Things that we were thinking with
At the end of 2020, Things that we were thinking with seemed a timely but uncanny name for the final event of Rupert’s Alternative Education Programme’s 8th edition. Not only did it refer to a timeless quote by Donna Harraway but it also touched upon the condition that was slowly encroaching huge swaths of the world. Exacerbated by the pandemic, this condition required or, maybe it is better to say, demanded us to rethink thinking itself. Thinking, embraced by theoreticians’ and artists’ endless attempts to dethrone cogito and accelerated by the rise of machine learning and neural networks, firmly established itself as a whole-body exercise. But the body gradually grew out of its material shell and became a slimy, networked abode of thinking itself.
No doubt this is a sweeping statement and nobody expects you to suddenly get it. As we try to grasp this condition (for which we do not have a name yet), it is clear that the tricksterish paradox lies at the core of both: the condition and the effort to get it. In a haphazard attempt to bring more clarity into this argument, we might say that the condition is things. The condition, like things, is very material because we grant things almost unlimited access to our bodies, as we drape ourselves with their thingness. Simultaneously, these things remain alien to us, the Other. For example, we can try as much as we want to sync the rhythms of rustling leaves, humming crypto mines and the beating of our Xanax-slowed hearts but something remains dissonant as if we were continuously short-circuiting with the thingness of our condition. However, if we were able to completely sync everything, reality would probably collapse back into a tiny speck of infinite energy floating in the omnipresent pool of contingency. Not an ideal scenario.
If you are not yet frowning and impatiently wondering what this whole deal about thinking and thingness is, buckle up because things are about to get messier. Or maybe it is better to say meshier. So the things that we are thinking with are not simply material objects; they are networks and meshes and other various fluid processes. Thinking is not only the capacity for cognition, it is also a body. And this body is not a regular body, it is more like a glitching attempt to connect and sync with the world we inhabit. However, we never actually manage to sync and instead, just glitch our way into the (some would say cancelled) future. It is quite an amalgamation, is it not? A tempting question to ask is: do you get it now? Not in the old, linear, masculine way but in this embodied process of connecting, failing and being-in-the-world (thanks phenomenology—the favourite pastime of bummed out white men from the early 20th century—for that last one). Do not worry if you are feeling quite lost; remember, nobody really expects you to suddenly get it. At this point, we are just trying to outline some of the possibilities of thinking with things.
For five months in the strange year of 2020, thirteen selected artists, curators, thinkers, researchers and hackers have thought together, with things, trying sometimes to get it as well. But as we learned, getting it is not a straightforward process or an ultimate goal, it is rather a wavering state of becoming or an intimate process of untangling or maybe, a chill moment of immersion. In this issue of Rupert’s Journal, you will find the works that in different ways touch upon these processes and modalities of things that we were thinking with. In addition to the works by Aistė Ambrazevičiūtė, Dalia Maini, Artūras Čertovas, Céline Mathieu, Jo Kalinowska & Georgie Sinclair (plot twist), Jurgis Bernatonis, Sholto Dobie, Anna Karanevskaya and Valentin Duduk (CONTAMINATED NAILS), Guoda Šulskytė, NKO, Vilius Vaitiekūnas, texts by Susanne M. Winterling, Eglė Ambrasaitė and Viktorija Rybakova and an interview by Patricia Reed were commissioned to help navigate this strange terrain of things and thinking.
Participants: Aistė Ambrazevičiūtė, Artūras Čertovas, Céline Mathieu, Contaminated Nails, Dalia Maini, Eglė Ambrasaitė, Guoda Šulskytė, Jo Kalinowska & Georgie Sinclair (plot twist), Jurgis Bernatonis, NKO, Sholto Dobie, Patricia Reed, Susanne M. Winterling, Vilius Vaitiekūnas
Curator: Tautvydas Urbelis
Coordinator: Goda Aksamitauskaitė
Translator: Paulius Balčytis
Editor: Dovydas Laurinaitis (ENG)
Design: Taktika Studio
Programming: Andrius Zupkus
Interns: Saulė Savanevičiūtė, Radvilė Mauricaitė, Ramunė Balčiūnaitė
Rupert’s activities are supported by the Lithuanian Council for Culture.
Programme’s partners: Vilnius city municipality, Pakrantė, Gluk Media, Kintai Arts, Žeimiai Manor / Aikas Žado Laboratory
Special thanks to: Rupert’s team, Rupert’s board, Alumni board, Nida Art Colony, Kaunas Artist House, Galerija 101, SODAS 2123, Atletika, Autarkia, Techanariumas and the amazing tutors of the programme.
Some scribbles on Worm care and other encounters of dependency
Autumn 2020. The semester in Norway started in August as there is a different seasonal experience going on. An invitation to Rupert’s alternative education programme reaches me and I am somewhat delighted as systems of education are struggling with the pandemic, societies and governments too, but individuals and their networks are somehow expected to cope and balance. Balance is a Buddhist endeavour — if we can say so accepting the limits of language — but when bound to bodies of entanglement, we know a priori that it is a challenge. It is challenging to perceive and sense different levels of violence, the intrusion of Gaia and all pores of exchanged knowledge, materials and data in their infrastructural settings. At its extreme, it has shown how far apart many institutions of education actually are when it comes to what it means to be human in times of crisis.
Sylvia Wynter’s On Being Human as Praxis comes to mind. She also proposed to rewrite knowledge to ‘make it possible for us to understand the rules governing our human modes of perception and the behaviours to which they lead — as in the misrecognition of human kinship.’1 Although the uprisings in response to killings she refers to were in 1992, we now have a continuing of these unbearable killings.
Structural violence that creeps, implemented with authority and rules that are neither constructive nor useful when something like the violation of Gaia in the manifestation of a virus hits. Pushed even more with rising inequality everywhere, you might think less so in Europe, nope. Since I am a child, I was meant to hear the grass growing and I take it as a compliment. That is what the worms can probably do as well — hear the grass growing. But yes, we know it is not an accessible position; yet, where is empathy? It definitely seems necessary for working on the undercommons in the real sense.2
With the bad breath of a dog that is so alert to bad energy that I envy him, how much conflict could be avoided by mapping out all the bad energy?
We get on the journey. Feels like an adventure in the pandemic to move out of the home. The dog, Ivan, and the compost worms that the proto-fascist leaders expelled from education, even if all students started to love them, they do the work: composting works, worm works. Unexpected though good company, in a funny way, on our slow travel over sea and land. I wonder: why am I pushing this to be the core of teaching commitments and commoning? The answer is its material aesthetics and the intimacy of touch. The worms in your hand and the product and process they engage are beyond language and yet very obvious. We have to eat our waste and we do not eat it all. Debris in many places. Recycling does not work when humans do not engage with where materials come from and where they go. Worms recycle just as their existence. The already human-centred language and epistemology are somewhat a trap. Travelling with the worms in their dwelling also opens up a daily obligation to take other lives into the realm of one’s agency, not completely calculated in its outcome and not always according to feel-good propaganda.
The fellows are hesitant to touch the worms but we all feel something happening in that encounter, especially as we sit outside in the last parts of autumn’s warming sun, surrounded by other biomass in all elements of air, water, soil.
‘This caring obligation is not reducible to “feel good” or “nice feelings”; repulsion is not incompatible with affectionate care (as anybody who has ever changed a baby’s soiled diaper or cleaned up the vomit of a sick friend might know). Neither is this obligation to care for an interdependent earthy other understandable as a utilitarian one — I take care of Earth, via soil and the worms, because I need them, because they are of use to me.’3
As the dog has a passport and a chip, who knows what data Ivan creates in satellite surveillance that the worms travel without? They might be biohazard toxic waste. We go through some of the geopolitical minefields when all of the sudden, we are at the border of Belarus and with the Kalashnikov at my head, inside are the images of women protesting violence on the streets with flowers in their hands.
We also pass Poland and I feel my body, the veins and heat inside, refusing to set foot on a land that is homophobic, not only that but… Luckily, we do not need to stop at any gas station. Differentiating matters is necessary but so is paying tribute to disposition.
The entanglement of injustice that is experienced bodily is a system as well. In the conditions of being and educating or sharing knowledge of skills, we learn from the worms what cannot be depoliticised in any second and that transformations are in language, attention and ways of being.
‘The exploitation of nature is itself a sexist and racist problem, not divorced from structural conditions that treat, and threaten, humans differently according to patriarchal and white supremacist norms of domination. As Black and Indigenous eco-feminist thought has highlighted for years, “women are the first environment”.’4
‘Only when society values Black lives can we truly confront the current system of economic and environmental exploitation that is deeply rooted in racism, sexism, and colonialism. Only when society values characteristics gendered as feminine, such as nurturing, sharing, and caring for each other — instead of traits viewed as masculine, like aggression, accumulation, and competition — can we finally develop the social structures needed to preserve life on Earth, including an economy based on social needs and not individual greed. […] Our only hope for a peaceful future, or for any future at all, rests on an urgent and profound social transformation that is specifically guided by anti-racist, anti-patriarchal, and decolonial commitments’.5
1. Sylvia Wynter “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues”, 1992, p. 69
2. See Fred Moten, Stefano Harney, J. Jack Halberstam, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study.
3. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care. Speculative Ethics More Than Human Worlds, University of Minnesota Press, 2017, p. 157.
4. Michael Wilson-Becerril, “Why environmental justice is an anti-colonial struggle
It is increasingly clear that systemic oppression and environmental collapse are inextricably linked“, in: Aljazeera, 2020 09 22.
An Interview with Patricia Reed
TU. Hello, Patricia, I would like to start by saying that your idea of horizonless futures gave me a lot to think about when preparing for last year’s Rupert’s alternative educational programme. I found it a very daring way of resisting the melancholy of the present, especially now, when uncertainty becomes an overwhelming ambience around everything we do. Could you explain what is the horizonless future and how you are able to find the courage to engage in horizonless thinking?
PR. Glad to hear that the idea resonated with you! While I would hardly describe the idea as ‘courageous’, it’s deliberately anti-melancholic. The expression ‘horizonless future’ is a comradely provocation towards discourses pronouncing the cancellation of futurity. The main claim is that the horizon is no longer a relevant spatial or linguistic referent of orientation within and for planetary conditions of coexistence. Since distinct historical epochs are identifiable through the specific ways in which knowledge is organised and adjudicated, which in turn yield practices and artefacts (conceptual, gestural and material) that reflect those arrangements, then it can also be said that historical epochs produce a specific figuration of space as well. Spatially speaking, the horizon is an artefact of a human optical system where reality appears to vanish at a certain limit and as we all know, this mode of representing reality in a ‘naturalistic’ way proliferated during the Renaissance. Coincidingly, this representational trope co-emerged with the birth of philosophical humanism (where the human is narrated as a rationally masterful creature, separate from the ground and imbued with qualities of self-determination). This is obviously a very terse way of putting things and there are various movements and tendencies within the genealogy of humanism being omitted for the sake of brevity. What is relevant to note is that there was a co-emergence of an abstract philosophical concept (at the time), alongside a representational template (a repeatable method) that effectively spatialised such a concept and enabled the concept to be perceivable as well as intelligible. In the logic of a wholly anthropocentric and human-determined world, it follows that the so-called ‘accurate’, pictorial depiction of reality has no problem in distorting reality in order to conform to the human bio-ocular system. The relation between the concept and the spatialising framework of the concept participates in the making of a world optimised purely by and for ‘us’. Clearly this ‘us’ of a generic, humanist human was always partial in practice, including its representational tropes, meaning we’ve never been ‘generic’ or that ‘humanity’ has never been realised, despite the rhetorical or idealised proliferation of the term. In Massimo Scolari’s book Oblique Drawing: A History of Anti-Perspective where he documents the correlation between ways of seeing and ways of thinking, there is a chapter dedicated to the utter failure of Jesuit missionaries in China (16th and 17th centuries), who sought to exploit anthropocentric representation in the service of propagating Christianity. While there may have been a technical appreciation of the European mimicking of human vision in China, the premise of a single, proper vantage-point was conceptually rejected and even more condescendingly, Sou Che is quoted as saying: ‘He who judges a painting according to the concept of resemblance shows the understanding of a child’, (no offence to children). The dismissal of this form of representation in China, according to Scolari, boiled down to a rejection of narrating and positioning the human as the comparative measure for all things.
So, spatially speaking, the horizon indexes the historical configuration of a world, premised on the unrealised universality of a generic referent human who possesses all manner of agency to transform the earth for itself and in its image. This particular figuration of space evolved into Modernity’s infamous, widely theorised grid that persists as a geometric artefact baked into most AutoCAD modelling software to this day, serving as the ‘neutral’ stage upon which to position elements without any environmental or situational friction. Operating such software as it’s currently designed is the play-space of a historically humanist-human; so while we’re no longer trafficking in classical perspective directly, its spatial logics persist in operationalised, naturalised and automated ways. This trajectory of thought is also partly indebted to the work of Sylvia Wynter, who theorised the turbulent convergence of once disparate human histories and geographies into an uncommonly lived, environment in common — what we now call the planetary. Wynter does so by tracing the historical, material and praxes-driven impact of human self-conception upon cultural, epistemic and social systems from the beginnings of European humanism to the present; specifically, how the Eurohumanist-human became a monolithic stand-in for the referent ‘we’ of humanity and how that particular self-conception lubricated modes of violent domination (i.e. practices undermining the very universalist, conceptual claims undergirding the referential human figure). I was interested in thinking through Wynter’s framework as it applies to the spatial realm, in part to understand how this picture of being human has been representationally reinforced, as well as how such spatialising templates impede upon understandings of situational positionality and, as a result, relationality. In my mind, there are concrete consequences to these lingering, representational impediments. Putting it very succinctly, the type of spatial and situational understanding from the long Modern historical epoch prioritises the ‘I’ — a ‘proper’, static position or node (which is also echoed in tenets of political liberalism) — whereas inventing spatialities for a planetary condition requires prioritising the situating of ‘we’s’: geographically distributed, aggregate entities, with emphasis on their constitutive and qualitative relations or edges. On a practical, concrete level, such planetary, spatial-geographical heuristics that have yet to be realised, will be necessary when it comes to struggles over equitable risk distribution in the 21st century.
On a linguistic level, the ubiquitous linking of the term ‘horizon’ with ‘futurity’ can now be seen as indexing a mode of futurity belonging to a long, anthropocentric, historical epoch, unleashed by a Euro-regional figuration of the human as the measure of all things. In this way, to lament the lack of futural horizons is to mourn this broad historical epoch and thus, the particular mode of being human that serves as an operational referent for this condition. I think this observation helps reveal relative degrees of futurity, in so far as there are permissible futures that belong to a certain historical epoch (it’s not as if nothing changes over several centuries), however, these futures continue the general, undergirding historical dispositions within the recognisable limits of a given historical world. Then, there are futures constituted by struggles for discontinuous historical epochs which, ultimately, have to recraft or reconceptualise what futurity even means and entails. The planetary serves as a preliminary epistemic and conceptual marker to compel struggles for new histories since continuity with current logics and configurations isn’t an option. These struggles don’t take place in a vacuum and they need to be spatialised in conceptual and practical ways to establish new conditions for inhabitable coexistence. So after this very long answer, I still can’t tell you what the ‘horizonless future’ is, but I hope it’s now clear why futurity today must be understood as a struggle for discontinuous historical conditions and thus can’t be oriented by a horizon and the specific manner of human self-conception to which the horizon is tethered. There is nothing to be melancholic about in this diagnosis, it simply means that continuous futurity belonging to this historical epoch is no longer desirable nor tenable. You’re right that it’s a profoundly uncertain and turbulent moment since there are no guarantees that what comes next under the premise of ‘the planetary’ will be better and more equitable but that serves as the urgent motivation to direct our energies, through whatever capacities we have at our disposal, with the willingness to critically revise long-standing naturalisations we may have of ourselves and the very multiscalar milieu within which we cohabitate.
TU. For the next question, let’s stay with education and transdisciplinary practices. One of the main aims of the alternative education programme is to bring people from different backgrounds to share knowledges and learn together. It’s a rewarding and challenging process that clearly shows how working in a particular field structures perception and calibrates sensibilities. Your artistic practice is quite an interesting case, as in recent years it seems that theory and writing became your primary preoccupation. Would you agree that different practices not only require different skills and sensibilities but also inevitably mean a certain loss or quite substantial shift of perception?
PR. It’s encouraging that there’s an abundance of alternative education programmes, such as Rupert’s, springing up and leveraging the fact that contemporary art allows for a promiscuity of disciplinary interests. While building alternative education platforms isn’t new, I think in our moment, this tendency comes from a general frustration with the economisation of education, as well as the rigidity of disciplines to revise curriculums in substantial, methodological ways, beyond the mere amending of syllabi. Alternative programmes also offer challenges to existing, sanctioned forms of evaluating what learning even is, of how we learn and through what forms ‘knowledge’ manifests. Lewis Gordon’s concept of ‘disciplinary decadence’ seems helpful to mention here with regards to how working in particular fields calibrates not just what we think but how we think. Gordon warns against a withdrawal from reality when disciplines turn inward and fail to recognise their limits, at which point the self-inflated discipline is more preoccupied with conserving its rules and methods. Like any other field, contemporary art isn’t immune to such disciplinary decadence, nor is transdisciplinarity, even if it would seem to remedy this problem. It’s also worthwhile to highlight the correlation with what was discussed earlier: the same sort of auto-inflationary operation is at work when conflating a particular human self-image as an all-encompassing referent for humanity. This is why Wynter is also preoccupied with the problem of epistemic paradigms yielding only ‘adaptive truths’, that is, knowledge used only to confirm the ‘veracity’ of the rules and methods belonging to a discipline. So adaptive truths or adaptive knowledges can be understood as a withdrawal from reality (which is always bigger than any discipline, as Gordon notes) and they persist by applying and reapplying the sanctioned methods and canonical references belonging to a discipline. It’s deeply problematic that much of institutionalised education, especially at higher levels, incentivises this mode of practice where learning is skewed towards the mere apprehension of codes, language and methods of a field, rather than learning being understood as a practice of critical revision where the revisability of thought is coterminous with the revisability of method. So you can see that this production of adaptive truths, driven by disciplinary decadence, runs the serious risk of dogmatism where a once useful yet always partial discipline can devour itself into irrelevance.
It’s true that theory and writing have taken over my material and artistic practice in recent years, one benefit being that I have fewer storage issues! Kidding aside, what I appreciate about writing is that even if it requires a great deal of solitude, it’s highly social since you’re knitting together an array of thinkers and initiating some sort of explicit dialogue with them, no matter if they’re physically alive or dead. I feel fortunate as writing has generated several connections with incredible people over the years that help feed and challenge ideas; these encounters wouldn’t have taken place without the mediation of published words. This doesn’t necessarily mean those encounters are always an affirmation of what’s been written but that’s even more important — so long as it’s underwritten by a bit of humility and intellectual generosity. I do miss making work though since it’s a very different way of thinking that has nothing to do with making convincing arguments, instead, it’s a way of thinking through materials, images, movement and forms. Some artists or writers seem very adept at upholding both modes of practice simultaneously but unfortunately, that’s not the case for me so returning to artistic practice will require a break from writing to get into a different headspace. That said, and perhaps this is a consequence of pandemic induced physical isolation, working collaboratively seems to be the most enticing way forward, both in terms of writing and making artworks. There are a few such collaborations in the early stages of development so we’ll see what we end up with and honestly, if we end up with nothing tangible, that’s fine too; the dialogues are nourishment enough.
TU. When discussing your work before and after the session at Rupert, one thought kept recurring. There was agreement that your writings are obviously dense and can be challenging for people with little prior experience with academic writing. At the same time, they have an almost poetic quality that renders inspiring ideas and allures readers. Is this density and specific flow something that you consciously seek and how do you approach writing in general?
PR. Stylistically, I’m a fan of compression in writing, the most extreme form of which manifests in diagrams that often accompany an essay. One has to strike a balance between density and clarity; if writing is too compressed, it’s incomprehensible, like a low-res jpeg that is a muddy, indiscernible mess. Writing is very slow-going and frustrating for me. Beyond a few rough, intuitive notes, I don’t normally know exactly where things will go when starting out so it’s an exercise of thinking on the fly. In that way, the activity of writing isn’t particularly enjoyable but as a colleague on Twitter put it, there is satisfaction in having written something! I tend to get more from a lecture or a piece of writing when it isn’t immediately or fully comprehensible, since it’s that gap that makes you turn it over in your head, fuelling curiosity and further reflection. Obviously, this is delicate since if that gap is too large, inquisitiveness is stifled and disinterest sets in. It takes practice and is also dependent on a community of peers who let you know when you’re off the mark, not to mention the undervalued labour of good editors who help craft written raw materials in more clarifying ways.
TU. The tensions between systemic whole and individual in your text Freedom and Fiction raises an interesting question. I think there is no denying that in recent years we are hearing more and more voices that have been neglected and we have the chance to better understand identities that have been oppressed. At the same time, the episteme that we live in feeds on taxonomic proliferation, commodifying and appropriating almost instantaneously. Is there a way to nurture liminal identities, non-conforming bodies and all these multiplicities of being without lapsing into commodified slumber?
PR. The short answer is that the episteme has to be transformed to avoid such adaptive capture. The question is complicated because you’re essentially asking how to change our political-economic system that, by design, actively propagates new markets, while at the same time requires oppressions of varying degrees, disproportionately targeting those who either don’t embody the referent human-concept addressed earlier or who don’t perform in the ‘proper’ ways ascribed to it. In this way, the discussion can’t presuppose exclusion as the main problem and must begin with the recognition of punitive modes of inclusion as an operational feature, not an anomalous flaw. That said, systemic transformations at the level of the episteme won’t happen overnight and waiting for grand-scale change is simply not an option for millions for whom such struggles are a matter of survival in the here and now. Theoretical reflection plays a role in thinking through such massive, interwoven problems, it can help to reframe and construct conceptual and material commitments but it’s important not to overstate its practical role in systemic problems of such magnitude. I know few theorists, myself included, who have competency in the necessary and often invisible labour of organising or strategising, which is going on behind the scenes. Whenever a movement seems to spontaneously emerge, it’s certain that before it became visible to a broader public, countless individuals and groups were working for years, if not generations, behind it all. I think we need to invest in the spirit of acknowledging that genealogy, against the pervasive and easy cynicism that arises when movements, in some part, seem to become commodified or watered down through mass popularity. Part of the task is to construct connections (narrative and material) between immediate sources of harm that are particular, identity-based, geographically and materially specific, with long-term, distributed and scalar transformations. In other words, connections between a here and now, and a there and then. Constructing connections helps make the inter-relationality of struggles intelligible, with the ambition that those linkages create further possibilities that were otherwise impeded or unseen without them. The furthering of possibilities is a form of empowerment, which also feeds into your question of ‘nurturing’. The issue with ‘nurturing’ is that if the activity of nurturing is a one-way street, a power imbalance persists. It’s similar to how ‘relationality’ is often evoked without addressing the quality of a relationship or when ‘care’ is left undefined as if it’s a self-evident or purely benevolent concept. Perhaps it’s more specific to ask how bonds of solidarity can be nurtured, which locates the activity of nurturing at the site of the relation, implying bidirectionality. As Gordon has stated, movements are broadly transformative because they entail reframing relationships to reality, challenging the given ways it’s normatively configured, historically narrated, socially organised and materially stratified. So beyond support, understood unidirectionally, it’s important to recognise how movements incite occasions for transforming engagements with reality and consequentially, the building of shared commitments that become evident because of that instructive reengagement.
TU. It seems that the material world we inhabit is oozing with a myriad of different worlds and processes of worlding. From the affective-intensive worlding of Kathleen Stewart to the companionship of Donna Haraway, the world-travelling of Maria Lugones or the end of the world by Federico Campagna, amongst many others. You also evoke an eschatological feeling concerning education in your recent text The End of a World and its Pedagogies. One thing that immediately stands out is that the world and worlding operate on very different scales — from molecular to planetary. Do you think we are still able to perceive the ends and beginnings of worlds? And how to avoid melancholy when wandering around the rubble of an old world?
PR. To paraphrase a colleague, Lukáš Likavčan, the planetary is already found in the smallest of things. I think this notion is important since it helps shift our idea of the planetary as that which is only associated with intangible immensity. The complexity of the planetary means it exists at multiple, interconnected scales or dimensions, which helps create modes of partial access to it, rather than feelings of being utterly overwhelmed by it, which risks mystification or withdrawal. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was evoking the eschatological, since there’s a significant difference between the end of the world and the end of a world. By ‘world’, I simply mean a certain configuration of inhabitable coexistence so the end of a world is the end of a particular configuration or, as Campagna would say, the end of a particular, historical narration. Recalling Wynter, this also means the end of a certain way of referentially framing the human. Us seeing a proliferation of discourses engaging with some version of the end of a world running concurrently with thinkers problematising conventional understandings of the human is no mere coincidence. These are vehicles through which to perceive the end of a world and they’re completely antithetical to the Hollywood doomsday genre (which is an inflationary representation, absolutely conflating the end of a world with the end of the world). The end of a world is only melancholic to those committed to preserving the configuration of this existing world. I don’t know how that could even be remotely defensible these days, even if the question of what it means to inhabit the interstice between epistemes or worldly configurations is uncertain and daunting.
My Interdisciplinary Trouble with Art Research
Viktorija Rybakova in conversation with Daragh Reeves
Sunday 21 March 2021
I have received an invitation to write for Rupert Journal from Tautvydas Urbelis who currently works as the head of Rupert’s alternative education programme. Back in 2012, I had the honour of being Rupert’s first ‘nomadic’ student at a time when the physical art centre did not yet exist and the foundations for its educational programme were still being laid.
Our study group would meet with guest lecturers in cafes or occupy unused spaces in Vilnius Arts Academy. The fact that the institution lacked walls allowed that openness to enter the study programme itself and we were offered a very generous and varied range of subjects. Sometimes we found ourselves in a day-long philosophy seminar, not knowing even the simplest philosophical terms and yet, having the pleasure of hearing from the most thought-provoking philosophers of the time such as Reza Negarestani. It was fascinating for me. My knowledge of English had its limits at the time and that made it even more fascinating as I had to listen with all I had.
I originally graduated in Architecture in Vilnius, having been attracted to learning about urban structures and the primary materials they are made of. Following graduation, I sought a meeting point for my interests in theory and practice within an interdisciplinary environment. My heart was in thinking through structural elements but my soul wanted something other than my professional discipline could ever offer. With a certain amount of determined, blind hope I went looking for alternative opportunities within art and architecture.
I chose to go to Mexico City, a place I knew very little about, based on the strong memory of reading about the architect Luis Barragan in a dog-eared 1970’s American architecture magazine, which was presumably smuggled into the library of my architecture school during the Soviet era. The library in the architecture department had not been significantly updated since its construction in the early 1980s and these old magazines remained in the building reminiscing of a time when artists and architects were active in the pro-independence movement, looking up to the forms of knowledge in the West.
Barragan, in collaboration with sculptor Mathias Goeritz, created a movement called ‘emotional architecture’ comprised of strange hybrids of architecture and sculpture. Growing up in the post-Soviet and eclectic environment of the ’90s, the thought of emotion being addressed within architecture opened up a whole new territory of sensuality. The dream of getting to know something decidedly different from what was taught and experienced in the ghostly and grey landscapes of my surroundings was very seductive. With little hesitation, I booked my tickets to Mexico.
It did not cross my mind that a big city, no matter how seductive, is also a place of intensity that is not always light. Having seen multifarious sides of Mexico City, I learned about the corrupt politics, drug wars and social inequality that pervaded this breathtakingly beautiful country. Growing up in a small country, I saw the world with a naivety that I believe saved me from situations in which I could have been less fortunate had my eyes been full of all-knowing fear. Not knowing also made me want to return and understand more.
Mexico’s thriving contemporary art scene and its profound indigenous heritage in crafts and ethnopharmacy captured my imagination. And so, I found myself back in Mexico City half a year later working on an artistic research project about the history of plastic, a material so omnipresent within traditional Mexican culture and the city landscape that it made me wonder about its origins in the country.
With a very open idea about how this research should unfold, I proceeded to meet everyone who could be connected to plastic in Mexico, accompanied by my plastic project partner, graphic designer Goda Budvytyte. Through random and intuitive connections, the research branched out from the country’s centre and into the outskirts. Initially, it was hard to describe what exactly we were looking for and what was the main idea of this research project but in the end, the openness of the people we met led to vivid memories and experiences that became the basis for writing the book.
After Mexico, I had the privilege of participating in the international post-academic programme at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands. It was new to me to find myself in a single professional setting that embodied and made sense out of everything I was doing as an architect and independent researcher.
It was a fruitful time — fully dedicating my interests in art and science to make something out of the knowledge and curiosity that sparked my imagination, striving to create a newness that was not described or talked about before. It turned into a valid artistic mode where I allowed myself to go into previously undiscovered territories and make new connections that otherwise would not be visible or adding expertise to a particular field. I felt that what I was doing could complement scientific methods of discovery with freedom of expression and the freedom to say things that would not seem useful in the pool of data but would become meaningful outside the rational comprehension of data analysis: an intuitive knowledge.
My search for art and architecture’s meeting points morphed into what is nowadays called ‘research based’ or ‘interdisciplinary art practice‘, an increasingly popular para-academic scene. My passion for occasional writing grew stronger and I befriended literary self-reflection after my time at the Jan Van Eyck Academie ended. The writing I do is an inconsistent hybrid between the academic, investigative journalism and the personal. Most of the time I use it as a base for making new artworks. I create a literary world for that object to exist as if I need to make a reason why that object has a right to live.
I spoke to visual artist Daragh Reeves, who studied art in London, New York and Amsterdam, in schools where visual expression and ideas were at the top of art-making. On numerous occasions, I heard him saying how teachers taught him to find meaning in the making itself.
One evening, in my kitchen, Daragh shared his point of view on the contemporary shift in art practice and questioned what is to be gained from interdisciplinary research as opposed to what traditional artist research looks like — e.g. a collection of found images, observation of new colour combinations, forms and drawing techniques. Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
What I have observed is that an artist can make, for example, a film, a beautiful aesthetic idiosyncratic creation and yet, choose political topics such as Palestine or the Cold War or the dark world of arms dealing, something heavy hitting. The artist gets invited to cultural institutions and the audience watches the film and afterwards, what’s the discussion about? It’s not about what a beautiful film it is or how the artist edited it, because you can’t have a discussion like that. No one wants to have a conversation about aesthetics. Even artists themselves do not discuss art in this way. When visual artists get together, they are talking about shampoo, or sneakers, or something in popular culture — stupid stuff. You can’t talk about pure visual art, directly. In other words, it’s a nightmare for institutions because they can’t organise talks around that kind of art and these people need stuff to do.
In my opinion, these kinds of discussions are pseudo — an artist has an opinion that is amateur and yet, the art is professional and extraordinary, but the opinions about their topic are not up to standard. Any other professional joining the discussion would be asking what is this pantomime conversation?!
I could not disagree that there is a scent of pretentiousness when artists write ‘theme related’ applications for project funding or create art that is touching upon popular political subjects that assure public support and visibility. At the same time, there are different forms of thinking — dance is thinking through the body, visual art is thinking through colour and gesture — and we can’t deny the value of that knowledge.
If I think of traditional artists like painters, their job is to turn research into great art. And it’s only because of wanting to make great art that they are interested in that research. Today, a lot of research-based data is just a collection of magazine clippings without the actual alchemy that leads to that singular artwork. It’s like, ‘hey I’m interested in this and I just wanted to let you know that and show you what I found’.
But the traditional artist who collects inspiring clippings does not forget his job, to transform those clippings as a creative act and to enmesh, imbue, distil them into a personal language to create richness and memorable originality of form. If you just show your scrapbook, stopping short of the act of transformation, to share your selection, who are you other than a DJ? An effete entertainer but most likely falling short of actual entertainment, more likely a stylist pitching at being a tastemaker but really hoping to pass it off as Midas-like genius, without getting your hands dirty in any primitive act of making.
I heard once that you have to be a bit stupid to make art — and shameless you could add. This research work comes perhaps from people too ashamed to look stupid who would rather show what they know, than what they don’t know. But it misses something — the unknown.
I think for me, one definition of great art is in memorability. In the sense of it being memorable for its greatness of form. At the end of the day, we need all kinds of art but it’s important to think about what you are leaving behind. What is memorable? What speaks for the human and raises the level, culturally speaking? How do you jam the chakras? It’s no easy thing but it probably includes the element of your own memory first — something personal.
Indeed, we need our chakras to be jammed because we need to be emotionally moved and reminded how interesting, scary and beautiful it is to live. We need someone to guide our non-rational impulses and to be exposed to different kinds of experiences.
After my long conversation with Daragh, I started questioning the vagueness of the interdisciplinary research that I found myself comfortable in and I went to meet several scientists to ask them about their research processes. What I discovered was that scientific methods of producing new knowledge are very slow and very little gets to be exposed behind the process of proving a new discovery. As opposed to amateur art world knowledge production systems, capable of creating intense narratives that shoot blindly into the future and past, the scientific knowledge is measured, weighed and discussed, albeit still shooting blindly sometimes. I believe this blindness comes from the mutable nature of human perception. Our structural feelings of here and now also change all the time.
My therapist told me: the here and now lasts 7 seconds and this is the amount of time our brain is capable of staying focused and hence living without interruption. It also means that we come up with an idea within that time frame. It takes seconds to conceive something but it might take hours, days, months or years to realise it. What truly fascinates me is that the art object stays closest to that moment of 7 seconds, an uninterrupted reality, an authentic and unquestionable truth. Regardless of the current fashion of writing endlessly about a work of art, I will always believe in the autonomy of an artwork and its independence from the literary world.
I hereby remain open for discussion about what interdisciplinary research has to offer as opposed to tacit or embodied knowledge that artists have been offering before art theory invaded or made itself comfortable inside the artwork. Could we still enjoy an artwork detached from words and its literary reading? What Salomé Voegelin describes as the challenge of making the speechlessness of a visual work perceptible without subjecting it to an analytical language of interpretation. At the end of the day, I believe that art proposes a beautiful idea: a conversation in silence; and it is important to not forget the power of a silent conversation.
Disruptive love(s): exploring togetherness in Aikas Žado Laboratory’s and Eglės Ambrasaitė’s theoretical, practical and artistic thoughts
In our brutally commodified reality, living under the global, political ultra-right hurricanes and pandemic super-storms, imagining collectivity, imagining practising collectivity, doing collective work, researching, creating together, building a micro-cosmos of a shared more-than-home, more-than-human space of interconnectedness as part of a community of co-lovers is (almost) unimaginable. However, such a place, such a being exists for me, for us: creatures of Aikas Žado Laboratory, located in the Žeimiai Manor House of Žeimiai town. To approach the more-than-home, more-than-human threads that I and Žeimiai Manor House are weaving, my use of ‘we’ and ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘us’, shifts throughout this paper. To use the third person in discussing the activities in Aikas Žado Laboratory would pose an unnecessary distance between myself and my subjects-in-question, shadowing our mutual and complex enmeshment.1 At the same time, to always use the first person would mean to claim that my knowledge and positionality as the narrator of this paper can accurately and unidirectionally represent our collective and the whole range of human and non-human attachments and affections. In other words, while my tender ties lie within the approach, beliefs and struggles of Aikas Žado Laboratory’s community, the embodiment of our practices might vary as they encompass the whole range of human and non-human companions in motion, together sparking various, entangled, delightful and daring companionships. Considering the scope, this paper will not contain a detailed analysis of Aikas Žado Laboratory’s inhabitants or their overall theoretical, practical and artistic practises.2 However, it will embody a kind of confession and a kind of complaint by Aikas Žado Laboratory’s collective/community/social derivative, while reflecting on our presented activities for the dear participants of Rupert’s alternative education programme.3
‘Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers’4
Hands in soil.
In the garden and the park, planting and replanting bushes, growing trees, letting them grow (sometimes) where they please, as we would (sometimes) grant such access to the weeds;
by the cracks of the floors and walls: oil-painting, embracing the fissures of time of these 18th-century walls, gently touching stucco skins;
to peck, to scrub, to brush a little bit, to heal;
semi-broken backs, swollen feet, dirty fingernails, linseed oil, turpentine, denatured alcohol;
chained dogs barking in the distance; tourists gazing through windows: ‘do you live here?’, doesn’t matter if one of us is smoking a cigarette, wearing slippers.
Unbrushed hair. It’s Saturday. You are hiding a bottle of wine from yesterday’s night on the Manor’s stairs;
wind in the fields;
you can hear the forest sometimes, voices of frogs;
another hen was taken by the fox, is the fox becoming our pet now?;
in the evenings: joyful glances or tired swear words exchanged after installing someone’s artwork; sewing, screwing, hammering;
a lot of writing, reading too;
by hugging the night: grills, bonfires, dances, grapes, talks, laughs, smiles;
flowers all around, three beautiful creature-cats and a creature-dog;
days run so slow and so quick; seasons change;
sharing, queering, loving, cripping, cripping, loving, queering, sharing.
Back in September 2020, we welcomed the participants of Rupert’s alternative education programme to share our localised practises and the theories that guide them. Domas Noreika prepared an expedition entitled Snarglys (‘Snot’), which was mostly concerned with the characteristics of local material and matter, their clamminess, viscosity and greasiness. By ‘foregrounding the material factors and reconfiguring […] understanding of matter’ and stressing the importance of ‘material causality and the significance of corporeality’, Domas Noreika presented practices of care and forms of interdependence: non-human, artificial and inanimate.5 This expedition was part of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu expeditions 2020: OS, dedicated to researching OS (objectum-sexuality or objectophilia). In short, people who identify as OS experience emotional, romantic and/or sexual feelings towards inanimate objects, for example, a bridge, a statue or a train station. For some, sexual or close emotional relationships with humans are incomprehensible. In addition, some object-sexual individuals also believe that inanimate objects have souls, intelligence, feelings and can communicate. Taking this into consideration, such expeditions were meant to investigate the feelings of love towards the object of Žeimiai Manor House itself, love for its compositional elements: the stucco, friezes of the library and cinematheque, golden heads of the lions, its oiled and chalked surfaces, etc. During Snarglys, while ‘loving’ the Manor House, one was able to grasp the differences between methods and conceptions of preservation and conservation and get accustomed to the various other plots of the synthesis between heritage and contemporary art practised at Žeimiai Manor House. Afterwards, Rupert’s participants were invited to join in for the hands-on experience and hence, invited to re-evaluate the agency of matter and processes of materialisation, analysing — through a non-anthropocentric approach — the materiality of both ‘human and non-human, organic and non-organic forms of entities’ and their inseparable commensurability.6
The following day, it was my turn. To create a temporary space for knowledge exchange and creative interactions, I put together a presentation concerning Žeimiai Manor House’s eco thought, my current PhD field research of local women’s experiences through which I aim to map the gendered apparatuses of biopolitics in the late socialist and early post-socialist town of Žeimiai, my curatorial work for the group exhibition Enchanted Landscapes and my (at that time upcoming) solo exhibition Words are not sparrows. Through these interdisciplinary practises that encapsulate a wide range of my theoretical and artistic interests, I tried to: a) question the understanding of collectivity in the more-than-human enmeshment of Aikas Žado Laboratory; b) narrate the importance of the bond between a researcher and their respondents and the outcomes that such relations might spark (concerning my PhD fieldwork with the women of Žeimiai); c) present my curatorial and artistic practises related to linguistic and bodily sensibilities, love, relations and intensities, while thinking through the lenses of toxicity and care.
For me, practising collectivity is being in closeness with one another. Not just spatially, physically or virtually but emotionally, in mutual respect and attentiveness. Hence, for me, collective creativeness sounds like tender listening. It moves in mutually negotiated trajectories. It smells of cherry blossoms and not cherry-picking. It rehearses affirmative inter and outer connections, performs love, decides in horizontal measures. It hosts questions, doubts, worries and stimulates them into the form of a thought, an action, a blessing. Collective practises do not aim to create a new, united, holistic structure; on the contrary, they call for heterogeneity and diversity, following the non-hierarchical idea of multi-speciesism! Then, those who practise collectivity self-institute, self-govern, self-lead and, more importantly, practise an ‘other way of life, other necessities, other criterions for the human life’ and beyond.7 One might ask: what are those necessities, what are those criterions, what is this other way of life? Beautifully, it corresponds to how I see both the practice of collective practices and the operation of communities in general. For me, they both act not from self-interest, mistrust and fear but carrying openness, sensitivity and adaptiveness. They move expecting the unexpected, rehearsing sustainable consumption, perform interdependencies, decide based on the collective agency and host habits that sustain life; they smell of encounters surviving together, equitably, well. Hence, through embodying collectivity at Aikas Žado Laboratory, we constantly try to understand the cyclical nature of flora and fauna and the relationships between each of us, the common inseparable link or, as Guattari calls it, the balance system: loopback cycles and loops, non-linear affiliations and relations.8 So when we claim that the horses we used to keep are not for riding, when we allow our chickens the freedom of their walks, when we leave the fields of nettles and other wild plants to create meadows or other sorts of out-growings, we aim not for a sensational obsession but for a more-than-empathy based respect. Understanding that we are all together enmeshed in a ‘complex of biosocial and political relations’ and that ‘certain plants [and other beings] are carefully nurtured and others are carefully exterminated’, we seek to encourage the territory to curate itself as the living creatures there can express their agency, awareness and responsiveness.9 ‘Sensationally different’ trees and bushes that were brought to Žeimiai Manor House by its past bourgeois owners during the 18th and 19th centuries mingle with the local flora creating what could be named sensationally boring, a semi-sensational spectacle agitating against the perception of ‘how it should be in the manor houses’, against what the othering gaze (usually white, male and middle class) requires.10 In our Laboratory’s practice, being with a living being is, first of all, a question of self-knowledge and self-actualisation. We ask: how much can I get to know that living being and how much can I know about myself through that living being? Therefore, for us, to get to know the living being means to encounter many other living beings, at the same time encountering oneself. We are inspired by the thoughts of Harlan Weaver, who argues for the complexity of identities that human and non-human animals jointly and intersectionally enmesh in a flowing, non-static, processual becoming he names becoming in kind. In this becoming in kind, he connects ontological stakes with larger social worlds: it is a way of thinking through categories such as species, breed, race, class and gender.11 Hence, at Žeimiai Manor House, we love disruptively. It is a certain type of ‘uneasy love’, ‘love of the differences’ based in ‘restorative justice’ and an understanding of how human and non-human relation is ‘mutually shaped by intersections of racism, classism, sexism, speciesism’.12 In other words, the human and non-human relation in Aikas Žado Laboratory is a different possibility for becoming in kind while continuously encouraging disruption. Here in Žeimiai, we endeavour to abandon the exclusion between nature and culture, as well as the sometimes-imaginative lacunas separating city and province. We are gradually becoming that cat, sleeping on the old, wooden Manor floor, that bacteria on the furthest corner of the wall or that tomato, thriving in the un-weeded vegetable garden. By working through our mutual enmeshment and intersection, we disruptively become in kind to destroy anthropocentric hierarchies.
I approach my current PhD research with a similar theoretical perspective that focuses on examining the gendered apparatuses of biopolitics through the bodies and embodiments of the women of Žeimiai in the late Soviet and the early post-Soviet period. In my approach, I see the fixed territory of Žeimiai as a kind of manifestation of the settings of Twin Peaks or Wayward Pines: a little town that could serve to illustrate the broader Soviet (bio)political apparatus that operated in late-Soviet Lithuania and has influenced the economic, social and political changes during the post-socialist ‘transition’ and afterwards. Despite the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, in the summer of 2020, I was very lucky to immerse into my field and archival research straightaway. The mutual trust I managed to gain by meeting and interviewing the first few women of Žeimiai appeared to create a flow of encouragement for other women to join my research and share parts of their life stories. The research that I have conducted so far has created a strong, warm-hearted bond between me, as the researcher, and the women of Žeimiai, as the participants, transforming my positionality and building up my reflexivity by a) deconstructing the imaginations and prejudices concerning women’s lives in rural areas that I thought I did not possess, but I did, and b) creating a completely new relationship with Žeimiai itself, in which I have lived for more than five years but of which, as I have now understood, I knew and experienced so little. Such eye-opening experiences impacted a transformation of my overall gaze towards this work’s subject-of-matter, transforming my methodology and shaping new ways for me to theoretically handle argument-building according to the very rich and dense materials I have gathered. Hence, by focusing on the experiences of the women of Žeimiai to study the details of biopolitically arranged life and how such life was lived and felt in Žeimiai, I am paying most of my attention to the main state-infrastructural body in Žeimiai: Žeimiai Kolkhoz. While concentrating on Žeimiai Kolkhoz, I examine infrastructures not merely physically but spatially, temporally and emotionally to see how they structure and are sedimented into the world, unmasking gendered norms and processes of engendering.13 My intention in looking at the particular structuring of female bodies and also beyond their bodies, through uneven spatial and temporal infrastructures, lies in the importance of what such a broader gaze could reveal about why some aspects of (biopolitical) life are supported while others are abandoned. Giving focus to the study of biopolitics, Prozorov (2014) argues that ‘the studies of biopolitics are all but silent about what was arguably the most ambitious project of the positive transformation of human lives, i.e the creation of the “New Soviet Person” as the emancipated subject of the socialist society, which at the same time unleashed the unprecedented negativity of terror against the very persons that were to be transformed’.14 Hence, studying Soviet socialism could help address the problematics — if not the aporia — of the theory of biopolitics and understand the ontological foundation of biopolitics, which were left un-conceptualised in the writings of, for example, Foucault (2008; 2009; 2013), Agamben (1998; 1999; 2016) and Esposito (2008a; 2008b). By following the path of Prozorov (2007; 2014; 2017), Dunn (2004) and Collier (2005; 2011), who opened up the discussion on the particularity of Soviet biopolitics, but relying mostly on Healey’s (2001) study concerning its gendered aspect, I focus on the late-Soviet and early post-Soviet periods in the context of Lithuania, seeking to question how Soviet biopolitics operated via its gendered apparatuses. How did late-Soviet biopolitics in 1980s Lithuania differ from the biopolitics of ‘transition’ and how does it differ from the biopolitics of the ‘Western’ world before and nowadays? Claiming the specificity of Soviet biopolitics, my study tries to forecast the distinct aspect of Soviet gender (bio)politics that is grounded in its ambivalent, non-static, multifaceted character and its everlasting, mutation-induced connection with labour; in other words, the interdependence of gender relations with those of the production site. This is why I tend to investigate Žeimiai women’s experiences concerning the interrelation of labour, reproduction and intimacy or, in different words, three different kinds of labour done by women: productive, reproductive and affective. I believe that concentrating on such a micro-perception (Foucault 2002; Deleuze 2005; Massumi 2009) can assist in reflecting the complexity of collective situations and the variability of the same feelings, offering no global solutions and instead, helping to understand what escapes the state (macropolitics) on which it is built.15 Understanding this is crucial for our thinking about post-socialist societies and to overturn the nationalist framings of power by providing the story from the view of local (Žeimiai) people and, hopefully, by reconceptualising the very nature of struggle and agency through finding a ‘theoretical middle ground between resistance and surrender [to different power apparatuses]’.
In the summer of 2020, together with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu expeditions 2020: OS, Aikas Žado Laboratory organised the group exhibition Enchanted Landscapes, which the participants of Rupert’s alternative education programme had the chance to visit and experience. Participating artists included: Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė; Ieva Lygnugarytė; Rūta Vėbraitė and Sofia Bordin; OFF2Ensemble; Domas Noreika, Enrika Stanulevičiūtė and Urtė Kat. Keeping love as the main thread for Enchanted Landscapes, we invited the audience to experience the ‘different, unique, unrepeatable, unstable and foreign’ perspectives on love, relations and intensities offered by the participating artists, aiming to evoke thoughts of transformation and the expansion of the relationships between humans, non-humans, materialities and infrastructures. Following one’s body and understanding one’s embodiments was crucial there to see what forces have shaped our beliefs, relations and practises and to consciously rupture out, adopt new perspectives, share, make oneself vulnerable to new ways of seeing and thinking and, as I have mentioned before, become in kind. In doing away with the sentimentality and romanisation of love, I, as the curator of this exhibition, strived to reveal love to be an ontological condition, an ontological power that changes you and through relationships with others, as a mode of action, can reorient society too.
In addition, preparing for this exhibition was a valuable research process towards my own solo exhibition entitled Words are not sparrows (2021), for which I created four latex-based sculptural posters of skins, each of which belongs to the system: a sort of microcosmos to represent the interrelatedness of body(skin)/mind(words)/soul(four elements in four different videos) and to see how language affects the body directly, how corpus and tongue are connected, how the effects of toxic language are felt through the skin — the surface navigator of felt experiences. Hence, one’s body there is seen as a skinscape that is being shaped and modified by every bodily experience; a body exposed and open to the world via its skin, touching and being touched by others through its exteriority, not only bodily but verbally too. ‘Language is a skin’ and we ‘rub our language against the other’, Barthes once wrote in Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977). The four elements of fire, earth, water and air are contaminated, despite Zarathustra’s warnings. However, in this artwork, while trying to visualise such an emotional state, my only intention was to liberate one from it by rebalancing the intertwined connection of mind, body and soul.
To finish up, after such a theoretically engulfing experience, I invited the dear participants of Rupert’s alternative education programme for a discussion/workshop/collective-close-reading concerning the possibilities of practising care, both individually and in togetherness. In the evening, after immersing in such diverse topics and bodily/voiced activities, we lit the grill and sat around it for the comfort of the fire and the un-guided yet all-encompassing, long and interesting chats.
1. Sandilands, Catriona, “Floral Sensations: Plant Biopolitics”, in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 226-237.
2. A more elaborative analysis of these is available in Ambrasaitė, Eglė, “We can, so we must”: in the search of post-hegemony in Žeimiai”, in Kajet Journal, eds. Petrică Mogoș and Laura Naum, No. 1., 2017, p. 98-106, and Ambrasaitė, Eglė, “Keistas nepažįstamumas: kaip nespoksoti į ne žmogų”, in Literatūra ir menas, No. 22, 2018, p. 35-38.
3. A reference to “complaint as diversity work”, a practise coined by Sarah Ahmed. In Ahmed, Sarah, Complaint, 2017, accessed March 10, 2021.
4. Barad, Karen, “Interview with Karen Barad”, in New Materialism: Interview and Cartographies, eds. Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 2012, p. 48.
5. Coole, Diana and Frost, Samantha, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010, p. 2.
6. Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010, p. 21.
7. Castoriadis, Cornelius, The Imaginary Institution of Society. Massachusetts: The MIT Press Cambridge, 1975, p. 250.
8. Guattari, Felix, The Three Ecologies, 2000, London and New Brunswick: The Athlone Press.
9. Sandilands, Catriona, “Floral Sensations: Plant Biopolitics”, in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 233, 235.
10. Ibid., p. 226.
11. Weaver, Harlan, “Becoming in Kind”: Race, Class, Gender, and Nation in Cultures of Dog Rescue and Dogfighting”, in American Quarterly 65.3, 2013, p. 690.
12. Ibid., p. 706.
13. Murphy, Michelle. “Distributed Reproduction, Chemical Violence, and Latency”, in The Scholar & Feminist Online, 2018.
14. Prozorov, Sergei, “Foucault and Soviet Biopolitics”, in History of the Human Sciences 27 (5), 2014, p. 9.
15. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Fèlix, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
16. Dunn, Elizabeth Cullen, Privatizing Poland: Baby Food, Big Business, and the Remaking of Labor, New York: Cornell University Press, 2004, p. 133.
17. Badiou, Alain and Truong, Nicolas, In Praise of Love, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2012, p. 98.
During last 5 months I was collecting data of various proteins, and using that data I created a series of algorithm sequences to simulate growth of new protein structures. After the code was written I facilitated these computing processes in a garden site as a growth variable.
Artwork investigates digital protein archive data, its algorithm interpretation engines biases, and material realities. In structural biology graphical visualizations helps to better understand complex assemblies, nucleic acids, and plays a major role in communication of gathered data. While visual depiction helps make sense of large amounts of complex numerical data that otherwise would be incomprehensible to humans it also by its essence is prone to exclusion which leaves many stories untold.
The installation was architected and digged with a shovel in my parent’s garden in-between strawberries and dill. The construction was build and worked for 1 week. While still, my program contains bugs and worms, it produced new protein structures which I am showcasing in the video.
Read by Alex Rodgers
ATHLETIC MESH KNIT
CRYSTAL MEDIUM BLUE
There is a pair of trousers sturdy, tailored and green. It has a full-length pleat, the excess fabric of which folds inwards towards the leg, you might feel it as you walk. Following the line that contours from hip to ankle, the pleat runs, held in place by two snap buttons. When seated, the fold gapes open like a mouth. The cloth is thick and waterproof, a fisherman’s favourite, the type that emits sounds with every gesture. The inside of this fabric can feel cold and wet; that is your water dampened onto the lining. The furrowed elastic that keeps the trousers on your waist and protects you from higher types of water splashes, leaves an itching skin mark. To make a piece fully waterproof, its seams are melted to seamlessness—I feel it like a waffle. The soft rims fuse before solidifying like an enamoured couple. This type of impermeability seals: it protects from the outside and meanwhile also padlocks the body in its own microclimate.
The top’s long sleeves are for hanger appeal mainly. Along the back, lines of sportswear stitches run, symmetrical curves drawn by a hand and a machine. These seams don’t bind, they line like touching fingertips. Tracing the drawing, index fingers follow the rhythm of the ribbed seams. A never objective touch now contours the model. The fabric is flexible. It breathes but not without dampening. When you fold your arm the fabric tenses around the elbow and when you stretch your arms up, you feel it pull in the exact same way the skin and the abs pull in the exact same direction and speed. When you take a deep breath in, you feel supported and caged in the nicest way, tugged.
There are shoes which are plainly opened medical clay packs. They have dried taking the imprints of your feet and they are more for other moments, they are always not for now. They serve the memory of the clay hugging your pinky toes, embracing them in a merging way, and your feet’s skin taking up some good healthy soil drinking it through the tiny tunnels of your pores, locking it in. Drinking it, locking it in. The shoe soles, tied with a headscarf, can always remain on the side table a few inches above the floor.
There is a selection of thin dresses, veined with gold thread. You can see through them; you wear them enthusiastically, naked, and find that the metallic strands lightly scratch nipples. The dress is cut tight and loose, the body covered and naked; aside from the itch, it’s everything you ever wanted. It holds heat like an ozone layer, or at least that is how I imagine it, and it is only when the outside air blows through it that you feel air again on your skin; it is the most porous of dresses.
The wetsuit with pads is neoprene. The rain trousers I would say, polyurethane. The top could also be in cotton piqué.
A steamer stands free; its black square head feeding off a bottle of vitamin water. The steam comes out as a cloud and angles upward as physics takes over in a variation of an earthbound air-tied phenomenon: heat. The moisture makes the air visible for a moment. Then it all evaporates, and I imagine it carrying small globes of vitamins B5, C, and zinc.
There is a drawing in collagen powder on the floor. The lines are thick and thin, brush-like strokes of poured powder, taking the shape of animal-like figures. Characters I call feelings because every time I send them to someone in a picture they guess they are dogs or more of a lamb or a dolphin. Collagen is essentially the glue that holds together a body. This connective tissue is an insoluble, fibrous protein borrowed from other bodies of animals. Consumed or smeared as a supplement it serves to enhance skin elasticity, and strengthen bones. It comes in powder, pills or liquid. The collagen powder is thin and smooth, leaving an easy imprint when touched; it is graininess crushed. A thin current of air transforms it into a dust cloud, suspended and then dispersed. When in a pile, or any little mess, powder gets more angular than you’d expect, with straight lines and edges. And when pressed and rubbed between two fingers, enough of it makes an unpleasant sound that translates in an odd touch.
There is a suit jacket with bold shoulders made up in wetsuit fabric. It is stitched using the flatlock coverstitch, a technique appropriated from sportswear, developed for its ability to stretch in different directions. It lays on top of the fabric, and ‘fuses’ seperate pieces. This thick jacket hangs and holds. It turns bodies into dolphins. On the same hanger, inside the jacket, hangs a mesh catsuit. It is designed to cover the body; wrists, ankles, and neck included. The principle of its neat upward collar is mirrored in the way its long sleeves are held in place by circular openings for the middle and ring fingers.
All of this (im)permeable play happens in the same open space. Moistures cling to the absorbing, breathing or waterproof garments. Steam dampens the powder and condenses on the cold medical clay pack shoes. Vitamins and collagen engage in a private ballet, travelling through the air. They saturate open cellular structures and damp eyelashes.
This text is a collaboration with fashion designer Vaida Voraite. At the time of writing, the garments described were being collectively designed and produced.
To arrange a private viewing of the garments, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
These pieces are the composted remains of three performances which took place at dusk at the edges of three bodies of water by the town of Druskininkai, using microphones, found debris, and a stringed instrument. They circumnavigate a foggy path between autoportrait and field recording, documenting an attempt to conjure and commune with a slippery environment.
compact lacing: a party invite
Transmitters singing the soft apocalypse. Alien forms emerging, static noise. Process the progress. Not enough hours in the game. Compart Lacing: a party invite began as a dream and eventually became an exercise in techno-creative restraints. Disembodied in a stairwell, NKO + RUPERT AI Chatbot weave anti-narratives about surveillance intimacy, virtual reality, computational access and the inability to move freely in space. NKO documents their haphazard learning of 3D modeling software on their screen, and invites you to a thermal mapping party, to occur someday in the spring. This is the planning stage.
In between nests and pipes
Site-specific installation (location: 54.880911, 25.147085) consist of architectural objects, building elements, picture and squatted space. Installation was inspired by the structural freedom in construction sites and the pragmatic re-usage of things in rural areas. Objects were created with an immersive desire to improvise and make something into something else, they were constructed from elements found in the surroundings and leftovers of raw building materials. The work itself balance in between:
complete and incomplete,
undetermined and concrete,
functional and non-functional,
pragmatic and poetic,
flourishing and collapsing.
Despite the installation objects’ nomadic nature, they melt with the exhibition space and become one work. The one that you can enter and use for any purpose.
The coordinates will lead you to the space of the installation. Be prepared to walk 1 km on foot from Karvio beach and then just follow the blue pipe.
I collected tree bark images of one birch at Rupert and used them to create treelike barky tactile multipatterned sensoric decorative intuitive intricate hyper articulated diverse shy bold analog virtual natural manmade outdated trendy abstract material macro nostalgic imaginary local planetary unmatching glossy dull glittering transparent golden dark textures.
Usually, I work with digital tools and most of my time is spent in front of the screen. This year was different for all of us and I felt an urge to create in a negative space, which I enjoy the most. Therefore, for this project I decided to build a physical texture album, play around with all the available paper surfaces I could purchase and later film and edit my first ever homemade video.
I invite you to watch the documentation about thinking with textures. knowing by touching and learning through feeling.
We EW is a story of interdependence and belonging situated at the edge of one of the many possible futures, indeed it requires an effort of imagination from you readers. Promise me to hold close the elements around you, the land, the air, the water, the biosphere you are part of, your favourite technological tool, hold your lovers hands while you will follow this request of perceptions, collection of impressions, chain of grains.
And keep in mind that the ground, the soil, cannot be appropriated, one belongs to it; it belongs to no one. (Bruno Latour)
Ewa had woken up early in order to be ready at an acceptable time and avoid the suffocating heat of the sun. When she slowly stepped her foot outside of the comfortable duvet on her bed, she didn’t feel in perfect shape. She couldn’t detect the provenance of the annoyance until she burned her freshly roasted coffee, and the tastes of her breakfast were muffled in a homogeneous indefinite flavour. Just then she recognized a pulsating vein inside her right nostril was the cause of the annoying sensation of gustatory-olfactory numbness. That was unusual, since the meal she was consuming was based on fresh and simple products: a whole wheat croissant, honey, cherries and milk cafe. Surprised, but not worried yet, she tried to separate each flavour and slow down the chewing in order to detect and enjoy the consistencies of the foods. The croissant was fragrant, the honey syrupy, cherries tonic and juicy, the milk coffee velvety, but the tonality of flavours perceived by her tastebuds was grey. Good taste and good textures meant to her a good equilibrium between elements and a deepest relation with the environment around, the system of growth, and the process of digestion. Indeed she had grown up with the thought that flavours were not just sensory phenomena activated by molecules, but a sensual junction between food production systems and organization of the human life on the planet, where the unrespectful behavior of the latter on the production chain could cause immediate alteration in the environment.
Ewa the gut is the second brain and a reliable environmental thermometer, her mother used to tell her, keep your stomach bacteria happy with happy food and they will cheer you up with good feelings and an elastic brain motility. Therefore she liked to eat food that came from respect for the environment, which could fit her moods, variations of consistencies and which flavours could represent the shape she wanted to give to her thoughts. Eating was a celebration to life and a ritual of gratitude for the land she belonged to, a moment to share with other mouths and brains.
Indeed, luckily her housemate Michele was in the kitchen and about to leave for work when Ewa was surprised by the tastelessness of her breakfast and immediately recognized the disappointment on her friend’s face. What is going on Ewa, you look like pouty.
Can you try it? Ewa asked, offering her the croissant. Mmm yes sure, what is wrong with it? The woman gave a moderate bite to a corner of the croissant. To me tastes fine, did you bake it with the butter coming from the cows of the northwestern tableland? It came from there, yess, but to me it’s tasteless and smelless, and was wondering if it was just me.
Blow your nose, maybe the humidity in your room has clogged it, and try to brush your teeth. Sometimes night mouth bacteria can create a thick layer in our oral cavity and inhibit our taste receptor. And you know smell and taste are strictly related, Michele suggested. I need to go now, but I wish you to fully gain your senses back and enjoy your special day.
Everyone in the habitation units knew that every 15th of the month was marked on the calendar as one of the dearest to Ewa, indeed, although the annoying morning phenomenon of sensual numbness she had plenty of goods wishes for that favourite monthly free time activities: shopping at the Hightide community market.
The market, one of the oldest of the town, took place in the Lorde basalt-paved square of the city of N, which perimeter outlined by maritime pines, sheltered it from the chaotic traffic of the nodal southern street. The market was a rare gem of the metropolitan economic system which tried to reestablish the organic cycle between production and consumption. There, any kind of waste was avoided and the surplus was repurposed and rethought in order to avoid its accumulation. The Hightide protocol of behavior for merchants and customers forbade to ask too much to nature in terms of fertility just for the sake of human sustainability. Indeed most of the products sold or bargained at Hightide, coming from eccentric small cooperatively-run farms, companies along the coast or the district gardens of the city, were an incredible embodiment of a collaboration between nature, knowledges and technological practices of care. There, each vendor, storyteller, crop lover, taste witch and recipe inventor, firstly producer and connoisseur of what was sold, was ready to disclose the efforts of the rhizomatic secrets of the mushrooms or offer the many tenderness of the petals.
Ewa’s attention toward choosing the products and telling stories was always accompanied by an intense odorous experience. She enjoyed indulging in discoveries and experiencing their smellable properties, holding the smells in her hand and bringing them close to her nose -in a childish fashion- with any sort of organic and inorganic material. Indeed, her life practice was entangled with the benefits of spending long time strolling, observing, encountering new essences and tastes, and implementing the stock of scents for her atmosphere-related research. The market was always an inebriating feast of smell, and a moment of celebration between a successful process of re-equilibration of life.
After the unpleasant sensorial experience at breakfast, Ewa tried to calm her nerves with her aromatic beauty routine. She warmed her body in a shower enriched by sea salt crystals, rubbed her skin with sage leaves and cleaned her nasal cavity with salty water. She brushed her teeth with extra stevia paste and gargled with a fresh mint extract. Contrary to many of her friends, occupied with taking care of their nails and their eyebrows, she was seriously passionate about the health of the nose, and seriously committed to the pleasures of the scents, her tool in order to navigate life. Her rootedness in perfumed atmospheres blurred her in an ungraspable aura, and often people believed she was light headed, but she always tried to give to her beloved ones a pleasant round fragrant perception. Indeed every time someone was enveloping her in a hug a symphony of scents was holding them back.
Her alliance with smells came from the life lessons of her godmother Demewa, a generous white headed woman who contrary to the pragmatic teachings of her mum, always gifted the younger Ewa scents embedded in memories. The woman was always carrying around healing aromatic oils, leaving behind her a perfumed trail able to hypersensorialize the space and stimulate affective feelings. Indeed Ewa learned from her to detect the aromatic compound of each element, the active interaction of volatile molecules, living cells employed in the metabolism.
And Ewa committed her life to the idea of metamorphosis through smells, since one of the sharpest emotion based vehicles for memories. A collectivity builder exhalation which tickles and stimulates all the other senses, that could evoke individual or collective experience, giving back tenderness or soothing sadness. The ineffability of fragrance was, for Ewa, terms to challenge traditional notions of subjectivity. Indeed she had grown up with a sense of depth for the surface of things, developing a specific curiosity for the invisible and fluid foundation of life. What humans could sensorially experience was just the youngest product of centuries of holistic movements, chemical dances, fluid geometries, vibrating conversation between matters, and behaviors which needed to be accounted for.
If you smell differently you can attract different kinship. Indeed through olfaction, she could invoke characters buried in history and refuse the embodied limitations of things, while connecting all the bodies by a fluid network.
After her full immersion in odorous vapors and scented moisturizers, she smelled her body and she could detect the fragrances she used in order to revitalize her olfactory, now flittering the atmosphere closer to her skin. She felt so relieved that she didn’t recognize the intensity of her aromatic perception had slightly dimmed. The light of the sun was invading Ewa’s room, projecting on the walls an iridescent game of shimmers. Ewa turned on the audio system, hoping to sonorize her room with gentle melodies, then stood in front of her wardrobe and mirrored her body dressed by the game of the dawn lights and shadows. My flirtatious wind, you want to stay still, but your destiny is to swirl her mom used to address her singing that verse, putting an accent on her atmospheric essence while slightly condemning her cute vanity and need for attention. The woman, always pointing to dark corners and soft curves of her personality, had infused in her a quite sharp awareness of her body, its space, its slow pace, the iridescent aura enveloping it, and the conscious impact she impressed on people’s curiosity.
She chose her functional outfit taking inspiration from the dark green and uneven leaves of her monstera plant, dressing a light sleeveless dress with air intakes and a big flap hat, in order to fully protect her shoulders and her face from the imminent heat. Keeping in mind the agenda of the day she carefully organized in her bag all the tools she was about to need for the shopping and ran on the street in order to catch the tram 65 for downtown, which was, at that hour, already quite busy.
The city of N was perched along and at different heights of the slopes of 3 hills, marking with a waving flow to the urban texture. The route of the tram enfolded the major one of them, giving to the morning passengers a breathtaking view of the seaside. Where Ewa lived, was a geographic site characterized by special circumstances, indeed the course of human history there, was very much entangled in the mysteries of nature, while ruled by natural phenomenons and environmental disaster. A massive active Volcano located just a few kilometers away from the metropolitan center, had intertwined more than human rules of humbleness in the coastal inhabitants. The gigantic presence, establishing the law of the eternal return, was worshipped as symbols of interconnectedness between different states: the liquid nucleus of the earth and the vaporosity of the clouds. The composition of the soil, which used to be the allocation of their agricultural cultivations, used to be extraordinarily fertile due to its marriage with the dry rare magmatic substances and rocks coming from the lavic womb of the earth. Indeed the Volcano regularly sedimented with new strata of organic matter in the thick layer of the land, preserved its quality and assured its chemical balanceness. The lives of the community of N, placed in a boiling cauldron of life and death, followed the pace of telluric movements stitched together by the roots of secular trees and beneficial vapours injected in the air from the volcanic conduits. They, witnessing under the shape of the lavic eruption, the constant mutation of the matter and its adaptability, were familiar with the precariousness of life and its continuity with the mysteries of nature coevolution.
But just a century before, for the first time in N history, a matter of concern shaped in land and human abuse had intruded their harmonious relationship with the surrounding. In a planetary fashion it was not news, indeed in the most industrialized and economically developed countries climate recalibration was already occurring regularly under the form of small, but catastrophic events as response to an only-anthropocentric version of the planet. Those consistent shifts mirrored humanity with its own exceptionalism and affective power, forcing it to negotiate survival strategies, not enjoyment prophecies. Whether the atmospheric pollution was more sensorially evident, and bodily affective, all those polluting activities taking place on the lands, had influenced the crust of the earth, infiltrating it with venomous proliferating agents. Fossil fuels, governing the movements of goods and the life of people, not the rotatory spin of the earth around the sun, played a messy game of atmospheric confusion, ruling the seasons and the agriculture systems.
Inevitably the predatory hand of economic pursuit, scouting for virgin lands to colonize, found in the coastal area a promising new geography to prey on. The run for progress, blind to the exploitation staining all the aspects of life, moved from the northern hemisphere further south, causing the incremental saturation of the air with CO2. The decentralization of industrial activities to the southern area, where the resources seemed infinite and the cost of labor lower, didn’t guarantee the local inhabitants or to the environment any rights.
During the last decade of the 21st century the relationship between the communities of N and the environment was jeopardized, when along the cultivated grass field of the coast, settled the epicenter of the Farm-Industrial Area of the Mediterranean.
That happened many generations before Ewa’s, but she could recall when in her childhood during the educational cycles, the Memories Disseminator, an artificial intelligence fed by centuries of voices and experiences, told about that destructive historical event as a violent cornerstone for their population.
This imposition arrived under the shield of innovation, whereas we, trustworthy, local people weren’t given the chance to reply or act against it. Indeed the advertisements promoted this new endeavour as the chance of an effortless lifestyle, where humans could finally become owners of their existence, distrusting any non-human outer agent, explained Miss Farsight, the human-shaped embodiment of the collective AI memory, cuddling a big yellow cat nested on her legs and sipping a chamomile from a big cup.
The population was used to a slower lifestyle orchestrated around a natural pace, where the rhythms of the local production varied accordingly to the generosity of the land and the mastering of its secrets. Contrary, the industrial agriculture system of the FIAM was not based on the understanding of biodynamic processes; rather, the imposition of a collection of extractive tools. The extractive new paradigm saw the land as a machine and nature as dead matter. It was not the mutual balance with the environment anymore, but a new technological solidarity with economics and a vision of the land as resources to be exploited, that established the pace of their human needs. This new fashion immersed the communities of N in an alluring synthetic consumption flux in order to dispose of all the overproduced materials.
And at that point in the narrative Miss Farsight used to turn on the 3D holographic machine disturbing the sleeping cat. A massive unfriendly complex of buildings, chimneys, containers and tanks, spread all over the coast materialized in the middle of the room, where Ewa and other kids were absorbed and scared by the narrative.
Taking a dramatic breath she would have continued thinking her voice tonality, Look kids, this is The Farm-Industrial Area of the Mediterranean, isn’t it monstrous. It confined the growing/breeding production in the countryside, widened the distances between growing process and consumption chain and derealized its deep connection with climatic and environmental factors. This new industrial paradigm of agriculture during times had become one of the major factors causing greenhouse gas emissions. Fertilizers production, farm machinery, intensive production and wastefully transportation of the food across the country contributed to carbon emissions overproduction.
Can you imagine kids, all the bees got exterminated, not even scary hornets survived, since pesticides, not cross pollinations, were the trajectories of an economy based on the law of abuse and commodities production. Chemical agents treating lives as a threat to plantation growth and seeds engineered in laboratories in order to react to chemicals, created an entirely new type of pollution, disastrously impacting plants and animals, human health, and the livelihoods of farmers, communities and biodiversity. She would have taken from a basket a series of candies wrapped in plastic and offered them to the kids. This was the taste of most of all the edible food. Does it resemble to you something you have ever seen in nature? They chewed super sweet unknown flavours.
Alimentaries of all genres, if produced intensively and detached from the natural cycles of growth and the knowledge of inland farmers, have this taste.
What about the farmers? Asked Florencia, an empathic kid that in her adulthood would have devoted her life to human rights.
At that point of the story Miss Farsight used to weep, and quite stressed, grabbed again the cat, nervously and intensely cuddling her fur.
The few employed as workers in the intensive farm industries, unused to the saturated air quality, were affected by lung cancers and cardiac diseases provoked by the increase of volatile particles, and died. All the wealth created by the economic exchanges was not benefitting the majority of people, but the greed of an elite ruling class. The phenomenon of working-class-murder and environmental recklessness for productivity’s sake was therefore the main trait and the symptom of a rotting environmental process.
You know what happened then? She asked the tense crowd of children in front of her. The Vulcano manifested its potency over humans, and while saying so her posture became more elevated and confident.
The Volcanic Observatory Oracle, invoking its telluric power in order to sabotage the settlement of the FIAM, succeeded in a bloody-lavic coalition. A massive explosion caused a tsunami which reaching the coast, destroyed the industries located there. The tsunami dispossessed the invader but revolted the natural landscape and melted the familiar order of things, displacing living organisms and flooding part of the coast. At that point she would have turned on the huge space ventilator and would have pointed outside the window at the flooded portion of the coast, which used to be fertile soil and now a perennial swamp.
And you know how we live now.
The consequence of this land abuse – and the destructive mightiness of nature – had been unexpected and contrasting. Due to the new warmth, caused by greenhouse emissions, the wind had disappeared, blocked by walls of heavy warm air, causing the stagnation of the aerial realm. On the terrestrial side, the soil, soaked in sea water, was hardened by the salty crystallization and couldn’t dry up.
Indeed the inhabitants of N, now needed to face the contrast occurrence of drought and humidity without rainfall, within the same geographical area. They become a population of the dusk and the dawn, since the humid atmosphere and warm temperature worsen by the absence of refreshing storms brought by the wind, or refrigeration carried by cold currents made daily hours impossible to live.
In order to adapt to the new vastly changed environment and wary of not falling back in land abuses, the communities of the city of N, engineered -via articulated technological infrastructures- the rebahlanciation between all the realms of life. They tried to reenact a relationship of mutuality, adopting technologies which could emulate the lost fluidity and equilibrium of their coastal ecosystem. Fields of solar panels were employed in order to produce clean energy from the most abundant source of warmth, evaporation systems were employed in order to irrigate and furnish water to the city, via self-desalinating pipelines. New sustainable systems of living were experimented through the help of biologized machines, technologies infused with sentient qualities, which could detect beforehand any alteration in the strata of life. They experimented with new forms of political building, claiming equal rights not only for human bodies, but for broader and ancient cosmological practices, which strived to connect transtemporal knowledges.
We can say that everything is human, in order to treat the wholeness of matter equally and to bring closer through the language what we can’t grasp, but nothing is only human if we observe its molecular composition, Ewa’s mother used to say. Through a process of constant negotiation, they broke down the individualistic and egocentric sense of the self, and opened up the notion of humanity to a sense of interdependence between human, non-human and differently sentient beings.
Indeed and foremost, among the metropolitan and rural societies, a collaborative project was established. Emulating the liminal character of the coast, an ecotone zone of transition between the water and the land, the communities organized a production chain strictly devoted to evolutive interconnection. More together, locally engaged and responsible, exchanging a continuous flux of knowledge, the swamp farmers and post-disaster technicians sealed an unwritten deal of mutuality. Agreeing on moral values of balance they were providers for heartfelt and healthy nourishment from the flooded land, and researchers of technological possibilities in order to achieve a better structural dialogue from the land traumatized by the human hand and by the explosion of the volcano. Activating the process of the sodality between seeds and soil, soils and animals, insects and air, fishes and water, water and crops, crops and vegetables, vegetables and humans.
Pushing her forehead on the cold window of the tram 65, Ewa could feel the volcanic shape in her peripheral gaze; its purple black solid mass was omnipresently visible from each street of the city center and was a memento of situatedness. Ewa draws her eyes in the colour palette of the landscape, which that July morning was enveloped by a light mist of shimmering pink. The city was already active when she jumped out of the tram and moved toward the market square. The noises of people busy with the early morning activities echoed in daily gestures in the neighborhood of the Historical Center, while the sunlight was worming its way among the empty spaces within the various architectures of the stands, caressing the faces of the first shoppers and casting the market in a set-like light. Entering the market square Ewa observed a group of people occupied in a Tai Chi practice of attunement, waving their hands around their bodies with broad, slow ritualistic gestures, as lazy demiurges of their atmosphere, and she felt fascinated and moved by a sense of gratitude for the spectacle of life. She had always thought of the dynamics of the common space of the city as her battlefield and her ecosystem, where many unexpected trails could materialize and where the voices of the many could coalesce in choirs. Each street for her was a synecdoche of the society itself, where the right to diversity was the claim of freedom.
Indeed Ewa was a big supporter of the Clusterem committee whose ethical campaign and practice promoted the granular meadow thinking in order to systematized a solution for their environmental condition. The manifesto said a meadow is more than a meadow, but a puzzle of worlds that come together in order to meadowize a space. A meadow as an open habitat, or land, vegetated by grass, herbs and other non-woody plants, insects, animals and air, sparsely covered with trees or shrubs, needs to maintain an open character given by the sum total of the co-operation and competition of its diversity. Thereby the city of N was a climate positive environment, which tried to repair the life-support system of the land, resilient to disruption, where all the habitations and business were adaptable green pods with a zero or low carbon emission: they tried to regenerate more than use.
The ownership of the city was of its inhabitants in measure of their commitment to practice and take care of it. Public spaces and services were no longer transitional junctures, but true commons, where people could meet purposeless, and generate shared experience, discourses, build collective memories, and design the space itself according to their needs. N was not just made of streets and buildings, and squares, and parks, and gardens, and bridges, it was not a container, but a bonanza of networks moved not exclusively by the collaboration of people inhabiting it, but the spontaneous shrub growing between the gaps, the seagulls nesting on the windowpanes and occasionally ravaging in the biotrash, the micro robot incharge of collecting shiny dusts.
That day Ewa, inspired by the colours of the surroundings and the latent worry for her olfactory gustatory system, had decided to consciously practice gentleness. An attribute she would have always desired to give and receive, especially when feeling a bit bodily weak, but contrasted with her stubbornness. Ewa placed herself at the center of the market, and took the pose of a diva on a stage, feeling her body as an attractor and catalyst of potentialities. Her presence was -after all- the synonym of agency, of seeing through the space and of shaping the tiny structures which glued together a society. She could define the feeling as an awareness of the spaces within things, the opalescent vibration created by the intrusion of a different kind of breath inside human habitats.
And she was committed to preserve and deepen the complexity.
She gazed around in order to meet the eyes of someone she had an appointment with, a witchy companion, but there was no sign of that person yet. She waited for a few minutes, but then decided to go ahead with her market experience. She thought Mila would call me when she will be here, and she knew her friend wouldn’t have minded if she started shopping without her. Relieved by the waiting Ewa moved in the direction of the Cream stand, a pink pastel colour designed bubble, which curvy design and mellow decorative palettes didn’t represent the explosive tastes of the products sold there. She stood in front of it and observed the daily menu above the vendor table offering brand new recipes and smiled at the totally-red-dressed Japanese girl behind it. Ciao Apolline, good morning my jolie, how are you? I brought you back the glasses from last week and she placed her silk tote bag on the counter in front of the woman and started to pick from its inside a set of small vases and jars.
The girl didn’t give Ewa the time to empty the bag before, she grabbed from Ewa’s hand, the pale blue jar adorned by floreal inlays, and rolling her eyes, as she always did when she was surprised, she placed it beside the lacquered surface of the table. What are you, tiny thing?, she talked to herself – Hi Ewa, I couldn’t remember I sold one of my precious creams inside of it, you know usually I don’t borrow blue jars as a product container, they are not good for the blend inside of them.
Aw, Sorry Apolline I didn’t pay attention to it, but I can assure that the cranberry mousse was splendid as always, indeed I am here also to buy 500 g more of it. As you can see I have already emptied the jar, no matter its colour.
Happy you enjoyed it, but promise me you won’t eat any of my recipes inside blu jars, please. How many times do I need to tell you that the cold colours catalyze negative energies? She was starting to get agitated, You know it doesn’t make any sense to eat my creams if the negative energy induced by blue glass pollutes them.
Apolline’s stand was specialized in red-toned-cream-based desserts as she was a confident believer in the interaction between ingredients and colour. Ewa liked to speak with her about synesthetic phenomenons, the smells of colours, and taste of smells each time she bought something at the stand, but that day, her schedule already in delay due to her nasal numbness and Mila not showing up to the market, made her be in a hurry, also for the ATI.
I will Apolline, Ewa assured her, and sorry for not following your instructions, but really the mousse was a hyper sensorial experience. I could taste each ingredient perfectly mixed into a cloud like consistency. Also on the daily offers there is the arbutus infused in strawberry gelee, I am very intrigued by it. Can I have a serving? And do you have something spicy? I need to find a decongestant therapy for my nose.
Apolline, took from a yellow jar the ruby arbutus infused in strawberry gelee and from a cubic orange jar something that looked like glossy marmalade. What is it? Ewa inquired, Well you asked for something spicy and I will give you my special project, a recipe I am just experimenting with. It is a squash and calabrese pepper coulis, the pepper comes from Anatol cultivation inherited by her uncle Antonio, it is not so distant from the crater of the Volcano, it heats as much as the lava. But, I suggest combining it with a refreshing or sour taste, maybe a fine sliced pompelmo tartare, Apolline replied while generously pouring the coulis and placing it in vermillion pot, then she licked the spoon. Her face blushed while her body was rippled with a tiny thrill of pleasure, that she tried to hide suddenly behaving busy in putting away the blended mixes. She was one of those people who prefer relations with taste to relations with things: a real sweet tooth. Often Ewa had wondered if in front of a life choice between a bite of dark chocolate cake or the kiss of her soulmate she would have picked the first one, but maybe those attributes were essentially inseparable for Apolline. Someone can prefer non-human relations by those with her same species.
Ewa placed the refilled jars in her bag and was about to pick her phone for e-paying when Apolline, whose face was back to its normal color, stopped her. Nah, don’t worry Ewa, the jasmine extract you gave me last week repays those creams, we will exchange money next time.
The decentralized social solidarity economic systems, which diversified currencies and systems of exchange, was a fresh scenario for people such as her, for whom the value of life was measured more in bodily bonds, gifts and sensations than in banknotes and assets. Its’ principles were an ethical and value-based approach to economic development that prioritizes the wellbeing of people and planet, over profits and blind growth. That exchange system gave a good margin of expression to people like her, who would have had, in a profit based economy, a struggle to survive. Indeed her attribute of “smeller” was not exactly a skill socially evaluated in terms of production, although her nose was one of the fines in town. As scent trail collector her currency was the untold preciousness of connections, the affective and invisible infrastructure of life, much more powerful than any other institutions. And from this bodily need of connecting value, the social agency had pushed in the direction of the SSES which gave ordinary people an active role in shaping also the economic dimension of human exchange.
Therefore when she recognized that Apolline was on her same page, she delightedly nodded and thanked her. Lovely, have a vibrant day and will let you know about the new tastes with no blues connected.
While walking away she checked her phone, at that point Mila was very late. A guilty message revealed that she was still in bed with a disturbing headache, probably caused by the abundance of wine consumed the night before. Ewa flowed with a specific state and tried to not be negatively affected by Mila disorganization, although she was enthusiastic to meet her companion. She replied to the message with irony, sharing the song “All night passion” in order to defuse her friend’s growing habits to live accelerated during the night, while indulging in bed all day. Ewa had always considered Mila the ghostly version of herself, the keepers of dreams of darkness and the only soul always awake and keen to deliver suggestions during an insomniac night or diluish melancholic oriented insecurities. Ewa had talked to her many times regarding her reluctance to show up under the daylight, she suspected that for Mila, coming from a history of racial inequalities, the shadows were shields and the jurisdiction for enhancing a sort of differential politic. Indeed she used to say, quoting a collective of artists make politics work when it is dark, learn to read signs in torchlight, work with night vision.
Mila was the only and unquestioned artistic director of the NWAD, a district building with fully darkened rooms, which brought together in messy, but resonating clusters human and non human objects, written knowledges, arts, ununderstandable foundings to be explored following candle lights and intuitions. We need to be present in the unknown, and if we feel disoriented we need to scout our own coordinates in order to make order, to find our answers and your compound of heritages. As a space of culture at NWAD we need to institute practices learning from lost movements, we can give some handholds to clamp on or clues to resolve trauma, but not the methods. We need to learn complexity by the variety of them. A bee inside the building gets lost and scared, so we need to respect if a beehive coagulates on the shoulder of a marble statue. A hive is a surviving mechanism and a cultural method of society making.
Indeed Ewa would have never blamed her. Some creatures on the earth gleam and are prone for nocturnal activities more than others, and speaking bluntly they are very needed in order to witness what otherwise would be hidden by the disappearance of the sun or the shady blue of the ocean.
But the sun was getting higher and she fixed the bag on her shoulder and moved forward to the next stopover of her shopping: PowderSpeculation. She needed to stop for a few minutes since a sudden electric pain running from the nostril worsened the latent feeling of sensorial displacement. She squeezed the nostrils between her fingers, and releasing them inhaled as much air as she could. Its humidity penetrated her lungs without giving her back any scented experience, what a strange and terrifying sensation. She searched in her bag for something that could have given her any help. There were many unguents, dried leaves wrapped in pieces of textiles, keys, lipstick, but apart from a pair of moon shaped sunglasses and a capsule of ginger extract she couldn’t find anything of interest. Connecting those symptoms to a more familiar migraine she wore the moon glasses hoping at least in the relief of the darker shade of the lens and left the ginger for another occasion.
The two people co-managing the powder stands were eclectic and blunt, always matching the patterns of their outfits, and arguing between each other as a way of collaborating. They were the evidence that plurality is much better than individuality. When they saw Ewa walking in front of them in unison exclaimed Are you sick honey? She got surprised since wearing the moon-shaped glasses was more a manifesto for mundanity than an index of pain, indeed she frantically replied Why so?
Well you look wrinkled, but not as someone you love has kept you close, or loud music has made your energy flow all night, more as you have worked too much or something is outshining your body. She got anxious, what a grey diagnosis. Well I think I am in the midst of a migraine that is shrinking my sense of smell, and you know how it is important for me. They looked at her pretty seriously and asked if she had taken care of the hygiene of her nose following her daily routine, and she had. Well, we suggest some melissa and cards powder, you will just need to wait for a few minutes, we need to give you the soluble version of it. They said maliciously, we know you don’t want to clog up your nasal cavity with anything, although often it’s the fastest way.
All right I will wait, but not for too long today, my schedule had already exploded once. Anyway I had brought to you the deep sea sponge you had asked me. I think I had never smelled something so strongly evocative of the submerged world. It is very special. During the process of drying all the salt crystals and organisms of which it was soaked dried with it.
She dug the pockets of her dress and from the right one she brought to light an amorphous porous stone-like object. It was as big as the palm of her hand and some of its edges were a bit crumbled from the rubbing with the textile of the dress. The bottom of her pocket now was full of fine sponge dust, a sandy sea sensation under her fingers.
She pounded its feather like weight then she smelled it, although the numbness of her olfactory receptors, a pale memory of her discovery materialized in front of her. She had collected the sponge during an excursion along the rocky northern mountain sides of the Volcano. The geographical site was the embodiment of the memory of the sea, a cemetery of transitional corpses. Indeed that northern coastal zone was never regenerated by the lavic flux, since the hotspots of the conical craters were channeled in valleys and volcanic domes in the west-south slope of the boiling mountain. There the sea erosion, unshielded aggressively by the lava, had shaped it in a lunar landscape where the pallor of shellfish fossils blended the nuances of sea moss growing on the basalt stones.
Indeed the sea tide, often worked up by the submerged lava paths, crashed on the coast under the shape of a boiling foam, carrying with it many unfortunate fishes and molluscs and made it likely to find sea inhabitants nested within lavic rocks.
Ewa enjoyed to stroll in that improbable space during full moon nights and invoke the ghosts of many generations of fishes, those which feast in the deepest of the ocean, where the great absences from the human understanding are.
It smells of life and rotten and slime, and salt, and seaweeds and the voices of the whales, please use it with caution, she says. They didn’t reply in words, but wore static gloves and meticulously organized in front of her a basic laboratory.
All excited, they had forgotten they had a customer in a hurry in front of them. And before Ewa could react against this lack of attention, Hyacinth couldn’t wait anymore and reached for the dried sponge and placed it on a ceramic bowl, supported by a glass structure, which bottom was shaped in a funnel ending on a round mirror. Simon extracted from the drawer behind their shoulder a tiny pearl-handled lime. He minutely started to file the edge of its upper corner, the dried sponge didn’t resist the friction and mutated in fine colorless dust, landing, through the funnel of the bowl, on the round mirror. Ewa witnessing the procedure, was fascinated by the morphology of the matter, the same sea sponge materializing its essence in different properties: wet softness first, dried up hardness, and finally friability challenged by the lime.
Hyacinth took the tiniest spoon Ewa had ever seen and collected the sponge filings in a sifter. In the meanwhile Simon had unpacked from its paper bag a fragrant loaf of bread, cut three slices from it and coated it with generous margarine. They flavored it with the sponge filings and offered to Ewa the third oval piece of bakery.
She hesitated, Ewa didn’t expect them to employ the sponge for edible reasons, but she trusted their confidence and she took it.
They toasted with their slices, causing a small storm of flour, and bit away a portion. It took them several minutes of mandibular movements before they swallowed the gulp. She didn’t say anything, minutes grains grasping her tongue, rocky feeling inside her mouth. It was not pleasant at all, but in any case her sense of the taste was weaker due to the nasal occlusion. Relying on their finer buds, she looked at them as a kid waiting for the opinion of her idols, but she didn’t swallow the sandy-spongy snack. She really couldn’t and gently spit it in a piece of the paper bag she had managed to reach without being seen.
I believe that a pinch of grated nutmeg could emphasize its acidity by contrast, said Simon, finally breaking the silence interrupted only by munching. Hyacinth nodded, Yess, the spicy and sweet and round flavour of it, that sticks in the nose, would blend the strong notes of the saline crystallizations.
Simon handled a silver spice rack and generously sprinkled the half left slice of bread.
Ewa oral cavity still felt a sandy cave, Are you sure is it edible? My tongue feels a dusty carpet and my teeth are still grinding dried sponge particles and I am wondering which would be the consequences on my digestive system.
Oh no no, don’t get us wrong darling, we are going to sell it as an edible product just for fine palates and visionary stomachs. We have a group of powders collectors who always get intrigued by rare condiments and taste challenges. In any case this merchandise, unique and limited, is going to be sold with a specific package insert. We have no intention to pollute anybody, but we can’t either control what people are going to do with it. They concluded snickering.
Ewa involuntarily moved her hand on her belly, trying to sense any changes in her digestive organs. She imagined her intestine becoming a coral reef, and suddenly took from her bag the ginger extract left unconsumed before. Let’s clean up this sensation she thought between herself and chugged the liquid. What was supposed to be a bomb of spice ran up and down her stomach reaching her nose, and though she couldn’t feel anything, the muscles of her face involuntarily contracted. Hyacinth and Simon laughed pointing at her, look at your face, you look like a baby approaching for the first time a sour lemon.
All their concern about her health had vanished, probably caused by the sea sponge powder, whose effects were stomach psychedelic.
She understood that she needed to hold back and reformulate her request.
Sirs please can you compose yourselves, can I have my melissa and card powder any time soon? She asked now a bit annoyed from this hilarity around her.
They kept chuckling and told her that in 30 minutes her mixture would be ready. I hope in 30 minutes they are going to sober up, she thought, but recalling her purpose of gentleness she agreed with them and said goodbye, All right, see you in half an hour then.
She kept browsing stand after stand, but not pausing on them, sometimes waving the hand to the people behind the counters. Her mind was all absorbed now by her olfactory disease. Suddenly the notification on her phone chimed: a video message by an encrypted number of one of her nerdy colleagues popped on the screen. The moving image of the half bust of Kadil starts to interact, Hey Ewa, ¿dónde estás? We are perceiving some alien atmosphere hovering in our region. Can you believe it? It’s difficult to track its provenance and even more to define its chemical composition, but it’s going to affect our environment for sure. Don’t want to alarm you, it can also be beneficial, but please get in touch as soon as you can.
Ok Kadil, she thought, but with no intention to rush in a work meeting there in the market and especially with him, the most apocalyptic of the team.
She decided to take a break in order to wait for her powder and thinking about Kadil’s message lazily sat on her favourite bench close to the wind commemorative composition, one of the most solemn sites of the market. The site was outside the circle of the stands, in the western corner of the square, where a tiny street which connected it to the sea was supposed to be the conduit of the wind. It was a fine assemblage of aerostatic kites of various shapes, floating untethered in memory of the breeze of the Levant, the East Wind. Ewa used to go there in search of silence and inspiration since she belonged to that wind in terms of destiny: she was an EW.
In ancient times in the city of N every baby born had a special bond with a natural phenomenon, indeed each human was named via a root-syllable after a different seasonal factor. This decision was taken in order to scale human determinism to a wider gratitude for what couldn’t be controlled but shapes the concert of life: change.
Indeed during their growth, they could develop their names, adding a suffix or a prefix to their primary syllable, following a specific intention of attunement to life.
Many of Ewa’s great relatives such as her great-grandmother and her godmother were born when the East Wind, with all its smells and seeds, was blowing, establishing their extraordinary possible commitment to the future. Indeed traditionally humans born with East Wind, influenced by its connection with fertility and refreshing rain, particularly beneficial to agriculture were gifted by the sensitivity of enabling the underlying connections between human needs and other realms of existence, taking care of reunifying all the worlds involved in it.
Although that tradition was obsolete, especially because the climatic phenomenon of the wind having disappeared, Ewa carried her syllable proudly. Being an EW was a metropolitan myth, but for the generations prior to hers, being related to the Levant, was a real life mission in order to contrast the extractive stronghold imposed on the land by the FIAM.
Drawing on those memories Ewa had almost forgotten the time passing by. She stood up from the bench and walked back to PowderSpeculation. A big neon label signaled that Hyacinth and Simon were not there temporarily, but she could scout a box labeled with her name. They hadn’t forgotten. She opened it and wrapped in tissue paper there was her lilac powder.
Great! She exclaimed, strengthened by the kept promise, then she checked the time.
It was 10.45 am, she still had 1 hour before the ATI cycle to start, and soon the heat would have made it impossible to be outside. So she decided to hydratate herself with a hand-pressed pomegranate juice and to find refreshment in the world of flowers. The Boundforever stand looked like a glasshouse from which wall structures were hung upside down, different types of dried flowers in a bizarre revert meadow, while its floor was made of tender soil, from which many bulbs, bushes and plants were growing.
Nobody was running it, if not the shy teenager gardener in charge of refilling the stock of seeds when all was gone, picked by the hand of the market walkers.
It’s much better for plants to stay together and not be separated in different vessels. Only in connection they can communicate between each other via their root systems and grow faster and better. Indeed here at Boundforever we are trying to avoid the loneliness of the plants for human’s decorative sakes, had explained to her the boy, the first time she had approached the entrance of the glasshouse. When he saw Ewa that morning, closed the comic he was reading and said hi, while handing to her, before she could even ask, a scissor and a basket, where to place her collection of branches and flowers. This morning it has been already quite busy, be sensitive to not take too many blossoms, so that the next customers can benefit from some flowers as well, he added and while saying so, directing his eyes back on the images of the magazine. Thank you boy, I will respect the next ones and the generosity of this glasshouse.
Then she walked inside the structure where the temperature was lower than that shedded by the sunlight, she kneeled down in the middle of the fresh flowers and observed them from a closer perspective. She regretted not having implanted yet the hand sensor, she could have detected it if her presence was agitating them too much. It was a biogadget categorized under the label of cohabiting human services, activated by a nanosensor implanted on the fingertips of the hand which connected its tendons to a stack of hacked nerves responsible for the visual memory. The finger sensor gave back a layer of sensual depth to the memory through the stimula activated by touch: texture, temperature.
The hands indeed as multi functioning tools, employable for grabbing, holding, digging, sensing, measuring could also serve as atmospheric thermometers, and in such a heated climates, perceiving over warmed spots could have been life saving. But for many the handscreen was a poetical meaning for disposing of a new set of complexer memories through a fine process of sensorial archiving, adding a layer of mnemonic depth and sensorial understanding of occurrences.
She wanted to compose a simple bouquet with wild flowers, nothing too baroque or crafted, which could fit the summer atmosphere. She pointed to a bush of medium size daisies and weeds and caressed their stems. Ewa felt them making a small resistance but then whispering to her touch, surrendered to the scissor blades, gently falling in the basket. She noticed that one of them was entangled by a spider web to the petals of a neighbor asphodelus. She decided to keep this flower-insect sodality and picked up both, careful to don’t destroy the iridescent knotting of the spider.
The asphodelus is going to enliven the composition, she thought, observing the flower, held in a much-branched florescence that slightly resembled a wonky candelabra, soaring on the delicate whiteness of the daisy. She wrapped the discrete bouquet in a piece of waxed linen textile she found in her bag, and happy of her picks left in the basket, to the boy guardian of the flowers, a few coins, few violets seeds and a well made print illustrating the evolutive phases of a caterpillar. Goodbye and many thanks, he said, taking the basket from her hand, but still absorbed by his readings.
She was satisfied with her bounty and was about time to leave for the ATI cycles when her phone started to ring. It was Kadil again.
Yess Kadil, I received your video message 30 mins ago… I am not undervaluing the situation, but today my nose is not working and I can’t really sense anything, she frantically said to the speaker.
Right Ewa, but how many times should I tell you to give signs when you receive our communications? Sometimes I have the feeling you are not interested in team working, or at least in working with me, and you proceed on your own path.
She didn’t know why he wanted to initiate a complaint, he was the last to have landed at the SABF and since the beginning he was very welcomed and treated as the relevant person and friend he was. Working in a team, for the SABF crew, meant to take on board people first, place their weakness in the light of strength and then acknowledge them as professionals. Kadil was a diamond in cultivation devices, but awkward in terms of human understanding. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which made it much more difficult to read other’s moods, nonetheless he was always very wary of everyone’s needs and organized tasty communal lunches in order to mutually learn how to deal with incomprension. Since he was part of the team there was a lot more cohesion and attentiveness in communication, a goal they were trying to achieve as a group and as a small community.
Indeed she felt a bit bad, she didn’t want to cause him any stress, keeping in mind how sensitive he was.
C’mon Kadil, I am very sorry, don’t be so worried, next time I will reply to you immediately. But please notice that today is my day off, and I am fully entitled to not pick up any working calls. Anyways I can be at the SABF in the early evening and we can figure out what is going on together. Would you mind gathering all the others, so we can write down a report? Maybe the thermic death of the universe is finally happening and we need to be the first witnesses. She replied, trying to be assuring, while funnily playing it down.
Do you want me to send a circular message to the others with the data I have been collecting since yesterday evening? he asked.
Do as you feel, you know that your analytics are pretty cryptic for the most of us, but I will try to have a look before being there. Thank you so much for your precision, she added, now moved by a sense of proudness for the professionality of his colleague.
The voice at the other side of the phone, become calmer, Allright, see you in a few hours, and enjoy the free time you have left.
Ewa and her peers Kadil, Angela, Idrani and Aodh, had initiated the Soil Air Botanical Forests as a sophisticated ecosystem, during their university years and kept it as a service for the community after its end. The SABF were a pilot project developed in order to serve a threefold purpose: a purifying system for the air from the residual green gas emissions of the FIAM, draining and balancing technology for the portion of the coastal land still flooded by the tsunami, and a botanical experiment in order to grow better on that traumatized land. The team had built it employing the upcycled materials dismantled from the ruins of the FIAM center and the data storage facilities scattered around the coastal countryside, while adopting biological agrotechnologies of nutrient management.
The group of agro-systemic practitioners had articulated in the SABF a three strata engine, trying to break down the interdependence between elements in cultivation chains. They teamed up for skills, attitude and interests, and placed themself as guardians of each layer.
Due to the absence of the wind the biological community of interacting organisms, exposed to the process of salinization given by the sea water, becoming hydro repellent kept all the water, soaking the soil in a swamp. The liquid molecules, inversely proportional to the air, had filled the soil pores blocking the repopulation of microorganisms vital to the release of nutrients for the plants to grow.
Angela and Idrani, the two soil scientists and the more material ones, were in charge of taking care of the first layer, the soil. Angela was specialized in Edaphology, which studied the influence of soils on living things, while Idrani in Pedology, the analysis of the formation, description, and classification of soils in their natural environment.
The two women, taking distance from the traditional empirical scientific method, spent hours listening to its memory and needs, detecting any vibrations or absorption via sound trackers, while their isolating suits protected their body from the traumatic humidity and the mud bacterias that were intoxicating the land.
We are the mermaids of the terrain, they said, lazily caressing the particulated ground and dirtying up their face with it. Weee neeeed timeee tooo reeest, weee neeeed timeee tooo compouuuund up, one day weee will layeeer uuup on the bedrock of Maaaars, they sang dragging the vocals of the words, while generously spreading, along the altered and soaked field lavic ashes, droplets of mushroom spores, and limestone dust. The mycorrhizal symbiosis with fungus, disrupted by the volcanic flood, was beneficial and contributed to the growth of the plants by allowing the absorption of basic mineral nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Limestones, on the other hand, were a praxis for potential carbon dioxide removal, largely employed in procedures of Enhanced Rock Weathering, a natural technology that enabled the dissolution of silicate minerals such as basalt through the spreading of finely crushed rocks on fields.
While the soil was cared for by Angela and Idrani in collaboration with rocks and spores, Kadil and Aodh, named Plant Practitioners, experimented in cultivation systems in the upper and third layer. They had engineered aeroponic architectures, a technique that isolated plants from the soil and placed them several meters from it, in order to facilitate the soil ventilation via networks of interconnected soil pores. Aeroponic was a nutrient-laden mist process, where botanical forms of life, seeded in organic foams, with their roots dangling in the air, could be nourished without any soil mediation. The organic carbon held in the healing soil, released in the atmosphere through the process of respiration carried out by heterotrophic organisms, gave the right amount of oxygenation needed to the plant roots without a massive intervention of human hands.
Kadil and Aodh were conducting experiments with edible plants, in order to create another effective connection with the cultivation. Can you imagine the taste of something growing up from the clouds? Sometimes they speculate, while constantly walking with their heads up, carefully avoiding to step on Angela and Idrani. Holding sophisticated vaporizers containing PH neutral water enriched with salts and minerals, they tickle the root systems of the plants with the fingers, intersecting their limbs with the vegetal knotting.
Many times the irrigating procedure turned into water battles, where everyone, not only the plants, was enjoying the skin hydration given by the vaporized water.
Indeed among this experimental playful fashion, the air-based cultivated ears of wheat were growing healthy and golden, and their grains were employed by many local bakers for the traditional coastal wheat bread.
Ewa, as mediator between those states, took care of the median layer, the cocooned atmosphere between the intricate web of roots and the ground, resulting in the intertwining of the cerulean color of the air and the nuances of the grades of purple shadows. That second-nature strata was where she tested through her sense of the smell, familiarizing with soily and vegetal fragrances, the efficacy of the SABF structure in air filtering and atmospheric impurities removing. She benefited from the principle of wellbeing diffused by nature on the ventral vagal nervous system which raised feelings of connection and safety. Indeed sometimes she liked to organize their collective meditative sessions since the fresh humidity made bodily connection desirable, or more-than-human choirs enriching with a rainbow of voices an already dense soundscape of the buzz of insects, small mammals and the silent growth of the plants. Her function was indeed in perception.
Ewa hung up the call and moved forward to the station in order to catch the bus for the ATI cycle. She e-payed her tickets and found a place where she could lean the bounty from the market, giving special attention to the flower bouquet. After just a few stops of her ride she received a mail from Kadil, which was a cordial invitation to join the group meeting of the evening and an elaborated set of graphics and codes. She recognized that many parameters connected to CO2 saturation, which used to be under control since the volcano explosion, now were waving on lowest picks.
Curious, she thought, nothing relevant has changed in our lifestyles, nor in the ecosystem of our geographical neighborhood, but it’s also unlikely that Kadil is mistaking a study. He is right, something is shifting.
Just shortly after, the answers of the others started to land in her mailbox. Yess Yess, Yess, Yess, Yess, see you later, they all agreed.
She arrived at the center where the ATI was held, just in time to avoid the midday sun. The workshop consisted of active traditions inheritance, where people were sharing tools and knowledges, building ways to keep them updated, while leaving the individual room for interpretation and personalization. She pensively stepped inside the room where many people were already sitting sparsely on the carpeted floor and placed herself close to Miss Fernanda, who was committed to educating the group in lucid dreaming.
In the room, Ewa got distracted from the numbing nose symptom, the comfortable space was infusing in her a sense of relaxation that facilitated the power of her mind to strongly affect her body. Ewa was a regular of the workshop, everyone knew her, indeed she felt surprised by noticing the unfamiliar face of a new participant. She felt immediately caught up by an unusual belonging toward the stranger. They looked very bright and posed, ethereally dressed in many layers of mesh and their hairs were fully white although they looked still young. Ewa’s first impulse was to intensely smell them, but the voice of the first tradition teller impeded her to make a move. She was so distracted by this sensation of familiarity and comfortability that she couldn’t listen to any of the stories shared by the gentle group of people there present. The person she was intensely staring at, feeling her gaze on their shoulders, turned in her direction and made a nod with the head, she nodded back. Glad to have catched their attention, she felt like a reptile, an ectotherm unable to regulate her bodily heat, she shivered and sensed her body releasing warm feelings, heating up the room.
She wished they could have perceived them.
When it was their turn, the person introduced themself. Dear windless people of N, I am Dew, their voice was velvety, and I am going to ask you, rather than tell you, about the soil, they said, showing a glass vessel filled with a dark granulous material.
Can you all come closer to me? I need you to engage in an exercise. And their request felt just very natural, the space inside the room was dense of their flamboyant presence. Ewa jumped from her seat and moved first toward them, she felt like she needed to make a good impression.
Hi I am Ewa, what about that soil? She asked before any other gathered around, trying to institute a sort of bold intimacy.
You will see, but let’s wait for everyone to get closer. They said firmly, while unpacking around them a dozen soil vases.
When everyone gathered around, they said my request is a request of perceptions, a collection of impressions, a chain of grain. May I ask you, to stick a part of your body in the soils and allow yourself to feel a soil related sensation, maybe to think of yourself as an inhabitant or part of it.
What do you sense? Which colours, consistency, taste. Which seed would you be?
Ewa was perplexed, she recalled a short story her mom once read to her, Anne Richter’s The sleep of the plant, where the main character, a girl in the age of marriage, willing to become a vegetable, started to shelter her body under layers of soil, until she became a plant eventually. She remembered that the story of metamorphosis was for her at the edge of horror, because of the grey note of marriage imposition, not resilience. The lasting feeling emerging from the narrative was the uncomfortable perception of humidity the young protagonist would have felt on the naked body buried in the soily matter and the pain coming from her toes stretching in roots, all in order to escape from the patriarchal social institution.
She felt uncomfortable with the idea to cover a part of herself with soil, but she relied on her atmospheric heritage, in order to perceive something. She was curious to ask Dew why the soil was so important to them, but they anticipated her question.
I ask you this, Dew continued, because I would like you to think of the soil through the mind of a seed. I would be curious to understand how you would nest and grow inside this fundamental ground, especially under the light of your effort to restore a relationship of attunement with this land.
How much time do we have?, a dark eyed man named Benjamin, expert in timelapses, asked.
Take your time, you can also choose another soil, maybe a soil you are in love with, not necessarily this one I brought to you. If some of you want to stretch this exercise until the next ATI, you’re welcome to. But please enjoy the feeling. You can send me the materials via beaming or you can come directly to me.
The group of people nodded and a light chatter among the participants signed the consensus to start the exercise. Few left the room, chasing different soils, few others took the one Dew had provided to them, others decided to take more time for that unusual seed inheritance, picking up their stuff and moving outside the room, greeting the other participants.
The meeting of the day was all devoted to experiencing the excitement for something unthought. And also Ewa started to think about what she wanted to do, but acting faster than her, some people were already coming back from their moment of soil impressions.
Jurgis and Kim had chosen the potted soils and had headed around or outside the room. When they came back, smiling to each other, they gave Dew pieces of notes where they had transcribed their sensations.
Kim had thought about it while eating her snack, indeed her list was very much food related: dry and fair; Slightly hard, not crushed easily; The smell was covered by the savoury scent flowing from my lunchbox; Rice balls and Christmas cookies that came a bit early mixed with late autumn breeze; If I was a newborn critter passing by this soil for the first time, I would have thought this is how the soil is supposed to smell. After all, how can soil have its own scent unless it is trapped in a lab container? “Brown is a slow colour. It takes its time.”; Bunch of rice balls / underwater land where lazy seaweeds wave their long hair, busy creatures dance around and the waves of whales are not disturbed.
Jurgis instead, mirroring his pragmatic poetic precision had expressed himself with concise wording: Fluffy, crispy; Dens fragrant soap smell; Deep pink blue; Indescribably tasty!; Soft rocky seashore; invisible Ant; Deep Pacific ocean floor soil; Moisture.
Both Kim and Jurgis, had connected the terrestrial soil to the seabed and fondly passionate about music had embedded in their descriptions links to melodies:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w5i-4R0C9A – https://soundcloud.com/djesports/disconnect. Ewa looking at the scene, already knew that the two of them were made one for the other, but had decided to don’t say a word during the previous ATI, and leave feelings coalesce in time.
Dew seemed glad to have received already a vast spectrum of impressions. Also their phone started to be reached via beaming by multimedia contributions, that they immediately started to categorize and organize in the folder SIC on the ultra slim notebook they had hidden in a medium size hip bag.
Ewa, fascinated by how the ATI participants were responding to the request of the newcomer, had waited for the right moment to approach Dew, but when she thought the right time had arrived, she lingered because the nostril pain had come back. A dullness took over her right eyelid, causing a small paralysis of the right side of her face, she felt faint, her bone structure failing its mission of solidity, her gaze becoming opaque and darker. Luckily close to her collapsing body there was a chair that she reached just in time. Dew assisting at the scene, left the soil collection, and disappeared in the kitchen, shortly coming back with a big glass of water.
In my bag there should be a powder of melissa and cardus, can you help me to dilute it in the water?, she asked, feeling too weak to focus on them.
Yes, sure, are you fainting often? Dew asked, mixing the liquid, which colour had become indigo. She was confused and sipped from the glass, while finding herself repeating the mantra of the day, Not really, but it’s since this morning that I am dealing with unusual symptoms, which are causing the fading of the sense of the smell, and now this partial loss of consciousness. I think I need to go home and rest for a while, my day is still long.
Shall I come with you? They asked.
Their presence was already beneficial to her physical condition, and she believed the connection she had felt for Dew was mutual. Yes sure, I would feel a bit more secure to have someone guarding for me this time.
Alright let’s go, one, two, three and stand up. She managed to stand on her feet and hooked to Dew’s arm they walked out the building.
Where is your bike? they asked.
She looked at them. No, I am not at ease biking. I am sorry we will need to go by bus.
Ah ok, sorry I thought here everyone is biking, cycling lanes are very well planned. Well hold on, I will need to pick my bike up from around the corner where I had locked it, and carry it with me, where is the bus station?
It’s just over there, Ewa pointed across the street, where few people were waiting sitting on a bench. The next one will be in 10 minutes, she said gazing at the screen of her phone. If you don’t mind, I will wait for you there.
They didn’t, and disappeared on the left side of the building, while she found a seated next to a braided hair girl, who moved her feet to the invisible rhythm of a melody pumped by her tiny headphones. The vibrations of the loud volume were reaching her, she closed her eyelids, still feeling weakened by the sudden low energy.
The sky is always bright here, the voice of Dew reached her. They were carrying a white folding bicycle.
Yes it is. Now it’s also already crazy warm, I am sorry you need to carry it.
No worries, it’s very light.
They placed the bicycle, sized down in order to be handled easily, in front of Ewa. Try to lift it. He encouraged her. It was unbelievably light.
Oh wow, what is it made of? Is it solid enough to carry you around?She asked.
It’s structure is nano-graphene based, you know this material between graphite and diamond, super resistant, super elastic and super sustainable. Why don’t you bike?
Everyone was expecting her to bike.
Sometimes I like to be transported, as public transporters give me the chance to observe people in movement while steady. I like to stay with unknown bodies that head in my same direction, I like the idea of unintentional togetherness. But this is the poetic reason, bluntly and intrinsically I am lazy. Here in N, the hilly configuration doesn’t encourage me to bike, especially because public transports are very well functioning since propelled by solar energy.
So who are you? She finally asked, switching the conversation on a topic that was intriguing her much more than biking.
Dew looked surprised by this explicit and quite uncontextualized question. They adjusted the bike on the ground and laughing responded, I am a person, I mean, I already introduced myself to the group. Don’t you think it’s a bit awkward to ask in such a linguistic way to define identity? I am Dew now, but I am already different from who I was before meeting you, and will be different then. I am an adaptive being which resonates with my surroundings. I will answer your question saying that I am a with-person. And now I am with you, and I should ask the same, who you are?
They made a break, opened up a thermic pocket binded to the bike’s structure and took from it an ice cube. They offered Ewa one, it’s for refreshment and hydratation they say, while putting it in their mouth and melting it with their tongue.
They were right, she had taken for granted that the stranger between them was Dew, but she was new for them as much as they were for her. Ewa took one and surprisingly discovered that it was soft and not freezing at all. Weird thing.
I am Ewa Bakis, not very good at presenting myself either, I am a volatile being such as a fragrance, I think I am the product of sensual perception, the lovely atmosphere of the city and its inhabitants. I am the daughter of my mum and my mum is the universe. Ah and I am one of the finest noses in town. She dropped the most consistent things about herself while hesitated taking a big breath, Or at least I was.
Interesting. Dew said, and may I ask you which tradition inheritance are you trying to activate at the ATI?
I would like people to remember the smell of the winds. I would like them to get ready to sense it when the breeze will come back. One can read time through it, indeed it is the vehicle of pollination thereby rewilding, and the prophet for many atmospheric phenomenons happening. Have you ever thought of the wind as the connective odorous envelope of the earth? It bridges places, it embeds people, breathes and carries clouds that carry rain.
You know.. due to the homogeneous overheating of the terrestrial atmosphere this phenomenon has disappeared from our land. For this reason here the sky is always blue, what can be read as a mild climate is our ecological curse.
This is frightening especially since we are subjected to drought although the land is still partially submerged by salty water.
Dew pushed a lock of hairs behind their ear, and stared into space, they didn’t seem surprised.
I remember once when I was in the north, to have witnessed the rare phenomenon of wind currents generated from the clashing of the air with a rocky riverbed. That wind was very young and fresh, I had perceived that no memories were carried by it yet, but soon it would have caressed tree leaves and disturbed birds’ sleep.
I miss the wind although I have never felt it in my hair or messing up my thoughts. I like to cycle because it feels to me the closest experience of the wind I can achieve. Now I am wondering if the greatest thus imperceptible movement, the spinning of the earth itself, is responsible for winds blowing. Is the earth steadier because of us? Dew concluded.
Oh well here for sure, Ewa added, Circulation generates movements that generate stories, the absence of wind is shrinking the circulation of ideas and memories as well, it’s more difficult to trace back stories. And often I feel disconnected in this air steadiness. For this reason I am so in love with smells. Ewa said, standing up from her position and moving toward the bus that had just approached the platform.
Dew walked aside her.
Indeed, how do you feel now, do you feel better? They asked.
She checked her sensory apparatus, deeply inhaling the consumed air inside the bus. And yess, she could pick up something, Dew’s smell was tickling her nostrils. She involuntarily brought close to them her face, the scent of their skin, a bit muffled by the textile of the clothes, was very soily and mossy.
Yes I am better, she said smiling with her closed eyes. She didn’t recognize they were looking at her while withdrawing a bit from her nose. What are you doing? Dew asked. She blushed, sorry didn’t want to creep you out, or invade your space, I just noticed that the sense of the smell is coming back. What a relief, I wasn’t feeling myself without my full sensory apparatus awake. Do you use any perfumes? Your body smell is very peculiarly unhuman.
No I don’t, Dew lifted up their elbow, dislodged a bit the sleeve of the jumper and smelled the bare arm. Oh you mean this smell. I am not even recognizing it anymore.
I need to tell you I am passionate about sedimentation, I spend long periods digging with my body in the terrain. I had built up my identity mostly on soils, and I think my skin had lost its only human smell now.
Ewa laughed, my dear, whether I don’t feel human without my senses you don’t feel human without your elements, I think it’s very legit. Then she connected something in her mind. I think you should come with me to the SABF today, she suddenly said.
I have heard about it, but never been. How are you involved in the project?, Dew asked.
Well I founded it with a group of colleagues.
Ooooooh you are one of those techagro-farmers, the tone of his voice was skeptical now.
What’s wrong with us? Never criticize the SABF to Ewa, I think our mission to give back to the land its fertility, colours, smells, and biodiversity doesn’t need to be contrasted nor judged. I mean without wind and a bloody humid soil, sometimes people of N feel to breath steam. Further under these conditions it’s difficult to achieve cultivations.
I am not judging the intention behind it, I am reasoning on the artificial structuration or de-structuration of the land biodynamics…You have literally isolated all of its components.
She was listening to Dew, but she needed to put the conversation on hold. Sorry, she stopped them with a tiny movement of the hand, don’t want to interrupt you, but it’s our stop, we can continue our conversation inside my house. For all the ride, she hadn’t noticed but they were carrying not only the folded bike, but her bag as well. She grabbed it a bit embarrassed, Thank you for saving my stuff, I had totally forgotten about it. Indeed her morning at the market felt very far away in time.
The metropolitan landscape had mutated in a hilly meadow when they jumped out the bus. It’s nice here, Dew said, gazing around the wilderness englobing the residential area where Ewa’s habitation unit was located.
Oh yess, it’s part of the LFPP, I moved here in the spirit of inhabiting the land again, many of us don’t want to live in only human environments anymore. I acknowledge the historical role of the city, but humanity was younger and weaker and much more insecure back then. She entered a white gravel path unwinding between amaranth bushes.
You know when kids disassemble objects in order to gaze at their inside and name all the parts, and then build them back wrongly or use pieces for other purposes, well we have been like that, but now I think we have all the tools and knowledge for cohabiting with it.
Dew, pensively, followed her through that flamboyant landscape until they arrived at a building whose roof was a couple.
Welcome to our place. She said pushing open the front door.
The habitation unit was a cozy shelter enriched by a big variety of indoor plants. Colorful piles of stones and dried fruits ornate the curved perimeters of the rooms, giving a smooth sensorial perception of the space.
She dropped the bag on the floor of the kitchen, where Matheus, her youngest and a genial flatmate, was feeding the couple of kingfishers which were inhabiting the garret of the building. He believed them to be the more-than-human memory of the house and his task was to give back to the bird goods one.
Can you wait for me here for a second, she asked, and then she addressed the boy, Matheus, can you make a tea for my new friend Dew? Dew, Matheus, Matheus, Dew befriend each other.
Before receiving an answer she left the room, trusting her flatmate’s welcoming attitude and Dew’s spirit of adaptability.
She ran to the bathroom where she gazed at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. She was still concerned about her nose. Her face looked pretty the same, no particular skin tone alteration or puffiness, she pinched her cheek, and with the palm of the hand she gave herself a slow facial massage. Then she opened her beauty product shelves and chose among the essential oils the spiciest one extracted by dragonfruit and liquorice, poured a couple of drops in the vanporizer and inhaled it. Nothing happened, no usual tickle, nor burning, no heart beatings, no sensation of releasing. Weird, with Dew the situation was getting better, she thought.
She tried to soothe her disappointment and gather thoughts moving around some lavic stones. She really believed that those were the embodiment of the archaic and powerful spirit of the massive Volcano, and maybe moving them in a new constellation would have created a connection between the primordial lavic conduit and her nose, giving her some relief.
I should call the doctor. She thought, making a small pile with them, and she really didn’t want to.
She searched for her phone in her pocket and recognized under the touch that some particles of the dried sea sponge had infiltrated in the speaker. She blew on it, in order to remove them and dialed the contact of the Doctor, but nobody picked up the call anyways. The embodied profession of the healer was obsolete, nobody was sick since all the viral diseases carried by atmospheric and seasonal cycles had been eradicated due to the absence of wind. And the carefully engineered chain instituted between human and nature ecosystems had mitigated the insurrection of major pathologies.
Indeed she opened up the tab of health SEO and wrote to the hospitality bot in order to receive counseling from an otolaryngologist e-expert.
You will have an appointment in 30 mins. The bot informed her.
Relieved she opened the door of the bathroom and took the corridor for her room. She gazed inside the kitchen, no sign of Matheus, but the cup of tea still smoking on the counter was evidence of a social contact. Dew was close to the window where a set of tiny transparent vessels, interconnected by many plants straws, was inhabitated by the seeds of her verbena cultivation.
He was staring at the domesticated soil where just the imagination could have wondered which plant was sheltered in it.
It’s going to be verbena, she said, pointing at the vessels while starting to sort out the products she had bought at the market. The bouquet of flowers in a vase, the powder in a linen textile bag, the coulis in the fridge, then she offered to Dew some cranberry mousse.
Yes I know. But it’s not going to grow under these conditions, I already told you. And they got closer to her in order to receive a serving of dessert.
How do you know? Ewa asked, now sitting on a stool and staring at the foamy consistency of the mousse.
Look at the soil, you have used a quality that is too sandy for verbena. The seeds are revolting there inside, maybe you should try to cultivate another kind of shrub, a vines for example.
But I had enriched this soil with many collaborative microorganisms, I guess it should work and I don’t mind to try.
Yeah but why, do you want to force a coalition? Dew took the cup of tea with both hands and sipped from it, but the warm liquid burned their tongue. They took a speech pause.
That’s what I was trying to tell you before in the bus. They continued, Sometimes engineering too much nature it’s not necessary, it speaks to you by signals. If nothing grows there is something wrong between the assemblages of the elements. There is a missing relationality and the only thing we humans can do is enhance it back or wait.
She nodded, I really think you should come to the SABF, I got an appointment with the e-doctor in 15 mins now and then we can head there. I don’t know what to expect though, my colleague Kadil allerted all the crew since something is changing in the atmosphere. Did you know or sense something about it?
No not really, but the atmosphere is always changing. The world is always new, although its root. Maybe you consider your nasal nuisance could be caused by this perturbation?
She hadn’t thought about it at all, and was very surprised by her lack of wit.
At this point it could be, but I have no idea of what is going on. You all other people are fine. Can something on such a big scale influence just one person? She asked, revolting a bit in her body.
Well if your nose is so sensitive, maybe it is responding to something still undetected by the manyness. Therefore, let’s see the bright sides, whereas if this thing is dangerous or not, it is still manageable.
Oh my godmother, now I feel a bit under pressure, I don’t want to be the prophet of another disaster. I don’t want to be a Cassandra, never trusted but always right, but what you say can be valid. Let’s wait for the doctor’s diagnosis as well. It’s time now, can I leave you again for another while?
Yes sure. I will be here close to your vases.
She grabbed a couple of tangerines and went in her room, sat on the bed, took the holographic frame from the drawer of the night table and waited.
The hologram of a blond woman appeared in the square and asked Ewa’s identification and reasons for the consultation.
Ewa Bakis, female, 31, LFPP amaranth district, nostril pain and loss of the sense of the smell.
She told the virtual doctor that the condition was annoying her from the early morning, but she had never suffered from something similar.
Could you please show me your nasal conduits?
Ewa turned on the light of the holographic frame and scanned her nose.
Can you now push with your fingers just underneath your eyes, where your cheekbones get close to your nose, and tell me if it hurts?
Seems to me a regular sinusitis, but it rarely manifests under the loss of smell, it could be related to some much graver neuronal dysfunction. Do you have any heritable pathology as such in your family?
Not that I am aware of. What can I do?
If it’s sinusitis, not so much, it is cyclical. You can just try to tame the symptoms with the aerosol treatment I will prescribe to you, but in any case I will suggest also the name of a good neurologist. Will send you everything by mail, I need to go now, Miss Bakis, wish you a nice day.
And then she disappeared.
Oh great, I could be subjected to a chronic syndrome or an invalidating disease. Ewa thought among herself, spreading her body on the bed and placing the tangerine on the curvature of her navel belly. The idea of being a sick person had never caressed her mind, and now suddenly this hypothesis crumbling on her, on her bed, was raising a deep feeling of insecurity.
She touched her face with circular movements and she covered her eyes with the sleeping mask she used sometimes in order to experience the full darkness. She slowly caressed the peel of the agrume and clawed with her nails the porous skin, carving from it’s natural wrap a juicy clove.
Dew found her playing with the fruit in this deep commiseration.
Hey Ewa… she jumped from her horizontal position, are you ok?
She had forgotten about Dew. What was happening to her?
Yeah, sorry I was resting and got stuck in a dark corner of my mind. The doctor didn’t give me reassuring news and now I am afraid I won’t have my smell back.
Dew sat at the edge of the bed and Ewa could see something in their hand.
What do you have there hidden?
Well look, I have fixed your verbena cultivation, look surprisingly the first sprouts are already visible.
Impossible, that soil was plain since weeks now, but she accepted the pot they were offering to her, and actually a shy, tender first leaf was now emerging.
Ewa widened her eyes, How did you do that, did you plant something else?
I told you, the soil was not the right one from the seed. I just substituted it with a hand of that of the Amaranth land. Incredibly the seed had already germinated, but couldn’t pierce the soil. The outdoor soil is softer and the spurn needed just a few minutes in order to take space. And now here we go, it is extraordinary but a nice little one already smells, try.
I can’t smell yet, and maybe I won’t anymore she whined.
Never mind, try now that I am with you, Dew encouraged her.
She placed the newborn botanical friend just behind her nose and inhaled. The pale ghostly citrus smell of lemon but more grassy like citronella, slightly imperceptible was there.
Incredible she replied.
I told you I am a with-person, maybe I need to stay with you in order for you to feel better, and it’s the same between seed and soil, it is a sodality.
Ewa felt embarrassed, she was never so direct in vocalizing any kind of affection, her behavior spoke for her. She didn’t say a thing, but she moved toward them. And that’s what had happened with Dew. They had met her in a position of weakness, fainting and insecure, but she felt to open up to them her personal sphere. They were sitting on her bed, magically facilitating the blooming of her verbena, when she barely knew something about them. It’s a matter of trust sometimes, and that person had plenty of it.
Stay with me then. She said, lifting herself from the bed. I am sorry if I have been inattentive or spiky, I had invited you here and I didn’t really give attention to you. Not to make excuses here, but I feel an unusual sense of intimacy with you, and my behavior is the consequence of this trust. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I become a horrible uncaring person when I feel confident with someone, I just become less tense and less scared to show vulnerabilities. And this muffledness of senses had absorbed me completely, can the void be such present?
Dew was calm and posed, they really didn’t seem surprised by this revelation once again. And Ewa felt a bit insecure, but their words reassured her.
I think what you are saying is very legitimate, I am already and unintentionally your companion, but there may be something else behind.I think we come from the same waters, or I would say we come from the same winds. Can I play some music? They asked, already moving toward the audio system at the opposite of the bed, they chose as the mood “revelatory” and solemn melody vibrated in the room. Good choice, I really like this piece they said and went ahead, Anyways I belong to EW and I guess you too.
Dew pointed his finger to her, or am I wrong Ewa Bakis?
This is extraordinary. And she had a zest of joy, I do, what a rare circumstance, Nobody believes anymore in it. I thought to be one of the last one, but now thinking about your name it makes sense. When were you born?
In August, soon it’s going to be my 31 birthday. I keep the endemic memory of sirocco.
Ewa was dancing inside her body, a new palette of colours depicting a new inexperienced homely feeling. In a world where everything needed to be combined and negotiated this unexpected falling together of times and spaces and people gave back relieve. Sometimes things just need to find their fluidity again without any plan ahead. Worlds were merging together at that moment, maybe clashing, but in some way she believed in the entropy of events.
A buzz of her phone brought her back to the context of her room, technology always did. SABF, SABF, SABF meeting in 15 mins.
She would have preferred to stay in the conversation with Dew, to add a brick to the worlding they were beginning, deepen the knowledge of each other, to fully benefiting from their terrestrial-spiritual-emotional connection. She couldn’t withdraw from her responsibility either and maybe, she believed, Dew could have been the missing ring of the chain in order to solve the stratosphere change.
Shall we start to move? Now more than ever I think you need to see the SABF, it’s very much representing my world better than my words, I guess.
Yes I am very fond to it, but this time be my guest, I will take you on the bike, I think some fresh air could be beneficial for both of us.
Alright, let’s take the coastal road, we will arrive there faster. She gathered her things and gave her hand to Dew, Let’s go.
They unfolded the bike, that surprisingly was bigger than one of the average size, and showed her how to find a comfortable position behind the bycicle seat, don’t worry I won’t go fast, and you can hold me. One thing, don’t move too much otherwise I will lose balance and we will fall. Let’s share headphones so we can communicate with each other without screaming and also I would like to stay focus on smells.
Try to track them, this will distract you from the ride.
A small constructive distraction was a clever exercise in order to soothe anxiousness. She was quite goofy, but she didn’t fake the contrary, she sat where Dew had told her and tried to stay frozen in that position.
The friction between their bodies and the air was the only perceivable consequence of Dew’s push on the pedals. Felt nice to be transported by a low tech structure through the land.
You can move a bit now that we have taken speed, Dew’s voice conveyed by the headphones reached her ears, how does it feel?
It’s an unusual feeling, a bit scary, but a good scary. I feel so stupid to have never tried it before. Now I can understand what you meant with feeling a wind-like sensation. They had climbed down the hill and taken the coastal roadway which parted the seaside and the flooded land, partially organized in SABF.
That road was a scar between two ecosystems, a spectacular view of human handling and benefiting of the landscape.
On the left the colour of the sea was dominating the view, while the shore was scattered by rosebay bushes sheltering small size seagulls. A pier floating on the water, at which extreme edge closer to the horizon line, was located the Volcanic Observatory manifesting its presence under the shape of a composed structure of cones. Few people, dressed in colorful hats were walking on the beach, challenging the tide and worshipping the lust sun, while slim structures supported solar panels.
Ewa wasn’t sure, but she had the impression to see the branches of the bushes moved by a sort of breeze, and the intense salty oleander smell reached her. She moved a bit and felt the balance of the bicycle pending.
Sorry Dew, but I think I am sensing the wind, she whispered.
For all the ride they had revolted their attention to the flooded land, indeed they didn’t notice anything. Can be, but don’t get impressed, it can be generated by our passage, they said, I guess we are almost at the SABF, I can see now the change in the landscape and the soaring of the boundless plant structure. What are you cultivating there?
Turn on the right, we are almost at the entrance, she suggested, moving her arm as a wing in that direction. We cultivate wealth, have you tried the traditional bread here, the flour it’s from us.
They arrived in front of a bridge which connected the main road to the articulated natur-tech ecosystem of the SABF. A transparent elevated platform was allocating their laboratory. Around it a drone port was sheltering hundreds of remote-controlled buoyant aerosoalar drones, employed for the harvest of the floating weath. From the full window, Ewa saw that all the team was already there, nested between walls of soil samples and stills.
Their hairs were messed up and their faces were flushed from the ride, she encouraged Dew to leave the bike unguarded, nobody was there if not them and the four people in the building.
Shall I wait outside Dew asked.
No, I think all they will tell me will be as intelligibile to me as to you. She replied, then they entered the room together. Kadil, Angela, Idrani and Aodh were all sharing and staring at the screen of the computer, where a video recorded by the nocturnal camera was showing something moving. Hello beautiful people, Ewa greeted her colleagues, already gazing at the video footage, today with me there is my doppelgänger Dew. What is going on here?
The four people in the room simultaneously looked at her and then Dew. They weren’t used to welcoming strangers in the SABF, until Aodh, fixing the glasses on her nose took the word. Nice to meet you Dew, I am Aodh, in charge of the roots composition survey. Well hi Ewa, believe it or not, but last night what looked like a breeze was circulating in the intermediate strata, the cameras had detected a horizontal movement that wasn’t connected to the water evaporation. The point is it hasn’t left any enduring or visible trace now, if not a cleaner atmosphere. You should check the videos.
Ewa and Dew got closer to the screen and recognized from the images an imperceptible vibration shaking the dangling roots of the aeroponic plants.
You should enter the forest and see if you can smell something, Kadil said. Soon it’s going to be dark, and if it’s a nocturnal phenomena maybe you can witness it. It can revolutionize our condition of torrid-humid steadiness.
I have lost the smell. Inexplicably just Dew’s presence brings it back, and also for this reason they are here. They think my condition can be connected to this wrinkle in the atmosphere. Actually while we were heading here I got the impression to have perceived the wind. Ewa said.
So you and Dew could spend the night in the forest and foster with your mutual presence a sense of awareness. Kadil affirmed. We need a double strategy, in loco, and this would be on you two and behind the technology, and we can stay here in order to check the barometer and the anemometer, at this point probably all rusted by the humidity.
Alright we can do it, Dew said. In a few hours is going to be dark, maybe it’s better if we find the right spot in between the SABF now.
Good idea, you can come with me and Idrani, we will show you the location where the wind had appeared. It’s on the west side of the forest.
Let me take something from my bicycle, Dew said and went outside the building.
The core team of the SABF, left alone could shortly brief themself, Idrani gave Ewa a hand of spores. Take them, if the wind will blow again maybe they can be spread vastly. Aodh instead asked something more about Dew. Ewa told her about their newborn bond. Ok if you think we can trust this person, I trust you. But what if he is here in order to damage our work? I mean, apparently you don’t know so much about its belonging if not a syllable.
I do trust him, Ewa said. Kadil intervened, actually I think they are cool, and it was very rare that Kadil expressed such confidence in someone. I think Dew has a sort of mystery and wise spirit that makes for them easy to integrate. I perceive they know who they are, or they know which are the best conditions for them in order to flourish.
I don’t know how this can be helpful for us, but for sure won’t damage our cohesion.
Listening to Kadil, Ewa recalled the verbena Dew enhanced a few hours before in her room.
It was true, they knew how to make things work together spontaneously.
Idrani in the meanwhile had picked from the common lockers two jackets and organized a basket with fruits, sandwiches and a thermos of warm tea. I think you are going to need some treats tonight, you know it can be very cold there.
Thank you, Ewa said, and all of them reached Dew outside.
Idrani noticing the total white outfit of Dew suggested borrowing them a working suit.
You will get all stained by the swamp.
No worries at all, I love when the soil leaves traces on me, my whiteness is thoughtly wanted in order to absorb and valorize all the colours. I am curious to see which shade this soil is. Dew replied.
This is soooo nice Idrani and Angela exclaimed, we are always soaking in the mud, but we never thought about it.
Ewa instead fitted her light blue galoshes, and made the first step in the swamp, her feet drowned for 10 cm in the soil and she lost a bit of balance because of its soft consistency. Immediately behind her Kadil, Aodh and Idrani followed her step, while Angela, still suspicious, engaged with Dew in a conversation, which Dew could not really follow since they were absorbed by that new environment.
This place is unbelievable, you achieved to create a perfect machine, so densely populated by different species. I think something has just sneaked through my legs. Are there many grass snakes here around?
Angela explained, No not really, most probably it was a saltwater trout, some of them have fully adapted to this uncommon conditions, I think they find nutrition from the spores we spread around. Also for this reason we are not achieving so much in terms of refertilization I guess.
She blended down and collected something from the thin layer of water. We are employing aerogel technorganism inspired by the feet of the water strider, in order to keep the surface of the water clean. Otherwise it would be covered by fungus that wouldn’t allow its oxygenation and she showed Dew a tiny volatile robot.
They tried to take it, but the matter just became buoyant and floated away.
The four people heading the group had found a spot not so far from the laboratory, where a bigger clod of soil had created a dry island among the muddy land, while a long and intertwined network of roots was surrounding the location as a curtain. I think here is the spot, said Idrani, laying down on the terrain a waterproof carpet, and placed two observatory workstation. Honestly, do you know what we are missing, she said, pinwheels, no matter which technological tool we can think with, a sharp pinwheel will always catch the first wind. Ahahah.
Nobody really laughed, but all of them appreciated her naive sense of humor.
Kadil was eager to come back to the laboratory, and pushed all the others to follow him. You know how to reach us, and don’t worry we are going to monitor every single movement inside and outside the SABF.
When they disappeared behind the roots curtain, Ewa took place on the workstation and started the laptop connected to it, in order to ask to the searching engine about any news possibly wind related. Then she licked her first finger and pointed it up in the air, no particular sensation was vehicled by its wetness. She inhaled a bit and a strong feeling, never experienced before affected her sensory. Nothing so reinvigorating had ever trespassed her lungs, it was like a positive unfamiliar thought stored in a forgotten corner of her mind. She joyfully searched with the eyes for Dew, but couldn’t see them.
She took off the intricate fabric of roots and found them sitting in the swamp, they were digging with a small scoop deeper in the wet soil.
What are you doing? It’s forbidden to disturb the soil, especially since any directive from the SABF team. We take choices of this sort collectively. She said dry, feeling betrayed by them.
Once again Dew seemed not caught surprised by her reaction.
Wait Ewa, please, before getting angry I need to tell you something. They carefully pulled out the collar of the shirt a small bag attached to a silver chain. Have you ever heard about evolutive populations of seeds, they are very rare, but I have a set of them. And they emptied the small bag, seven dark orangey oval seeds shined on the palm of their hand. They are seeds that gradually change and adapt to different climatic conditions, soils and cultivation techniques. They provide for stable production, control diseases, insects and weeds in a biodynamical way. If the variability of seeds employed in the contemporary agriculture is given by many crosses, those are seeds that find their way through life learning from their surrounding. Each soil with its own seed, each seed with its own soil, this is what I have grasped so far from them. Dew was speaking concisely, and passionately and for the first time Ewa saw in their eyes the emergence of a mission.
If you give me the permission to plant them here and if they develop a symbiotic relationship with this soaked soil, it will mean a renewed relationship of interdependence with the land, less artificial, less controlled, less engineered. We can enter a new era where we can learn from the scratches how to be together with the soil, and the wind, and the water, and the animals, and the volcano.
She didn’t know how to control her thoughts, they were leaking out of her forehead, but the only question she could vocaliz was How did you get them?
By the wind, they said.
There is no wind here, Dew.
What are we here for then, what have your colleagues and your technologies detected?
There is just the supposition of it, Ewa replied.
And what about the smell you are perceiving now, isn’t it surprising you? Confess to me that you had already sensed this scent and I will leave you alone.
She was confused. Well, you are right, I was searching for you because I felt something so lively in the air, a fragrance I could taste. But how do you know… and what is it?
Dew fondly smiled, It is petrichor, the smell of the wind. It consists of geosmin, a volatile, organic compound that is formed especially by soil-dwelling bacteria and aquatic cyanobacteria. It means just one thing my dear: somewhere it is raining. Your well trained nose can sense it, but since you have never experienced the rain, you can’t detect and name it. I guess your nasal numbness was caused by this novelty.
Things were coming together in a weird sense.
Of which kind are you Dew, how do you know these things?
This doesn’t matter, because I belong to the soil, exactly as these seeds. And now I am here, because I have been carried by the wind.
Ewa felt the touch of her grandmother Awera’s hand on her shoulder, as it always happened to her in times of revelation. The woman had devoted her life to volcanic soil geologic studies, and had educated her to the observation of the leftover. The two women from different generations used to narrow the time gap building experiences together, exchanging environmental impressions, exploring the countryside around the city, collecting rocks, insects, carapaces, dried leaves and human traces, in order to enrich their life with the surprising beauty of natural traces. Awera had told her that in order to understand time and evolution one needed to look at nature forms, the products of a cumulative past and predictions of what will likely come to be. Look at me, I am the mirror of who you are going to be. We already are the embodied guess of what the future holds, a vast, future-proliferating ecology of thinking selves. And standing there in the SABF, Ewa overlap Dew presence with the memory of the beloved woman, and vividly remember the time when she had said to her holding a fossilized ear of wheat between her fingers My dear, look at this fragile being which used to grow from the softness of the terrain, it was possible because of a concert of life’s movements within and around the soil. Now because of the traumatized soil it’s not anymore possible, but if we would peel our land as an onion we would be able to read the story of the growth of the seed along our evolution with the volcano.
Ewa felt heart warmed and assured, seated close to them, Can I hold one?
She held it in the hollow of her fist, and she felt it turning warmer and pulsating, it was a womb and an embryo at the same time. What does germinate from it?
Most of the time grains, but they are always of different varieties. Can’t tell what will sprout here.
We should try, she said, digging with her hand in the soil and making a space for the seed. Maybe this could seal the end of SABF, and I don’t have the knowledge for trusting you, but I mean it costs nothing.
Behind the roots curtain the live application on the laptop started to buzz.
Behind the screen the faces of Kadil, Angela, Idrani and Aodh, were wetted by tears of what they revealed as commotion. Ewa felt worried, what was going on?
Hey you there, Idrani said, it’s unbelievable, but behind the mountains surrounding N, it is raining. IT IS RAINING. Hold on in the forest, we will reach you soon. And they interrupted the call.
Something had changed in the air, a vibration rippled the thin layer of water covering the soil, while the roots started to imperceptibly dingle.
Ewa, hugged in a spontaneous momentum Dew.
Invading the space, breaking the atmospheric steadiness, leading unknown birds out of their nest, suddenly the Levant was blowing.
I told you my beloved sister, we are with each other, we are EW.
Many affectionate and affecting trails had coalesced and conjured in order to support the volatile relationship of belonging to somewhere, to something, to someone, unfolded by this narrative. Therefore if possible I would hold in an hug of immense affection all the winds that have brought my words to condense as such, homage with celebrating feasts all the people that had touched my mind with their intellectual honesty, spirits and practice and provide for new green power cells all the technological devices that have sustained my research.
This story has been possible because thought in alliance with: Isabelle Stengers, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Sylvia Wynter, Vandana Shiva, Donna Haraway, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, The Invisible Committee, Audre Lorde, Astrida Neimanis, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Silvia Federici, Marc Strand, Richard Brautigan, Bruno Latour, Aldo Leopold, Judith Butler, Edouard Glissant, M. Jacqui Alexander, Natasha Mayer, Raqs Media Collective, Anicka Yi, Sandra Mujinga, Oscar Santillan, Pedro Neves Marques, Future Farmers, Hiroo Isono, Mary Magic, The Forest Curriculum, Farming the Uncanny Valley, Lyla June, Agnes Varda, Julia Reidy, Eartheater, Drexciya, Heinbach, Jenny Hval, Lyra Pramuk, Oneohtrix Point Never, Fatima al Quadiri, AEP participants, Cristina Ramos, Dietrich Meyer, Kari Rosenfeld, Nadia Croker, Nicklas Egberts, Angeliki Tzortzakaki, Claudia Mazzola, Yoonha Kim, Claire Glanois, MG, literally a lot of random walkers, the Alps, the Mediterranean, my blood and chosen bonds.
Editor: Kari Rosenfeld
Entanglements is an attempt to come to terms with increasingly inhospitable conditions. By imagining a prosthetic skin that allows human symbiosis with other species, the project aims to comment on interdependence in the aftermath of an ecological catastrophe. Filmed in a salt harvesting site in Salinas, Ecuador, the short film features an algae-based biomaterial that forms a vehicle for organisms who thrive in extreme conditions to live in close proximity with humans.
Quote from Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame (1957)
Voice: Polina Cold
Sound & Actor: Alfredo Ramírez Raymond
Situating in the Inherited School
It took one call from a colleague to write an application together to fully commit to the Aleknaičiai project. That happened this July.
Currently, Aleknaičiai is turning into a widespread community / education / residency / artistic research centre project with its cornerstone – former elementary school, its spaces and the community that is assembling around it. Material and cultural heritage that we are building upon, neglected contemporary bureaucracy and material needs, crowdfunding, approx. 600 m3 space maintenance – here you see my friends, family and me comprehending what is going on in the last several months.
On 19th October, together with my grandpa I went there to check, how approx 25 years of untouched heating system of the building is working.
Heating is ultimately important for maintaining this building and, therefore, everything that sustains it.
oops, you’re muted
In oops, you’re muted, Jo Kali and Georgie Sinclair (friends, collaborators, and co-founders of plot twist) share a string of emails that they exchanged in the weeks leading up to this show. Within the dialogue, they touch upon their relationship to technology, intimacy, spending time together from afar, and the trouble of developing a ‘toolkit’ in uncertain times. These emails mirror their style of learning: assembling their thoughts through roaming (and often inconclusive) discussion. The reading takes place at the digital home of the toolkit, which will unfold over time as an archive of reflections on practicing care online.
As the window opens, two figures appear in boxes at the corner of the page, one brown-haired and the other bleached blonde, both wearing glasses. Water ripples across the screen and objects float above, a plastic snake, an apple tree, a knitted brown scarf. The figures take turns talking and clicking on the objects on the screen, which in turn open up small windows containing text fragments of their emails. Scrolling, clicking, talking, this ritual is repeated until all the objects have been unlocked.