Video screening at Knowledge Cultures Ecologies

For Knowledge/Culture/Ecologies 2017: http://knowledgeculture.org/

“In 2016, we conducted a socially-engaged project that explored grieving the loss of non-human species and ecological habitats that are passing away during this historic, geologic, cultural moment, and indeed if this is possible, considering late capitalism prevents a reckoning with relational ecologies beyond-the-human. Collected natural materials implicated in the adoption of sedentary agriculture and settler-colonization became documents of ecological transformation. Participants were invited to handle them while telling stories of connection and disconnection. At dawn, we buried our materials.

For Knowledge/Culture/Ecologies, we propose an experimental video that expands ideas around historic natures, grief and the more-than-human, the temporalities of living, dying, yet-to-live — weaving footage, text and images from our event.”

Publication in Environment Space Place July 2017

Our writing for Environment Space Place is “a poetic, theoretical, and experimental telling of the week leading up to our all-night event, the ways we gathered our materials, what we thought about as we gathered them, and how we tie this gathering process to grief. It is also a telling of the event itself — an occasion that was co-created with symposium delegates, bats, birds, insects, squirrels, as well as many other forest and human ghosts.”

We Weave and Heft by the River

We Weave and Heft by the River is an all night event by the Coastal Reading Group (Bibi Calderaro, Christos Galanis, & Margaretha Haughwout) that explores ways to grieve the tremendous loss of non-human species that are passing away and being actively killed during this specific historic, geologic, cultural moment in time. It premiered at the Landscape Language and Sublime Symposium and Creative Gathering at Schumacher College in Devon England at the end of June 2016.

Massive environmental shifts are usually described to us in terms of data or through curated images, such as a polar bear on a piece of ice. For this event we wondered at how to even begin holding an affective space for species we might not even know.

In a relational, all night vigil conducted around an outdoor fire we talked and listened and worked our hands around materials sourced from animals and plants nearby. Processes were tried, conversations and questions absorbed us.

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A shared inquiry for us was whether this kind of collective grieving has any halting effect on capitalist progress at all. Grief slows everything down and highlights what is most important. Capitalism relies on a blur of speed and forward motion to avoid the ever accumulating loss.

Our schedule:
Part 1:
08:30p
– Begin fire
10-1p
– Introductions
– Coastal Reading Group speak / read / weave
– Participants share stories/memories and speak with seed beads, plants materials and wool

Part 2:
1-4p
– Active listening by the fire, small groups/ napping

Part 3:
4-7a
– More weaving of materials and stories, words and silences
– Bury seed beads, plant materials and wool in meadow near event site
– Close

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There were many stories and memories of plants, insects, humans and animals from the different decades that participants lived through. There was what Virginia Mackay, a participant in the event, calls “welling”; there was also despair, anguish, appreciation, silence and reckoning — all threads to and from grief. Our questions deepened.

At dawn we buried a co-created object that was made amidst our memories and silences in a meadow near to where we held our conversation.

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Traveling to Devon, England

We Weave and Heft by the River is an all night, socially-engaged event facilitated by the Coastal Reading Group (Bibi Calderaro, Christos Galanis, & Margaretha Haughwout) that explores ways to grieve the tremendous loss of non-human species that are passing away and being actively killed during this specific historic, geologic, cultural moment in time. It premiered at the Landscape Language and Sublime Symposium and Creative Gathering at Schumacher College in Devon, England at the end of June 2016.

We traveled to Devon a week in advance of the symposium to get to know the land, some history of how the land has been engaged and to collect locally-sourced materials. We were interested in using local materials to think and co-create with as we sunk into spaces of appreciation, grief, honoring and reckoning.

It was interesting for us to do the project for the first time in England because of its intertwined history of colonization and the striking enclosure movements that rocked several centuries from the Middle Ages to Industrialization and the resultant deforestation and species loss that hit this rainy North Atlantic island. Colonization, it can be argued, requires firstly for the colonizers to colonize themselves; colonization happens most effectively when relationships to non-humans become hierarchical, sedentary, domesticated and where there are ongoing scarcity models of cohabitation. We might look to Deborah Bird Rose for inspiration:

“… it may not matter whether horse or man wins, or whether the man is settler or indigenous; what matters is that they perform together their intersubjective, countermodern, embodied and dangerous collaboration. As we hold our breath and clench our hands we can find ourselves increasingly excited at the thought that maybe, perhaps, civilisation will not win, ever.”

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For the week leading up to our grief event, we were compelled to collect sheep’s wool as a way of considering how this animal has had a direct relationship to the transformation of England. We visited craftspeople throughout the shire, and finally came to meet the artist and shepherd Terri Howland in Bovey Tracey. She taught us how to spin wool by hand:

We wanted to choose seeds that were relevant in some way to the English landscape. We traveled to many nurseries in the area, some very old such as the Hillhouse Nursery in Landscove:

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We settled on Red Corn Poppy, Blue Cornflower, and Red Clover. We rolled these seeds into “seed beads” of red clay (that echoed the red clay beneath our feet) and compost. Seed beads are like seed balls, but pierced; we strung and wove them into a co-created object the night of our event.

We identified and collected many different plant materials throughout the week, plants that had a direct history with enclosure such as Hawthorn and Elder, sacred plants that are and were used in earth-based spiritual practices such as Elder, Alder, Mugwort and Yarrow, medicinal plants such as Magnolia and Nettle seed.

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All week we walked the hills and dales during daylight hours, and at night, being from the Americas, we thought about how strange it was to not need to listen for predators outside our tents.

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night

Unearthing/ Re-earthing

At the end of March 2016, we attended UNDISCIPLINED ENVIRONMENTS: International Conference of the European Network of Political Ecology (ENTITLE).

The Coastal Reading Group (Bibi Calderaro, Christos Galanis, & Margaretha Haughwout) has been reading texts all year on the topics of ethics and wilderness. It occurs to us that politics, if its etymology refers to the management of bodies and resources in time and space, may always remain practically (un)ethical because it implies a totalizing frame. This became even more apparent in our experience at the conference, as we perceived a disparity across “European” and “New World” discourses of Political Ecology. Where the former tended to circle around materialist, economic representations of power and territorial relationships, the latter favored a decolonial approach whose representation was often intersectional and ontological (still, as Zoe Todd points out, ontology is just another word for the colonial).

We struggled with many of the panels at the conference for this reason, whose methods of representation and dissemination seemed to replicate disciplined colonial paradigms.  As much as the majority of the panels evidenced the understanding that “we” are in a crisis, and as much as there seemed to be a consensus that a redistribution of power and labor relations would enable more just and equitable societies, radical pedagogies and alternative relational methodologies — with emphasis in embodied and experiential practices — remained the exception. While there were a multitude of calls and manifestos in favour of intellectual un-disciplining, the conference itself as a praxis for knowledge production, dissemination, and relations, remained a decidedly disciplined undertaking in itself.  We longed for more opportunities to step away from our own safe boundaries.

The exceptions were provocative and we were encouraged by Kim Tallbear, the Queering Political Ecologies panels, by Ugo Mattei, as well as some of the  conversations about degrowth. In these panels and talks, ways of knowing in community were emphasized as a way of enabling shared responsibility for more-than-human worlds. Artists and activists as well explored a range of possibilities with mostly performative engagements documented through photography, video and audio. Also included were praxis via social media, such as Cleo Woelfle-Erskine’s ‘My Dead Cutie’ project which took place over Twitter.

Our collaborative was interested in entering into a dialog with this range of political ecologists about the relationship between study, textuality and action. Praxis is the term Arendt used to describe embodied theory in action, and we wanted to think very seriously about the ways that research, argumentation, and data are applied onto or with human and non-human ecosystems; to what degree does the praxis of political ecological research, representation, and dissemination extend colonialism?

For our workshop at Undisciplined Environments, we culled from texts we’ve been reading: texts about human constructions of, and engagement with, ‘wilderness’, ‘nature’ and ethics. We stripped these texts of all punctuation and capitalization, printed them and then cut them into long strips of 3-4 phrases each. Participants were invited to treat this text as a finite resource, to remix and unearth new meanings from it before adding this resource to buckets filled with a mix of dirt, clay, seeds and water. We finally rolled these texts with the clay/soil mix into seedballs.

We then tossed and placed the seedballs among the grounds  of the conference area. We also offered them to det gror i betongen, the urban commons project on the edge of legality in the southern part of Stockholm that we visited with conference-goers on Thursday, the final day of the conference. Soon, after the spring rains, these balls will sprout wildflowers for pollinators and nutrient-rich biomass grown from the carbon in our re-earthed texts.

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We’d like to thank all the people at Undisciplined Environments for provoking us to think and work better, and to the hosts for including us in their rigorous 4 days of activity.

Recipe for Unearthing/ Re-earthing:
part one:

– choose 3-4 strips of text, taken from relevant texts of your choice
– these words are finite resources; you may only use each word once
– cross words off as you use them
– reassemble and unearth meaning

part two:
– cut up the words and phrases you used
– re-earth the cut up text to the bucket of seedball mixture, while uttering the words and phrases out loud as they drop into the soil
– you may mix your speaking with others’ to further engender unearthed meanings
– Mix together and form ½-¾” balls with your hands. Let dry.
– Toss.

Recipe for Seedballs:
– 5 parts dry clay (red is ideal)
– 3 parts dry organic compost or soil
– 1 part seed
– 1-2 parts water

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