mn
Eco-Poetics for a Pluriverse in Transit

Alex Wilson, Larval Rock Stars, Elin Már Øyen Vister& mirko nikolić

Performed at: 8th Annual Conference on New Materialisms, Paris, 9 June 2017; Second Nature, Homo Novus Festival, Riga, 8 September 2017. Published at Focus Issue 4: 'Feminist New Materialist Practice - The Mattering of Methods,' edited by Rebecca Coleman, Tara Page & Helen Palmer, MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture, 21 May 2019.

The multi-sensory performance which we have assembled for you here is an experiment in bringing other-than-human bodies and their different onto-epistemologies into conversation with one another through our respective human-like bodies. Eco-Poetics for a Pluriverse in Transit offers tiny, ephemeral bridges across our different spaces, places and sites. It is an unfinished and improvised collective expression of the cacophony of our coexistence in this particular historical moment. We enter with an awareness that our polyphonous efforts to speak to each other through water and forest and earth beings risks clumsily missing each other’s point. Rather than negating these contingencies, we embrace the possibilities of interrelating beyond and despite failure.

We attempt to make leaps akin to quanta and to conjure our distributed presences as aquifers, mineralisations, birds, larvae, and microbial colonies, and gesture towards queer, trans-national, trans-species, trans-? solidarities. It is an unsettling experience that neither the words or images here can capture or contain. It is, therefore, not an attempt to make meaning by closing the gap between material and metaphor. Instead, it is to acknowledge not-knowing (or the limits of knowing) as the unspoken corollary of partial and situated knowledges.

>The pluriverse transits because it is neither diversity, nor tolerance of difference; neither a universalising symphony, nor the pluralism of statist multiculturalism—all deadening endeavours. Instead, the pluriverse transits in interrelated interspecies polyvocality, listening, learning and proliferating methodologies that sidestep world traditions reifying human exceptionalism. The idea that Nature is a universal, monolithic object is a modernist delusion. We seek to deterritorialise, and destroy, the ‘foundational fantasy’ of the modern subject as bounded and independent from place and environment.

What poetics are possible in this space, where we encounter bodies different from human, face-to-face, on (un)equal footing? What ethics are necessary to make sure that we speak with, and not for, these lively assemblages? Is ‘place-thought’ freedom based in ethics that allows the land (and all its fleshy collaborators/co-labourers) to speak, and to be heard? Is this sovereignty infused with responsibility? Can responsibility make spacetime for response-ability—facilitating listening across difference? Will the quality of our response depend on the capacity of our sensing, our sense-ability? How do we make sense in a senseless world? How do we learn to (un)become, collectively? How do we listen without hearing, watch without seeing, feel without touching? How do we see ourselves as multispecies entanglements inspired by the Zapatista call to ‘mandar obedeciendo’ (lead obeying)? How do we manifest the bold proposal that they make to us: ‘todo para todos, nada para nosotros’ (for everyone, everything, for ourselves, nothing)?[1]

This audio-visual offering (in protracted form, running close to an hour) was first presented as part of a new materialisms conference in Paris in June 2017. Our presentation questioned the very validity of ‘new materialisms’ as a formation, especially since the agency of matter is not a modern revelation, but ancient wisdom. At best, the term is a remembering of lost knowledge; at worst, it generates new forms of epistemic violence against Indigenous knowledges, a form of new colonialism. mirko, the sole physical representative of our group at the conference, shared the proscenium with our empty chairs and ghostly presences, serving to remind participants of the many absences that undergird the pluriverse.

In September 2017, the work was screened in the rain in a darkening pine forest in Riga, Latvia, as part of Second Nature programme of Homo Novus Festival. The digital made it possible for us to collaborate on this collective sensory journey across vast distances without ever having to board a plane. Yet, the digital is part of a media distribution system that has a significant material impact on this world and reflects some of the unresolved messiness of our transits. The computing cloud seems immaterial because of metaphors that hide the materiality of data servers in air-conditioned buildings, consuming electricity. As of 2014, data servers accounted for 2% of our carbon emissions—the same as air travel.

These are only some of the problematics that accompany our collaborative reach across hemispheres. We transgress territorial logics of colonisation and domination, by proliferating a carnival of interdependent segmentations and fragmentations. We encourage you to imagine other fragments, presences, and provocations alongside this incipient invocation.

 

becoming-seabird

Elin Már Øyen Vister is a Norwegian artist living in the outermost part of Lofoten/Lofuohta in the county of Nordland, in Norway – Sápmi. This is an old area that is and was inhabited by the Indigenous sea Sámi and their ancestor hunter/gatherers, before the more expansive and aggressive Norse/Germanic farming culture moved north. Today it is understood as a Norwegian area due to centuries of colonial history and epistimiside, but a process of revitalisation and de-colonisation of close-by areas has begun. Elin Már engages with this history and present reality through careful, attentive research from a deconstructive perspective. They are working on a long-term project entitled ‘Deconstructing Norwegianness’ which interrogates their own understanding of being Norwegian from a de-colonial perspective. They also attend to the Lofoten/lofuohtas Sámi heritage in collaboration with locals, peers and colleagues of Sámi or mixed heritage, historians, Indigenous Sámi anthropologists, ethnographers and Sámi and Norwegian historians and archeologists.

In their contribution to the Pluriversal sound and landscapes, they invite you to become better acquainted with avian histories through listening and responding. While listening to, spending time with, recording and researching the bird sense of seabirds, Elin Már found themselves slowly transforming, shape-shifting into or becoming a little bit more pelagic seabird, Atlantic Puffin. This newfound nongendered body was being called upon by the Auk family, who come every spring to breed in the outermost part of Lofoten/Lofuohta, to the birdmountains in the Røst archipelago, in Sápmi/Northern Norway; they invite you to become facilitator, mediator, and translator between human and seabirds/their marine homes. Sonic awareness can inform what and how we communicate with the political, social and ecological environments, in which we co-emerge. It is an attempt at ‘reconnecting with the land and all that lives’ and practising multi-species communication—a non-hierarchical, horizontal interspecies listening/sensing.

Finally, they offer a meditation of something close to their heart, a view of one of the Paljakka Forests covered in snow. The Paljakka Forest in central north Eastern Finland, in The Kajaani region, is one of the last remaining bits of old growth forest in Finland. The Finnish history is one of clearcutting all their boral pine forest—a forest belt moving through Norway, Sápmi (Indigenous Norway), Sweden, Finland, Russia and into Turtle Island/Canada across the ocean.

 

becoming-water

Alex Wilson is Swampy Cree from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in the Saskatchewan River Delta, a 10,000 square kilometre system of rivers, lakes, wetlands and wildlife that acts as a filter, cleaning the water, lands and air in the region. The name Saskatchewan comes from a Cree word, kisiskâciwanisîpiy, meaning a fast flowing river. Alex works with communities on radical education projects and grassroots interventions to prevent further destruction of the Delta and associated waterways that have supported and sustained Indigenous communities for more than 10,000 years through hunting, trapping and fishing. The Saskatchewan River Delta has been damaged by hydroelectric dams, built by corporations such as Ducks Unlimited, which controls and regulates the waterways, and by agricultural runoff of farm fertilisers and other contaminants. Alex shares footage of the Delta that shows the contrast between pristine boreal forest and boreal that has been clear cut and impacted by flooding. In the Cree language, the word for water is nipiy. The first part of the word ni, is relational, linking the word to me or myself. In essence, it is the energy of life. Nipiy, though, also means to die or bring death. Within this context, water has the power to give life or to bring death.

The footage also includes other Cree words. Wahkohtowin refers to kinship networks or the relationships between everything. Pastahowin means the consequences when natural law is disturbed when you harm the environment. Ocinawin is similar to the above but on a spiritual level, the spiritual consequences of thinking negative or harmful thoughts about a person. Tipenimisowin, which means freedom and liberation. Sakihiwawin is another natural order, and means showing love in your actions. And finally, weesageychak is the queer trickster and energy, represented as the Orion constellation.

 

becoming-larval

We are Larval Rock Stars (LRS), the orbital enfolding of Pilarvaidya, the twins who hold the larva between us. As larvae, we live in a densely inhabited part of Northern California, an urban cityscape that covers the land and territory of the Ohlone people, crisscrossed by global capital, technology, and grotesque Hollywood renderings of colonial Western imaginaries. Preferring sequoia culture to silicon culture, we escape these nefarious episteme/ill/logical fictions by inhabiting our compromised local Redwood forests. Once sprawling across the entire western seaboard from what is now northern Canada, all the way down to present-day Mexico, these forests are now fragments. Though presenced with histories of violence, these forests are quiet, punctuated by the occasional larval scream or children’s laughter. They are sites where we can crawl away.

Born of prophecy and precipitated by the hubris of man, LRS brings tidings of a new future, a larval, shape-shifting future. Our symbolic worlding revolves around the question mark of earthing. It is a conceptual measure of the infinite possibility of the unknown, and an embodied presence guiding us towards our metamorphosal destiny at the edge of the sixth extinction. The question mark offers us renewed lines of flight, like a claw that allows us to hang over the abyss without falling into it. To cultivate this larval position, we engage in various practices including crawling, ecdysis, or moulting, pupation as an embodied practice of sensing from below, larval screaming as moving beyond the limits of the rhetorical rectum; and procrastination as an antidote to (re)production. We recognise the detritus of online shopping as the companion species of consumer culture. Paper and plastic waste becomes our second skin, leading us to revel in the aesthetics of unfinished beauty. Our larval experiments in collective settings reveal to us futurity of reciprocal care in the present, one that offers passages from necrotic egocentrism to biotic ecocentrism.

 

>becoming-earth

mirko says: i am concerned with extractivism as a generalised economic paradigm, how to live together with the earth without digging the value out from the ground while leaving tails of toxic waste behind. As part of this process, i believe it is important to witness the places of interspecies violence and injustice. At the same time, it is very difficult to be in these places of fire and, especially if you, as i do, recognise and honour agentiality and affectivity of bodies aquatic, lithic, vegetal or animal, their minglings. Pain travels across the line between life and nonlife, and when lithic bodies can be made into pieces, and liberated molecules come to seep into the soil and the water, it hurts. To visit these landscapes of ‘slow violence’, i think one needs friends.

In November 2012, a major leak from the tailing ponds of Europe’s largest nickel mine began. The mine is located in the south of Kainuu, the region in north-east Finland. Kainuu is not my home in the conventional sense, but over recent years it has become a place that I feel a belonging to, a kinship to its forests, lakes, swamps, creeks, mineralisations. The leak is still ongoing, slowly travelling through the various water bodies.

We went to Talvivaara – me, Tiina Arjukka Hirvonen and a hobbyhorse; and we carried old local stories with us. The zone around the mine is all fenced off, at dramatic odds from ‘everyman’s right’ for which Finland is known, which allows free access to land. Probably challenging the company’s expectations, we stepped off the road to sit by the shore of one of the ponds just next to the mine. Tiina read stories to the lake, local folk stories of haunted treasures and often terrible consequences for the searchers.[2] These old stories were mediated through the hobbyhorse, a specimen of a traditional child companion, more recently, an important figure in teenage girl culture in the country.[3] The black-and-white hobby horse passes on human stories to the lake in a glimpse of semiosis that has since always stretched before and beyond the human.

Sitting at the edge of the pond, just across the (ex-)forest road running through the mind-bogglingly vast mining area, the stories vocalised were an act of micro-resistance and ‘partial healing’. We were filled with dread of the proximity of ecocide and, equally immediately, concerned about being stopped by the security forces patrolling the area. Despite this, it was in some way liberating to sit at the edge of the pond. We shall, i hope, return and do it again. One day, animals and plants might be able to drink the waters from the pond again, but only if some of ‘us’ sit-in, die-in, rise up and stand ‘in embankment’ with earth beings, holding against pressures of extractivism.

This action happened in what is called North, however, initiated by a non-nordic body in transition, which yearns for a world where south and north do not imply hierarchy and power but are bound in solidarity with no bounds.

 

Notes

[1] Numerous Zapatista materials refer to concepts of ‘mandar obedeciendo’ and ‘todo para todos, nada para nosotros’,  http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/ (last accessed 29 May 2019).

<[2] The stories are from the collection Korpimuseo: Wildwood Tales (2013), collected by Satumaarit Myllyniemi, http://www.tarinakartasto.fi/en/publication/ (last accessed 29 May 2019).

[3] To get a glimpse of the role the hobbyhorse plays among young people in Finland, see Hobbyhorse Revolution trailer, (2017), a documentary film directed by Selma Vilhunen.

        top

back to projects