MECO360: Expiration Aesthetics

Etienne Deleflie | 1 July 2016

If it is possible to characterise the response of the humanities to the Anthropocene, I would suggest that there is a central tension that arises when the impulse to adopt non-dualist abstractions is met with the requisite challenge to human agency. Simply put: in exploring the possibility that there is no clear line between self and world we seek to redress our relation to the world, but we must subsequently also question the degree of control we hold over that world. We move towards a non-dualist stance to ‘act’ in the face of the Anthropocene, but in so doing we necessarily question whether we can genuinely ‘act’ at all!

The species-anxiety caused by humanity’s potentially dismal future is an expression of the belief in a genuine, independent human agency. We feel we are responsible and we feel we should act to change that potential future. If this human agency is not genuinely possible, as is suggested by certain monist ontologies, then the anxiety has no cause.

Expiring Object No. 1 is a work that seeks to give expression to a dismal future that is free of anxiety. A battery’s energy reserve will expire, and the flashing LED light will cease to flash at some point in the future. Its dismal future valorises its present beauty. The work thus asks: freed of anxiety, can the Anthropocene valorise the present beauty of the anthropos?

The impulse to explore non-dualist ontologies is evident amongst New Materialist philosophies. But those who cannot subscribe to the notion that everything must have a material existence, still challenge historical and contemporary dualisms, from Descartes to the more modern variants. I propose that the common practice of re-labeling the ‘anthropocene’ is precisely grounded in a desire to challenge these dualisms. Whether it be the Capitalocene (Moore, 2015), Chthulucene (Haraway, 2015), Entropocene (Stiegler, 2015), or Negentropocene (Stiegler, 2015), each new conception seeks to identify the line before or after which a human agency might be possible. As suggested by Wark (2016) this re-labeling might even be understood as a ‘pathology’ of the Anthropocene.

The tension between the inclination to conceive of a deeply interconnected world and the reduction in human agency thus implied, can be seen in the work of Haraway. Consider the passage in which Haraway (2014) argues for a broad understanding of the symbiotic nature of the human relation to the world:

We are all lichens now, we have never been individuals, from anatomical, physiological, evolutionary, developmental, philosophic, economic, I don’t care what perspective, we are all lichens now.

Now consider the paragraph, in which Haraway’s (2015) call-to-arms re-affirms the importance of an assumed human (or ‘mammalian’) agency:

Bacteria and fungi abound to give us metaphors; but, metaphors aside (good luck with that!), we have a mammalian job to do, with our biotic and abiotic sym-poietic collaborators, co-laborers. We need to make kin sym-chthonically, sym-poetically. Who and whatever we are, we need to make-with—become-with, compose-with—the earth-bound (thanks for that term, Bruno Latour-in-anglophone-mode).

On the one hand, there is the insistence that humans cannot be conceived as distinctly separate on any level. On the other hand a distinctly separate agency is assumed that would allow us to execute our ‘mammalian job’ (mammals are largely defined by the presence of a neocortex) with our ‘collaborators’ / ‘co-laborers’, which are now articulated as collaborative, not constitutive. So where is that line? Is it between the material and the ideal (surely not!)? Where is the line, on one side of which to be human means to be a biological / abiotic / (whatever else) complex, and on the other side of which an agency remains possible?

I understand this tension, between the articulation of humanity’s un-separatedness from ‘other’, and the tenacious subscription to the possibility of a separate agency, to be at the core of the humanities’ response to the Anthropocene.

Expiring Object No.1 is an ‘art-object’ whose worth is limited to the life-span of its embedded energy source. To live with this object means to wait for it to die: a matter of months or years. Every flash of its light is both a celebration of its finite energy source and a movement closer to its expiration.

The form and material constitution of the cube is partly inspired by 20th century American minimalism. Its material simplicity is complicated by the embedded electronic device: a flashing LED light and associated circuitry designed to do nothing other than drain the embedded battery. Once the battery has drained, Expiring Object No.1 ceases to function in its designated form and becomes disposable. Its disposability is dictated by its access to energy, not to its solid material presence; now wasted.

 

Etienne Deleflie 'Expiration Aesthetics' 2015-2016

Etienne Deleflie ‘Expiring Object No. 1’ 2015-2016

Expiring Object No.1 has now been active for over 8 months. It lives in my dining room. Its presence is often forgotten. When there is little or no ambient light in the room it provides a dramatic ticking glow. It is somewhat like a ticking time bomb whose subject is not the event at the end of the ticking, but the anticipation of that event. Its expiration is anticipated to occur at some point next year.

REFERENCES

Haraway, Donna. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble!”. Transcript of presentation (https://vimeo.com/97663518 , 2014). Accessed 1 July 2016. http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/

Haraway, Donna. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.” Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, 2015, pp. 159-165 www.environmentalhumanities.org

Moore, Jason W. Capitalism In The Web Of Life. Print. Verso, 2015.

Stiegler, Bernard, (trans. Ross, D). “Escaping the Anthropocene”. 2015. Accessed 1 July 2016. http://www.academia.edu/12692287/Bernard_Stiegler_Escaping_the_Anthropocene_2015_

Wark, McKenzie. “Make Kith Not Kin!”. Public Seminar. N.p., 2016. Accessed 1 July 2016. http://www.publicseminar.org/2016/06/kith/

FutureLands II

 

Ian Milliss " Welcome to Kandos" 2013

Ian Milliss ” Welcome to Kandos” 2013

We are really excited to announce that MECO is working with the Space, Place and Country research cluster from Sydney College of the Arts, and  Cementa Inc. to stage Futurelands II, a public forum to take place in Kandos, NSW, November 11 to 13, 2016. The weekend will bring together artists, academics, agricultural innovators, ecological scientists, environmental activists, Indigenous custodians and the broader community to explore our changing relationship to land and the emerging art forms that are engaging with it. Among the confirmed speakers is Bunarong, Tasmanian and Yuin man, Bruce Pascoe, whose historical account of pre-contact Indigenous farming practices and aquaculture, Dark Emu, was recently awarded NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Book of the Year.

Futurelands II will also mark the establishment of the Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation (KSCA), a collaboration between Alex Wisser, Ian Milliss, Lucas Ihlein, Diego Bonetto, Gilbert Grace and SPC member, SCA’s postdoctoral fellow Laura Fisher. Having recently been awarded an Australia Council grant, KSCA’s first project will be a landed artists’ residency that grants artists who work with ecological phenomena and agricultural innovation access to land to make long term projects. Gilbert Grace (SCA MFA) will be resident artist at Maloo in 2016/2017, a farm that is currently being rehabilitated by farmer and educator, Stuart Andrews, using the Natural Sequence Farming method developed by his father Peter Andrews. Grace will be growing a crop of hemp for the production of hempcrete, an alternative to concrete, formerly the key industry of Kandos.

Information about KSCA and Futurelands II will be updated on http://cementa.com.au/ and http://ksca.land/. If you are interested in attending Futurelands II or want further information, please write to laura.fisher@sydney.edu.au. MECO contacts for this event are lucasi@uow.edu.au and sballard@uow.edu.au

MECO360: Hope remains while the company is true…

Agnieszka Golda | 1 June 2016

ForEverything that is1

Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, “For Everything That Is,” 2016, installation detail, ink on canvas.

The sound of a familiar voice directs my attention towards my favourite movie. The opening narration to the cinematic rendition of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings told by the elven Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien:

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost…

surely strikes a chord in all those particularly sensitive to climate change and shifts in ecological conditions. It’s uncanny how Galadriel’s poetic expression of lament evokes Paul Crutzen’s important remarks: “The world has changed too much… we are in the Anthropocene.” While Tolkien’s fantastical Middle-earth exposes the devastating impact of industrialised modes on nature, the geologic concept of the Anthropocene warns of an approaching climate tipping point. Lets hope, that it becomes an affective device, as the Last March of the Ents (urged by the most unlikely creatures imaginable, the Hobbits) for shifting beyond a state of human centred perspective.

Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, "For Everything that Is," 2016, installation detail, ink on canvas.

Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, “For Everything that Is,” 2016, installation detail, ink on canvas.

I’m yet again captivated by the view outside my studio window. There, in close proximity, stands an ancient mountain called Mt Keira. Lush and green, its peak surrounded by a crown of puffy white clouds, serves as a timely reminder of forests’ extraordinary capacity to influence local weather and stabilise regional climate. This remarkable ability to manage water has earned forests the prestigious status of being the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. In fact, while more than two thirds of all terrestrial species survival directly hinges on forests, the ecological resilience of forests depends strongly on their biodiversity. Sadly, the long-term, cumulative effects of anthropogenic impacts on forests have brought about their colossal disappearance and therefore equally irreversible loss of the diversity of life on Earth.

Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, "For Everything that Is," 2016, installation detail, found wood, amethyst crystals on found concrete.

Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, “For Everything that Is,” 2016, installation detail, found wood, amethyst crystals on found concrete.

My recent collaborative projects are driven by a strong interest in deep ecology, mindfulness and unearthing ecocentric strategies for responding to the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. This ecological crisis raises important questions for artists: how can artistic actions and imagination, bolster and safeguard Earth’s energies? Even though, portrayals of diminishing ecosystems give rise to feelings of dread, collaborations often instigate unforeseen alliances and resistances that can instill feelings of hope – a desire for change in a particular place. As Galadriel reminds us: Yet hope remains while the company is true.

Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, "For Everything that Is," 2016, installation detail, found wood and amethyst crystals.

Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, “For Everything that Is,” 2016, installation detail, found wood and amethyst crystals.

MECO360: Guangzhou Delta Haiku

Lucas Ihlein | 9 May 2016

I’m writing this contribution to the MECO360 shortly after returning from the southern Chinese megacity of Guangzhou. I’ve been working on a cultural exchange project sponsored by 4A Centre for Contemporary Art (Sydney) and Observation Society (Guangzhou).

Sydney and Guangzhou are sister cities. Did you know that? Well, 2016 is the 30th anniversary of this siblinghood, and to celebrate I was invited to go and and embody the relationship by hanging out with Guangzhou/Hong Kong artist Trevor Yeung.

We spent several days together. For me, there was a process of geographical adjustment, as the view from my window radically shifted – from this (where I live in Bulli, north of Wollongong):

Tall gum trees on old
Asbestos dump near the sea
Hide the horizon

view from bulli window

…to this (in the Guangzhou district of Haizhu):

Vertical City:
Forty-sixth floor horizon,
Bright blue roofs below.

guangzhou view from hotel room

After I posted this photo of Guangzhou on my blog, I noticed a dark line surrounded by trees curving through the city. A creek!

In the following days, Trevor and I – together with our trusty local guide Hanting – went on some meandering walks around Guangzhou’s waterways. We walked as a way of getting to know Guangzhou, and each other. Sometimes when we tried to follow the creek we were blocked by busy roads or construction.

Street water flows;
Overflow pipe drains;
River meets rubble.

small river linking pearl river

Blockages like this forced us to make detours into the small back streets adjacent to the creek, where we discovered odd couplings.

Stone elephant’s leg
Tethered to folding bike —
Bike tethered to elephant.

elephant bike tether

The waterways are habitat and transport and sustenance and midden to humans and animals and plants.

Tadpoles in dead boat.
Mosquitoes bite her ankles.
Sofa in the drink.

guangzhou waterways

Wherever you are in Guangzhou – which comprises a network of cities that have all grown so large they have joined up into one of the world’s biggest “mega-cities” – you’re never far from water.

In Guangzhou I began to be aware of the complex water flows that comprise the Pearl River Delta upon which this place is built. I didn’t realise it until much later, but as we wandered around, my eyes and my camera were seeking out delta-like patterns everywhere.

Seen from space: Branching
and dividing. Seen from earth:
Branching and dividing.

pearl river delta satellite
tree roots

By definition, the land within a delta is very low lying – whatever is above the waterline is formed by the deposition of silt as the river makes its way to the sea. So this makes the Pearl River Delta region – and the 25 million people that live there – especially vulnerable to the sea level rising from climate change.

Well, I looked it up, and this is what I found. Of all the cities in the entire world, Guangzhou is listed at number one. Guangzhou is THE single city most likely to suffer damage due to sea level rises:

In terms of the overall cost of damage, the cities at the greatest risk are: 1) Guangzhou, 2) Miami, 3) New York, 4) New Orleans, 5) Mumbai, 6) Nagoya, 7) Tampa, 8) Boston, 9) Shenzen, and 10) Osaka. The top four cities alone account for 43% of the forecast total global losses.

So it looks like future of Guangzhou is going to be increasingly watery. How will it evolve? What kinds of decisions will the city make to survive over the next couple of hundred years? What does survival even mean?

Habitat, transport,
Sustenance, trash disposal:
Everyday life.

What do people who live here think about all this?

I’ll be continuing to explore this phenomenon as I work towards a joint exhibition with Trevor Yeung at Observation Society in June 2016, and later at Gallery 4A in July.

MECO360: Between Expansion and Collapse

Madeleine Kelly | 4 April 2016

In the mid seventies, biologists Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock described the earth as ‘autopoietic Gaia’, a living system, a body analogous to our own, composed of interdependent symbiotic relationships. ‘We are walking communities …Ten percent or more of our body weight is bacterial [in its evolutionary origins], and it’s just foolish to ignore that’, Margulis stated (Mann 1991, 378). So, to explore these relations, my paintings sometimes depict things as part of flow charts or systems, but just as natural systems are disrupted by culture, these are fictional orders that disrupt accepted orders.

Madeleine Kelly Man’s Place In the World 2008 Oil on polyester 90 x 115cm

Madeleine Kelly Man’s Place In the World 2008 Oil on polyester 90 x 115cm

The world surrounds us with life-sustaining systems, including solar energy and fossil fuels. The fossil fuels were developed during the carboniferous period from plants like these ancient club mosses. Their burning relentlessly contributes to greenhouse warming. Petrol is time.

Madeleine Kelly Ground Control 2004 128 x 193 cm, oil on polyester

Madeleine Kelly Ground Control 2004 128 x 193 cm, oil on polyester

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The second law, also known as the entropy law, states that in any closed system, when energy and matter are used there is an increase in entropy, or disorder. Increasing entropy can be thought of as the disorder in the universe, of disrupting Gaia’s balance, and of draining limited resources.

It is generally accepted that people in Australia want more than they have – bigger houses, more money and more time to spend it. But by historical or international standards we are very wealthy. Today’s average house is almost twice as big than houses were 50 years ago, with double the volume of bedrooms, bathrooms and cars. When I contemplate this situation, it is surreal. Everyday life requires we consciously behave as if unconscious of future ramifications. Economic growth dominates social policy and distracts attention from the need to redistribute wealth, halve consumption and burn less fossil fuels.

Madeleine Kelly The Electric Thinking House 2007 Oil on Polyester 200 x 148cm

Madeleine Kelly The Electric Thinking House 2007 Oil on Polyester 200 x 148cm

The Australian government, in maintaining infrastructure suited to burning fossil fuels, fails to acknowledge that degradation of the environment is a corollary to economic activity and energy consumption. Gross National Product is still regarded as the primary indication of our nation’s health. Production and consumption occur in a closed system that cycles forever, without limits.

Madeleine Kelly Melted Silver on the Sea 2007 Oil on polyester 100 x 140cm

Madeleine Kelly Melted Silver on the Sea 2007 Oil on polyester 100 x 140cm

Our own success as a species is still the biggest threat we face. Like melted silver on the sea, current environmental policy escapes us.

References:

Mann, Charles. ‘Lynn Margulis: Science’s Unruly Earth Mother’. Science. vol. 252. 1991: 378 – 381. Print.

http://www.madeleinekelly.com.au/

The MECO Picnic

On the 4th March 2016 we held the MECO picnic, a chance for members of the network to share recent projects and plan for the year’s activities. We discussed the involvement of members of the network with international conferences, and celebrated the successes of 2015. We resolved to expand the listings of people on the MECO blog to highlight the participation and input of HDR students. We extended our congratulations to Lucas Ihlein for his DECRA.

Future plans include

  • a make do workshop focused on critical and creative use of drone technology
  • the third MECO research camp that will examine Future Archaeology
  • a collaboration with Cementa in Kandos to hold a public forum ‘in the field’

 

2MECO INVITE

Godwits and planetary aesthetics

Susan Ballard | 1 March 2016

Godwit on the water's edge, Collingwood, Mohua. -40.677538, 172.684931

Bar-tailed Godwit on the water’s edge, Collingwood, Mohua, Aotearoa New Zealand. -40.677538, 172.684931

Godwits

New Zealand’s ‘2015 bird of the year’ is struggling. Travelling from Alaska to the Antipodes across the central Pacific Ocean, the Bar-tailed Godwit flies one of the longest known animal migration corridors on this planet. In New Zealand and Australia people greet the godwits on the beaches and estuaries. With calibrated ritual they count and measure. They walk around their twitchy gatherings, and wonder at their slender bodies that seem to contain so much energy. After resting in New Zealand, Australia and Fiji the birds return to Alaska to breed via the Yellow Sea. But each year less and less birds seem to arrive in these southern lands.

Bar-tailed Godwits are suffering because coastal mudflats are being drained for the massive expansion of sea walls in China and Korea. In these areas and across the earth mangroves have been reduced by fifty percent. The push and pull of blame and responsibility is ongoing. National borders don’t help. Alison Russell-French sums it up: “As global travellers, shorebirds need a global community of caring humans.” New Zealand goes begging to China for a small piece of land to be conserved, just enough for the godwits to grab some polychaeta on their 11,000 kilometre journey north. And agreements are signed. To clean the shoreline of the Yellow Sea and return just a portion of it to a soft shore of wetlands we need machines. These include huge diesel guzzlers that move and level the earth, and other machines that use biological and chemical materials to remove heavy metals and purify the soil and water.

Planetary Aesthetics

The umwelt of the godwit covers an 11,000 kilometre radius, it is more than I can imagine but I cannot choose to ignore it. The story is one of interspecies and machinic relationships propelled by humans. Industrial machines might have triggered the great acceleration of habitat loss but other machines help us understand the fate of the godwits today. These include the networked satellites that in 2007 proved the godwits’ extraordinary endurance when nine birds were tagged in New Zealand and tracked to the Yellow Sea by satellites orbiting above them. The same year another team of godwits left the coastal wetlands of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska carrying solar powered satellite tracking devices on their journey south. I wondered if the added weight of their satellite units meant they had to rest longer, or fly slower, or if other travelling birds gave them a wide berth. It is just one small narrative among many.

Critical art histories seem a long way from the story telling of godwits. Projects like Trudy Lane’s House of Wonder, insist that we cannot separate these narratives of the birds from our art histories. Lane comments that the House of Wonder is not just a “walk through deep time” but an encouragement to “look again at overlooked or forgotten aspects of our cultural views and perspectives of nature.”

Art history is always about looking, looking is about an ethico-aesthetics of thought, and thinking alongside godwits is about activating planetary aesthetics. Indian critic Gayatri Spivak suggests that to “planet-think” and “planet-feel” means we can no longer divide the world into self and other, subject and object, human and non-human; she writes that “there is no choosing between cultures.”

To take Spivak’s planetarities seriously means working within a practice of art history that includes birds, humans and machines; they all contribute to art’s histories. It also means shifting the boundaries of our disciplines in order to embrace a relational ethics—which many others have called an ethico-aesthetics—where my wanderings on a beach 11,000 kilometres from anywhere are informed by a broader range of bodies and things than at first appear. The godwit is just one small body travelling the earth system and it is best we pay attention.

MECO360: Diffracted Encountering

Louise Boscacci | 29 January 2016

Not long after the first MECO network research event close to seven months ago, a short essay, Spinoza was a lens maker, coalesced in my thoughts in response to a call out for collective musings on ‘material and ecological thinking’. At the network gathering on the Shoalhaven River at Riversdale, I had undertaken some night photography sessions in the full moon light. I offer the essay here, and a companion image from the nocturnal photoplay series What does a dark–turning–solar–moon–wodi wodi–river–hand–eye–light–lens do? Consider them diffractions of a-bodied encountering.

boscacci_moonphotoplay_010715_

Louise Boscacci 2015. ‘What does a dark–turning–solar–moon–wodi wodi–river–hand–eye–light–lens do?’. Composite digital photographic series. (Click to enlarge).

Essay: Spinoza was a lens maker LouiseBoscacci_Spinoza_lens_maker_120915_240116-MECO

 

Diffracted encountering II

Working with insights from quantum field physics, Karen Barad convincingly unsettles and troubles the words material and immaterial, provoking us by proposing that imagining and thinking are material practices if mattered or made manifest and active in meaning by the ‘(im)material’ body. At the microphysical scale of the atom and the subatomic electron, the radical indeterminacy of matter, and even touch, is revealed.[i] (If touch is, on the one hand, electromagnetic repulsion, and on the other, intimacy, why have I spent so much of my energy as an artist-maker revalorizing the haptic sense in object encountering?). The quantum leap of the excited electron from a higher energy level to a lower one creates a photon of light. Light, another practice-favourite as illuminator and animator, affective ephemeros, photosynthetic collaborator in the supply of oxygen to breathing bodies I care about, behaves as both particle and wave in oscillating indeterminacy, nimbly eluding fences of language; it is best embraced, for now, as I must, in terms of Barad’s (im)material. Matter is not what it seems, and never has been. Even better, “nature deconstructs itself,” says Barad, because matter is not a discrete thing locatable in time or space; rather “space and time are matter’s agential performances”.[ii] Ontological indeterminacy, a radical openness and change (that changes with each iteration) are at the heart of matter if we take on the teachings of jumping electrons: matter is a matter of transmateriality.[iii]

Wombat&Cath_nightwalk_2015

Louise Boscacci 2015. ‘Wombat and Cath nightwalking’. Digital photograph.

“What spooky matter is this?” (Karen Barad 2014).

So what do I mean by the descriptor ‘immaterial’ when referring to transient forces and energies of affective encounters in attuned-to places and atmospheres? Perhaps, a better vocabulary of practice might be to articulate along the lines of the unmanifested, perceptible and palpable—the sensed and ‘felt’—yet ungraspable, in both haptic and cognitive senses. This is the corpo-real experience, as Bracha Ettinger reminds us, of a-bodied and virtual-transient affect.[iv] Fleeting electrical flashes of encountering that surprise and linger in their impingement are corpo-real and generative gifts in the intertwined feeling-forward, making, thinking, imagining, doing and undoing of processual art practice. From Barad, amongst the rich makings of her thinking, I find an opening of potential for the electron-infused mattered mammals we (if I may) artist-scholars are being-becoming: “the electric body—at all scales, atmosphere, subatomic, molecular, organismic—is a quantum phenomenon generating new imaginaries, new lines of research, new possibilities”.[v]

 

Endnotes

[i] Barad (2007, 2012)

[ii] Barad (2014)

[iii] Barad (2014, 2015).

[iv] Ettinger (2006); Massumi (2014). I am alluding to thesis-writing musings and questions to self.

[v] Barad (2015, p411).