We Can’t Say Where it Goes: Heather Davis & Etienne Turpin in conversation with Caroline Picard

August 6, 2016 · Print This Article

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In 2014, Open Humanities published Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (Open Humanities Press, 2014), a robust collection of essays, interviews and “vectors” co-edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin. Over the course of 400 pages, more than forty contributors provide an unflinching, polyvocal examination of artistic production in the Anthropocene. As Critical Climate Change editors Tom Cohen and Claire Colebrook write in their introduction to the series “The possibility of extinction has always been a latent figure in the textual production and archives; but the current sense of depletion, decay, mutation and exhaustion calls for new modes of address, new styles of publishing and authoring, and new formats and speeds of distribution.” In the following interview, Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin describe their editorial process, articulating once more the need to disrupt petrocapitalism and the violence perpetuated by its entrenched hierarchies.

Caroline Picard:  I’m curious about the character of your conversation as editors on Art in the Anthropocene—what made you come together, and what it was like to follow through on such an  ambitious project?

Etienne Turpin: I wanted to work with Heather because her writing and research were already very influential on my thinking in Architecture in the Anthropocene (2013), in which she made several key contributions, but also because she was a colleague whose thinking I admire and respect. Fortunately, she was interested to work on this collection together, and we shared an interest in moving beyond a standard academic collection to include many voices that often get “edited out” through a credentialized, patriarchal, and white supremacist process of publishing in the Higher Education industry. We both had ideas about who to invite and how to proceed, and I learned a lot as we made the book together. It was a serious project—I think for both of us—because the Anthropocene was becoming a thing, and we wanted that thing to remain political and meaningful; it has, of course, become a theme, and a rather sad theme in many instantiations, but I think the book was an attempt to keep alive a trajectory of thinking, and to explore it with thinkers, artists, and writers with whom we shared some affinities.

Heather Davis: I was keen to work on a book that drew together my interests in art, politics, and environmental thought. Etienne’s and my own commitments and perspectives both converged and diverged throughout the project, and so part of the reason the book contains so many different lines is that we opted for the plurality produced through the tension in our different positions and geographical locations. We were both committed to trying to retain the Anthropocene as a political concept, as Etienne says. Also, we both reject traditional hierarchies being applied to the modes of thinking that art, writing, and conversation enable. Each of these forms is necessary when working through the ecological horrors and their attendant social crises in this historical moment. The art projects that are published in the book are not an afterthought nor are they used as illustrations; instead, they are valuable, nuanced ways to engage with the affective complexity of living through these difficult times.

CP: At one point in your introduction, you suggest that “the arts can be a way of attuning to new realities,” almost as an antidote, I think, to culture’s fast-assimilation of facts, conditions, and terms. I was wondering if you could talk more about how you see art’s role, and what art and philosophy might have in common?

HD: One of the things that is so strange about our current moment is that the world we are born into changes, has changed, is changing, so fast that it is almost unrecognizable, even within a relatively short lifetime. The kinds of tacit knowledge we have about a place cannot be assumed to continue. I am thinking of everything from technological change to when a river will freeze or what kinds of plants or animals one might run across. The forms of knowledge that people (and animals and plants) have carried from generation to generation for thousands of years are becoming less and less stable, making their use equally precarious. We are having to learn to adapt at a pace that is unprecedented, all to keep up with the fantasy of unending economic growth. These kinds of changes are aesthetic changes, changes to our systems of sensing and feeling. Art practices have deep vocabularies with which to express and explore the strangeness of our present, its contradictions, and the ways we are moving and being moved. Art practices can provide a secular space of ritual and engagement with the affective horrors of our times in a way that allows us to feel without becoming completely overwhelmed or desensitized.

Philosophy can also be creative and meaningful, it can help find ways to develop structures of relation and feeling that allow us to move through, to continue. In developing concepts, philosophy or critical theory  helps us to name structures of power and new modes of existence.

Of course, each of these modes, despite our attachments to them, are completely enmeshed in capitalism’s systems of accumulation. They are not enough. We need direct action and government policies that address the problems that we are living through. But we also need ways of feeling and thinking that allow us to continue without falling apart. Art and philosophy can be ways of making sense, of providing modes of futurity, and propositions for living differently.  

ET: I agree completely with Heather on this point; for me, personally, philosophy and art are practices that help keep me together amidst the violence of the present while, at the same time, connecting my work as a researcher to other transversal elements which cross paths conceptually or pragmatically. A remarkable thing, isn’t it, that art and philosophy can both keep you together and pull you apart?

I’d just add to what Heather wrote that I think that philosophy and art are engaged, in a fundamental way, with what Deleuze identified as a problem of the cliche. It is not that thinking or artistic production face a blank page (or a blank canvas), but one that is so full of cliches that it prevents thought or sensation from unfolding during an encounter. So, perhaps this was present as well in the book: how can we approach the Anthropocene, with its climate migrations and resource wars, its mass extinction and ecocide, without adding to the cliches already filling our thoughts and perceptions in a world of mass media? How to make sense and make thought that avoids the reductive trap of the trending cliche?

CP: Going to this idea of epistemological diversity, does the banner of the Anthropocene offer new possibilities for that vision? What role might translation play in such an endeavor?

HD: I think the Anthropocene offers the possibility of genuinely working across different academic disciplines, from the humanities, the arts, the social sciences and the natural sciences. It is a concept that has sparked a lot of dialogue among these epistemological communities and has prompted new methodologies that seek to link and take seriously different disciplines. There have been some interesting moments in the humanities incorporating geologic and biologic thinking into our understanding of the human. Unfortunately, I think there is a lot of work to be done for the Anthropocene to not simply be a reiteration of white supremacist, European, patriarchal thought. We can see this in the unquestioned re-assertion of Man as the signifier of humanity, and White Man as both the ultimate villain and paradoxical saviour of the Earth. These narratives are incredibly damaging and it is deeply troubling that they are being re-told as part of the Anthropocene story. This is what Zoe Todd takes aim at in her brilliant essay “Indigenizing the Anthropocene,” the blind re-articulation of white supremacist logics couched in psuedo-scientific language.

ET: I agree with Heather on this point as well; while there is an incredible opportunity to leverage the Anthropocene as a context which demands the complete overhaul of the disciplines in the Higher Education Industry, committed, engaged post-disciplinary research remains precariously on the fringe despite so much lip service being paid to collaboration by university deans and presidents.

Meanwhile, you have the journal Telos publishing an issue called “Political Critiques of the Anthropocene” with only male European contributors. In 2015! Maybe the left of the European academia isn’t so far from the patriarchal white supremacy of Donald Trump after all?! It seemed like it must be a joke, or something from The Onion, but it wasn’t at all. The blindness that allows Telos editors to reproduce patriarchy in this way is no different from any other status quo comportment to the violence of the present, or toward the political economic system we call capitalism. Of course, this is just one among countless other possible examples.

But, please let me try saying this another way: if the practices that converge in and through encounters with the Anthropocene—whether as a discourse or as an existential condition—do not work to dismantle patriarchal white supremacy and Eurocentrism, they won’t have achieved much.  Sure, Telos might appear to be relevant, or even contemporary, or someone might add a few lines to their CV or shore up their tenure case, but enduring the Anthropocene requires a renewed, militant attention to the organization of power and its everyday reproduction, which is not some academic trend but a vital part of political struggle within a history of “emancipatory social practices,” as Félix Guattari might say.

CP: You connect the violence of petrocapitalism with white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, and ableism, offering this elegant and seemingly effortless capsule of why the Anthropocene is so entwined with both human society and the environment, a capsule that reiterates the entanglements of our world. As Heather points out in her essay on plastic, it seems impossible to stop producing the stuff without creating a massive disruption in global society. How can we move forward within the paradox that many of the systems of civilization (particularly Western civilization), which were devised for its subsistence, are both extremely harmful and yet impossible to step outside of without spurning some other form of violence? How would humanity accomplish such a change, or is this change what we should aim for?

HD: It is certainly what we should aim for. There are lots of people who are living in the world who have knowledge of how to live well without this ecocidal violence. You are right that such a drastic shift will signal the end of this world, and that will cause a huge amount of disruption, but thinking about this moment historically is useful. Capitalism has only been around for a few hundred years. Industrialization is an even shorter period. And the world that we are living in is undergoing rapid change all the time. It seems strange that we are so willing to embrace so many kinds of change that continue ongoing violence in tacit and explicit ways, but are so reticent to embrace change that would result in a lessening of this violence—of course the reasons for this are structural, but we need, at least, to hold on to a perspective that what we are living through is an anomaly and that there are multiple ways of living differently. We don’t need petrocapitalism to survive; it is slowly killing everything we need, from human knowledge systems and cultural vibrancy to the air and water and land and other-than-human creatures. How to go about creating this change, undoing petrocapitalist logics and subjectivities and cultural systems is a different question, but there is no doubt that this system is slowly strangling most of us and it is imperative that we end it. Keep it in the Ground or Idle No More are future forms of resistance enacted in the present, vital forces that show a way forward.

ET: Of course, it is true that radically undoing an omnicidal system like capitalism will cause tremendous stress on all related systems, no doubt. Are those stresses and challenges worth enduring, worth considering as amor fati, given that capitalism is programmed to resist all reform and kill everything on earth for the obscene, unprecedented profit of literally less than 100 billionaires? Jacob Wren’s recent book Rich and Poor takes up this question with incredible elegance and humor; in essence, he asks us to reimagine class struggle in the context of the Anthropocene, where “man to man” antagonisms are displaced by precarious affinities, contingent alliances, and an array of entangled forces that cultivate resurgent, albeit “post-heroic,” political struggles.

CP: When the Anthropocene asks that we revisit so many priorities, I wonder how it might influence our sense of the self?

HD: In The Three Ecologies, Guattari talks about the necessity of addressing not just the ecology of the natural world, but the social and psychic ecology. In many ways, this assertion underlies our editorial decisions in the book. We want to address not only the ways in which petrocapitalism is tearing apart the earth and the other-than-human creatures that we share the planet with, depend upon, and are composed of, but to seriously think through the forms of social and psychic life that are created, what Brett Bloom calls petrosubjectivity. Many of the essays, interviews, and art projects which appear in the book are experiments in how to inhabit the world and the notion of the self differently. What might it mean to think about temporality outside of the logics of everyday capitalism, as Ada Smailbegovi? asks? Or, what does it mean to think about history from the point of view of a human-made organism, as Terike Haapoja and Laura Gustafsson do with cattle? And, how might we imagine, with Natasha Myers, what we are living through beyond the teleological assumptions of the apocalypse with all its masculinist fantasies? Each of these questions are about the kinds of subjects we are and might become. These thought experiments in imagining the self differently are central to the process of undoing petrocapitalism, even if we cannot stop there.

ET: Your question is extremely important. Why edit a book together? Why work with others—others who have different ideas, perspectives, concerns, passions, convictions—if not to be remade by these encounters? For me Art in the Anthropocene is like a well-crafted scrapbook from a period of extremely painful reflection on the violence of the present, a period of thinking and reworking how I could sustain a commitment to struggle through my practice and my encounters with others. There is no contribution that did not change my perspective on my own work and on the condition of the Anthropocene, not to mention how co-editing the book with Heather and designing the book with Sara Dean shaped other lines of inquiry related to my practice as a designer and curator. If by reading this book other people are remade a little too, I would be pleased; I was changed by the project and I am grateful to Heather, Sara, and all the contributors for helping me encounter new ways to believe in the world. So, as we write in the introduction: “We can’t say where it goes; in bringing together these essays, projects, and interviews, the measure of our work will be the measurelessness of the worlds which take little bits of this book elsewhere to resist, struggle, and become-together something more powerful than universals and more sensitive than identities.”

 




Interview with The Mythological Quarter

October 31, 2011 · Print This Article

Bonnie Fortune and Brett Bloom are artists and former Chicagoans that make their home in Copenhagen these days. While many artists lend the same creative abilities to their homes as their practice, we rarely get a glimpse of what goes on there. Often, what goes on locally at home—the apartment, the neighborhood, the city—can feed back into a practice until the boundaries of artwork and lifework are comfortably confused. Fortune and Bloom use their blog Mythological Quarter to share their experience of making a home in a new place. This includes reviewing books about homesteading, recounting experiences making work in a new place, documenting instances of neighborhood ingenuity, and sharing creative experiments made in their apartment. Bonnie and Brett’s blog impressed me with the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment brought to all of their projects, whether it’s meant for an art festival or the living room. I sent Bonnie a few questions to chew on over email.

Passive herb watering system. Credit: Mythological Quarter

Bryce Dwyer: Where does the name “Mythological Quarter” come from?

Bonnie Fortune: Mythological Quarter is the name of a group of streets in the Nørrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen that are all named for Norse gods. Our street is Baldersgade. Balder was the son of Odin. Because our blog is primarily about hyper-local ecology and what people can do to live closer to and learn about their local environment, we thought it was a good idea to name it after our neighborhood. We also liked the imaginative possibility of the name, which is good because in the few short months since we started the blog it has morphed beyond the initial mission statement and intent. We started by detailing a lot of projects that we were doing in our home but have since evolved beyond that. We’ll return to that on occasion, but the focus is now a little broader.

BD: I don’t think it’s a leap of faith to believe that some of the same creative experimentation that happens in a conventional artist’s studio is at play in the home of an ecologically-oriented urban homesteader. Of course, the output of these impulses varies. In one scenario you might end up with a presentable art project, in the other, a batch of worm castings to feed your houseplants. How do you think of these different outcomes of artful living in relation to one another? 

BF: This is a good question because it relates to the slow morphing of the blog’s purview. I have a reluctant affection for the idea of urban homesteading. Certainly, I look at and am inspired by those authors that would put themselves in that category, but I also question their efficacy having tried, and continue to try, many of their DIY projects. My interest in homesteading ideas is research into how to become more connected to my immediate environment.

So many of us live in cities now that the question becomes how can one deal more directly with where one lives rather than put the environment or an idea of the natural world at a distance—as something that exists elsewhere.

I am very interested in incorporating ecological thinking (i.e. considering how we are part of rather than separate from the environment we live in) into my daily life and routines. Sometimes it’s achieved and sometimes I feel alienated by what living in a city really means—being removed from your food production, waste disposal, electricity, natural gas, etc.

Because I am trained as an artist, I automatically look at things from the perspective of producing culture. I think about how I can use my skills to make an improvement in the overall environment of the world. What does that look like if one of my main skills is cultural production? Making posters, writing, connecting people, making exhibitions, and making projects. The blog gives me a focused research platform that allows me to connect with other artists, but also scientists and those working with the contemporary environmental movement. But there are times when MQ veers off topic and focuses solely on art projects. Just as there are times when we can’t figure out the perfect indoor compost system and end up throwing away our table scraps.

BD: Do domestic experiments ever leave the house and become projects-at-large?

BF: Yes, our domestic experiments do become projects outside of the home. To start with MQ is a project somewhat outside of the home in that it is in the public sphere of the Internet. Currently we are planning a way to frame certain aspects of our research on MQ to make a book. MQ, as a project, is more about research and development—talking to others, reading, trying things and documenting those experiments. It is a testing ground for larger projects. For example, through an interview project for MQ, I met a group of local naturalists and biologists who helped me immeasurably in making a recent poster project for the local art fair.

BD: You and Brett have been collecting great resource books and making them freely available for a while now. What are some of your “desert island” books?

BF:
How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
The Book of the New Alchemist, Edited by Nancy Jack Todd and E. P. Dutton
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew
Ecology textbook, Edited by Began, Harper, and Townsend
Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison

I started collaborating with Brett on a project called the Library of Radiant Optimism for Let’s Re-make the World. The project collected books from the late 60s and early 70s. Several of these books like the The New Alchemists, The Environmental Design Primer, and How to Build Your Own Living Structures focused on how to transfer ideas from the environmental movement to daily living—the beginnings of the green design movement.

Reading these books, collecting them together, and writing reviews led us to wonder about what people were doing now or how we could make our own experiments.  MQ stems directly from that collaboration. It is a more streamlined, less nostalgic version of that project.

What to take to a desert island? The problem here is that I think too literally about this. I would say How to Build Your Own Living Structures, but you need a hardware store to build some of these things and that’s not on a desert island. In fact when we moved to Denmark we had to leave a huge part of our library at home, so in a sense it was moving to a desert island (well, Copenhagen’s on an island anyway). Leaving our books at home was a hard decision but one determined by the economics of international flight. We’ve since started to rebuild our collection. As we do, I’m adding to the Book Reviews portion of the blog.

BD: What are the things that you’ve learned through amateur pursuit of useful knowledge that you might not have acquired anywhere else? Where might people have acquired this knowledge previously and can you speculate on some reasons for the change?

BF: I consider my artistic practice to be a research-based endeavor. Part of this is having gone through an academic system of art training, part of it is the way contemporary art making has evolved. I make art about what I am interested in, what I care about, and what I am passionate about. This is amateur in a sense, but also a professional pursuit of knowledge. For example, it has lead me to talk to scientists about how to properly conduct a survey of the biodiversity of an inner city empty lot so that I can make a poster about the process. I am not a scientist, I’m an amateur there, but I am still approaching the project with a level of professionalism. And I am genuinely curious about making sense of the world around me, in that sense it’s not an amateur pursuit of knowledge.

Another example: before moving to Copenhagen, Brett and I did a public art project for the city of Urbana where we built bat houses. We were interested in how to encourage wild habitats that are within and more integrated with the built environment of a city or town. We didn’t know what bats liked before starting the project, so we learned about them and their habitat needs to fully realize the project.

As to where people acquired knowledge previously: The Internet has obviously changed how we gather and share knowledge. This makes me think of Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. First of all, he suggests that our planet needs a new name, Eaarth, because global warming has reached a point of irrevocably shifting the planet we knew as Earth. For the rest of the book he lays out how climate change happened and how it’s shaping the world. He concludes with what is being done and what can be done in the present day environmental movement. McKibben suggests that small-scale initiatives—things like Community Supported Agriculture, bartering systems, and generally doing things on a smaller scale—is the way to acclimate to living on Eaarth. Within all of this, he points out that the Internet is something that will continue to be a useful tool for connecting and sharing information between the world of self-sufficient and small-scale communities he imagines as the answer. This conclusion stuck with me because it was not what I expected him to write because he had already written about supporting hyper local initiatives (local farming, food sharing, etc) and the Internet seemed the exact opposite of this. Introducing the Internet into the system contradicts focusing on the local and also, by McKibben’s way of looking at it, a way to support and encourage the system.

We began Mythological Quarter (and other projects) trying to think about our immediate environment—the apartment, the neighborhood, etc. that we live in—the hyper-local. It is now a means for us to research, gather information, and share it with others. It’s a knowledge project on the edge of local and global.




Episode 218: Temporary Services

November 1, 2009 · Print This Article

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This week for your listening pleasure Bad at Sports has dispatched Shannon Stratton and Duncan MacKenzie to Illinois’ glorious Kankakee to meet up with the artists of Temporary Services. They query Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin, and Marc Fischer about social practice and the group’s decade long history.

The new www.badatsports.com is here! Come check out our redesign!

Sunday the 8th we all need to once again make a trek down to Hyde Park to pick up the Artists Run Chicago Digest. In it you will find contributions by Lori Waxman, Dan Gunn, and little ole Bad at Sports!

What follows is from http://www.studiochicago.org/arc-release/

Artists Run Chicago Digest Release
Sunday, November 8, 2:00 – 5:00pm
Hyde Park Art Center
5020 S. Cornell
Chicago, IL 60615

Join the Hyde Park Art Center, threewalls and The Green Lantern Press, as they celebrate the release of the Artists Run Chicago Digest.

The A.R.C. Digest: Published by threewalls and The Green Lantern
Press, The Artists Run Chicago Digest documents Chicago artist-run ‘spaces’ active between 1999 and 2009 offering a look at the various platforms that often act as extensions to studio practice.

As the official catalog of Artists Run Chicago, an exhibition that
featured 34 artist-run spaces from around the city from May 10-July 5, 2009 at the Hyde Park Art Center, The A.R.C. Digest acts as compliment to and extension of the exhibition, with interviews, essays, and an audio supplement presenting a 10-year time period in Chicago’s artist-run culture while providing history, reflection, critique and dialog about artist-run culture, its importance, difficulties, sustainability and necessity as well as its specificity to a community and generation. Read more