‘With you I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough’.*
In this paper I would like to explore artistic methods and writings which attend to the physical matter of the world and in doing so produce a kind of lightness or perhaps even ‘weightlessness.’ It could be argued that writing or performance which rests into the ground, touching the physical matter of the universe, the terrestrial, the corporeal, might lead to a heaviness, reductivity, or fixedness however I wish to propose that writings which perform a kind of poetic materialism can produce a lightness, a mobility, or expansiveness.
I will look closely at literary images found in the fictional writings of John Berger. Sontag describes Bergers explicit ‘attentiveness to the sensual world’, as a master of marking materiality in; bones in the ground, red paint on cave-walls, stars in the night sky often captivating a felt sense of the relativity of time and space.
I will place Bergers writing alongside Calvino’s lightness in text ‘dissolving the solidity of the world,’ and Bachelard’s exploring the imagination of matter through the terrestrial earthbound. I will place these literary images side by side with fieldnotes on ‘lived experience’ through embodied performance actions drawn from practice as research. In particular I will reference collective acts of sensing in my own practice and other processes using ‘arts of noticing.’
My ongoing research is an investigation of materiality and memory using walking, writing, material memoir making as research in performance contexts. This research places centrally the notion of memory shared across bodies, times and places using Stacey Alaimo’s idea of ‘trans-corporeality,’ which lays out a path of transit between material agencies from the human body through water, chemicals, cells, soil, air, blood and bone. I will use this paper to explore specific examples of transcorporeality in literary images and explore how this might inform and shape approaches in devising performance. I will gather encounters in text which give an imagined experience of ‘transcorporeality’ of permeability, sharing of particles, unceasing motion, mixing and mingling of matters.
* a line from ‘and our faces, my heart, brief as photos’ (Berger:2005)
‘What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place; a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) The hundred bones of our feet are scattered like gravel. It is strange that this image of our proximity, concerning as it does mere phosphate of calcium, should bestow a sense of peace. Yet it does. With you I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough.’ (Berger: 1984)
Bachelard, Gaston (2002) Earth and Reveries of Will – An essay on the imagination of matter, The Dallas Institute Publications.
Berger, John, (2005) Here is Where we Meet, Great Britain, London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Berger, John (1984) And our Faces, my Heart, Brief as Photos,London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Borges, Jorge, Luis, (2000) Labyrinths,England, London: Penguin Classics.
Calvino, Italo (1979) Invisible Cities, London: Picador, Pan Books Ltd.
Calvini, Italo (1988) Six memo’s for the next millennium – On lightness, Random House.
De Lillo, Don (2002) The Body Artist, Great Britain: Picador.
Mc Mullen, Ken, (2005) Pioneers in Art and Science – Art, Poetry and Particle Physics DVD, 119 mins. With John Berger supported by University of the Arts London, commissioned by Arts Council England, Distributed by Pinnacle Vision.
Ondaatje, Micheal, (1984) Running in the Family, London, Picador.
Perec, Georges, (1997), Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, London, England: Penguin Classics.
The Art of Permaculture
This paper considers the widespread popularity of permaculture, the role it can play in our dealings with the Anthropocene and more specifically the role of the arts in this context.
Permaculture, “a creative design process based on whole-systems thinking informed by ethics and design principles” is these days quite widely accepted as a method for sustainable gardening and agriculture. It is specifically the Australian environmental designer and ecological educator David Holmgren who is one of the co-originators of permaculture which he developed since 1974 with amongst others Bill Mollison. Holmgren published Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability originally in 2002, with several updated versions since then.
Holmgren developed a system of 12 principles that “guide us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and [that] can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics. By adopting the ethics and applying these principles in our daily life we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers.” Each principle is seen as a door “that opens into whole systems thinking, providing a different perspective that can be understood at varying levels of depth and application.” (www.permacultureprinciples.com).
Although permaculture is thus in the first place used within sustainable gardening these trans-disciplinary principles can also be applied in a wider context. When dealing with the consequences of the Anthropocene, art is often present in various disguises as part of so-called ‘ecosystem restoration’. Performance artist Nala Walla for instance is interested in the question How we can transcend outdated separations between the arts and ecology, allowing them to freely cross-pollinate? and uses permaculture to find an answer. She acknowledges that in order to create “human environments that…have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems” “so much creativity and open-mindedness is required of its practitioners that permaculture may be considered an art form in itself.”
Another way of ‘ecosystem restoration’ could be observed in the work by the French Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (labofii) with a strong Neo-Dadaist streak that is not only active within the context of the so-called ZAD (Nantes, Frances), but also extremely critical on the workings of the commercial art world and especially its appropriation of political art. I will try and include their work in the final presentation. Included in the final paper will be a report on research executed in collaboration with Belgian artist Nathalie Hunter with whom I am developing a proposal in answer to a call of the Drawing Lab in Paris based on permaculture principles. Another reference will be the French essayist and poet Francis Ponge and his La Fabrique du Pré which in its connection between language, thought and landscape it seems to be a perfect permaculture tool.
Holmgren, D. (2003/17) Permaculture, Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Australia: Holmgren Design
Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, https://labofii.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/the-work-of-art-and-activism-in-the-age-of-the-anthropocene/
Permaculture Principles, https://permacultureprinciples.com/
Ponge, F. (1994) La Fabrique du Pré. Lausanne: Skira
Walla, N. – The Embodied Activist – Where Permaculture Meets the Arts in Contact Quarterly, Summer/Fall 2008, http://www.bcollective.org/ESSAYS/nala.CQ.pdf
O dear, what can the matter be? Invisible, inaudible and non-existent creative works.
Not all ideas have to take form. Since the early 20th Century, artists have been increasingly creating invisible, inaudible and non-existent works. Some to make space for calm, stillness, peace and deeper listening, others toy with destruction and annihilation. Into this culture breathes radio broadcasting, an ephemeral medium where silences are often considered problematic and taboo.
Some of the formless ideas considered here are found in paintings by Kazimir Malevich and Robert Rauschenberg; compositions by John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Hildegard Westerkamp and Gavin Bryars; the writings of Enid Blyton; F.T. Marinetti’s futurist radio manifesto and scores; the Radia network; and developments in cloaking technologies.
Whether deliberate or accidental, embodied or digital, silence in the radio studio survives the transmission process almost as effectively as sound. I will reflect on how these quiet moments speak to us about broadcast culture, from revered and stately one-minute public silences, to the frequent studio disruptions of free radio, and radio art compositions.
‘My’ Wings of Desire: Locating the self, amidst the complexities of bordered and borderless spaces.
Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff
From where dreams are woven
Bending sound, dredging the ocean, lost in my circle
Bowie, Station to Station
It has been 30-years since the release of Wings of Desire (1987). Wim Wenders’ film is a love story set in post-war Berlin, where invisible angels observe the city’s lonely inhabitants seeking out those in distress. Three-quarters of the film was shot in black and white, the other quarter in colour. To merge the two formats and create seamless transitions, the film was subjected to several processes of inter-positive and inter-negative to create the final negatives used for release resulting in a loss of quality at every stage. As Wenders comments: “As beautiful as it might have looked in Cannes ’87, every print ever since is six generations removed” (2018).
To mark its anniversary a recent and newly restored digital version of the film premiered in April 2018 in Germany. Every effect was digitally recreated with the black and white and colour sequences reassembled, frame-identical to the original film from 1987. With no generational loss, the film has been reconstructed with a far superior image quality comparable if not better than the original.
Using Wings of Desire as a starting point, from a philosophical as well as psychoanalytical perspective, I would like to explore:
The repercussions of this shift from film to digital. Is this symptomatic of an individual and/or cultural desire to erase aspects of the past, and how does this affect the post-war inter-generational transmission of trauma?
The music of Wings of Desire as a function to organise and disorganise the space that oscillates between the celestial, the weight of bodies and Berlin’s crumbling facade. Andrew Murphie describes music as a constant form of becoming of time, space and everything that inhabits permanent or semi-permanent beings or cultures (1996, p.20), where Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the refrain relates to a specific and problematic attempt at territorial formation and deformation.