosphere, facilitating the emergence of forms of life as they came into concrescence. Breaths of all sorts of velocities, a breath that is cut and not easy to expel, the breath of the vertigo of orgasm, etc. Always more than one, full openness but still being seen as stagnant by the anthropotechnical eyes.
Absolute mixture is not absolute in the sense that everything IS everything as an amorphous form. There are movements of differentiation, like when we watch the laundromat machines doing their hard work. The clothes seem to be only one continuous mass rotating. But one sock may fall in a different way into the drier, a green t-shirt stuck on the door, all sorts of small movements inside the “major” wheel-rotating-form that seems to be dominant. Intense mixture with partial individuation; mutual inclusion, everything is IN everything. The devil is in the potato salad.
Click on the small screenshot for the videos:
Kelp encompasses several species of large brown algae that usually have long leaves - blades. Several families are considered as kelp, including the Laminariaceae and the Alariaceae. Generally, kelp forests develop “on shallow rocky shores in a mid-latitude band where light and oceanographic conditions allow the development and persistence of this growth form” (Steneck et al., 2002, p. 439). Most of the kelp species are highly sensitive regarding temperatures in the tropical or subtropical regions. They also typically do not grow in the temperatures and light conditions of the arctic and sub-arctic seas. This means kelp is very sensitive to shifts in the ocean temperatures due to the global climate crisis mostly caused by the anthropogenic intervention. At the same time, kelp and other seaweed industry began exponentially growing for the past years. Kelp has been used in alimentation by centuries by native human populations and for feeding livestock.
Kelp and other sea ecossystems help us understand the interespecific interactions (and intra-actions) that may inspire us towards a new mode of existence in the epoch of the Anthropocene. It is always more than one and more-than life, it is not only the semen of past individuals, bacteria and the meat and plants that were eaten before that makes our fleshy multiplicities travel across generations - the primordial cannibal gesture is the act of breathing: air and atmosphere that enters and leaves our bodies after entering and leaving their bodies.
Our workshop lasted for five days. In the first two mornings, we went to the intertidal zone at Napp, a fishing village close to Leknes, assisted by a marine biologist, Michael Pantalos. Angelita, founder of the Lofoten Seaweed company, and Kari, one of her kelp harvesters, guided us upon our first incursion to the sea. We entered the cold water using wet suites, which bring a strange but comfortable and safe sensation: the cold water enters it, but the bubbles of air and foam do not leat the heat out. I felt cold and warm at the same time. The waves were a bit violent, and Kari showed us a technique of entanglement. The species of kelp Laminaria Digitata, that holds this scientific name because of its long finger-like leaves, is strongly attached to the seabed. Their leaves are way stronger than what I foresee, and it seems impossible to cut or break them without using an artifact like a knife or teeth. Kari explained in order to keep stable, she entangles her legs with the kelp fingers, like a fork catching spaghetti. And there is a need to feel the movement of the waves and let yourself go with it, being hold by Kelp. I tried that and immediately felt safe. In Coccia’s (2018) words, I felt me and kelp were “a unique body with different degrees of penetrability”. I wonder why people felt some discomfort while doing that. Somebody on the group said that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has a role on generating this affective field of fear around the things and creatures that interact with us coming from the ocean depths. I guess H.P. Lovecraft’s Ctulhu shares a share of this responsibility in this case. Or maybe only in arts and philosophy circles that read a lot of Eugene Thacker, Mark Fisher, CCRU, etc…> *Octopus-Kelp-Silver Tape assemblage at Svolvær's old second-hand store .* >
As a neurodiverse subject, it always struck me how interactions between human and non-human entities are much devaluated, both in academia and in everyday life. When one says that an autistic person lacks relationality, what is implicitly meant is that it is an individual that lacks one specific concept of relationality. A relationality between humans in a neurotypical setting that involves face to face and eye to eye conversations, touchings, feelings. Or, as Melanie Yergeau says, the forces at play are forms of relationality involving non-human elements: “we might think of asociality as that which is ecologically oriented and perseverative, that which extends notions of communion and relationality beyond the human”. The same happens for the exhausted concept of empathy. This concept, extremely absorbed into the neoliberal politics of governance, tends to be valued only if it regards being emphatetic for another human being, but not other living and non-living entities, reinforcing the hierarchic and neurotypical systems of categorizations of being, or, on other words, the major western human-centered ontologies. Under the climatic regime (Latour, 2017), the concept of relationality cannot only refer to anthropocentric scales and temporalities. Under the climatic regime, several species of Kelp are moving towards the north, seeking colder waters - but warmer than before.
I attached an action cam in my left fist. The plan was to escape the more typical Go-Pro footage aesthetics and its intentionality. Also, on the second day, we went harvesting again, and the weather conditions in Napp were significantly worse. We always went to the intertidal zone during the low tide, but the velocity of wind had intensified. Curiously, the waves were not as fast as in the day before, but way stronger and higher; a fact that certainly has a scientific explanation but still surprised me. The camera in my fist witnessed the tentatives of holding to kelp and other algae to maintain my balance. Somebody said that the hands, covered by the gloves and filmed so closely - they actually rarely appear in the footage - did not look like human hands at all. What do they look like? I am still not sure as well.
Frame from action-cam video.
Emanuele Coccia proposes an inversion of the model of gardening. While our western conception of the gardening activity tends to focus on the practices and crops we develop on the ground, “the main gardening activity of the plants doesn’t operate on the ground but first and foremost in the air” (Coccia, 2018). This happens because plants can change the environment where they grow. Obviously, the activity of changing the environment is not restricted to plants or living beings at all. What Coccia aims to underline is that the category of gardening plants are capable of produce is related to the transformation of the atmosphere itself.
The process of this upside-down terraforming reached its peak during what is called the Great Oxigenation Event (GOE), or the Oxygen Catastrophe, among other variants.
This catastrophe consisted in the production of dioxygen (O2) by the first photosynthetic organisms, like cyanobacteria, which changed the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Only the development and the diffusion of vascular plants on Earth allowed the atmosphere to stabilize: the amount of free oxygen (a byproduct of photosynthesis) was able to exceed the oxidation threshold and accumulate in free form. In turn, the massive presence of oxygen led to the extinction of many anaerobic organisms that inhabited land and sea, to the benefit of aerobic life-forms. This paradox is extremely important. The origin of our world was a catastrophe. (Emanuele Coccia, 2018)
During the second day at the old second-hand store lab, after composing with the materials on the previous afternoon, we sat and read aloud the text Cosmic Garden (Coccia, 2018). We were given a brochure from Lofoten Seaweed company during our visit to their headquarters; which contained an infographic that shows in which depths some different species of algae typically grow. After reading of the text, although, it made sense to understand this graphical visualization upside-down. And we reproduced the upside-down infographic on the windows of the old second-hand shop with the help of Clas Ohlson’s window markers. After all, being used to the idea of gardening as something oriented to something we can see while looking down, it made sense to think the gardening of the atmosphere as the result of kelp, plants, macro and micro algae’s breathing.
Upside-down kelp gardening. Image by Lofoten Seaweed Company
Exhibition in a non-exhibition space
At the lab, we did not look to produce a final stage of the assemblages we built there, neither to organise them to be exhibited. While the idea of thinking about processes and not products in the arts and arts educations environments is very well known and even a cliche, it seems that the subjectivities that enter into the space of artistic propositions always shift to the exhibition mode of behaviour. This is not to say that exhibitions should not be anymore proposed. In fact, they can be very effective as a form of social gathering and networking. However, playing with the supposition of hidden intentionality may bring unexpected results. In an exhibition space, there is a tendency to think that every object or piece is precisely placed to produce the desired outcome (meaning, reaction, feeling, etc.). Curiously, in our lab’s case, the only piece that was not treated as an exhibition was the tree we built connecting different species of algae together and covered by glass in the staircase. Somebody thought that the stairs were actually stairs and stepped into them, shattering a blade of glass. Luckily we had several blades of glass that previously use to serve the clothing store as shelves.
Bringing Melanie Yergeau’s take on intentionality may be useful to deconstruct the paradigm of the hidden intentionality - that must be found!. They relate intentionality with the widespread behaviourist concept of “Theory of Mind” (ToM), or the capacity to understand and perceive other’s feelings and intentionality. Yergeau’s book Authoring Autism is an effort to dettach rhetorics (and we will see, intentionality as well), from an understanding of rhetorics that is generally neurotypical, talkative and anthropocentric. The general understanding of the rhetorical capabilities in the Western contexts puts the non-neurotypical subjects as non-rhetorical. Yergeau argues that “intentionality only becomes rhetorical when it is social, when its effects are mutually recognizable. Intention requires a theory of one’s own as well as other minds.” (Yergeau, 2018, p. 36). (to be continued…) How, then, intentionality becomes a crucial issue in our query on reshaping artistic and arts education spaces, and, specifically, in relation with my experience at the Kelp Congress?
not intentionally (?) kelp glitched by faulty printer
The lab proposed to take seriously what are the affordances and the agencies of the different species of algae, our bodies and other materials, while they interact with each other through intra-actions. In other words, to observe how the transparent silver tape and the slimy leaves of the Laminaria Digitata would interact together with the cold and dirty glass showcase of the old thrift store. In fact, many transplantations of silver-tape were necessary to hold the octopus-kelp creature on the glass. We first thought about cutting the duct tape in small pieces to create an effect of an octopus creature holding itself into a surface with the help of its suction cups. But it was clear that the slimy and even rotting fluids of the kelp-octopus would make this task difficult. Actually, the big pieces of tape even looked better through my eyes, creating some striated but transparent surface on the window that would let the sunlight penetrate in an eerie way.
The iteration of the space that received the visitors on Saturday is still a prototype. Ideally, I understand spaces of art education must approximate themselves of the idea of prototyping (Corsin Jimenez, 2014), which means they are always in the beta phase. Again, it is common sense in contemporary art spaces that the practices are always part of a process that has no final destination, but what I would like to add is that this beta phase of the artistic process or arts hosting space extends itself to the modes of sociality together developed. Prototyping must mean understanding the agency of the non-human materialities and how they continue to develop independently of our interference. When we dealt with kelp, we experienced these shifts at a fast pace: the materiality of the algae quickly changes after it is removed from its habitat. When underwater and covered by the wet suits, we tend to feel its slipperiness, but in a way that let our entanglement quickly happen. Outside the seawater, these properties give place to a sliminess. More than the qualities our sense of touch can perceive, the smell released by the kelp being decomposed (or cooked) may not be suitable for all noses. In this process of rotting, the kelp-octopus creature started to release a dark and putrefied liquid into the window. After we left Lofoten on Sunday, all kelp assemblages stayed in the room. Rumours reached me that the octopus creature now reached the quality of dryness. Since most of kelp’s composition is water (like us), it is possible that the octopus may have shrunk and escaped the duct tape trap, possibly falling into the ground.
The qualities that reverberated through the kelp assemblages and us were not purely tactile and visual. Sabine cooked a specimen of Laminaria Digitata. While in contact with warm waters, kelp dies and its leaves change their colours to a very bright green. While the colour they reach is beautiful, it is probably the colour kelp is turning briefly into before dying in the warming waters of the coastal areas in the southern sub-arctic region. When kelp is being cooked, it exhales a strong smell that may not be comfortable to very sensitive noses. When I noticed the smell, I immediately retreated to the back of the store.
If prototyping is also developing new modes of sociality - or at least, bringing to the foreground those who are not usually contemplated in the arts and scholar worlds, like, for example, non-neurotypical modalities of expression and communication, we did so by not estimating any final outcome, but also never sitting together to discuss what we were planning to do. The small groups or bunches gathered themselves, responding to the emerging appetites. Actually, during the last day before the visitors arrived, we sat together and read the text Cosmic Garden, by Emanuele Coccia. While we read, we wrote in the ground some phrases or concepts that could relate (or not) with both our experience of harvesting in the intertidal zone and the practices we tried to develop there. I am not completely fond of the traditional techniques of reading groups since they tend to involve a certain urge to frontally discuss and develop the concepts, and thus perform a subjectivity that is very attached to normative bodies. However, this was not the case. During our reading, we diagrammed some of the concepts and key-phrases on the ground using white chalk. We did not discuss them, neither selected them by their importance on the theoretical framework Coccia builds. Indeed, I suspect we capture some of his “minor concepts”.
In short, I suggest the prototyping as a framework to reach a level of processuality where a group of artists and researchers feel comfortable with their tendencies (in terms of modalities of perception, bodily postures and discourses), without tending to a final form - which is not the same to say that a level of metastability will not be reached. The Old Second-Hand shop in Svolvaer was an exception. In the neoliberal societies, the distribution of spaces like that tend to be rarified or extremely monetized. And the time to participate in a long-term artistic proposition as well. Prototyping must then become mobile. Modes of existence that foreground non-human relationalities (Barad, 2013) and non-neurotypical understandings of intentionality must not only be accepted but supported.
Emergency, Anthropocentric Exceptionalism, Terraforming
The feminist scholar Rosi Braidotti understands we need to critically engage with the understanding of the meaning of being human. The human, she argues, is not a neutral term, but produced and producer of the anthropocentric exceptionalism, an onto-epistemological divide between the positivist human modes of sociality and nature, to be informed by the former. This includes an affect of certainty regarding the status of the human as the saviour of the planet geological and climatic crises generated by the exhaustion of natural resources and the deployment of rejects back into the environment. While it consists of a separation that reinforces binary cuts between nature and culture, the human and the animal, the male or the female, it is also necessary to posit where exactly we encounter this concept of humanity. It is related, indeed, with the ideal of the “Universal mode of Man”, that in fact, “is masculine, white, urbanized, speaking a standard language, heterosexually inscribed in a reproductive unit and a full citizen of a recognized polity” (Braidotti, 2016, p. 15).
On Tuesday, September 18th, we had a Skype conversation with a marine biologist from Quebéc, Karen. She is part of a project that aims to calculate the estimation of the total biomass of kelp forests around the globe. She also said the decrease of the extension of kelp forests could generally be observed in conjunction with another phenomenon: an increase in the presence of sea urchins. Karen told us that there is a possibility to reforest kelp in areas where it stopped growing due to the rise of sea temperatures. It consists of bringing spores from kelp that grow in other areas, genetically adapted to warmer temperatures. It is unclear, though, if there are any legal restrictions regarding bringing these seeds in an environment where it did not grow before, even if they belong to the same species. At the same time, the idea of anthropocentric exceptionalism came into my mind. It is something that has been bothering me for a while since I started to work in another project, a film about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a bunker-like underground structure that keeps seeds from all countries aiming to preserve agricultural and biological diversity in the case of major catastrophes like climate crisis and wars.
“Although they are typically portrayed as antagonistic grazers in kelp forests, sea urchins can have a positive trophic role, capturing kelp litter before it isexported and making it available to a suite of benthic detritivores.” (Yorke et al., 2019, p. 01)
I also felt that kelp has excellent potential as a terraformer agent. Benjamin Bratton (2019) understands terraforming not only concerning the science fiction literature or actual projects to colonise and transform other spatial bodies making them adequate to host human life. Bratton argues that “the looming ecological consequences of what is called the Anthropocene suggest that in the decades to come, we will need to terraform Earth if it is to remain a viable host for its own life” (Bratton, 2019, p. 05). There is a risk in thinking about absolute terraforming; and it involves reproducing the same neurotypical, human-centred and segregated environments. That is not the case in Bratton’s proposition. Terraforming must be localised and non-totalizing. The modes of engagement in interspecific companionship vary across different landscapes and their inhabitants due to cultural, economic and biological constraints. Bratton argues that an anthropogenically induced state of things (or the Anthropocene), anthropogenic measures must be taken in counterpart. If terraforming is gardening, we must not forget those who are responsible for the most massive gardening operation, the Big Oxygenation Event. Gardeners that are not human at all.> *Mermaid's pubic hair (or the risk of falling into cryptozooanthropomorphism)[^1]*.
The tensions that affected me during the period of the workshop and the conference that happened during LIAF 2019 always touched my fear about the risks of anthropomorphisation. Accepting the risk of over-referencing this essay, I bring Massumi’s take on the animal philosophy. In What Animals Teach Us About Philosophy, Massumi discusses the necessity of building a new model for thinking the concept of difference. In his understanding, human, animal (and why not, plants, algae and fungi?) must be taken as elements of the same continuum, and thus, should not suffer a process of onto-epistemological hierarchization. In this context, difference emerges only as part of a movement of mutual inclusion. Among Massumi’s examples of mutual inclusion, he talks about the undifferentiation between playing and fighting between kittens, from domestic cats to lions in their “natural” habitat. It is broadly accepted that we will never experience the perception of a big feline, and scientific publications may corroborate or refuse his affirmation, the accusations of anthropomorphism always reappear.
Such critiques do not take into account the possibility of a logic of tendencies that interpenetrate without blurring. Neither do they take into account the movement of transindividuation creating ever more diff erences, in an animal parade of vital variations. They know nothing of the reciprocal presupposition of modes of existence in the ceaselessly selfdiff erentiating current of life. The logic of mutual inclusion dodges the infernal alternative between the solitude of generic differences and the goo of undifferentiation upon which these accusations of anthropomorphism are implictly based. It places the human on a continuum with the animal precisely in order better to respect the proliferation of differences: the movement of nature by which life always goes a-diff ering. It easily turns the accusation of anthropomorphism against the accusers. Is it not the height of human arrogance to suppose that animals do not have thought, emotion, desire, creativity, or subjectivity? Is that not to consign animals yet again to the status of automatons? (Massumi, 2014, p. 51)
During the opening conference of the Kelp Congress, Cecilia Åsberg also made me think about the risks of the anthropomorphism. She talked about us literally eating and engaging with the sexual organs of kelp, something that did not come into my mind after two days of entanglement between my legs, arms and chest with Laminaria Digitata’s tentacles. A strange pleasure, but one that activated again my fear of being swallowed by anthropomorphism. Speaking of movements of swallowing, I remember when the psychiatrist said I had several “oral obsessions”. I felt, indeed, an urge to put the kelp tentacles in my mouth and feel its texture. I told somebody that kelp, especially Laminaria Digitata while underwater, reminds me of the material used in rain jackets, usually some soft synthetic plastic or rubber that feels pleasurable to be held in between the teeth. That desire, however, seems to vanish when the kelp reaches its most gooey configuration outside the sea. (to be continued)
Braidotti, R. (2016). Posthuman Critical Theory. Critical Posthumanism and Planetary Futures, 13–32. doi:10.1007/978-81-322-3637-5_2
Bratton, B. (2019). The Terraforming. Moscow: Strelka Press.
Buck, H. (2019). After Geoengineering: Climate Tragedy, Repair, and Restoration. New York: Verso Books.
Coccia, E. (2018). “The Cosmic Garden”. In: Andermann, J: Blackmore, L; Morell, D. C. (org.). (2018). Natura: Environmental Aesthetics After Landscape. Berlin: Diaphanes.
Coccia, E. (2019). The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture. London: John Wiley & Sons.
Corsín Jiménez, A. (2014). Introduction. The prototype: more than many and less than one. J Cult Economy, 7 (4) (2014), pp. 381-398. Doi: 10.1080/17530350.2013.858059
Massumi, B. (2014). What Animals Teach Us About Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.
Steneck, R. S., Graham, M. H., Bourque, B. J., Corbett, D., Erlandson, J. M., Estes, J. A., & Tegner, M. J. (2002). Kelp forest ecosystems: biodiversity, stability, resilience and future. Environmental conservation, 29(4), 436-459.
Yergeau, M. (2018). Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Durham: Duke University Press.
Yorke, C. E., Page, H. M., & Miller, R. J. (2019). Sea urchins mediate the availability of kelp detritus to benthic consumers. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286(1906). doi:10.1098/rspb.2019.0846