diffracting a wall
on the motorway again
It’s getting dark.
First getting back into the flow of traffic...
action-oriented internalization and compression39
Things have to be done to be understood.
1. Perhaps one could think of anthropology's method of participatory observation according to this logic. Participatory observation is a mode of being in the middle of things to be permeated by them. The interdisciplinary scholar, artist and former park ranger Emily Eliza Scott refers to sociologist Saskia Sassen when pointing out the importance of not having decided too strictly on a method beforehand when going to fieldwork. This might produce blindness for what otherwise could become of real importance. Involvement enables adjustment in the doing.
Involvement means to allow the body to experience what evades language. To get the other-than-you under your skin, and connect there with threads from other others. It preconditions what to ask (as artist in a marine biological context), by providing a common ground. By sharing the same light- and temperature-conditions. The same smell. The same rhythms. By observing what else is there.
The observation changes the situation for the observed. Any observation is co-constitutive of the event to be observed.
The difference seems less between the observer with a camera and the observed observer handling kelp, when participating in marine biological fieldwork, than on a landing station. The camera has a common presence in marine biological fieldwork as the researchers' extended eye. The artist’s camera is just one more in a common doing and observing. It belongs to a collective endeavour (see also note 45).
Cameras at the landing station - or rather those connected to the trawlers and their contested harvest - are ambiguous and can be seen as a form of (self)surveillance, to protect against accusations from somebody else. It questions my camera to a higher degree. Spatialized media become thoughtful in the doing.
What is it I look at? An encounter doesn’t only happen in a close-up, between kelp and those who handle it. It needs zooming out to see the wider consequences, the proliferations. It needs both. What easily evades us is what lies in between.
Matter and meaning can’t be separated according to feminist theorist Karen Barad. Knowledge production can’t happen from a distance but must happen on the ground, in the middle of thingsy15.
2. Re-enacting Hand Catching Lead (Richard Serra, 1968). To turn it into Hand Catching Kelp X is another kind of internalization and compression. The original video work shows a hand stretching out and attempting to grasp metal pieces falling from above in a continuous stream. Sometimes the hand succeeds - and drops the piece again immediately -, most often it doesn’t. The re-enacting of the original work is based on a misreading of an artwork to be an exploration of gravity (Serra rather intended here to explore the specificities of the video as medium). This is followed by speculative thinking, when the doing pretends to explore buoyancy - as counterpart to gravity, and thereby an upward-movement when it presses bodies submerged in water to the surface (a decisive aspect to handle and counteract in diving).
But buoyancy doesn’t work like this in the studio. There is too much air and too little water to be submerged in, and it would not work with this type of kelp anyway (there are no air-filled bladders to push it up or keep it floating by). Despite of these misunderstandings, the gesture - and the documentation of it - remains a recurring image.
The grasping and holding up of kelp - contrary to the slipping through in an attempt to catch - becomes a colonizing one. It might be meant as an act of care and cultivation of presence in a moment of encounter (in a workshop for childreny16, or in one of the exercises for the Kelp Diagram Collective X), but easily tips over in its contrary, and carries with it connotations of the (once living) trophyy17 or of the laboratory animal (in Common Notions X).
long silence. wind gusts pressing from the side
the anarchive is not documentation of past. it is a feed-forward mechanism40
The anarchive is a concept approached by SenseLab in Montreal (Concordia University), founded by Erin Manning in 2004, to explore the active passage between research and creation. (see also note 7)
The archive in general contains data and documents of a past. Most archives are characterized by a specific order, and a system, which makes it possible to trace origins, or to find elements by index.
An-archiving is the opening-up of the archive and giving it a new life. This might point forwards - independent of originally established categories. The anarchive is attractive due to this feed-forward mechanism and a potential queering of a given structure. It enables continued doing by taking traces of a past with you, yet leaving the structure of a past behind. Anarchiving is a play- and senseful manner of relating to what is there in the here and now, and without specific other intentions than an opening-up. To make space for something to occur that was overlooked before.
The re-enactment of an artwork like Hand Catching Lead can be understood in this way. Any collection of things can in principle be defined as archive to start an an-archiving process in any thinkable way.
material traces’ potential to trigger new processes41
This also is the anarchive. It is its progress mechanism. When anarchiving the archive, its material becomes enacted, its material becomes an event. Any event is temporal and gives thus space to performativity. Each new event produces traces.
Actions carried out in the first studio space, in the beginning of the work with Agential Matter can be read as first anarchiving processes X. Beginning with text as an archive, and continued with forms of short re-enactments of art works, and later of marine biological procedures.
The reading (of Latour’s We have never been modern at that time) and subsequent writing of fragments in spacey17, is an anarchiving of the book’s content and generates traces with chalk pens on surfaces, by engaging bodily in the reading and spatializing of its content.
Again (see also note 34): It is an inversion of the more common procedure of underlining sentences and writing comments in the margin of a book. To surround the body with words, to externalize the thinking is a way to build a physical relationship to what is said. Words become a body. They become objects one can taste and chew, turn upside down, move. The externalizing of them (out of the mind, out of the book) enables another, material contact - between words and words, words and the body, images (projections of video material from fieldwork) and words, objects (from fieldwork) and words, words and spatial (light) conditions. Words encountered in a book can act as stumble stones, or they can become sticky. To take them out of their context can be a way to scrutinize them in the same manner as one would do with objects.
This method puts body and mind in motion together.
Traces were left on tables, floor and walls in the studio, and were meant to foster new processes. Each day started with a short re-evaluation of what was there from the day before and what still mattered, what should remain and what needed to be cancelled out or moved somewhere else. A quick filtering process, accepting the loss of some, and the carrying-on of others. A practice of displaced or scattered attention in the beginning of a day, without directed focus guided by specific intensions, to allow something to emerge in the margin, producing intention and maybe becoming the most obvious.
Anarchiving is an exercise to counterbalance the documentary approach of a camera, research on the net and in books, and notes from conversations - from which a digital and material archive forms, of documentary photographs and video material, marine biological articles, historical images, kelp samples, maps and objects from visited sites.
In that sense, the doings of the first year, an anarchival reading - most importantly the reading of Bruno Latour - in a constant exchange with experiences from fieldwork with marine biologists, and with experiments in the studio with conservation processes of kelp, were the first archiving/anarchiving-processes. They were the starting point for new, following processes, and the map on the floor evolved and changed with them. To nourish and constantly keep alive these processes seemed similar to (and as fragile as) a living organismy18.
The last version of this ongoing mapping was preserved when the floor was finally removed to be rendered into a platform for actions and performances X, which started about a year after having left the space. The floor became an object in itself, and appeared finally in pieces in Relay to form three stations X: the main platform for the performance lecture (which was used several times before), one as working area and frame to give presence to kelp and objects related to its harvest, and one as mobile library/archive/projectionscreen- all of them bearing traces of processes throughout the years.
Anarchiving can be a tool, a method, to work oneself into the future with certain doings based on traces of a(n overwhelming and confused) past. Anarchiving can happen in different ways and its content can be words, objects and matter alike. But there needs to be an archive at its base.
The archive precedes the anarchive.
As a collection of data to dwell with.
creative processes of formation and transformation dominated by performative rather than referential aspects42
Any formation is transformation and in this performative.
To put aside referential aspects would mean to strive for an approach to things as they are, perceived in their materiality, without past or context, in their immediate presence to put them to work in engagement with abstract thought.
To give the performative aspect a dominant position, means to pay attention to agency in the moment of encounter. Agency occurs in various ways and I suggest that referentiality is maybe less opposed the performative than rather a potential part of it. I think again of the flickering described by Erika Fischer-Lichte, mentioned earlier (note 8). Flickering happens due to the impossibility to determine if something is to be encountered in its immediate presence or in a referential manner - because it might work both ways.
The thing in space, kelp, demands presence in the sensory experience of it.
It is object and event. It is process. And it becomes representation of something else in the moment of occurring narratives of a visitor's personal past, of conflicts about harvest, or of forests as living organisms.
ah, it smells wood...
they obviously have cut some trees here in the area...
were here some of the fires last summer?
are these scorched trees? or is it still the blackness of the winter what I see?
an aesthetics of presentation and process over one of representation and works43
The first performance of Common Notions in May 2018 as part of The Freedom Room (a seminar on socially engaged art organised by Jill Halstead and Brandon LaBelle) was rather messy, confusing and intimate X. It changed in its repetition, became more controlled. Common Notions as part of Relay X seemed more finished result than process, and something got lost.
I first envisioned the situation as potential event for a more common public (rather than for an art audience) - with reference to historical public experiments of the Enlightenmenty20 and TV programs of popular science in the 70sy21 -, to the degree that the platform could create an enclosed space on an open plaza. The small projectors used in the performance can run on battery for about two hours. Independence from power was fuelling the idea. Put on wheels the platform could move slowly during the event, to change perspectives. This vision never happened. However, each repetition was an attempt to come closer to it, or to ask questions about it. The vision became a kind of reference point. What is gained and what is lost in each new event? In never being fulfilled, it kept the mind restless.
Could an event in an open, public space still hold the necessary intimacy to make an audience implicated? There is a mismatch between what we know about living conditions and the consequence of our doing, and the ability to change our customs and daily routines. Something is out of synch in the perception of immediate experience and overall information. Therefore, the need for intimacy as a different model of information transfer.
These questions of intimacy and strive for synchronicity made repetition necessary. Each new setting was conceived of as part of an ongoing experiment. Each new situation was a new test.
A public experiment is a doubling of observation: the observation in the experiment and the observation of the observation. How does inside and outside relate in different spaces? What is ‘inside’ with or without platform? What is gained (or lost), by gaining control on two things: the timing of the video projections and the learning of the text by heart? How obvious, complicated or high-resolution can technology become before taking too much space?
With more media control I could become free to make eye contact. But is it still me or somebody else who makes this contact, and does this matter? Learning the text by heart enabled me to move and act more freely.
Common Notions was performed at the Kelp Congress as part of LIAF in 2019. There’s no documentation of it, but it was performed at a narrow strip of stage below a cinematic screen in front of an auditorium. Four projections in space of the original platform became one in four sections, playing with a slightly different change in scale of the respective framesy22.
Agency appearing in encounter with technology may be the strongest to perceive in its dysfunctionality, obtrusiveness and unpredictability. To control matter might mean to mute it.
slowing down, taking off and changing route
fewer passing cars
differentiating is a material act that is not about radical separation, but about making connections and commitments44
A difference made, is here understood as serving as joint between two things, or as two layers of the same thing. Connections are not just between the thing in focus and its conditions or something other in space, but also between two differing appearances of the same under varying conditions. It is the same thing, but different. As in the repetition of Common Notions.
Kelp is encountered and looked at in various ways, spaces and through a variety of means. However, you can’t separate kelp in the gallery from kelp in the sea or kelp in the laboratory or kelp processed at the landing station.
Variations of the same are emerging due to changing entanglements (of kelp, fluids, vessels, machinery, architectures, instruments, humidity), because different potentials, which are all there, all the time, become actualized or remain dormant in different situations. These are potentials of its bending body, its iodine content, its photosynthesis capacities, its strength, its age, its being alive.
The aim is to bring all those together in an assembly. In the same sense as Bruno Latour calls for a 'parliament of things', and puts forward the necessity of making things public, so that they are able to participate in politics.
By scrutinizing difference, things become richer. And more open to approach in their constant becoming and transformation as part of wider ecologies.
‘collective imaginings’ - a shared desire for certain transformations to be actualized as a collaborative effort45
There are three strands of thought in this.
The first one is about artistic collaboration.
The second one about inter- and crossdisciplinarity, in the sense of including any kind of expertise and experience.
The third is about an audience.
They become intermingled, and they include the other-than-human. There were two moments of intensity, where attachments to all strands were most equally involved at the same time. One was the setting for the Kelp Diagram Collective for LIAF X and the other one with Relay in Bergen X.
The Kelp Diagram Collective would have gained from slowness to form better relations (involving harvesters, artists, marine biologists and interdisciplinary researchers alike). However, experience intensified and became enriched in the context of the congress as a whole. I had for the most dealt with questions of value connected to utilization and economic interests in kelp, and knowledge systems framing this approach. The Kelp Congress wished to counter this way of thinking, and represents an example of speculative thinking in practice, which I almost exclusively relate to on theoretical level, whilst I remain embedded in existing systems, trying to voice my discomfort from an inside, perceiving myself as a part of it. The Kelp Congress performed much of the feminist-theory-inspired practices connected to dissolved boundaries between human and other-than-human bodies, with lectures by Astrida Neimanis and Cecilia Åsberg as most obvious theoretical reference points.
The performing happened in a collective being together in experiencing and producing what matters. It was an intense collective involvement in the sociomaterial, and in parallel-speaking-and-doing-and-eating-and-sharing, in search of and producing alternative ways of being in the world.
This context heightened my discomfort with the use of the camera for observation and the objectification of the other involved with it - but it was an important part of the workshop I navigated, nevertheless. X
There is a main focus on observation in Agential Matter, which could seem to be a first of all subjective endeavour. But it is clearly not just subjective in shared spaces of research and experience, nor is it in the moment of observation itself, as at least two entities have to be involved (and there are always more, see note 24). Observation is far from being limited to the visual. Any sort of sensory perception is an act of mutual touch, which constitutes an encounter and mutual transformation. It is this understanding of observation I want to bring to the fore. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa addresses this in her Matters of Care, through her involvement in permaculture. She makes explicit that care is a mutual involvement of human and other-than-humans alike, and that care is expressed in organisms of the soil as much as in humans.
‘Collective imaginings’ point towards a future, in an affirmative manner. It wants and indicates a transformation to the better. The collective indicates a multitude of approaches, understandings and visions, and by that is conceived of as an opening up of possibilities. The weight, which is put on the affirmative, is important and marks a difference to a critical approach of the 60s and 70s, based in documentary tools, which sought to debunk power mechanisms.
New materialism (which Karen Barad is an exemplary thinker of, in the direction important in this context) brings to the fore an interest in material conditions in various theoretical fields. It questions the weight that is given to theoretical approaches compared to material ones, or a general tendency to keep them separated. Concerns regarding climate change, migration and violence on a global level are often mentioned as reasons for increasing interest in materiality – in the sense of life’s material condition.
There is a prevalent urge to bring perspectives from various fields together. Instead of drawing up boundaries between disciplines, the blurring of these boundaries is the case. Thinking through another discipline (than one’s own) might open up for grasping something else, something that otherwise would be overlooked, excluded or get lost (due to the lack of a fitting category or explanation for it).
This is not an easy exercise, as an equal encounter is not a given, and (my own) expectations and preconceptions often are stronger than one (I) might think.
>>> PART TWO