C3P Visiting Academic – Stefanie Fishel

C3P Centre for Critical Creative Practice presents the second in our series of Visiting Lectures for 2018

7 June 2018   4:30-6:30PM  LHA RESEARCH HUB (19.2072) 

Stefanie Fishel, University of Alabama

VISITING LECTURE AND MASTERCLASS

GUEST LECTURE: 4.30 – 5.30pm

MASTER CLASS (open to all LHA HDR students): 5.30- 6.30pm, please contact Su Ballard for the reading “Microbes”

LECTURE: Of Walls, Borders, and Roads: Posthuman Mobility in the Anthropocene

It is difficult to speak of the Anthropocene and changes to our planet because of the need to shift our view between multiple levels. We cannot stay at one for long. From the micro and the macro, from microbes to biospheres; we must be able to switch lenses from the human to the nonhuman. Often it is scale, rather than levels, that illuminates relationalities in novel ways and demonstrates that it is difficult to articulate these relations in their complexity within traditional disciplinary boundaries and understandings of scale based on smooth capitalist economic structures. Our economies of ecological destruction and the intimacies of shared vulnerabilities exist even if we may not be able to see or count each other across that divide of who, or what, is counted, or even countable, in our human systems. Using the effects of walls and roads on other-than-human communities, this talk will stress that responding to Anthropocene challenges will mean seeing agency in nonsmooth, nonrepresentational ways while simultaneously taking into account the nonhuman and the biosphere, as well as the human.

MASTERCLASS: In this short discussion focused workshop Stefanie will expand on ideas presented in her recent essay “Microbes” from Making Things International 1: Circuits and Motion (ed. Mark Salter, University of Minnesota Press, 2015) and work with students to connect this piece to the larger framework of the Anthropocene. Attendees are expected to have read the text, and will be invited to share their thoughts.

Stefanie Fishel teaches in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama specializing in political theory and global politics. Her research interests include the gendered and racialized experiences of violence; theories of biopolitics and posthumanism; critical animal studies; and global environmental theory centering on climate change and the Anthropocene. Her book, The Microbial State: Global Thriving and the Body Politic (2017), is available through the University of Minnesota Press. She recently wrote “Politics for the Planet: Why Nature and Wildlife Need Their Own Seats at the UN” for The Conversation.

MECO360: Notes to self: Life tips for the Anthropocene

  Tess Barber | August 2017

‘As glaciers melt, deltas flood, and we row our lifeboats down the middle of the River Anthropocene, it seems we need any valuable tool we can muster to negotiate the rising tide pushing in from the sea.’[i]

Mani Barber, ‘Lumen’, 2015.

  1. There are no simple solutions.[ii]
  2. Experiment with methods to cool down, preferably those not reliant on cheap, consistent energy sources. Failing this, adapt to suit hot environments.
  3. Develop a range of communally useful skills.[iii]
  4. Personal skills are also a necessity; these may include swimming, being generally fit, or developing high immunity.
  5. Learn methods for finding water.[iv] Or, again, consider adapting to not need water…
  6. Adapt. Adaptation is key and can be applied to all situations.[v]
  7. Forage.[vi] Keep a constant eye out for provisions.
  8. Find a good bag to carry things in. And then tell a story about it. [vii]
  9. Be aware of your nearest source of protein. Maintain reasonable expectations of what this may be.[viii]
  10. General expectation management. Hoping for a better ‘lifestyle’ is nice; however always maintain hope in direct relation to plausible outcomes—not reliant on         constant, accessible and affordable energy for instance.[ix]
  11. Make kin—human and nonhuman; also learn more about your current companions.[x] Again manage your expectations: not everyone you approach will reciprocate your kinship—wolf-folk, although attractive, are not suited to your climate or perhaps your friendship.
  12. Remember: everyone is different, and this is a good thing. [xi]
  13. Find methods for breaking with habits: such as energy use, water use, but also linguistic habit, habitual ways of seeing…[xii]
  14. Research mosquito avoidance and deterrence. Survival will be understood in terms of hand-eye co-ordination and dexterity. Otherwise you might approach an       amphibian, or arachnid as a companion.
  15. Learn Asylum Seeker and Refugee law. And then rewrite the law.
  16. Become familiar with strangeness: learn to live the uncanny.[xiii]
  17. Learn and contribute to the lexis of the Anthropocene: new wor(l)ds to understand, new stories to tell.[xiv]
  18. Study methods for engaging and coping with loss: for instance to express Solastalgia.[xv] However! Also learn to protect that which isn’t lost: engage             Soliphilia.[xvi]
  19. Accept your vulnerability.[xvii]
  20. Observe.[xviii]

________________________

[i] Astrida Neimanis, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2017, p. 26.

[ii] I’m sorry.

[iii] Consider skills needed, or valued by a wide variety of human and nonhuman communities. For instance: fermentation, cooking food with limited resources, finding water, see point 2: methods for cooling down.

[iv] A starting point may be re-figuring an understanding of your own body as a ‘body of water’. See Astrida Neimanis, 2017. Also see James Linton, What is water?: a History of Modern Abstraction, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2010. Be prepared to reconsider notions of water, and rethink your body’s ‘situatedness’ in relation to the ‘hydrocommons’ and to other bodies of water. As Astrida writes: ‘For us humans, the flow and flush of waters sustain our own bodies, but also connect them to other bodies, to other worlds beyond our human selves’ (p. 2). What responsibilities are re-learned in such a figuring?

[v] The only certainty is uncertainty; the only thing determined is indeterminacy (see point 1). As Anna Tsing writes, ‘We hear about precarity in the news every day. People lose their jobs or get angry because they never had them. Gorillas and river porpoises hover at the edge of extinction. Rising seas swamp Pacific islands. But most of the time we imagine such precarity to be an exception to how the world works…What if, as I’m suggesting, precarity is the condition of our time—or, to put it another way, what if our time is ripe for sensing precarity? What if precarity, indeterminacy, and what we imagine as trivial are the center of the systematicity we seek?’

See Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2015 p. 20. If, at times this is overwhelming, remember: ‘Indeterminacy, the unplanned nature of time, is frightening, but thinking through precarity makes it evident that indeterminacy also makes life possible’. In her work Anna Tsing traces the biological and economical history of the matsutake mushroom, which thrives in precarious sites of deforestation.

Casper S, Tricholoma matsutake, n.d., David Rubeli, 2015, http://www.davidrubeli.ca/on-the-mushroom-at-the-end-of-the-world/, viewed 17 October 2017.

[vi] To start, see the work of Diego Bonetto, Diego Bonetto, n.d., https://diego-bonetto-weeds.squarespace.com/about/#bio, viewed 12 October 2017; as well as The Wild Food Map, n.d., http://wildfood.in/, viewed 12 October 2017.

[vii] See Ursula K Le Guin, ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’ in Dancing at the Edge of the World, Paladin, Great Britain, 1992, pp. 165-170.

‘If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible, or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a soldier container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then next day you probably do much the same again—if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all’ (p. 168).

[viii] Learn a few tasty insect recipes to ease yourself in. See Daniella Martin, Girl Meets Bug: Edible Insects: the Eco-logical Alternative, wordpress, n.d., https://edibug.wordpress.com/recipes/, viewed 12 October 2017.

[ix] Human Impact Lab, Climate Clock, Human Impact Lab, n.d., https://climateclock.net/, viewed 12 October 2017.

[x] For more reading see Donna Haraway, ‘Companion Species Manifesto’, in Manifestly Haraway, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2016a; Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham Duke University Press, Durham, 2016b.

[xi] This may seem like a given, but is surprisingly difficult to grasp and enact. A potential starting point: Donna Haraway, ‘Situated Knowledges’, in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, Routledge, New York, 1991, pp. 183-201. Language, too, is a key tool for learning to accept and celebrate difference; however may also be used as a method of subjugation. Linguistic intersubjectivity is one way to start to reconsider the ways you are using language, and the creatures that you talk to. See Donald Davidson, Truth, Language, and History, Oxford University Online, Berkeley, 2005. For more on breaking habits see point 13 and note 12.

Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Figure 2’, 2004, Maria Popova, n.d. https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/10/21/telling-is-listening-ursula-k-le-guin-communication/, viewed 17 October 2017.

Genetic swapping during amoeba sex is Ursula Le Guin’s own model for intersubjective communication: ‘amoeba A and amoeba B exchange genetic “information,” that is, they literally give each other inner bits of their bodies…This is very similar to how people unite themselves and give each other parts of themselves—inner parts, mental not bodily parts—when they talk and listen.’ See Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Telling is Listening’, in The Wave in the Mind, Shambhala, Boston, 2004, p. 189.

[xii] A beginning point could be reworking infrastructure—if the light-switch is too convenient, remove the switch; similarly, to break with linguistic habit the structure must be dismantled or reworked. Experimental language use, such as can be found in (but not limited to) science fiction is one way to rework language structures. Ideas arising from and inspired by: Jennifer Mae Hamilton, Astrida Neimanis & Pia van Gelder, Hacking the Anthropocene II: Weathering Conference, University of Sydney, Sydney, 26 May 2017.

[xiii] As author Jeff VanderMeer has said: ‘There are ways in which global warming is like a haunting, because it appears everywhere and nowhere at the same time.’ See ‘Apocalypse, Now’, On the Media, podcast, WNYC Radio, 7 July 2017, http://www.npr.org/podcasts/452538775/on-the-media, viewed 12 October 2017. VanderMeer’s own science fictional writing explores human relationships to environment and nature through the notion of the uncanny, particularly his Sothern Reach Trilogy (2014).

Also see Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan, Nils Bubandt (eds), Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2017. In Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet the editors speak of the Anthropocene through ghosts and monsters alike: ‘Every landscape is haunted by past ways of life. We see this clearly in the presence of plants whose animal seed-dispersers are no longer with us.’ However, ‘Anthropogenic landscapes are also haunted by imagined futures. We are willing to turn things into rubble, destroy atmospheres, sell out companion species in exchange for dreamworlds of progress’ (p. G2).

[xiv] A resource to begin with is Heidi Quante and Alicia Escott’s Bureau of Linguistical Reality. See Heidi Quante and Alicia Escott, Ther Bureau of Linguistical Reality, 2014, https://bureauoflinguisticalreality.com/, viewed 12 October 2017. As well as the work of Robert Mcfarlane. See Robert Macfarlane, ‘Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet forever’, The Guardian, 1 April 2016, available from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/01/generation-anthropocene-altered-planet-for-ever, viewed 12 October 2017.

Image: Stanley Donwood, ‘Pencil Holloway’, 2012, http://archive.slowlydownward.com/ahway.html, viewed 17 October 2017.

[xv] Solastalgia: ‘the pain or sickness caused by the loss of, or inability to derive, solace connected to the present state of one’s home environment. Solastalgia exists when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under assault (physical desolation).’ In contrast to nostalgia, solastalgia is experienced as a home changes around you. See Glenn Albrecht, ‘Solastalgia’, Psychoterratica, 2013, http://www.psychoterratica.com/solastalgia.html, viewed 12 October 2017. For Glenn Albrecht language can be means to engage with Anthropogenic loss and change, his work begins to develop linguistic and conceptual framework for understanding ‘psychoterratic’ conditions, or mental states related to the earth.

Another method of engaging with loss, discussed by Robert Mcfarlane, is through records. He uses the example of conservation biologist Julianne Warren’s ‘Hopes Echo’, which responds to a recording made in 1954 of Maori man, Henare Hamana. The recording is of a mimicked bird call: a vocal replication of the Huia, a New Zealand bird now extinct due to ‘habitat destruction, introduced predators and overhunting for its black and ivory tail feathers.’ As Julianne Warren writes it is ‘a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today’. Robert Mcfarlane, 2016; Julianne Warren, The Poetry Lab: “Hope’s Echo” by Julianne Warren, The Merwin Conservancy, 2 November 2015, https://merwinconservancy.org/2015/11/the-poetry-lab-hopes-echo-by-author-julianne-warren-center-for-humans-and-nature/, viewed 12 October 2017. Another haunting perhaps.

Huia Edmonds, ‘Huia’, 2014, https://huianededmonds.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/huia-completed/, viewed 17 October 2017.

Finally, see also Lesley Head, Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising human-nature relations, Routledge, London, 2016.

[xvi] Soliphilia: ‘is manifest in the interdependent solidarity and the wholeness or unity needed between people to overcome the alienation and disempowerment present in contemporary political decision-making. Soliphilia introduces the notion of political commitment to the saving of loved home environments at all scales, from the local to the global.’ Glenn Albrecht, ‘Solastalgia’, Psychoterratica, 2013, http://www.psychoterratica.com/soliphilia.html, viewed 12 October 2017.

[xvii] As Anna Tsing has written: ‘Precarity is the condition of being vulnerable to others. Unpredictable encounters transform us; we are not in control, even of ourselves. Unable to rely on a stable structure of community, we are thrown into shifting assemblages, which remake us as well as our others.’ Anna Tsing, 2015, p. 20.

[xviii] Furthermore Tsing writes: ‘To live with precarity requires more than railing at those who put us here (although that seems useful too, and I’m not against it). We might look around to notice this strange new world, and we might stretch our imaginations to grasp its contours.’ Anna Tsing, 2015, p. 3. Through the practice of observing and listening, new (and old but previously overlooked) methods of continuance might be learnt.

MECO360: Speculating about Climate Fiction

Michael R. Griffiths | July 2017

For Theodor Adorno, the autonomy of the art work is the condition of possibility (and not the condition of refusal) of their political efficacy. As Adorno puts it:

Art keeps itself alive through its social force of resistance; unless it reifies itself, it becomes a commodity. Its contribution to society is not communication with it but rather something extremely mediated: It is resistance in which by virtue of inner-aesthetic development, social development is reproduced without being imitated.[1]

Where the setting of a text in the future would appear to distance speculative fiction from present political and ecological exigencies, I argue that this process of speculation proximates critiques of hegemony projecting its consequences. As Adorno suggests, then, mediation per se is a mode of rendering proximate. Similarly, Adorno once wrote that “[a]rtworks detach themselves from the empirical world, and bring forth another world, one opposed to the empirical world as if this other world too were an autonomous entity.”[2] This piece is drawn from a longer essay, which was assembled for Responses to Climate Change—a Symposium led by Tony Birch. As well as being an acclaimed writer of fiction, Birch is a Senior Research Fellow at the Moondani Balluk Indigenous Unit at Victoria University (Melbourne).

Birch’s work is concerned with methodologies for research around climate change that are grounded in Indigenous-led practice. His keynote presentation from Responses to Climate Change laid out several key points that form part of his own research itinerary around ideas of place and ecology in the humanities. Crucially, Birch sees in the humanities’ open and speculative approach a promise to inform climate science. First of all, Birch advised conference participants to, when doing research on climate change, keep in mind how we talk about this issue and who we are talking to about it. He gave the example of working with children in Irish and inner city London schools as well as on Country around Victoria. Birch’s approach was not to lecture to his students on climate change but to bring home to them the significance of place. He had the children record their most “special” places through writing and photography, before asking them what it would mean to them if these places were lost. This connects to another key point raised by Birch in his keynote, which was to empower people outside academia and politics. Too often climate change researchers in the sciences and humanities operate in an echo chamber, which sees them communicating with one another but not with the wider world. It is incumbent upon researchers and practitioners to not only communicate beyond the academy (or the world of representative politics) but to think about the specific positionality of those with whom we are communicating. Birch also suggested that scholars rethink models of collaboration between environmentalists and Aboriginal people. This must depend on seeing Country as having Aboriginal knowledge embedded within it and not by seeing “nature” as “pristine.” Finally, Birch underscored the role of the humanities in this process. For him one of the challenges and the advantages of the humanities is the speculative ethos of engagement in a learning process. While anthropogenic climate change is a certainty, its physical and social effects are unpredictable and a similarly open-minded, speculative approach is needed to engage it.

I want to follow Birch’s ideas about speculation here to foreground the role of climate fiction by Indigenous writers. I do so in order to emphasise my conviction that imaginative work (such as fiction) can open up crucial modes of questioning vis a vis climate change. The crucial problem, I argue, arises in the tension between engagement and autonomy. Works of art and writing (like climate fictions) are autonomous, whereas understanding and taking action about climate change is (one would assume) a fundamentally engaged process. In their future projections of dispossession, Indigenous climate fictions—with their simultaneous narration of the promises and pitfalls of resistance—dialectically intertwine to proffer a critique of settler interventions that are often named as progressive acts. By figuring an imagined future, these texts reveal the hypocrisies of dispossession present in the liberal policies of settler colonial governance extant today.

Consider, for instance, Alexis Wright’s 2013 novel of—amidst much else—climate change and Indigenous futurity, The Swan Book. In Wright’s novel, dust settles on a lake and even as “the old story that lived inside the ancestral people of the lake” survives the dust. With the arrival of climate refugees, the swans themselves invade, “polluting” this sacred site, transformed as it is, into a swamp (Wright 8, 10). Wright’s narrator asks:

Could an ancient hand be responsible for this? The parched paper country looking as though the continent’s weather systems had been rolled like an ancient scroll from its top and bottom ends, and ping, sprung shut over the Tropic of Capricorn. The weather then flipped sides, swapping southern weather with that of the north, and this unique event of unrolling the climate upside down, left the entire continent covered in dust.[3]

—Alexis Wright, The Swan Book.

To speculate on the autonomy of art work is to speculate on an Australia where in North and South are “flipped.” Surely Waanyi country in the North of the Gulf of Carpentaria can find an affinal thread destined for the south.

 

[1] Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota P., 1997, 226.

[2] Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory. 1.

[3] Alexis Wright, The Swan Book. Sydney: Giramondo, 2013, 17–8. Hereafter cited parenthetically in text.

Ways to Cross Country: A response to ‘Thinking Landscape’


                                          Thinking Landscape:                                                        Data, geography, arts, writing, patterns, collecting and interdisciplinarity

Seminar and Workshop16th September, 2016: http://www.uowblogs.com/meco/2016/08/29/thinking-landsca…erdisciplinarity/ Presenters: Mitchell Whitelaw (School of Art, ANU), Harriet Hawkins (Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London), and Su Ballard (School of the Arts, English and Media, University of Wollongong). Sixteen people—artists, geographers, writers, museum curators, digital humanities’ scholars, postgraduate researchers, inter/cross/postdisciplinary thinkers—gathered in the Research Hub of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts for this day event. The seminar and workshop was developed under the auspices of the Material Ecologies Research network (MECO) in partnership with AUSCCER (the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research) and the Global Challenges programme.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Ways to Cross Country: On Thinking Landscape

             

In the Illawarra, Gula becomes Kurrilwa on the easterly journey from the Gundungurra plateau and escarpment Country to the Dharawal coastal plain language of Wodi Wodi voices, but Koala is the same animal, character, agent, and traditional story-maker. The one who paddled a canoe to the entrance of Lake Illawarra where it was holed by Brolga, a dancing companion. The canoe overturned to become Windang Island, the isle still there at the entrance. In another traditional Illawarra story, Brolga dances on the Whale’s canoe until a hole is made, and the canoe is pushed a short distance to shore to become Gun-man-gang, the modern Windang Island.[1] This is the richness of emplaced Koori story-making: many ways emerge across Country to tie people, place, animals, plants, waters, skies and events into living biogeocultural maps unbound, earth-walked, sounded and internalised— a fundamentally different approach to a western heritage of 2D cartographic representation and 3D topographic modelling. Or is it? Can these ways and perspectives fruitfully meet?

The aim of the day-long event, Thinking Landscape was to bring together interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners to explore and experiment with ‘landscape’ from within the ancient-contemporary Illawarra where the modern university sits, with Lake Illawarra as a focal place of data gathering, thinking and imagining in a hands-on workshop.

Su Ballard introduced the day’s gathering, wondering about landscape less as a memory-made and carried, as art historian Simon Schama explored, and more as lived, contingent, and shared everyday grounds. In her words:

Landscapes are complex objects. They are sites of love and learning, and formed through some kind of coming together of the seen, the heard, and the known. The art historian Simon Schama might disagree, but I think of landscape very simply as the place where we live … Schama would say that landscape is formed in memory, in poetry, and in the stories we tell ourselves about who we think we are. But I’m unsure about how we continue to do this. How do we think landscape in the Anthropocene? How do we imagine an entity that is transforming through our very gaze?’

GeoHumanities’ creative turn: fabulations, scales, and site ontologies

Harriet Hawkins followed with the lecture ‘Anthropocene Fabulations: Geohumanities and our Geophysical Imagination of Global Environmental Change’. Part of her current research project ‘Creating Earth Futures’, and proceeding from ‘the Anthropocene Problem’, Hawkins proposed fabulation and geophysical imagination as a generative mode of response; one where geography and ‘the multiple’ of artistic/ creative practices meet and rethink, materialise, sound, alternatively map, and reword global change challenges at scales beyond a simple global-local dichotomy. Thus, ‘Geophysical Imaginations’ were unpacked in these framings: Scale; Distances-Proximities; and Entanglements. Hawkins questioned the usefulness of prevailing global-local scalar narratives, arguing that global-local is a limiting binary and a maker of flat ‘ontologies’.

But is the image of the blue marble planet really a clichéd, over-familiar and totalising one, as suggested? Many of us ground-dwelling practitioners remain enthralled by the patterns and tracks of atmospheric water vapour visible as white cloud streams flowing from the equator to the poles; the flux and energies of the generative bio-chemo-geosphere revealed in spiralling cyclones and hurricanes; the extent of the Earth’s oceanic claim; the never-static and never-tiring wondering that a new satellite camera panorama uploaded to a virtual web affords a tiny human watcher earthbound on the uppermost layer of revolving crust.

For Hawkins, sliding to the second perspective of thinking Distances-Proximities is to think in scales of distal (furtherest away from a centre) and proximal (nearest): this is intended as a body–focussed scale, a relational closeness and distance. ‘Entanglement’ thinking, proposed as a third approach, might encompass English literature scholar Timothy Morton’s work at the intersection of object-oriented thought and ecologicalism, particularly his notion of meshwork.

Arriving at the embodied scale of ‘Medium Earth’, Hawkins invoked the collaborative art project, The California Project (2015) by the Otolith Group. The work is a site-roaming rendering of vision and sound across each day, from sunrise to sunset, as an experimental approach to geophysical imagining in practice. Here, in the lived uncertainty of immersion in the active earthquake zone explored by the artists, Hawkins finds and speaks a language of ‘listening and looking at the earth’, ‘echoing forms’ (visual and sonic), ‘sensing stories’, ‘far more than words’, and ‘overlapping bodies’, or ‘geobodies’. It is worth noting, here, that ‘geobodies’ is a term already in established, particular use in the ‘planetary aesthetics’ framework of the video essayist and visual theorist Ursula Biemann, one of the World of Matter collective of visual artists and writers.[2] ‘Seismic sensitives’—local people attuned to seismic tremors, however minor and fleeting—are intriguing interlocuters in this project: ‘seismic sensitives’ are less interested in instrumental measurings of amplitude and duration, and more in the transfer of seismic energies to the body. So, for Hawkins, the question ‘what hope is there that art can do much at the ‘scale’ of the geological Anthropocene?’ might be best explored at the scale of human bodies sensing, perceiving, apprehending and making new compositions from and within ‘sites’ of engagement, such as the Californian seismic belt.

Hawkins concluded that geophysical fabulation practices at embodied medium earth scales can converse with the practices of the geological and environmental sciences that employ global-local studies and approaches to knowledge-making in the Anthropocene. From the former, what results, as Hawkins theorises, are new ‘site ontologies’—visual and sonic narratives of hybrid geobodies.

Digital Humanities ‘in dialogue with land

Mitchell Whitelaw took us to data, and data as ‘critical, cultural and creative material’. The day’s topic was to be centred around Drifter, a new work investigating the representation of landscape through its digital traces in cultural and scientific archives. Whitelaw has described Drifter as ‘a multilayered portrait’ of a river system, ‘made out of data’:

Drifter is a digital portrait of the Murrumbidgee river system, drawing on data from       cultural collections, scientific observations, historic images and geospatial sources. It   was created for exhibition at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery in conjunction with the Land   Dialogues conference. Drifter is part of a research project on combining digital       scientific and cultural heritage materials to create rich representations of landscape.    It builds on the speculative, generative approaches to digital heritage (Whitelaw           2016: http://mtchl.net/about-drifter/).[3], [4]

By way of introduction, a preface of his earlier work included Weather Bracelet (2009), a 3d print in nylon as a materialisation of 365 days of Canberra weather: this is a wearable dataform. Likewise, the 3d resin print series Measuring Cup (2010) used 160 years of monthly temperature data from the Met Office in the UK to design a tangible cup with a radius that increases in accordance with temperature rises.

In extension, this thinking with data objects, landscape, and the digital humanities in the Anthropocene coalesced in a theme of Landscapes, Hyperobjects, Matters of Concern by which Whitelaw teased out and communicated the conceptual undergirding of Drifter. Thus, Drifter was built by way of a gathering, harvesting, and reflective response to these intersecting ideas and conceptual tactics:

  1. ‘Landscape as Hyperobject?’: this was a riff on Morton’s ‘zero personal landscape’ in which a hyperobject is always beyond tangible and conceptual grasp—and (individual) human agency. Consider styrofoam as hyperobject, or radioactivity as hyperobject.
  2. ‘Matters of Concern’—a conceptual model—referencing Bruno Latour’s ‘matters of concern and matters of fact’, and ‘bringing bits together as a tactic’ (a formal and cultural technique), ‘knots’, and Donna Haraway’s ‘ethic of care’.
  3. ‘Representing Matters of Concern’. Responding to Latour’s challenge for thoughtful practice in the Anthropocene, the questions asked and responded to in building Drifter were: ‘Where are the visualisation tools’ of matters of concern’ beyond ‘deconstruction’? How to ‘draw things together’?

Mitchell described how Drifter evolved to be this ‘random machine that plays the data’ harvested from diverse sources related to the Murrumbidgee River, with the aim to put into conversation human and nonhuman voices. His website describes the components of Map, Sifter, and Compositor and the vast array of sources that he used in more detail (see http://mtchl.net/drifter/map.html). But a lecture is where insights behind the technical processes are also shared. For example, a particular desire was to braid human activities and scales of connection and use—irrigated agriculture, personal stories of river experiences, local witness—with the voices of frogs, also local ‘witnesses’ of riverine living. As well as drawing on the amphibian acoustic archive of herpetologist Murray Littlejohn, he searched for historical accounts of ‘nonhumans in the news’ (rare) alongside those of people and the river in local papers. He spoke about his use of ‘donated’ wetland field photography by the landscape ecologist, Dr Skye Wesson, of the Institute for Land, Water and Society at Charles Sturt University. It is telling that these landscape photographs by scientists were revealed to Whitelaw as ‘photographs of intimacy and care’—landscape portraiture, no less. It is a reminder that the embedded landscape work of ecological scientists is often equally a field of intimacy, close witness, aesthetic pleasures, and renderings into other forms alongside species lists and management plans. The former— also fieldworks—most often remain invisible affective-creative makings to practitioners in the arts and humanities who express surprise at such ‘passions’ and productions.

In Whitelaw’s account there was a language of ‘harvest’, ‘access’, ‘do things to it [the data]’ for ‘playful, performative, speculative’ purposes—and it is here that Whitelaw’s creative ‘authoring’ is also embedded. Nevertheless, there is in the troves of all sources, an undeniable collective authoring by all data makers—from the newspaper reportage, to the citizen scientist images of river bios, to oral lore about the presence of a river bunyip. A lingering question remains: how to acknowledge authorship of the vast crop of online uploaders if we acknowledge that their harvested data has personal mattering already? In addressing the seemingly bigger ‘matters of concern’ by a designer-artist-thinker, is this in any way a new territorialisation of private-public data for artistic or scholarly aims and gains? Are there ethical questions that need to be opened out here about the digital Commons, such as those that have been posed in relation to the landed Commons over centuries, and again now in the Anthropocene, in the face of state resumption of public forests for private coal mines or coal seam gas extraction?[5] How to co-author or sympatrically author the multitude in the bigger digital landscape portrait? Even if, as Whitelaw points out, design decisions are made at each stage of the process, affording ‘authorial intervention’ throughout?

Other provocations are evident in Mitchell Whitelaw’s musing about ‘Data—The Troublesome Trace’. He observes that even though there can never be unequivocal verification in hindsight when tracing the ‘truthfulness’ of historical newspaper reports, this data is still indexical, intimate, and can affect us: it ‘touches and stays’. Ultimately, these ‘representational fragments’ of data operate together to compose a new synthesis. In doing so, the mode is generative; it affords digital landscaping of the river course through the ‘unforeseeable collisions’ generated by the combinatorial and compositional elements of the restless Drifter portrait maker. And, if landscape is always mediated, valued by what we select to communicate, the data-fed riparian landscapings of Drifter are curiously both random, ‘unintentional’, authored, and deeply reflective of the maker and his motivations, aesthetic judgements and affective energies of push and pull—that internal oaring that the Murrumbidgee River clearly exerts on Whitelaw as a designer-scholar drifter denizen.

Afternoon Workshop: Lake Illawarra

In her morning introduction to Mitchell’s talk, Su Ballard quoted his lyrical description that articulates the generative nature of Drifter: [It] ‘collides its fragments to spark fleeting insights and moments of clarity, beauty and mourning’.[6] Working in small groups, and replete with the morning’s talks and ideas, the afternoon workshop extended the drift to the spaces around the more local watered lens of Lake Illawarra. Mitchell’s stages of ‘Analysing’; ‘Linking and Mashing Up’; and ‘Performing/ Staging’ were way markers through this.

We began to gather data—digital, at a remove from the physical site of the lake twelve kilometres to the south of us—but as Mitchell said ‘data attaches itself people’, and individual practices and interest guided the types of material ‘harvested’ or traced. The group research embraced Koori long histories of occupation and place-making; the British colonising sea and land incursions into the Illawarra and the lake locale; multicultural material artefacts, poems, paintings, lakeside tryst locations and courtship tales; modern land transformations; shark and whale stories from newspaper reports; the Port Kembla coal port, steel works, emissions stacks and heavy metals; the Tallawarra power station (once coal, now coal seam gas fired); and the shifting health of the lake waters. Although only intended as an introductory insight into the processes of Drifter, we started to recompose the indexical, the troublesome, the affective, the partial, into alt-forms of poems, maps, imaginings, potential. The Lake, itself, well beyond direct sensory apprehension, quickly got sticky: the next pull surely would be to ground-truth particular sites, geobodies and fleeting collisions met in the virtual trawl—but in place, and in the round.

Black Coal, White Clay

The historian Michael Organ has written that whilst the word ‘Illawarra’ is ‘obviously Aboriginal in origin, its precise meaning is unclear. One interpretation is that it is derived from or is an English misspelling of the word ‘Eloura’, meaning anything from ‘a pleasant place’ to the area about Lake Illawarra, or the lake itself. [7] An early European account refers to Illawarra as meaning ‘white clay hills, or mountains’—compounded of ‘Ilia,’ whiteclay, and ‘Warra,’ a big hill, or mountain”.[8] The geographical name, Lake Illawarra (previously Illawarra Lake) is recorded to be an adaptation of the Indigenous word ‘Elouera’, ‘Eloura’ or ‘Allowrie’, variously translated as pleasant place near the sea, or, high place near the sea, or, white clay mountain. ‘Wurra’ or ‘Warra’ probably means mountain and ‘Illa’ may be white clay.[9] White clay and black coal. Horizontal bands of white clay interlayered with the black coal lodes of the Illawarra Coal Measures are starkly visible on the exposed coastal headland at Austinmer today.[10] The Illawarra Coal Measures are dated to the late Permian, 253–263 million years ago (mya)—the coal marks the Great Permian Extinction/ the Permian-Triassic Extinction event/ the Great Dying/ the End Permian Extinction event that occurred around 252 mya.[11] The contemporary micro-macro Anthropocene is inextricably enmeshed with coal, with the antiquated cultural practice of combusting these reservoirs of ancient carbon-based lifeforms petrified after planetary-scale mass extinction events. In the Illawarra, these black coal lodes point to the Third Mass Extinction on Earth, and, curiously also now to the Sixth, the present epochal event conceded by biologists to be well underway in this century.[12] This deep time irony—another unsettling—reveals itself to all who look at and think about local Illawarra lands in passages of bio-geo earth time, as well as frames of space.

Throughout the seminar and workshop, a handful of moist basaltic clay dug from an Illawarra highland paddock, and which had travelled down the Macquarie Pass to the day’s outing on the coastal plain, remained sealed in its plastic honey pot. But, it was there, and its rich ochre-orange aromatic presence was a silent reminder of place idiosyncrasy and interconnectedness, sustenance and surprise: that the word landscape might also hold and ferment other situated wordings, worldings and knowledges: a scalp, a decal, clans, a clade, a dance.

Last words

One month later, at another event in the same room in which we had gathered that day, the educator and artist Jade Kennedy of Wollongong said this about his ancestral-contemporary Dharawal country of the Illawarra: ‘I don’t own a … piece of this place, but it is still my Country and I am responsible for it’.

As another type of grounding on an ancient, multi-nation continent, Kennedy succinctly remade landscape as belonged-by Country, neither monological, nor human-centred, affording agency and creativity to a local multiplicity, to nonhuman-human beings and forces, and especially those denizen artists-geographers-writers-dataformers-thinkers who wish to continue the walking, thinking and feeling of ‘landscape’. His words are a generative invitation and challenge.

Louise Boscacci, 30 October 2016 

 

[1] Wesson, S 2009, Murni Dhungang Jirrar – Living in the Illawarra, Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH), State of New South Wales, http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/cultureheritage/illawarraAboriginalResourceUse.pdf

[2] Ursula Biemann: http://www.geobodies.org/

World of Matter: http://www.worldofmatter.net/; Arns, I (ed.) 2015, World of Matter, Sternberg Press, Berlin.

[3] Whitelaw, M 2016: http://mtchl.net/about-drifter/

[4] The author encountered Mitchell’s Drifter project on the micromedia platform Twitter, another fleeting digital space of gathering and communication, as part of the publicity for the Land Dialogues (Interdisciplinary Research in Dialogue with Land) conference, Charles Sturt University (13–15 April 2016) with an accompanying exhibition at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.

[5] Leard State Forest, New South Wales (coal); Pilliga State Forest, NSW (coal seam gas exploration)

[6] Whitelaw, M 2016, Workshop Notes: Thinking Landscape, 16 September 2016, University of Wollongong Australia.

[7] Organ, MK & Speechley, C 1997, ‘Illawarra Aborigines’, in Hagan, JS and Wells, A (eds), A History of Wollongong, University of Wollongong Press, Wollongong, pp7-22.

[8] The Sydney Mail, 1906, THE BEAUTIFUL ILLAWARRA AND Shoalhaven BY F.J.B, Wed 21 November, p1292, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/163681659

[9] Geographical Names Board of New South Wales, 2016, http://www.gnb.nsw.gov.au/place_naming/placename_search/extract?id=MackFxsyGH

[10] Geological sites of New South Wales, 2016, Illawarra Coal Measures, http://www.geomaps.com.au/scripts/illawarracoal.php

[11] Erwin, D 2006, Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ.

[12] Ceballos, G, Ehrlich, P, Barnosky, A, García, A, Pringle, R & Palmer, T 2015, ‘Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction’, Science Advances, vol.1, no.5, e1400253,
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400253

____________________________________________________________________________ Boscacci, L 2016, ‘Ways to Cross Country: On “Thinking Landscape”’, Material Ecologies Research Network/ MECO blog, 30 October 2016, http://www.uowblogs.com/meco/2016/10/30/ways-to-cross-country-a-response-to-thinking-landscape/ _____________________________________________________________________________