On 28 October Sonic Acts presents an evening about Dark Ecology as part of the Vincent on Friday series at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The research and commissioning project Dark Ecology (2014–2016) is about rethinking the connections between humans and nonhumans, and reimagining our connections to the Earth and nature. Many of the works created for Dark Ecology can be seen as a new form of landscape art, revealing unexpected or hidden aspects of the landscape and our relation to it. As such they connect to the current Impressions of Landscape exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum about the discovery of the landscape by painters Daubigny, Van Gogh and Monet.
Bj Nilsen & Karl Lemieux, unearthed. Photo by Pieter Kers
HC Gilje, Barents (Mare Incognitum). Film still
Signe Lidén - krysning/conflux - Photo by Konstantin Guz
by Arie Altena Here are some initial impressions of the third Dark Ecology Journey, mostly written on the spot by Arie Altena, one of the curators of the project. The text is quite rough and at times personal, more diary-style than factual reporting.
I’m particularly keen about walking in the hills around Nikel, and visiting the ruins of the Kola Superdeep, which I’ve written about, but never seen with my own eyes.
Here in the Pasvik Valley, there is no visible sign of pollution or industry, just nature everywhere.
Every time I hear him speak, there are things that I don’t get. But there are sentences that stay in your mind, like lines from a poem.
So many Russians come to see and hear Justin’s work that we run out of iPods with the Russian version.
Again, the whole experience is well designed: walking uphill in a scattered group of about 100 people, many of whom are listening to the podcast, to look at the sculpture and enjoy the landscape.
The theme of the Q&A is very much ‘how to live together’, humans and non-humans. And maybe that’s the direction we should head towards with our Dark Ecology project.
The third and final Dark Ecology Journey has come to an end. From 8 to 12 June more than 50 artists, researchers, curators, writers and organisers, traveled to Svanvik in the Pasvik Valley, and to Nikel and Zapolarny in Russia. The impresse programme included thought-provoking lectures by Heather Davis and Timothy Morton, curated walks, as well as the presentation of impressive commissioned works by ::vtol:: aka Dmitry Morozov, Justin Bennett, Nickel van Duijvenboden, Espen Sommer Eide & Signe Lidén, HC Gilje, Cecilia Jonsson and Jana Winderen. Arie Altena shared his initial impressions of this third and final Journey in an extensive and personal diary. Read his story here We would like to most sincerely thank everyone who made this journey possible: the artists, speakers, partners and funders, the Dark Ecology team and of course all the participants, audiences and others involved in making it happen!
You can now listen to Justin Bennett's soundwalk Vilgiskoddeoayvinyarvi: Wolf Lake on the Mountains (in English and Russian). At the Kola Superdeep site, next to Vilgiskoddeoayvinyarvi, Wolf Lake, we meet Viktor, a geologist who worked on the Kola Superdeep project until it was shut down. He shows us around the ruined site, his living quarters, his small laboratory, and of course the borehole itself. Listen here
Dark Ecology Video Diary: Day 4. On Sunday 12 June, the final day, we traveled back to Kirkenes and to the site of Cecilia Jonsson’s new work Prospecting: A Geological Survey of Greys, the journey was accompanied by a new composition by Peter Meanwell. In the evening there was the performative lecture Echolocation (Session) by Nickel van Duijvenboden, and the improvised performance Mikro by HC Gilje and Justin Bennett. Together with Fridaymilk we will publish a series of video diaries about Dark Ecology, including interviews with the artists and about the journey itself. All videos will be published on darkecology.net
Following two extraordinary Journeys in 2014 and 2015, the third and final edition of the Dark Ecology art, research and commissioning project will take place at the height of the Arctic summer, from 8–12 June 2016. Over the course of five days, a group of more than 50 artists, researchers, curators, writers and organisers, will travel from Kirkenes to Svanvik in the Pasvik Valley, and to Nikel and Zapolarny in Russia. The programme for the Journey is now complete. It includes lectures by Heather Davis and Timothy Morton, the presentation of commissioned works by ::vtol:: aka Dmitry Morozov, Jana Winderen, Espen Sommer Eide & Signe Lidén, Justin Bennett, Cecilia Jonsson, Nickel van Duijvenboden and HC Gilje, as well as guided walks. View full programme
RESEARCH SERIES #25 Compiled by Arie Altena Nikel is a small Russian mining city near the border with Norway. It was founded in the 1930s after enormous quantities of nickel were found nearby. At the time the area was Finnish. An infrastructure for mining the nickel was built in the 1930s with help from Canadian companies. Mining operations began in 1940. In 1944 Nikel became part of the Soviet Union after the Red Army defeated Finland. Nowadays slightly more than 12,000 people live in Nikel. The Norilsk Nickel smelter dominates the city. It was responsible for wide-scale pollution in the 1980s that destroyed much the surrounding nature. Since then pollution levels are lower, though walking through Nikel when a Northern wind is blowing often leaves the taste the sulphur. On a first visit, Nikel – with its blocks of flats, vacant buildings, heavy industry, the smelter and the boiler house – looks like the perfect location for a post-apocalyptic film. But looking closer reveals many different, warmer and humane aspects as well. We have visited Nikel numerous times with the Dark Ecology project, and have grown fond of it. Two years ago we met the Russian architect Tatjana Gorbachewskaja in Amsterdam. She was born and raised in Nikel. Meeting her led to a Dark Ecology commission: the research project Nikel Materiality. In Nikel Materiality Tatjana Gorbachewskaja and Katya Larina – a Russian specialist on Soviet closed cities – meticulously investigate the materials and textures of Nikel. More precisely Nikel Materiality explores Nikel through the lens of its materials and textures. They developed a model which captures the interaction between the architecture of Nikel, the historical development, and the harsh environment – the Arctic climate. In Soviet times Nikel was a planned mono-industrial city. The infrastructures – both material (heating for instance) and immaterial (higher wages, longer holidays, good facilities) – were well cared for. It was a city protected by an invisible ‘dome’. The planning hardly took the environmental consequences into account. Gorbachewskaja and Larina argue in their research that Nikel became a prime example of a city that is alienated from its natural environment. They describe Nikel as ‘a city in a bubble, protected by and therefore isolated by top-down state control for many years. This Nikel is a structure which can be artificially and technologically reproduced anywhere, it’s a place which denies its environment and is no longer related to its geological or climate context’. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Nikel was very much left to its own devices, and the urban structures, now poorly maintained, interacted with the environment. Through this interaction new textures and materials became part of the city. During the second Dark Ecology Journey Tatjana Gorbachewskaja and Katya Larina presented their initial research and guided groups of people through the city, pointing out many interesting aspects in the architecture and urban structure. A booklet catalogued the materials and described the analytical model they developed. They consider the artefacts they collected as objects from a cabinet of curiosities, as samples of a unique ecology which emerged under the ‘protective dome’ and were transformed when the ‘dome’ 'collapsed. They classified about 2000 artefacts using the ecological theory of John T. Lyle, which he proposed in his book Design for Human Ecosystems. The artefacts and material samples are grouped according to four themes: The Slag, Self-Organising Boundaries, Energy Infrastructures, and Historical Clash. The Slag is a new material, a copper-nickel dust, a by-product of smelting nickel ore. It’s everywhere in Nikel. Self-Organising Boundaries is a group of artefacts that illustrates the boundaries of a ‘competing patterns of existing ecosystems’ within Nikel’s ecology. Under Energy Infrastructures they collected all the artefacts related to the life support mechanisms of Nikel. Historical Clash contains the artefacts related to Nikel’s history: the city was shaped by successive ideological paradigms of Soviet and the Post-Soviet times. This includes five periods: the Finnish Era of the city’s development (1930s), the post World War II Stalin Era, the Khrushchev Era, the Brezhnev Era and the Post-Soviet Era. Each of these periods can be identified in the city. But, they argue, these historical epochs do not exist separately in different city districts, as in most Russian cities. Nikel’s architecture incorporates structures and experiences from previous periods, thus creating ‘a sort of bizarre overlay of the historical layers, where in one building we can see the imprint of different epochs’. Through the catalogue of artefacts they presented Nikel as a ‘material system’, or as they state, as ‘a multi-scalar expression of the new materials which appeared and evolved in the city fabric.’ The research is now available on the Dark Ecology website, which contains their analytical model, a catalogue and an interactive map. Series of photos trace how different materials emerged in Nikel. On a micro scale these show the physical properties of the materials, and on a macro scale they indicate the socioeconomic processes in the city as well as environmental processes of the region. Through the exploration of the ‘materiality’ of Nickel, Gorbachewskaja and Larina reveal the emergent symbiosis in Nikel of the natural environment and alien materials brought in through human activity. Nikel definitely is an example of an extreme Anthropocene landscape. The latest Dark Ecology book Living Earth (2016) includes an interview by Mirna Belina with Tatjana Gorbachewskaja and Katya Larina about their research. Here is an excerpt from their conversation. Mirna Belina So we could see this city as a living system? Katya Larina Nikel was initially set up as a very artificial system, controlled top down by the state. But in time it started behaving and expressing itself as a real living organism. All of its components, including the materials from which it is built, are changing and evolving to adapt to the transforming conditions. All materials behave dynamically in Nikel. They degrade faster than elsewhere. Nature is quite aggressive. It’s all about the energy the city shares with nature and for which it competes with nature. Tatjana Gorbachewskaja This city is slowly opening up to its environment. And this process is a self-organising process. No one controls it! MB What about the pollution from the smelter? TG The main ecological damage happened in the 1980s, when the company started smelting a non-local material, the nickel ore imported from Norilsk (the mining city further to the East in Russia), with a high concentration of sulphur dioxide. It killed almost all the vegetation around the city within just a couple of years. Another cause of major damage was the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. That had an even worse impact on Nikel. The city lost its source of social security and its future perspective. People started leaving the city. It’s still possible to trace the scars of these processes in the material tissue of Nikel. It’s a city fighting to survive. Nature is slowly recovering because the company now mostly processes local ore. The city is also starting to take on its proper size. So it is stabilising. Let’s hope! MB You said in your lecture in Nikel during the second Dark Ecology Journey that one of the most interesting parts of your research was the perception of the city as an infrastructural element. Could you elaborate on that? KL Infrastructures create comfortable spaces for people. An example is the heating infrastructure. Nikel needs such a comprehensive life-support infrastructure because it’s located in such a hostile environment. It was supported by an infrastructure for a long time but at some point in the 1990s, when it stopped functioning properly and had to interact with nature, it began falling apart, it transformed, and developed another life. In other cities these life-support infrastructures are not visible, they are hidden below the surface, but here their presence above the surface emphasises the city’s artificiality. TG In the Arctic, the most important thing is the artificial energy network. Nikel’s energy infrastructure requires very high maintenance; it is a high resource-consuming component of the city. For example, in Soviet times, buildings were regularly painted in bright colours so that the residents did not suffer from colour starvation. Now, because of the low maintenance financing and the harsh climatic conditions, all the layers of paint on the façades have cracked to expose the surface beneath them. Also, heating pipes are not underground in Nikel, they are built above the ground because of the permafrost. It’s like an exposed artificial organism. You see the flow, the veins. That’s how we set up our map of Nikel—we tried to show the infrastructure veins of the city. MB Did you present your insights about Nikel to locals? KL Yes, we had a presentation in Nikel for the local people. For us, the process of the environmental degradation indicates an evolutionary process of the city’s artificial system, revealing its qualities. For inhabitants, it’s mostly a personal tragedy. We were worried that we would be misunderstood, but surprisingly, we had quite a positive response. TG A teacher from the art school pointed out one more important energy resource in Nikel, another important resource of Nikel materiality: the people. And that is true: they really are the driving force of the city. Tatjana Gorbachewskaja (RU) is an architect and urbanist who grew up in Nikel, Russia. Before starting her own praxis in 2014, Gorbachewskaja worked as architect and leading designer at UNStudio in Amsterdam, under Van Berkel & Bos. She is currently a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Design School in Offenbach, Germany. Katya Larina (RU) is an architect and urban designer who received her MA in Landscape Urbanism from the Architectural Association, London. She is co-founder of the research and education project U:Lab.spb, which develops tools that are used in the fields of design and analytics of critical urban environments in Russian cities. U:Lab.spb focuses on socioeconomic strategies in combination with knowledge from urban planning and ecology to foster the redevelopment of Russian industrial cities and knowledge centres. More information about Nikel Materiality can be found here
By Arie Altena Less than three weeks before our third Dark Ecology Journey we present our third theory ‘Reading List’. The first one and the second one are still as relevant to our subject as they were in November 2015 and October 2014. I will not repeat the reading suggestions mentioned there, so might want to take a look at them too – if you haven’t already. In this list I will focus on some of the books that I read in the past few months. Of all the books that I read or dipped into, the one that impressed me most was certainly Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015). This book about the matsutake mushroom is both an ethnography of the community of matsutake pickers, and a study of the matsutake’s ecology. Through the lens of the matsutake Tsing looks at the devastation of our world, and outlines a path of possible survival. Tsing investigates life on the margins of capitalism, fungal ecologies and the history of forests, and points out the crucial role of symbiosis and collaboration in both the ecology of the matsutake mushroom, and the human economy. Tsing describes a life among the ruins of capitalism. She argues that we have to pay more attention to assemblages of human and nonhuman actors if we’d like human civilisation to survive in the Anthropocene, in the wreckages of capitalism. Precarity is central to her view of survival. She writes: ‘What if, as I’m suggesting, precarity is the condition of our time – or, to put it another way, what if our time is ripe for sensing precarity?’ She defines precarity as something positive, a way to escape from the pitfalls of neoliberalism and capitalism: ‘Precarity is the condition of being vulnerable to others. Unpredictable encounters transform us; we are not in control, even of ourselves. Unable to rely on a stable structure of community, we are thrown into shifting assemblages, which remake us as well as our others.’ Praise for the book came from Bruno Latour: ‘If we must survive in the “ruins of capitalism” – what some call the Anthropocene – we need an example of how totally unexpected connections can be made between the economy, culture, biology, and survival strategies. (…) Tsing offers a marvelous example with the unlikely case of a globalized mushroom.’ And if this doesn’t convince you, Timothy Morton wrote a favourable review too. Read it here. Of course I have to mention Timothy Morton’s new book Dark Ecology, For a Logic of Future Coexistence, which was published a few weeks ago. It’s a book-length explanation of dark ecology, often very witty, and sometimes pushing the theoretical envelope just a little bit further than you’d think possible. His rollercoaster account of ‘how the logistics of agricultural society resulted in global warming and hardwired dangerous ideas about life-forms into the human mind’ (I’m quoting the blurb here), is what makes the book a bewitching read. Morton’s trip to Nikel on the first Dark Ecology Journey (2014) is described at the end of the book too. If you don’t have time to read all 180 pages of Morton’s book (including the notes), you can opt to read his essay in our own new book Living Earth. Field Notes from the Dark Ecology Project 2014–2016, which will be available from early June 2016 on the Sonic Acts website. Morton’s essay is an adaptation of one part of his argument in his book, this time starting from his experience in Nikel. Living Earth. Dark Ecology 2014–2016 contains essays and articles written in the context of our Dark Ecology project, and features contributions on almost all commissioned works. Besides Morton’s essay there are pieces by Britt Kramvig & Margrethe Pettersen, Berit Kristoffersen, Graham Harman, Susan Schuppli, Espen Sommer Eide, and an interview with Heather Davis. An extensive interview with the whole curatorial team of Dark Ecology provides insights into the development of the project and the ideas that motivate it. Michel Serres wrote his book Le contrat naturel (1990) already at the end of the 1980s. The English translation The Natural Contract is from 1995. I recently picked up the Dutch translation from 1992, and which I somehow had never read – though it was readily available to me on the bookshelves at V2_. The book begins with a description of a painting by Goya of two fighting men slowly sinking into the Earth. Serres then describes the possibility (remember this was written in 1989) that we are in the middle of global climate change, and asks what this means for philosophy. In this book we find – for the first time? – the idea that the Earth is no longer the stable ground on which dynamic human history unfolds, and that this constitutes a fundamental change for philosophy. Earth itself is changing, the destinies of human history and Earth history are intertwined and we humans realise that they cannot be conceptualised as being separate. The blurb for The Natural Contract states: ‘Serres believes that we must now sign a “natural contract” with the earth to bring balance and reciprocity to our relations with the planet that gives us life. Our survival depends on the extent to which humans join together and act globally, on an earth now conceived as an entity.’ 1990 was a vastly different time, also for theory, and this is also evident in The Natural Contract. Reading it now is a good reminder that the philosophical challenge of global warming is hardly new. The Shock of the Anthropocene, The Earth, History and Us by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz was recently translated from the French (L’Evenement Anthropocène is from 2013). If you want to just read one book on the Anthropocene, this is the one. It offers a clear explanation, different perspectives, and lots of historical information and documentation. Bonnieul and Fressoz use a wealth of information about the history of industrialism, capitalism and environmentalism to show that the Anthropocene is not something that suddenly happened to us in the twenty-first century to awaken us from our ignorance. The devastating effects of industrialism, the use of fossil fuels, and capitalism were known for a long time, but were mostly deliberately ignored, in favour of other interests (money, capital, power). In a sense, Bonnieul’s and Fressoz’s analysis is also precedes Anna Tsing’s ideas on precarity and survival. Verso Books often has interesting readings lists connected to their publications, like this one. McKenzie Wark’s Molecular Red, Theory for the Anthropocene, which was published last year, has a great line-up of subjects: the philosophy (or, as he called it ‘Tektology’) of Alexander Bogdanov – rival of Lenin, all-round scientist, philosopher and SF-writer; the novels and other writings of Andrey Platonov; Donna Haraway’s theory of the cyborg; and the Martian trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Verso has put a Molecular Red reader online with texts about all the subjects. McKenzie Wark claims to develop philosophical tools for the Anthropocene in this book, but somehow his effort impresses me less than the approach offered in Anna Tsing’s book. Partly this has to do with the fact that Wark’s treatment of, for instance, Platonov is simply not as thorough as Anna Tsing’s ethnography of matsutake pickers in Oregon; partly is has to do with Wark’s heavy reliance on hardcore Marxism. (Though the fact that he makes labour the focal point is extremely valuable). By the way, if you read Dutch it is worthwhile to pick up a copy of issue of the Belgian literary magazine nY. It contains some more texts that relate – in very different ways – to the Anthropocene discussion and ‘dark ecology’, for instance, a long review of Molecular Red by Pieter Vermeulen and Tom Chadwick. To wrap up this reading list, let me announce the forthcoming new book by Donna Haraway Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin in the Chthulucene, which will be published in September 2016. Quoting from the description: ‘She eschews referring to our current epoch as the Anthropocene, preferring to conceptualize it as what she calls the Chthulucene, as it more aptly and fully describes our epoch as one in which the human and nonhuman are inextricably linked in tentacular practices. The Chthulucene, Haraway explains, requires sym-poiesis, or making-with, rather than auto-poiesis, or self-making.’ It’s the argument that she has been making in the lectures and articles that have appeared online over the past year; see, for example, ‘SF: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble’ or ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Making String Figures with Biologies, Arts, Activisms’.
Living Earth - Field Notes from the Dark Ecology Project 2014 - 2016 Price: 19,50 EUR Order here Living Earth is a new book filled with ideas, conversations, lectures, and documentation relating to commissioned installations, soundwalks, concerts and performances made for and during the Dark Ecology project. This three-year project, a collaboration between Sonic Acts and the Norwegian curator Hilde Methi, was held from 2014 to 2016 in different places in Norway and Russia and included three curated ‘Journeys’. Living Earth is a recreation of these research trips to the Barents Region, from Kirkenes and Svanvik in Norway to Nikel, Zapolyarny and Murmansk in Russia. The project was inspired by Timothy Morton’s concept of ‘dark ecology’ and his philosophy of ‘ecology without Nature’. Morton offers a radical criticism of the modernist way of thinking about nature as something outside of us, and instead proposes an interconnected ‘mesh’ of all living and non-living objects. He ruminates on this idea in his essay for Living Earth entitled ‘What Is Dark Ecology’, stating at the outset that ecological awareness is ‘weird weirdness’.
"Dark ecology is about how we get to exit from toxic modernity. It’s been very moving for me to watch the Sonic Acts artists working with a concept I’ve been shaping for a while. They have explored the Arctic realm with the greatest aesthetic skill, a skill that by no means excludes the political." – Timothy MortonLiving Earth is a 256-page trip with artists, thinkers, curators and other Dark Ecology participants into the dark space of rethinking nature and art, and it also contributes to the contemporary Anthropocene debate. The motivations behind the project and its impact are discussed in the interview with the curatorial team titled ‘Outside the Comfort Zone’, which opens the book. Besides Timothy Morton’s long essay the book contains contributions by Susan Schuppli (‘Dirty Pictures’), and Berit Kristofferson (‘The Workable Arctic of Ice and Oil’), which examine the consequences of the Anthropocene. There is an interview with Heather Davis (‘Queer Kinship’), and in her essay about Margrethe Pettersen’s soundwalk (Living Land – Below as Above), Britt Kramvig builds on the notion of ‘anthropo-not-seen’. Tatjana Gorbachewskaja and Katya Larina discuss their research into the interaction between the Arctic environment and the architecture of the Russian mining town Nikel (‘Nikel – The City as a Material’). Graham Harman embarks on an interesting rethinking of Jakob von Uexküll’s influential book A Foray Into the World of Animals and Humans and its notion of environment (‘Magic Uexküll’).
“What an amazing journey it was, through the Arctic regions of Norway and Russia! Now everyone can live or relive it through this feast of a collection.” – Graham HarmanLiving Earth is a catalogue too, as it documents and presents in different formats the commissioned works created for Dark Ecology. There are works by HC Gilje (Barents – Mare Incognitum; The Crossing; Mikro with Justin Bennett), Joris Strijbos (‘Machine Synaesthetics’, an interview about his work IsoScope), Espen Sommer Eide (Material Vision – Silent Reading; ‘A Vertical Perspective’ – a text about his collaboration with Signe Lidén on Altitude and History). Some artists were already presented in more depth in a previous Sonic Acts book, The Geologic Imagination (2015), but are present in Living Earth as well: Raviv Ganchrow (Long Wave Synthesis), Karl Lemieux and BJ Nilsen (unearthed), Marijn de Jong (with a photo essay Grey Zone) and Femke Herregraven (Staring into the Ice). Other interesting commissions and chapters in Living Earth include: Signe Lidén (krysning/пересечение/conflux), Justin Bennett (Vilgiskoddeoayvinyarvi: Wolf Lake on the Mountains), Hilary Jeffery (Murmansk Spaceport), Cecilia Jonsson (Prospecting: a Geological Survey of Greys), Lucy Railton and Russell Haswell (Unknown) and the Secret Chambers I and II, two nights of live performances curated by Anya Kuts and Ivan Zoloto.
“Participating in the Dark Ecology journey was an extraordinary opportunity to witness the dark matters of environmental change firsthand through direct contact with the landscapes in which we travelled. This book reflects upon these encounters, entangling our proximate and local experiences with the global processes of accelerated climate change.” – Susan SchuppliAs a catalogue of texts and visual essays from the Dark Ecology project, Living Earth not only engages in a vibrant conversation with the previous Sonic Acts book The Geologic Imagination, but is also an introduction to the ongoing contemporary debates about the nature, ecology, art and ‘mesh’ that we live in. The third edition of the art, research and commissioning project Dark Ecology will take place between 8 and 12 June 2016 in the border zone between Norway and Russia, with events scheduled in the Pasvik Valley and Kirkenes (NO) as well as in the surroundings of Nikel (RU). Over the course of five days, a group of more than 50 artists, researchers, curators, writers and organisers, will travel from Northern Norway to North West Russia. While the previous Journey took place in the dark winter season, the third one will take place during the Arctic summer, with sunlight for most of the day and night. Living Earth - Field Notes from the Dark Ecology Project 2014 - 2016 Price: 19,50 EUR Order here
Prospecting: A Geological Survey of Greys is accompanied by a new sound piece composed by Peter Meanwell. It features the artist in conversation about her engagement with the landscape around Kirkenes, the geological formation that lie beneath our feet, and the physical processes of creating the installation. A soundtrack of field recordings of the surrounding area and the technology used to create the art work, metaphorically drills in to the bedrock of the artist's thinking and the creation of the work. Download the audio here More information about the work can be found here: commissions/cecilia-jonsson-prospecting Peter Meanwell (UK) is the artistic director of the Borealis festival. He explores radio as a broadcast medium for artistic action, abstract sound and experimental music, and has more than ten years experience making radio programmes for BBC 3.
The third edition of the art, research and commissioning project Dark Ecology will take place between 8 and 12 June 2016 in the border zone between Norway and Russia, with events scheduled in the Pasvik Valley and Kirkenes (NO) as well as in the surroundings of Nikel (RU). Over the course of five days, a group of more than 50 artists, researchers, curators, writers and organisers, will travel from Northern Norway to North West Russia. While the previous Journey took place in the dark winter season, the third one will take place during the Arctic summer, with sunlight for most of the day and night. Researcher, writer, and editor Heather Davis starts this Journey with a keynote presentation. For Vilgiskoddeoayvinyarvi: Wolf Lake on the Mountains, Justin Bennett will take participants on a soundwalk exploring the area around the Kola Superdeep Borehole. Espen Sommer Eide and Signe Lidén will take participants on Altitude and History, a 3-hour evening trek in the mountains above Nikel, where they will investigate the acoustic phenomena in relation to the topography of the area while relating them to the local history. ::vtol:: a.k.a. Dmitry Morozov will be undertaking a residency in April in the Pasvik Valley to create a new audiovisual installation, and Dutch artist Nickel van Duijvenboden will conduct a performative reading. Cecilia Jonsson has been doing intensive research in the Kirkenes area to explore suitable drilling sites and is preparing an installation created by drilling deep into the Earth’s crust. Prospecting: A Geological Survey of Greys is an interdisciplinary, site-specific art project that appropriates the scientific geological methods of extracting, analysing and categorising mineral specimens. Mikro is a series of improvised collaborative performances between HC Gilje (video) and Justin Bennett (sound) that draws its raw material from the immediate surroundings. On the last day of the Dark Ecology Journey, Bennett and Gilje will perform the latest version of Mikro using material gathered over the course of the Journey. More about the upcoming Dark Ecology Journey programme will be announces on this website and via the newsletter.
Featuring: Arie Altena, Espen Sommer Eide, Signe Lidén, Tone Huse, Lars Jensen, Britt Kramvig, Berit Kristoffersen, Hilde Methi, Timothy Morton, Roger Norum, Bjørnar Olsen, Margrethe Pettersen, Tora Pétursdóttir, Helen Verran, Jana Winderen, Annette Wolfsberger. On 15 June Dark Ecology and Arctic Encounters will host and event that explores why objects, landscapes and seaspaces in the Arctic matter ethically, politically and aesthetically. Artists and scholars are invited to engage with the contemporary realities of the Arctic region, using the agency of things as its lens for analysis. Our geological epoch is increasingly referred to as the Anthropocene. This term asks what kinds of presuppositions organise our thinking about the current global environmental crisis, and how different ways of thinking might open up new modes of action at a time when human beings make up the largest single force for change on the Earth. The Anthropocene is also closely related to the so-called 'material turn', which is increasingly influential in academia and is also a source of inspiration for the contemporary art scene. Featuring key thinkers, artists, artworks and short films, the audience is invited enter into a dialogue on the Anthropocene, the ice-edge and much more. The programme begins with a panel of Dark Ecology curators and artists who reflect on their involvement in the project, and how they approached the theme of 'Dark Ecology'. The Verdensteatret session ends on a similar note: examining how researchers have approached ‘Arctic Encounters’ as a lens through which important issues for the future of the Arctic are being negotiated. The evening ends with the commissioned film Pasvikdalen by Jana Winderen and a talk by philosopher Timothy Morton, who coined the idea of ‘Dark Ecology’ (in his book Ecology without Nature in 2010) and who is now launching his new book Dark Ecology. This event is co-hosted by Dark Ecology, Arctic Encounters and Troms Fylkeskommune. More information about the programme and how to attend can be found here.
Following two extraordinary Dark Ecology Journeys in 2014 and 2015, the third and final journey will take place at the height of the Arctic summer: from 8–12 June 2016. Participants will travel from the Norwegian town Kirkenes to the Pasvik Valley and to Nikel and Zapolarny in Russia. The programme includes lectures, discussions, walks and performances as well as the presentation of new commissioned works. Justin Bennett will take participants on a soundwalk exploring the area around the Kola Superdeep Borehole. Espen Sommer Eide and Signe Lidén conducted research into the sound memories of local residents, with their Nikel Sound History Club, that will inform the instruments that they build and use in a number of performances. Dmitry Morozow will be undertaking a residency in April in the Pasvik Valley to create a new audiovisual installation, and Dutch artist Nickel van Duijvenboden will conduct a performative reading. Cecilia Jonsson has been doing intensive research in the Kirkenes area to explore suitable drilling sites and is preparing an installation created by drilling deep into the earth’s crust. Keep an eye on this website for regular programme updates. Sign up for the Dark Ecology newsletter here.
IsoScope, Joris Strijbos, Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Photo by Michael MillerAfter two extraordinary Dark Ecology Journeys in 2014 and 2015, we are very happy to announce the third and final journey which will take place from 8–12 June 2016 in Northern Norway and Russia. While the previous journey took place as the sun showed itself for the last time that year, this final journey will take place during the Arctic summer, with sun for most of the day and night. The programme includes the presentation of new commissioned works by Justin Bennett, Dmitry Morozow, Signe Lidén and Espen Sommer Eide, Cecila Jonsson and others, as well as lectures, discussions, walks, and performances. More information about the programme will be announced shortly. Call for Applicants The Dark Ecology Journey is for artists, theorists, designers, curators, scientists, writers, makers, and researchers who operate at the intersection of art, science and music, and who are interested in rethinking notions and concepts such as ‘nature’, ‘culture’, ‘ecology’ and ‘society’, and exploring new descriptions of the current 'state of affairs'. If you are interested in joining this journey, apply by submitting a biography and short motivation about why you would like to take part to darkecology[@]sonicacts[.]com. Please note that participants will be required to cover their costs for travel, accommodation & catering. If you have any questions about the contribution or any other matters, please do not hesitate to contact us. Apply as soon as possible, there are limited places available. The application deadline is 18 March 2016! Costs of Dark Ecology Journey 2016 Participation The costs for participation are approximately EUR 750 / NOK 7000 for the Dark Ecology Journey from 8-12 June (travel dates are Wednesday 8 June and Monday 13 June). This covers the accommodation, catering and local transports which we will organise for you - we do not charge a participation fee. You’ll also have to cover (inter)national air fairs. We can help you with an official invitation letter in case you want to apply for your own funding. We will also help with arranging a visa invitation for Russia so that you can apply for it. The costs of the visa depend on your nationality. Please send an email to email@example.com should you have any queries.
Before he left for the Dark Ecology Journey, Arie Altena contributed to Radio Web MACBA’S fourth episode in the OBJECTHOOD podcast series. This podcast is about objects, but more importantly, it is about some of the recent theories that offer new conceptualisations of objects in contemporary philosophy and art. In this episode, we go underground, but also under water, where development clashes with strange hyperobjects such as poison, where geology meets politics, where horror meets daily life.
Tower of the Kola Superdeep Borehole in September 2007. Photo by Andre Belozeroff, sourceOBJECTHOOD #4 explores the slippery materiality of untraceable objects: from the arsenic poisoning the wells of Bangladesh as told by Nabil Ahmed, to Arie Altena's account of the superstition surrounding the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia, or the bizarre biology of the vampire squid from hell in a passage of Vilém Flusser’s ‘Vampyroteuthis Infernalis’ read by AGF. Timeline 00:16 Introduction 08:48 Nabil Ahmed: Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh 15:32 Forensic Architecture 17:13 Arsenic in the history of toxicology 23:36 The devil in the water 24:55 How arsenic poisoned the water 26:31 Perspectivism 29:42 A pharmakon par excellence 35:17 Arie Altena: The Kola Superdeep Borehole 39:07 Yuri Smirnov and the legacy of the Kola Superdeep 40:57 The well to hell myth 47:37 Excerpt of Vilém Flusser’s 'Vampyroteuthis Infernalis', read by AGF (Antye Greie-Ripatti) Listen to OBJECTHOOD #4 here. This podcast was curated by Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and produced for Radio Web MACBA in collaboration with Dark Ecology / Sonic Acts. Arie Altena previously published the Field Notes article Drilling Deep / Knowledge from Underground, find it here.
We are back home from a successful second Dark Ecology Journey. Over the course of five days, we travelled with a group of more than 50 artists, researchers, curators, writers and organisers to Kirkenes in Northern Norway from where we took a bus to Murmansk in Russia, to Zapolyarny and Nikel, and back to Kirkenes. It was the time of the polar twilight, when the sun does not rise above the horizon. During these long periods of darkness, life slows down and offers room for introspection. Yet, for many of us who had never been this far north before, it was surprisingly bright, and we enjoyed as much as four or five hours of beautiful twilight, as well as a full moon.
Road to Murmansk, Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Photo by Lucas van der VeldenThe core of the Dark Ecology project is about investigating new definitions and imaginings of ecology, the connection between humans, nature and technology, and overcoming the nature–culture divide, all in the context of the ongoing transformations to the planet and the ecological crisis. The Barents region – where Kirkenes, Nikel, Zapolyarny, and Murmansk are located – has already undergone changes due to climate change, which has affected the economic and geopolitical situation. The programme kicked off with an expanded lecture by the American philosopher Graham Harman. It was followed by a short report on the rapidly changing political and economic situation of Kirkenes, touching on the closure of the Norwegian border at Storskog to refugees, the bankruptcy of the mine, and the collapse of trade with Russia.
IsoScope, Joris Strijbos, Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Photo by Michael MillerDutch artist Joris Strijbos installed a new kinetic sound-and-light installation IsoScope, with wind generating the energy to power the revolving lights and the sound, on top of a ‘mountain’ just outside Kirkenes. We visited the work in the early evening. At the same time Norwegian artist Margrethe Pettersen presented the soundwalk Living Land – Below but also Above on the frozen lake, illuminated by small lights and an almost full moon. It was a magical experience.
Living Land - Below but also Above, Margrethe Pettersen, Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Photo by Michael MillerThe next day we travelled to Murmansk, which, including the border crossing, took us most of the day. (There were no refugees; the only visible evidence of what had happened there in the past few weeks were two containers filled with bikes). The travel was scheduled perfectly. We drove through the Pasvik valley at twilight as the fading light gradually gave way to darkness on the road to Murmansk. En route, we listened to a selection of podcasts that approached the subject of Dark Ecology from numerous perspectives. In Murmansk the day ended with a public talkshow featuring the artists who had developed new works for Dark Ecology.
LYSN, Murmansk Spaceport, Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Photo by Michael MillerThe next morning, artist and researcher Susan Schuppli presented her views on ‘dark matter’ and ‘material witnesses’ during a lecture at the Aurora Kinoteater. Trombonist and composer Hilary Jeffery had already been in Murmansk for two weeks, working on his commission Murmansk Spaceport, which was performed by a new formation of LYSN with local musicians from Murmansk and Bødo. They performed the piece twice at the Roxy cultural centre to an audience who reclined on beanbags and cushions while listening to and absorbing the sound of the drones with their bodies.
The Crossing, HC Gilje, Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Photo by Michael MillerWe explored Murmansk in groups the following morning and afternoon, diving into the architecture, the history, development, and culture of this extraordinary harbour city. In the late afternoon we travelled back on the bus, first to Nikel to see HC Gilje’s work Barents (Mare Incognitum) at the local sports stadium, and then to Zapolyarny to see The Crossing, a light installation that used an abandoned concrete structure just outside the town (we still don’t know what it’s function was, or who it belongs to).
Tatjana Gorbachewskaja presents Nickel Materiality, Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Photo by Michael MillerAfter a night in Zapolyarny it was back to Nikel for the last commissioned work, an extensive mapping of the architectural development and materials of Nikel by Tatjana Gorbatsjevskaja and Katya Larina, presented in the form of a lecture and a guided walk through part of the town. For those who had never been to Nikel, this was perhaps one of the most impressive parts of the journey, as Nikel and its smelter are simply that: impressive. It unleashed a discussion about what we do with the world, and how our lives are intimately attached to beautiful things as well as to pollution and dirt. Go to the Flickr album for pictorial impressions of the journey and go to the Dark Ecology Facebook page for day to day reports. In June we will return for a third and final Dark Ecology Journey.
Before he left for the Dark Ecology Journey, which is currently underway, Arie Altena contributed to Radio Web MACBA’S fourth episode in the OBJECTHOOD podcast series. This episode is about what lies beneath the surface: where development clashes with strange hyperobjects such as poison, where geology meets politics, where horror meets daily life. Altena also talks about superstitions surrounding the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia. Additional contributions are from Nabil Ahmed who talks about the arsenic that is poisoning Bangladeshi wells, and AGF who reads from Vilém Flussers Vampyroteuthis Infernalis. Listen to OBJECTHOOD #4 here. This podcast was curated by Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and produced for Radio Web MACBA and Dark Ecology / Sonic Acts.
Tower of the Kola Superdeep Borehole in September 2007. Photo by Andre Belozeroff, source
Tatjana Gorbachewskaja, Nikel Materiality, commissioned for Dark Ecology Journey 2015. Image courtesy of the ArtistWith just one day until we embark on the Dark Ecology Journey, participants are currently en route to the first stop: Kirkenes. Between 26 and 30 November journey participants will not only visit Kirkenes, but also Murmansk, Nikel and Zapolyarny, where they will take part in a programme that includes keynote lectures by Graham Harman and Susan Schuppli, as well as the presentation of new works commissioned by Dark Ecology that are presented for the first time. Joris Strijbos developed IsoScope, a kinetic outdoor sound-and-light installation that is influenced by the elements. Margrethe Pettersen presents Living Land - Above but also Below, a soundwalk inspired by the notion of Ice as a primary archival medium of the Arctic. Hilary Jeffery will perform Murmansk Spaceport with local musicians in a new formation of the musical ensemble LYSN. HC Gilje will present 2 new works: The video installation Barents (Mare Incognitum) and the light installation The Crossing. Tatjana Gorbachewskaya will take the participants on a curated walk through her former hometown, titled Nikel Materiality, in which the town is explored through the unique material substances that the city created. The full Dark Ecology Journey programme can be found here. Follow Dark Ecology and Sonic Acts on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for regular journey updates.
Following his contribution to the Dark Ecology Journey, philosopher Graham Harman will present a lecture titled Art and Ecology at the Art Academy in Oslo on 1 December 2015. Harman is Distinguished University Professor at the American University in Cairo. He is a founding member of the Speculative Realism movement, and chief exponent of Object-Oriented Ontology. Recent publications include Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (2012), Bells and Whistles: More Speculative Realism (2013), and Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Political (2014). He is editor of the Speculative Realism book series as well as co-editor (with Bruno Latour) of the New Metaphysics book series. The lecture is free and open to the public. More information about attending the lecture can be found on the Academy’s website. It is part of the Dark Ecology programme in collaboration with PNEK and Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo.
by Lucas van der Velden & Rosa Menkman Susan Schuppli was in Rotterdam recently to give a presentation about her new installation that is included in the exhibition Asymmetrical Warfare at the Witte de With (11 September 2015 – 3 January 2016). As far as idols go, Schuppli is definitely one of mine, so I was very excited to have a chance to sit down with her and Lucas van der Velden to talk not only about what it means to be an artist and theorist working in the field of practice-based research, but also to ask her some more in-depth questions about the research she conducted for her forthcoming book Material Witness: Forensic Media and the Production of Evidence and will present during the Dark Ecology Journey.
Susan Schuppli. photo by Lucas van der VeldenLets start with a question about your process. From the outside it looks like your work is a great example of artistic research, but it also takes on a very concrete form. Where do you start, do you work from a case, towards a theory? Or is it a hybrid for you? My research comes from direct material engagement, which in the process might open up certain conceptual ideas. This way of working has had an impact on my writing. Today I prefer things to be more clear, rather than philosophically obtuse. I always work with a case, which is usually very particular and modest. My method is to start at the granular scale, from which I eventually scale up and look at the broader, social and political implications. So for example, for my PhD dissertation I took as my research object the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the young girl, Kim Phúc, running away from a napalm attack in Vietnam. That very famous image was printed on the front page of the New York Times as a very grainy, impure image. Today we encounter it as a high-quality, very pristine image. But this is because it is reprinted from the old negatives that have been cleaned up. Historically the photo left Vietnam as a fourteen-minute sound file; it was sent from Saigon to Tokyo to New York over a normal telephone relay connection, which is how many photojournalists at the time had to send their images around the world. Because of the conditions through which the image had to be recreated, so not only from sound but also within a milieu of constant radio chatter of pilots flying above Vietnam, the image picked up a lot of interference along the way. By the time it was recomposed in New York, it was hard to read and very dirty. I believe that these processes can give me important insights into the material conditions in which this image was created. But in order to abstract these conditions, I need to have an understanding of the way in which this image is composed technically. So my research is hybrid, I suppose. Can you briefly outline what you’ll be talking about during the Dark Ecology Journey? I believe it is important to invent your own concepts, even if you work within the fields of theory and philosophy. For quite some time I’ve been working on this concept I call the material witness. ‘Material witness’ is a legal term; it refers to someone who has knowledge pertinent to a criminal act or event that could be significant to the outcome of a trial. In my work, I poach the term ‘material witness’ to express the ways in which matter carries trace evidence of external events. But the material witness also performs a twofold operation; it is a double agent. The material witness does not only refer to the evidence of event but also the event of evidence. It is insufficient to say that this specific type of material records or registers external events, because all material does that: with the right kind of analysis one can determine that my hand had been on the table, but this does not make a material witness of the table. A material witness has to disclose the kinds of institutional frameworks and practices that are able to render the material witness as significant. So if we consider the material witness as both the evidence of event and also the event of evidence, it allows me to understand why certain events are deemed to be worthy of our attention, and other things are disregarded. In the past I primarily looked at analogue media artefacts. I tracked the paths of those more concrete media. But through this work I also started to expand my understanding of what constitutes a ‘material substrate’, which has led me to become increasingly interested in how environmental systems themselves also operate as systems of registration. Today, my own interest, in particular vis-à-vis Dark Ecology, is shifting towards the ways in which certain contaminated or polluted environments start to function as proto-photographic systems. The chemistry of these toxic ecologies starts to induce a certain set of alchemical changes that seem analogous to some of the early experiments in photography. Besides that, I am not necessarily interested in the field of representation; so not in the picturing of things, but much more in the ontological material composition of things, which is where I tend to locate the political. For example, within the realm of digital processing, I’m interested in the moments in which a file is translated or transcoded from one format to the next. During this process, material parameters, standardised by human organisation, result in the discarding of certain digital data. These kinds of micro thresholds are moments when the political enters, because the deletion of certain data and the favouring of other data is a political decision, although positioned within a realm of micro processing. I would like to scale up this mode of thinking: I’m less interested in a picture of an oil spill and more into the way in which the chemical arrangements of the molecules within that oil spill actually produce a parabolic mirror, which refracts light in a way that is very similar to other natural optical systems. So I like to interpret the oil spill as an image-producing technology and argue that the oil spill is reflecting an ‘extreme image’ or ‘dirty image’ back at us. You started by using the word ‘significant’ in the sense of the material witness as being significant in the outcome of a trial. But at the same time you referred to elements that are very small. It’s interesting that such small elements can actually refer to big problems. Do these small elements also carry a particular significance because they often cannot be seen directly? In terms of the material witness, I ask the question: why is it that certain kinds of material are deemed to be significant? Who decides, which experts or legal practitioners play a role in this process? It turns out that often it is the institutional bodies that determine what the evidence consists of. This became very apparent to me during the work I did in relation to the Inuit and the movement of the Sun in the Canadian Arctic. The Inuit observations were dismissed by climate scientists as being hallucinogenic: the Inuits explained that the trajectory of the Sun had changed slowly and that it was now setting 19 kilometres further to the west. The explanation they offered for this change of location did not take on the form of a great Inuit myth like ‘the great whale plucked the Sun out of the sky and moved it over’. Instead, the Inuit said ‘maybe the Sun has tilted on its axis’. So their search for a causal explanation was an invocation of Western physics. The language they used to account for the change in their environment was the language of the modern Western subject. At the same time, the Inuit were not considered to be legitimate witnesses who were able to fully account for their experience and their observation was dismissed and ridiculed. It struck me that afterwards, the scientists who specialised in the optics of snow did in fact study these changing conditions as described by the Inuit, and realised that thermal inversions and the melting of the snow pack did alter the way in which ice crystals reflect the sunlight. So what the Inuit are observing is true: the optical trajectory of the Sun has changed. However this change is not the result of a tilting of the Sun, but is due to global warming and ways the snow crystals interact with the light. The significance of this story lies in the question: who gets to speak on behalf of the material or the phenomenon? The Inuit were clearly not regarded as a legitimate party. In our contemporary lives it is generally ‘the experts’ who have a voice. We turn to expertise to determine if something is fully significant, or worthy of our attention. In times past, theology might have been able to explain the miraculous appearance of something, but now we look to the scientific ‘experts’ to say: ‘These observations are legitimate, this is why they are happening, here is the data’. Other forms of knowledge production don’t have the legitimacy to produce a state of significance. Significance is constituted by fields of knowledge that have a certain kind of traction and authority to say: ‘Yes this piece of evidence, this material is significant, we have to pay attention to this’, or: ‘This piece of evidence should be dismissed, it is just an aberration’. Significance is constituted by the practices and protocols that are often exclusionary and bound by disciplinary discourses. I came to this conclusion primarily because I’ve worked a lot in the field of critical legal studies. Law is a system that isn’t easy to access as an artist. It has a lot of gatekeepers. But one of the great advantages of being an artist is that you can investigate other areas and other fields and disciplines. However, I discovered a dilemma that was different to what I had encountered when I worked with other scientific disciplines: law is largely based on precedent. Jurisprudence, which is the creation of the law, is not about inventing new laws. Instead, it is continually interpreting the past and recalibrating it, pushing the law along incrementally. Its orientation is backwards. I think there is much more sympathy between modern scientists who work in labs, in experimental settings, who ask questions and work with uncertainty. Today most scientists – climate scientists, for example – work with visual simulations, so by necessity they have entered the world of visualisation in a very fundamental sense. This is why I feel that in some way we have entered a very unique moment in time in which artists and scientists have skill sets that are actually quite close to each other. Earlier you talked about contamination and pollution as optical systems. Can we connect this to the Anthropocene, an era in which humans are leaving their traces in geological systems? Would you describe geology as an optical system? In the humanities, the Anthropocene means the inauguration of a new era in which human activities have such an impact that they have been inscribed in the geographic record. I insist that anthropogenic matter has a certain non-classic aesthetic or visual set of properties. Similarly to how Timothy Morton talks about the ‘hyperobject’, I’m interested in what I coined the ‘extreme image’. With the concept of the extreme image, I make a case for understanding anthropogenic matter as a reorganisation of not only geologic strata, but also of the field of aesthetics. Global warming has produced a new optical regime in the North, it has changed the way light behaves and in this sense acts as some kind of aesthetic, quasi-photographic system. This way of thinking is an inversion how Jussi Parikka and other media archaeologists look at the impact of the media on geology; they look at the ways digital waste, e-waste has influenced environmental systems. I am looking at the opposite: the way an environmental system can be considered a de-facto media system. When I think of the rise of CO2, I’m thinking about something really abstract, something that I, as a human being, do not have physiological sensors to experience. I cannot perceive the changes physically. Does the optical system you propose – geology as an optical system – include everything that happens within the entire electromagnetic spectrum, even those parts of the spectrum that are beyond human perception? My research began with simple optical systems, but today I’m interested in all kinds of new sensory systems. Unlike my work on Material Witness (the book), which has a quite resolved methodology and set of case-studies, I would like to destabilise human vision as the privileged mode through which we make sense of the world. We have to take into account that there is information that is completely beyond the realm of human perception: the nuclear, algorithmic computation, and high frequency trading are examples of this. There are many things within the realm of computation that happen according to systems that do not interface with human cognition or perception. I believe we need new sensors to expand our ways of research. We are going to an area in Russia that is actually listed in the top ten of the most polluted areas in the world. However, when you’re on the ground, this pollution is hard to actually perceive. You do sense it to varying degrees, but it’s difficult to conceptualise what is going on. If the subject of your research exists entirely outside of your direct field of perception, how can you still do your research? Maybe it’s better to think about evidence: where do we look for evidence of specific kinds of events? In which cases can evidence exist if it has no visual status. It is much easier for us to understand kinetic events. We can see an event, or the before and after will tell us that something happened. When transformations occur quickly they are easy to spot, while transformations that happen over a longer course of time are less legible. We need to look to scientists and see how they do the testing; how do they decide the significance? In a way I’m a bit trapped because I do need a certain kind of access to the investigative tools that scientists have developed to make things legible or visible so that I can re-narrate them. In a certain way that is what I’m doing when I narrate these findings. On the one hand I’m very aware of the fact that certain disciplines have become the ‘go to disciplines’ for determining what counts as something that we need to act on. But then of course we know how the producers of, for instance, oil and gas work so actively with their own people to produce counter-narratives. At the same time, as someone working within the humanities, I couldn’t do anything without some of the methods that these people have produced. What is my own relationship to these techno-scientific methods that I need in order to make something legible to me so I can investigate further? It seems we still need visual evidence before we can act as moral agents. This regime of visibility is a huge challenge. How do we act as ethical agents when there are all kinds of events that don’t produce coherent visual evidence? We’re still living with the legacy of an older form of ethics. This is a challenge for the Anthropocene and for global warming: it produces a certain kind of image such as a polar bear floating by himself on a piece of ice. It is very troubling that we still need these kinds of images to spur us to act as ethical agents. Ethics needs to happen at all levels of infrastructure. Accountability is not the endgame of just a CEO. We are wired to think in terms of solutions and conditioned to think about our problems as a narrative: If we eat less meat, global warming will reduce, if we all become vegan, the problems will end. But in reality, there are no real solutions. If we eliminate the solutions we could look at the problem differently. A solution is also always a problem. We seem to be programmed such that we have to be really close to something before we act: the more distance we create between the drone and the operator, the less responsible we feel for the target. I believe in the concepts of aggregate causality and distributed responsibility, which are also two things I really try to engage with in my work. If we account for our individual roles, we also account for our individual agency. It is politically important to understand our own implications, even if we have no sense of how we can abstract ourselves from the many paradoxical situations we are in. Be honest, we’re all using the evil technologies and we have become the engineers of our own demise. We can’t reverse engineer ourselves out of this predicament. But I do believe that we can develop other models of accountability and responsibility. This could start by asking ourselves at what scale we are working, as a form of scalar politics. Because the moment you set the parameters everything looks different. At which point do we want to close the dataset and say: this network is responsible for this outcome. We have to become much more engaged with the techno-scientific processes with which we work, which will require a lot more awareness and action from all of us. Without that we are merely at the mercy of the policymakers who make decisions on our behalf. I propagate the idea of creating the conditions in which we can self educate. Biography Susan Schuppli is an artist and writer based in London. Her research practice has examined media artefacts that emerge out of sites of contemporary conflict and state violence to ask questions about the ways in which media enable or limit the possibility of transformative politics. Current work explores the ways in which toxic ecologies ranging from nuclear accidents and oil spills to the dark snow of the Arctic are producing an ‘extreme image’ archive of material wrongs. Schuppli has exhibited throughout Canada, the US, Europe and Asia. She has published widely within the context of media and politics and is the author of the forthcoming book, Material Witness: Forensic Media and the Production of Evidence (MIT Press), which is also the subject of an experimental documentary. Schuppli is Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths. From 2011 to 2014 she was Senior Research Fellow on the ERC project Forensic Architecture led by Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator). Previously she was an Associate Professor in Visual Arts in Canada. http://susanschuppli.com/
Susan Schuppli - Dark Matters: Bearing Material Witness to Climate Change
Saturday 28 November
11:30 - 13:30
Aurora Cinema, Nakhimova street 21, Murmansk
In her keynote lecture Material Evidence from Disputed Arctic Sunsets to Dark Snow Susan Schuppli introduces a new operative concept, that of the ‘Material Witness’.
Following the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, on 15 December Sonic Acts and EYE on Art will host a Dark Ecology inspired evening on climate change. The programme explores the subject from the perspective of Dark Ecology. Included are works from EYE’s collection as well as contributions by artists who are part of the 2015 Dark Ecology Journey. HC Gilje will give a lecture about his commissioned works for the 2015 edition of the Dark Ecology Journey. His new video piece Barents (Mare Incognitum) will be screened between 8 and 15 December on the wall of EYE’s foyer. It presents a slowly rotating view of the Barents Sea, a disorienting perspective that blurs North and South, East and West. BJ Nilsen made a selection of 35 mm films from the EYE’s archive and will perform a live soundtrack to this selection. Nilsen contributed to Dark Ecology in 2014 with unearthed, a commission in collaboration with Karl Lemieux, and will be part of the 2015 journey. Please note that tickets are subject to availability, order them via the EYE website.
RESEARCH SERIES #19 At the end of November 2015 we will travel to the North of Norway and Russia for the second edition of Dark Ecology. There, we will explore diverse aspects of the notion of Dark Ecology in lectures, discussions and walks, and through the presentation of commissioned works in the Barents Region – more specifically in Kirkenes, Murmansk and Nikel. The Sonic Acts festival The Geologic Imagination, which took place last February, and the three-year Dark Ecology project, are thematically interconnected, and theorists and artists involved in the 2014 Journey and works commissioned for Dark Ecology were part of The Geologic Imagination. To get you in the mood for the upcoming Dark Ecology Journey, Research Series #19 is a viewing edition that includes recorded lectures, excerpts of live performances, sound recordings and interviews made during the festival with contributors such as Timothy Morton, Jana Winderen, Espen Sommer Eide, BJ Nilsen and Karl Lemieux, Raviv Ganchrow, Ele Carpenter and Graham Harman.
Jana Winderen presenting at Sonic Acts The Geologic Imagination. Photo by Pieter KersThe term ‘dark ecology’ is borrowed from philosopher and theorist Timothy Morton. He is also the ‘inventor’ of the concept of the hyperobject, an idea that is probably as important to our research as ‘dark ecology’ is. Morton was the keynote speaker at the first Dark Ecology Journey, and gave a lecture at Sonic Acts 2015, when he spoke on the subject of subscendence – the inverse of transcendence. Subscendence happens when something shrinks into its component parts in such a way that the whole is always less than the sum of its parts. Morton explained why this new concept is very useful for thinking ecological beings, as in an ecological world, beings are necessarily fragile and incomplete, even the massive ones. The Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen was also present at both the first Dark Ecology Journey and the 2015 Sonic Acts festival. She conducted research in the Pasvik Valley on the border between Norway and Russia for her new work Pasvikdalen, which premiered live at Sonic Acts 2015. In her presentation Listening without Getting Answers she talked about her methodology, work and motivations. She focused on how recording and presenting sounds we cannot hear or access – for instance, from fragile underwater ecosystems – communicates stories and issues that are of grave concern. The Norwegian artist Espen Sommer Eide is well acquainted with Kirkenes, and has spent quite some time up North. He gave a talk and performed in Nikel, Russia, as part of the first Dark Ecology Journey, and is currently working with Signe Lidén on a new work for the third Dark Ecology Journey. We invited him to the Sonic Acts festival to give a talk on his research project Material Vision – Silent Reading, which involves the creation of new musical instruments and a performance developed on the extremely remote Bear Island in the Barents Sea. In Material Vision – Silent Reading he investigates, through a combination of artistic and scientific performances, various ways of reading a landscape and how the viewer and the viewed relate to each other. He also performed at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. For his performance he played hybrid acoustic–electronic instruments that he had constructed himself for the purpose of tuning into and out of the present time and place. He uses several musical tuning systems, both old and new, from the eerie Norwegian ‘troll tuning’ for the Hardanger fiddle to Pythagorean pure mathematical intervals. In 2014 sound artist BJ Nilsen and filmmaker Karl Lemieux visited the border area between Norway and Russia, where the sparse beauty of the Arctic landscape meets industrial decay and heavy pollution, to collect material for an audiovisual collaboration. The result was unearthed, which premiered live at Sonic Acts 2015, and used film and sound recordings of, amongst others, Nikel’s red and white chimneys that hiss and growl as they spew out clouds of smoke. unearthed was released on a USB device that was included with the publication The Geologic Imagination, which also has a text by Lemieux and Nilsen as well as a collection of images by Lemieux. The Geologic Imagination is on sale via the Sonic Acts Shop. Sound artist and researcher Raviv Ganchrow embarked on an investigation of infrasound, and developed a new work-in-progress, Long Wave Synthesis, of which a first working prototype was presented during the first Dark Ecology Journey A first full-scale installation was presented in Amsterdam harbour as part of Sonic Acts 2016. On that occasion Ganchrow presented an overview of his research into infrasound, showing how infrasound – extremely long sound waves (up to 171 kilometres in length) below the threshold of human hearing – literally connect the solid Earth to oceans and weather as well as to industrial practices. In Ganchrow’s Long Wave Synthesis project, marine oscillations, streaking meteors, calving glaciers, gas flares and nuclear explosions coexist; sound becomes so heavy that it is affected by gravity, and oscillations slow down to such an extent that they spill over into weather… Curator and writer Ele Carpenter, whom, like Dark Ecology keynote speaker Susan Schuppli, has worked on curatorial projects about art, the atomic bomb, nuclear energy and waste, introduced her research into nuclear culture at The Geologic Imagination. Can you imagine a darker ecology than that of radioactive nuclear waste? Carpenter talks about her field trips to underground research laboratories for high-level radioactive waste storage at Horonobe, Japan, and Bure in Northern France and reflects on the evolution of this ‘hyperobject’ of nuclear waste from state (weapons), to private (energy), to the public sphere. As we adapt to living in a radioactive environment, we have to consider what the nuclear archive should contain for future generations… The philosopher and one of the ‘founders’ of the Speculative Realism movement, Graham Harman gave a lecture titled Anthropocene Ontology at Sonic Acts 2015 in which he explained how the proposed Anthropocene Epoch is not an Anthropocentric Epoch, because it highlights the fragility of the human species rather than human supremacy. There is also a short video interview with him made by our Russian friends from Fridaymilk. Harman will also be a speaker at the upcoming, Dark Ecology Journey in November 2015. Following his lecture, Graham Harman talked to Liesbeth Koot and Menno Grootveld on the Anthropocene. This interview was published as Sonic Acts Research Series . More Sonic Acts Research Series can be found on the Sonic Acts website.
On 9 and 10 October 2015, Dark Ecology and Fridaymilk organised a two-day Critical Writing Academy in Murmansk. Nine Norwegian and Russian writers with a connection to the Barents Region were selected to take part in the Academy led by me and the experts Furqat Palvazande (RU) and Arne Skaug Olsen (NO), who shared their insights into specific aspects of their craft (language, style, context. framework, focus). They are now in the process of providing feedback on texts written by the participants.
Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015, excursion to Murmansk Harbour. Photo by Rosa MenkmanThe Academy was organised with several objectives in mind: to enhance the art of critical writing while communicating the themes of the three-year Dark Ecology Project to a broader audience of writers who might help to document upcoming Journeys and local residencies. The Academy also intended to build and foster an interconnected, horizontal community of critical writers across the Barents Region, which can provide a vital infrastructure for any future projects, in order to have a more lasting and distributed impact. Fridaymilk curated an inspirational programme, which took us to three different locations in the harbour: Alyosha, the ‘dead’ part of the harbour (which seems to have been turned in a military zone) and the still ‘alive’ part, to illustrate ‘the lost myth of Murmansk’.
Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015, excursion to Murmansk Harbour. Photo by Rosa MenkmanMurmansk was founded 99 years ago because of increased activities around this new port. This is demonstrated by the city’s coat of arms, which depicts a fish, a boat and auroras. At that time Murmansk was a vital Soviet transit hub, connecting one of Russia’s northernmost railway stations to a port to facilitate Arctic convoys of weapons and minerals. But over the last few decades the industrial and fishing activities in the region have significantly declined. Today large parts of the port of Murmansk have been turned into a ships’ cemetery: what once made up the identity of the city have turned into disintegrated carcasses, inseparable from nature and the landscape. Besides Alyosha and the ‘zombie harbour’ the participants also visited Lenin (Ленин), a decommissioned nuclear-powered icebreaker – now a museum – that is docked alongside the Rosatomflot, the world’s only active nuclear-powered fleet of icebreakers.
Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015, Inside the Lenin Icebreaker. Photo by Rosa MenkmanAfter this trip, a number of common threads surfaced among the participants: landscape, mythology and action vs. impact, but above all the story of a younger generation of Murmansk locals became a subject of conversation. Anton Petrunin and Liana Mkhitarian, Murmansk-based participants in the Critical Writing Academy, explained their perspectives on the issue of leaving Murmansk to live elsewhere (often in Moscow), which resonated among them and their friends. They explained their quest for anything that sets Murmansk apart from other Arctic and Russian cities and what it feels like to live inside the remnants of a history they will never be a part of.
Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015. Photo by Rosa MenkmanThe two very busy days flew by but we did ignite some important discussions. Together with the Norwegian participants, I had to board a mini-bus that would take us from Murmansk back to Kirkenes. Just before we entered Zapolyarny, a town famous for its nickel ore industry, I saw the beautiful snowy tundra landscape with newly informed eyes: the many little black trees, resembling dead sticks more than living, growing organisms, had become poignant indicators of a region heavily polluted with sulphur dioxide. As leader of the Critical Writing Academy I had also discovered a new perspective. RM Go to the Sonic Acts Flickr page for the full visual report.
On 9 and 10 October 2015, Dark Ecology and Fridaymilk will organise a two-day Critical Writing Academy in Murmansk, Russia. Dedicated to enhancing the art of critical writing and to creating a community of writers across the Barents Region, this workshop is aimed at emerging and mid-career writers, critics, bloggers, theorists and journalists in arts and culture from the Barents Region (which encompasses the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and Northwest Russia).
Sonic Acts Critical Writing Academy 2015. Photo by Rosa MenkmanProgramme Critical writing is a special and powerful form of documentation that can open up an artistic work, and shape, expand or re-contextualise it according to a particular opinion, perspective or discourse. During the Critical Writing Academy, participants will be guided by Furqat Palvazande (RU) and Arne Skaug Olsen (NO). These two experts will share insights into the specific aspects of their craft (language, style, framework, focus), and provide feedback on texts written by the participants. The Academy will be facilitated by the media-collective Fridaymilk and Dutch artist and theorist Rosa Menkman. It will offer practical tools, perspectives, new ideas, and inspiration, but will also provide insights into the regional situation, and background to the concepts that drive the Dark Ecology project. The proceedings of the Academy will be published as a series of articles, interviews and reports. A selection of attendees will be invited to take part in the follow-up to the Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy during the Dark Ecology Journeys from 26 to 30 November 2015 and June 2016. Furqat Palvazande (RU) held multiple positions within the educational and cultural sector before he became editor of Theory and Practice in 2011. In the fall of 2014, Palvazande launched Syg.ma, a publishing platform describing cultural, political, and social events. Arne Skaug Olsen (NO) is a curator, art critic and writer. He was curator at LIAF (Lofoten International Art Festival) in 2015 and at Visningsrommet USF in Bergen (2008–11 and has written for Camera Austria, Klasskampen and Billedkunst. Olsen currently teaches at the National Academies of Art in Oslo and in Bergen. More information about Arne Skaug Olsen can be found on this website. Rosa Menkman (NL) is an artist, curator and theorist. Since 2007 Menkman has written for multiple platforms and publications, Sonic Acts among them. Her book Glitch Moment/um, which focuses on the exploitation and popularisation of glitch artefacts, is published by the Institute of Network Cultures. Menkman is currently pursuing a PhD at Goldsmiths, London. More information about Rosa Menkman can be found here. Fridaymilk (Oleg Khardatsev / Zhanna Guzenko) (RU) is a well-known media platform in Murmansk, Russia, run by a team of ten people who are eager to promote new life approaches and facilitate discussions and conversations on issues in the Barents Region. Friday Milk organise live and online discussion platforms, regular public discussions at Ledokol in Murmansk, and publish articles and interviews on their website. Practicalities The selection procedure is closed. We had a great international response to the open call and have selected participants from Norway and Russia. Participation is free of charge. Costs for travel and accommodation in Murmansk are covered by Dark Ecology, and the Troms County Council through Transfer North, funded by the Nordic Culture Fund, and through Norwegian–Russian Cultural Cooperation – Visual Art 2013–2015, funded by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Culture. See here for more information about Dark Ecology and the second research trip.
We are thrilled to announce that the American philosopher Graham Harman will join us on the Dark Ecology Journey. Harman is Distinguished University Professor at the American University in Cairo, where he has worked since 2000. He is a founding member of the Speculative Realism movement, and chief exponent of object-oriented philosophy. In his lecture ‘Morton's Hyperobjects and the Anthropocene’, Harman will compare Timothy Morton’s concept of ‘hyperobjects’, that refers to entities that exceed the usual dimensions of a human life, to ‘anthropocene objects’ which require human beings as one of their components, even if they are not exhausted by human access to them. You can read the Sonic Acts Research Series interview with Harman here.
1 October is the deadline for applications to the second Dark Ecology Journey, which will take place from 26–30 November 2015. Participants travel from Kirkenes in Norway’s northern extremes to the largest city in the far north: Murmansk (Russia), and visit Nikel in Russia en route. UK-based artist and researcher Susan Schuppli will join us on this Dark Ecology Journey and will provide the keynote lecture titled ‘Material Evidence from Disputed Arctic Sunsets to Dark Snow’. Further, the American philosopher Graham Harman will join us to speak about ‘Morton's Hyperobjects and the Anthropocene’. The programme also includes the presentation of new commissioned works by artists HC Gilje, Margrethe Pettersen, and Joris Strijbos, by architect Tatjana Gorbachewskaja, and by composer and trombone player Hilary Jeffrey. If you’re interested in joining us, or have any questions about participating, please contact us at darkecology[@]sonicacts[.]com. To apply send us your bio and a short text explaining why you would like to participate. Do this as soon as possible – only a few places are available.
A new series of Dark Ecology residencies began this month. Joris Strijbos explored the northern region for a site for his commissioned audiovisual outdoor work, IsoScope, and HC Gilje and Justin Bennett are working in the border zone on, respectively, a new audiovisual work and a sound walk. Composer and trombonist Hilary Jeffrey will work with musicians from Murmansk in a new formation of his ensemble LYSN. Germany-based architect Tatjana Gorbachewskaja has returned to her former hometown Nikel to work on a series of curated walks exploring the materiality of Nikel, which will take place during the Dark Ecology Journey in 2015. Further, Espen Sommer Eide and Signe Lidén have just returned from conducting their research into the sound memories of local residents, with their Nikel Sound History Club, which will inform the instruments that they will build and use for performances in 2016. Go to the Sonic Acts flickr page for an impression of these ongoing residencies.
As part of the preparations for last year’s edition of Dark Ecology, we published a reading list. Another reading list has been compiled for the upcoming Dark Ecology Journey with pointers to books and articles that were an inspiration for the Dark Ecology project, this time focusing specifically on the ideas of ‘the agency of the non-human’ and 'making things speak', as featured in the work of thinkers like Bruno Latour and Noortje Marres. The Sonic Acts 2015 publication The Geologic Imagination is an important starting point. Find the full Reading Lists here: Dark Ecology Reading List I Dark Ecology Reading List II
On 9 and 10 October 2015, Dark Ecology and Fridaymilk present a two-day Critical Writing Academy, in Murmansk, Russia. Dedicated to enhancing the art of critical writing and to creating a community of writers across the Barents Region, we have selected participants from Norway and Russia who will attend the Academy, which focuses on the subject matter of Dark Ecology. Two experts, Furqat Palvazande from Russia and Arne Skaug Olsen from Norway, together with Dutch writer and Critical Writing Academy facilitator Rosa Menkman, will guide participants through the challenges and pitfalls of critical writing. Furqat Palvazande (RU) held multiple positions within the educational and cultural sector before he became editor of Theory and Practice in 2011. In the fall of 2014, Palvazande launched Syg.ma, a publishing platform describing cultural, political, and social events. Arne Skaug Olsen (NO) is a curator, art critic and writer. He was curator at LIAF (Lofoten International Art Festival) in 2015 and at Visningsrommet USF in Bergen (2008–2011 and has written for Camera Austria, Klasskampen and Billedkunst. Olsen currently teaches at the National Academies of Art in Oslo and in Bergen. More information about Arne Skaug Olsen can be found on this website. Rosa Menkman (NL) is an artist, curator and theorist. Since 2007 Menkman has written for multiple platforms and publications, Sonic Acts among them. Her book Glitch Moment/um, which focuses on the exploitation and popularisation of glitch artifacts, is published by the Institute of Network Cultures. Menkman is currently pursuing a PhD at Goldsmiths, London. More information about Rosa Menkman can be found here.
by Arie Altena The enormous smelter in Nikel, an industrial town in North-West Russia, just across the border with Norway, immediately makes its presence felt. It is visible from almost every street, its noise is inescapable, and so are its fumes; up close you can even taste it. In Nikel it is unequivocal who/what has the loudest voice: the smelter. Lacking eloquence, it instead makes its presence felt brutally. There is no escaping its voice.
The smelter in Nikel. Photo: Ketil NergaardThe smelter also speaks about politics and profit, about jobs and economic survival, and it speaks volumes about pollution. Without the smelter and the mines Nikel would not exist as a small city. The majority of its residents depend on it – if not directly, then indirectly – for their livelihoods. The smelter is part of a huge economic network: it is connected to mines, to transport lines, to factories that process the ore, and to the world market. It is directly connected to daily life in Nikel, and connects Nikel with the rest of the world. Speak What do we mean when we say that this thing, the smelter, ‘speaks’? Is it just a metaphor for ‘making its presence known’, or does it imply more, or something other than that? When the smelter ‘speaks’ politically, it is because someone – a politician, a businessman, a worker, a resident of Nickel, an activist – refers to its economic effects, or the amount of sulphur it emits over the course of a month. The smelter speaks through its physical appearance and the smoke it emits. It also speaks through data. If the factory is articulate, it is because it is equipped to speak. We are able to sense, translate, and interpret the data it produces because we have installed an apparatus that enables the smelter to speak in more ways than just through its physicality. This huge apparatus consists of measurement devices, sensors, networks, and theories that enable the factory to speak more eloquently. The data also makes it possible for us humans to imagine what the world looks like to the smelter, and how it is concerned with its own role in that world. Ultimately it is we humans who make the smelter speak. There is nothing new here. We ‘read’ the world to understand what is going on. The sky speaks to us of fluctuations in temperature, approaching rain, changes in wind direction. We have learned to read the weather. We have become so adept at it that we can forecast the weather locally for the several days in advance. We have gathered so much data over the past decennia and centuries that we know something about the behaviour of the Earth. The bore-cores from icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica speak of the history of the Earth. The sensing network that covers the Earth – the meteorological stations, the air-quality sensors, the satellites that look down on the planet – supplies us with data that enables us to ‘hear’ the ‘voice’ of the Earth. What we have learned from it is that the Earth is warming up and that Arctic ice is retreating. This ‘voice’ of the Earth tells us that human behaviour has irreversibly changed the atmosphere, that although we are a forceful actor, we are not at all in control, and that the changes we have set into motion are threatening our own civilisation. Thing What is a ‘thing’? Without becoming overly entangled in the contemporary philosophical debate, we could start with Bruno Latour’s description in Making Things Public (Latour & Weibel, 2005), and the etymology of the word. ‘Thing’ is usually taken to derive from ‘Ding’, or the old English ‘þing’, which means ‘gathering’ or ‘assembly’. ‘Interests’ come together in a thing: a thing can be seen as being composed of attachments. Calling an object a thing means acknowledging its ‘network’ aspect. Indeed throughout his work Bruno Latour – sociologist of science and philosopher – stresses the network aspect of the world. In Prince of Networks (Harman, 2009) the object-oriented philosopher Graham Harman has described the ontology implied by Latour’s work. For Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) everything is an object, and there is nothing else besides objects. OOO and Latour agree on the idea that quarks, nation states, electromagnetic radiation, unicorns and Super Mario are just as much objects as a chair or a table. But whereas for Latour objects are assemblages of many interests and relations, Harman argues that an object is always partly withdrawn from the world. Harman and other OOO philosophers do not want to reduce objects to relations, or to the sum of their qualities or properties. For OOO nothing but objects exist. These objects do not even exist in an environment. Timothy Morton, a theorist who has aligned with OOO writes in his book Realist Magic (Morton, 2013a): ‘(T)here is no such thing as an environment: wherever we look for it, we find all kinds of objects—biomes, ecosystems, hedges, gutters and human flesh.’ The objects do not exist in ‘something’ or ‘nothing’. There is nothing but objects. Morton again: ‘There are objects: cinnamon, microwaves, interstellar particles and scarecrows. There is nothing underneath objects. Or, better, there is not even nothing underneath them. There is no such thing as space independent of objects (happily contemporary physics agrees). What is called Universe is a large object that contains objects such as black holes and racing pigeons.’ (All quotes from Morton, 2013a, n.p.). Morton also comes up with the idea of a ‘hyperobject’ in his book Hyperobjects (Morton, 2013b). Hyperobjects are nonlocal and viscous. They are so large we cannot grasp them. Climate change is such an hyperobject. In the context of the Dark Ecology project it’s not so relevant to establish if we should align ourselves with Latour’s, Morton’s or Harman’s position. It is their conceptualisations that are fundamental to the idea of ‘Making Things Speak’. These ideas challenge us to look at the world and our state of affairs with new eyes. Things Matter & Equipping Things to Speak We have ever more and better equipment to make the voices of things ‘come out’. Sensor networks harvest data relating to many phenomena. The weather speaks constantly, not only, for example, through the heat of the sun on our skin, but also through data, gathered by sensors, and read, analysed and interpreted by software, and made into knowledge – and thus into the voices of things – by humans. These networks sometimes act autonomously, which means that software algorithms determine an immediate, specific response (by machines) to received data. In this sense things act. This can be as simple as a sprinkler turning on when smoke is detected, or plants equipped with sensors that indicate when they need water, and in response irrigation begins. Regardless of whether these are good developments or not, such examples do indicate that in our electronically networked world, things have been given more agency. ‘The idea that objects actually matter – ethically, politically, esthetically – is today taken seriously by a much broader range of people than before. (…) Political theorists of many different stripes, designers, metaphysicians, developers of the internet of things, legal scholars and so on (…) have taken an active interest in the normative qualities and capacities of things: in what things might be capable of, when it comes to enactment of citizenship, and the transformation of the world.’ (Marres, 2013, n.p.). Dutch sociologist Noortje Marres describes how political theorists and social scientists have proposed to recognise things as being capable of political and ethical intervention, and ‘that things, too, act in normatively significant ways.’ In her work Marres researches how things are equipped to speak, also in the political arena. Coming from a Latourian background, she calls this ‘material participation’ (Marres, 2012), and she looks specifically at how the sensor networks we have installed enable things to speak up, and allow their voices to be heard in the formation of political issues. Marres’ idea is indeed closely related to Latour’s proposal of a ‘parliament of things’ in his book Politics of Nature (Latour, 2004). In Politics of Nature Latour defines an ecology without the Romantic notion of ‘Nature’ – a notion that is central to Timothy Morton’s thinking. In the first chapter, entitled ‘Why Political Ecology Has to Let Go of Nature’, Latour states: ‘(i)f “nature” is what makes it possible to recapitulate the hierarchy of beings in a single ordered series, political ecology is always manifested, in practice, by the destruction of the idea of nature.’ (Latour, 2004, p. 25). The idea of nature that political ecology has to relinquish is not nature as a sphere of reality. It is the result of a political division that puts the indisputable and objective on one side, and the subjective and disputable on the other. According to Latour, we have to escape from this division to be able to make a common world. Latour sees the process of human development ‘as neither liberation from Nature nor as a fall from it, but rather as a process of becoming ever-more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of non-human natures.’ (Latour, 2012, n.p.). Dark Ecology What is at stake in Latour’s philosophy is a fundamental rethinking of our world. It’s the categories that we use to order and understand the world that have to be redefined. It isn’t only a different game we have to play; we have to fundamentally alter our understanding of how the game is structured and what its rules are. This rethinking has been going on for a while in philosophy, anthropology and the arts. One such example is Timothy Morton’s ‘Dark Ecology’, an idea he develops in his books Ecology Without Nature (Morton, 2007) and The Ecological Thought (Morton, 2010). Because ecology is usually seen as good and green, ‘dark ecology’ sounds at first like an oxymoron. ‘If we could only manage to live ecologically, the future of the world would not seem so dark.’ It’s a meme that is pretty much ingrained in our minds. Ecology is usually not seen as dark and certainly not as sinister – but it is. To think ecologically, in Morton’s terms, means taking the idea of the entanglement of everything with everything, of the living with the non-living, seriously. In The Ecological Thought Morton writes: ‘The ecological thought realises that all beings are interconnected. This is the mesh. (…) All life forms are the mesh, and so are all the dead ones, as are their habitats, which are also made up of living and nonliving beings.’ (Morton, 2010). Consequently the human viewpoint is not taken as primary; dark ecology demands that we view the world from a non-human perspective. For Morton this is necessary in a world in which climate catastrophe is not closeby, but has already happened. Thinking ecologically does not mean reverting to a natural state in which these connections are in balance. Such a state does not exist and never has. In Morton’s view, ecology should therefore distance itself from a naive belief in an originary natural situation. Dark Ecology thinks outside the modern divide between culture and nature. In his later books Morton connects these ideas with Object-Oriented Ontology when he writes: ‘there is no such thing as Nature. I’ve seen penguins, plutonium, pollution and pollen. But I’ve never seen Nature.’ (Morton, 2013a, n.p.). Dark Ecology conceives of our world as a ‘mesh’ of objects. It has abandoned the strict divides between Nature and Culture, Technology and Politics, and Nature and Society. It’s dark, because it invites us to think about how humans are intimately attached to and interconnected with, for example, open iron ore mining, trains, and fruit flies… Morton writes that in an age of ecological awareness we will conceive of art as ‘a demonic force, carrying information from the beyond, that is, from nonhuman entities such as global warming, wind, water, sunlight and radiation. From coral bleaching in the ocean to the circling vortex of plastic bags in the mid Atlantic.’ (Morton, 2013, n.p.). In other words, in our ecological age, art is the force that lets things speak to us. Nature/Culture It begins to be clear that the separation between the concepts of nature and culture – on which the Western ontology largely depends – cannot be upheld. Our current predicament requires that we reconsider our view of the world, yet it is not so easy to overcome this separation in our thinking. Latour’s collaborative project An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (Latour, 2013) is one attempt at ‘building’ a different view of our world. In his recent books Latour repeatedly acknowledges the work of the French anthropologist Philippe Descola as an important influence. Descola’s most important book Beyond Nature and Culture (Descola, 2013) is an attempt at structural anthropology. Descola describes four basic ways in which humans conceive of the world, four basic ontologies: animism, totemism, analogism, and naturalism. Naturalism is the ontology of the modern Western world – also of Descola himself – the ontology that the scientific worldview adheres to. Descola does not set out to directly criticise naturalism; the task he sets himself is to describe and analyse the four modes. Descola shows that ‘the opposition between nature and culture is not as universal as it is claimed to be.’ (Descola, 2013, p. xviii). He shows that for both the indigenous inhabitants of the Far North, and South America, ‘nature is not opposed to culture but is an extension of it and enriches it in a cosmos in which everything is organized according to the criteria of human beings.’ (Descola, 2013, p. 14). These people ‘regard themselves, not as social collectives managing their relations with the ecosystem, but rather as simple components of a vaster whole within which no real discrimination is really established between humans and nonhumans.’ (Descola, 2013, p. 16). In this conception there is no environment that functions as a background to objects and humans. In contrast, the modern way of looking at the world has set up a strict division of subject and object. ‘(I)t creates a distance between man and the world by making the autonomy of things depend upon man; and it systematizes and stabilizes the external universe even as it confers upon the subject absolute mastery over the organization of this newly conquered exteriority.’ (Descola, 2013, pp. 59, 60). Descola does grant that modern science has led to many insights, such as the development of the natural sciences. The idea that we could, or should take the other three seriously, and that naturalism is in many ways as strange or as ‘natural’ as the other modes, implies a major shift for our Western view of the world. This also means that for anthropologists like Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, and for many others, the indigenous viewpoint no longer occupies the blind spot of modernity; it has suddenly become very relevant in the context of having to reconceptualise our ties to the world (Marques, 2015). We need to shift away from only taking naturalism seriously, as Descola makes clear on the very last page of his book: ‘Every type of presence in the world, every way of connecting with it and making use of it, constitutes a particular compromise between, on the one hand, the factors of sensible experience that are accessible to us all, albeit interpreted differently, and, on the other, a mode of aggregating existing beings that is adapted to historical circumstances.’ He continues: ‘The fact is that none of those compromises, however worthy of admiration some may be, can provide a source of instruction valid for all situations.’ (…) And he concludes with a call: ‘It is up to each one of us, wherever we may be, to invent and encourage modes of conciliation and types of pressure capable of leading to a new universality that is both open to all the world’s components and also respectful of certain of their idiosyncrasies. (…) We might then hope to avert a distant point of no return when, with the extinction of the human race, the price of passivity would have to be paid in another fashion: namely by abandoning to the cosmos a nature bereft of its recorders simply because they failed to provide it with genuine modes of expression.’ (All quotes Descola, 2013, p. 405–6). So we have to provide nature – whatever that is – with genuine modes of expression: we have to make things speak. Descola does not provide ‘any architectural plan for a new communal house that would be more accommodating to nonmodern cosmologies and better adapted to the circulation of facts and values.’ ‘Yet,’ he adds, ‘it is reasonable to wager that the time is not far off when such a conceptual construction will begin to rise from the ground.’ (Descola, 2013, p. 405). We need it in this new geological era, the Anthropocene, with global warming and climate change. Anthropocene ‘What is ending is the modern world—a very particular world invented in 1492, animated by a naturalist ontology inside of which nature and culture were not to be confused. Which is to say that humanity can no longer be taken as the solution to anything—at least not alone, in its enlightened cosmo-ecological ignorance. On the contrary, from the perspective of the earth, humanity looks increasingly like the problem.’ (Marques, 2013, n.p.). The Anthropocene is the age of ecological awareness. If it’s not, it should be. The Anthropocene, as a new geological era, doesn’t mark a glorious victory of humanity. It does not indicate the moment when humans – having become a geological force – finally mastered the Earth. It is not an occasion for celebration. The Anthropocene is not anthropocentric. Quite the opposite. What our increasing knowledge of the human impact on the Earth shows, is that humans are not in control at all. The Anthropocene hypothesis is a final wake-up call to the human species and to humanity to realise what is happening to Earth. The conditions that made human civilisation possible are severely threatened. Global warming, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, has already deeply affected the planet, is transforming our economy, and will have devastating effects in the near future: flooding densely populated areas, mass migrations, hunger, and massive disruption of economic and ecological systems. The knowledge we have gleaned from all the data about the continuous transformation of Earth demands that we ‘face Gaia’ – to use Latour’s wake-up call. We have to reconfigure our ideas about the world. Bruno Latour, who has involved himself deeply in the discussion about the Anthropocene and who has become more outspoken over the past few years, states this in different ways, for instance: ‘At the time of the Anthropocene, now that history has become geostory, the very shape of humans and non-humans have all to be remixed.’ (Latour, 2014, p. 23). Modern man always assumed that nature was a static background on which a dynamic human culture developed. But nature is not a slowly changing support system for human culture. Our human culture has come to a standstill, bewildered by the fact that natural phenomena we thought were stable are transforming much quicker than ever imagined. We are stunned by the change of perspective: history, the unfolding of human deeds, has become geostory. Humanity has been decentred. Ecologise No longer can we uphold the distinctions on which Western philosophy has been based since the Enlightenment as separate domains: Nature versus Culture, of Society, Science and Politics. Latour writes: ‘If geologists themselves, rather stolid and serious types, see humanity as a force of the same amplitude as volcanoes or even of plate tectonics, one thing is now certain: we have no hope whatsoever—no more hope in the future than we had in the past— of seeing a definitive distinction between Science and Politics.’ (Latour, 2013, p. 9). What we have to do – according to Latour and many others – is to ‘ecologise’ instead of ‘to modernise’. ‘If it is a question of ecologizing and no longer of modernizing, it may become possible to bring a larger number of values into cohabitation within a somewhat richer ecosystem. (Latour, 2013, p. 11). Taking the hypothesis of the Anthropocene seriously also means that capitalism has to come to an end, as capitalism, and certainly financialised hypercapitalism, depends on a worldview in which nature is something to be exploited for it richnesses. Latour again: ‘The modernizers knew how to survive a nature indifferent to their projects; but when Nature ceases to be indifferent, when the Nature of the anthropocene becomes sensitive, even hypersensitive, to their weight, how is anyone to define what it is looking for, when in fact it is not even interested in us, but in itself? Go ahead, try to talk about mastery and possession to something that can master and possess us without even attaching any importance to our survival.’ (Latour, 2013, p. 485). The move from Economy to Ecology is not an easy shift, according to Latour: ‘The whole world has been forced to move into “The Economy,” which we now know is only a utopia—or rather a dystopia, something like the opium of the people. We are now being asked to move suddenly with our weapons and our baggage into the new dwelling place called “ecology,” which was sold to us as being more habitable and more sustainable but which for the moment has no more form or substance than The Economy, which we are in such a hurry to leave behind.’ (Latour, 2013, p. 23). Therefore we have to explore new descriptions of the ‘state of affairs’. Why should we do this? At the end of An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, Latour emphasises the need again: ‘While we wait for Gaia, it isn’t the sense of the absurd that threatens us now, but rather our lack of adequate preparation for the civilization to come.’ (Latour, 2013, p. 486). To prepare for this civilization, we have to explore ‘new descriptions’, ‘in order to ward off the worst’. (Latour, 2013, p. 486). With new descriptions we can explore different ways of making sense of and understanding the world. Making Things Speak, to See with New Eyes To imagine the world anew. See the world with new eyes. To confront Gaia by making things speak. The challenge is to reconsider our attachments, with human and nonhuman agents, with nature, with technology, with objects, to imagine and conceive of another ontology, if not cosmology. Then we can also conceive of a different cosmopolitics – in the sense of Isabelle Stengers (Stengers, 2012 and 2013) – and better understand the diplomatic links between the different fields that make up our world. Experimenting with making things speak also contributes to a better understanding of the different forces and agents that through their interaction make up the ‘network’ of our world. Some phenomena and things speak with a flow of data; others just make their presence felt. The question is also: what are the things (phenomena) that we need to hear better? If we make things speak, what kind of talk will ensue from them? What will the effect of what they say be? References Descola, Philippe (2013), Beyond Nature and Culture, trans. Janet Lloyd, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published as Philippe Descola, Par-delà nature et culture, Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2005. Harman, Graham (2009), The Prince of Networks. Bruno Latour and Metaphysics, Re:press: Melbourne. http://www.re-press.org/book-files/OA_Version_780980544060_Prince_of_Networks.pdf. Accessed 18 August 2015. Latour, Bruno (2004), Politics of Nature, trans. Catherine Porter, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press. –––––– (2012), ‘Love Your Monsters. Why We Must Care for Our Technologies As We Do Our Children’. http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/journal/past-issues/issue-2/love-your-monsters/. Accessed 8 December 2013. –––––– (2013), An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, trans. Catherine Porter, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press. –––––– (2014), ‘How Better to Register the Agency of Things Tanner Lectures, Yale, http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/137-YALE-TANNER.pdf. Accessed 18 August 2015. Latour, Bruno & Weibel, Peter (eds.) (2005), Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy, Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press. Marres, Noortje (2012), Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. –––––– (2013), ‘Nothing Special’, in De dingen de baas. Wijsgerig festival DRIFT, at http://festivaldrift.nl/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Publicatie_Drift_ebook.pdf, pp. 24–34. Accessed 19 August 2015. Marques, Pedro Neves (2015), ‘Look Above, the Sky is Falling: Humanity Before and After the End of the World’, in E-Flux’ Supercommunity at http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/texts/look-above-the-sky-is-falling-humanity-before-and-after-the-end-of-the-world/. Accessed 19 August 2015. Morton, Timothy (2007), Ecology Without Nature. Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press. –––––– (2010), The Ecological Thought. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press. –––––– (2013a), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, Open Humanities Press, at http://openhumanitiespress.org/realist-magic.html. Accessed 12 September 2013. –––––– (2013b), Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Stengers, Isabelle (2010), Cosmopolitics I, trans. Robert Bononno, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. –––––– (2015), ‘Matters of Cosmopolitics: On the Provocations of Gaïa. Isabelle Stengers in Conversation with Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin’, in Turpin, Etienne (ed.), Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy, Open Humanities Press, at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/12527215.0001.001/1:19/--architecture-in-the-anthropocene-encounters-among-design?rgn=div1;view=fulltext. Accessed 19 August 2015.
A new series of Dark Ecology residencies will begin next week. Joris Strijbos will research a site for his commissioned work IsoScope, and HC Gilje and Justin Bennett will work in the border zone on, respectively, a new audiovisual work and a sound walk. Around the same time Espen Sommer Eide and Signe Lidén will research sound memories of local inhabitants, with their Nikel Sound History Club. Composer and trombonist Hilary Jeffrey works with musicians from Murmansk. And Germany-based architect Tatjana Gorbachewskaja returns to her former hometown Nikel to work on a series of curated walks exploring the materiality of Nikel. We are also thrilled to announce that UK-based artist and researcher Susann Schuppli will join us on the Dark Ecology Journey and give a keynote lecture. She is Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths. In her work she examines media artefacts that emerge out of sites of contemporary conflict to ask questions about the possibility of transformative politics. And she explores how toxic ecologies – from nuclear accidents and oil spills to the dark snow of the arctic – produce an ‘extreme image’ archive of material wrongs. The 2015 Dark Ecology research Journey takes place from 26–30 November 2015, one day later than previously announced. We will travel to Kirkenes in Norway’s northern extremes, visit the neighbouring town Nikel (just across the border in Russia), and go to the largest city in the far north: Murmansk (Russia). If you are interested in joining us, or have any questions about participating, please contact us at darkecology [@] sonicacts [.] com. To apply, send us your bio and a brief explanation of why you would like to participate as soon as possible. The deadline for applications is 1 October 2015. More information about the project can be found here.
Joris Strijbos - Isoscope work in progress (photo Joris Strijbos)
The second edition of the art and research project Dark Ecology will take place from 26 to 30 November 2015. The Dark Ecology Journey begins in Kirkenes in Norway’s northern extremes and travels via Nikel and Zapolyarny (Russia) to Murmansk, the largest Russian city above the polar circle. Programme highlights include keynote lectures by UK-based artist and researcher Susan Schuppli and American philosopher Graham Harman, as well as presentations of new commissioned works by HC Gilje, Hilary Jeffery, Joris Strijbos, Margrethe Pettersen, and Tatjana Gorbachewskaja. In preparation, we compiled a Reading List containing pointers to books and articles that were an inspiration for the Dark Ecology project. Check also the Dark Ecology Research Series special, a viewing edition that includes recorded lectures, excerpts of live performances, sound recordings and interviews
Thursday 26 November 2015
The journey starts in Kirkenes with a keynote lecture by American philosopher Graham Harman, entitled Morton’s Hyperobjects and the Anthropocene. In the afternoon there are presentations of new commissioned works. Margrethe Pettersen (NO) created Living Land, a soundwalk that will take participants above and below ground in Kirkenes; Joris Strijbos (NL) constructed IsoScope, a major kinetic light and sound installation that interacts with its environment.
Friday 27 November 2015
On Friday, 27 November, the programme crosses the border to Murmansk, the largest Russian city above the polar circle. Dark Ecology partner Fridaymilk hosts a talk show with amongst others presentations by Margrethe Pettersen, HC Gilje, Joris Strijbos, and Tatjana Gorbachewskaja.
Saturday 28 November 2015
The third day of the journey also takes place in Murmansk, starting with a keynote lecture Material Evidence from Disputed Arctic Sunsets to Dark Snow by Susan Schuppli. This is followed by two performances of Murmansk Spaceport, a new work by Hilary Jeffery developed in collaboration with local musicians from Murmansk and Bodø.
Sunday 29 November 2015
On Sunday 29 November the programme starts off with an exploration of the couleur locale of Murmansk. In the afternoon and evening, the journey heads back to the Russian border zone, and HC Gilje will present a video installation at the stadium in Nikel and a light intervention in public space close to Zapolyarny.
Monday 30 November 2015
On the final day the programme will take place in the Russian factory town of Nikel. Here Tatjana Gorbachewskaja, in collaboration with Katya Larina, presents a conceptual tour and an interactive map to explore the materiality of her former hometown and the journey will conclude with a closing panel.
The second research trip in our Dark Ecology project will take place from 26–30 November 2015. Participants will once again travel to Kirkenes in Norway’s northern extremes, visit the neighbouring town Nikel (just across the border in Russia), and travel to the largest city in the far north: Murmansk (Russia). The programme includes presentations of new commissioned works by HC Gilje, Margrethe Pettersen, Joris Strijbos, and Hilary Jeffrey, as well as lectures, discussions, guided walks, and concerts. More names will be announced soon. The Dark Ecology journey is for artists, theorists, designers, curators, scientists, writers, makers, and researchers who operate at the intersection of art, science and music, and who are interested in rethinking notions and concepts such as ‘nature’, ‘culture’, ‘ecology’ and ‘society’, and exploring new descriptions of the current 'state of affairs'. If you are interested in joining us, or have any questions about participating, please contact us at darkecology[@]sonicacts[.]com. To apply send us your bio and a short explanation about why you would like to participate as soon as possible, there are limited places available. The deadline for applications is 1 October 2015. More information on the project can be found here.
On 9 and 10 October 2015, Dark Ecology and Fridaymilk will organise a two-day Critical Writing Academy, in Murmansk, Russia. Dedicated to enhancing the art of critical writing and to creating a community of writers across the Barents Region, this workshop is aimed at emerging and mid-career writers, critics, bloggers, theorists and journalists in arts and culture from the Barents Region (which encompasses the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and Northwest Russia).
Dark Ecology Journey (photo Konstantin Guz)Programme Critical writing is a special and powerful form of documentation that can open up an artistic work, and shape, expand or re-contextualise it according to a particular opinion, perspective or discourse. During the Critical Writing Academy, a selection of renowned regional and international experts will share insights into the specific aspects of their craft (language, style, framework, focus), and provide feedback on texts written by the participants. The Academy will be facilitated by the media-collective Fridaymilk and Dutch artist and theorist Rosa Menkman. It will offer practical tools, perspectives, new ideas, and inspiration, but will also provide insights into the regional situation, and background to the concepts that drive the Dark Ecology project. The proceedings of the Academy will be published as a series of articles, interviews and reports. A selection of participants will be invited to take part in the follow-up to the Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy during the Dark Ecology Journeys from 26-30 November 2015 and June 2016. Practicalities Applicants are invited to send a short motivation and biography to info[@]fridaymilk[.]com. We welcome applications in Russian, Norwegian and English; however, as the workshop itself will be presented in English, knowledge of the English language is an absolute necessity. The course is free of charge. Costs for travel and accommodation in Murmansk are covered by Dark Ecology, and the Troms County Council through Transfer North, funded by the Nordic Culture Fund, and through Norwegian-Russian Cultural Cooperation – Visual Art 2013–2015, funded by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Culture. The deadline for applicants from outside Russia is 25 August (due to visa processing times). The deadline for Russian applicants is 10 September 2015. See here for more information about Dark Ecology and the second research trip.
Lucy Railton and Russell Haswell talk about their impressions from their Dark Ecology residency in Kirkenes and surroundings in February 2015, where they spent a week to get inspiration for a new collaborative work.
After a tremendous first edition last October, we are very happy to announce the next research journey to Northern Norway and Russia at the end of this year. Dark Ecology is a three-year art, research and commissioning project, initiated by the Dutch organisation Sonic Acts and Kirkenes-based curator Hilde Methi, in collaboration with Norwegian, Russian and other European partners. Dark Ecology unfolds through research, the creation of new artworks, and a public programme in the zone on both sides of the Russian–Norwegian border. The programme includes lectures, presentations of commissioned artworks, curated local walks, a discursive programme, and concerts. For all of you who couldn’t join us last year or who are inspired by the results and stories: the second edition of the Dark Ecology Journey is scheduled for 26–30 November 2015 and will take the participants to Kirkenes, Nikel, and Murmansk. Please make a note of these dates! The sub-theme for the Dark Ecology Journey 2015 is ‘Making Things Speak’, and focuses on giving a ‘voice’ to objects and things. More information about the programme and how to apply for the journey will follow soon.
Dark Ecology Journey 2014 (photo by Benny Nilsen)In the meantime, we would like to refresh your memory of the first Dark Ecology journey. Last October, we visited sites on both sides of the border between Northern Norway and Russia with a group of artists, curators and theorists. Highlights included the lecture Human Thought at Earth Magnitude by Timothy Morton (the philosopher who coined the term 'Dark Ecology'), a visit to the mine beneath the iron ore plant in Kirkenes, and a mind-blowing infrasonic land art installation and presentation by Raviv Ganchrow. For photos and videos of the first research journey, see www.darkecology.net. Check out the Field Notes on the Dark Ecology website for video and photo reports, interviews, reports, art installations and other media concerning the project. If the Dark Ecology project is completely new to you, this is the best introduction to the project. You can follow the project through Facebook or vk.
From 26 February – 1 March 2015, the Sonic Acts Festival will take place in Amsterdam. The research that we have been conducting for Dark Ecology, and the Dark Ecology Journey in October 2014, was crucial to the development of this year’s Sonic Acts festival theme The Geologic Imagination. Many of the lectures in the Sonic Acts conference are thematically linked to Dark Ecology. Timothy Morton will speak at Sonic Acts, and the presentations by Graham Harman, Mark Williams, Douglas Kahn, smudge studio (Elizabeth Ellsworth & Jamie Kruse), Ele Carpenter, Michael Welland and Raviv Ganchrow promise to be extremely relevant as well. The masterclass of Graham Harman – The Anthropocene Now (on 25 February) – is a co-production with Dark Ecology, as is the critical writing workshop Describing the Indescribable in collaboration with The Wire and Gonzo (Circus) from 25 February – 1 March. Another highlight of the festival will be two Dark Ecology commissions which premiere at the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ on Friday 27 February. BJ Nilsen ’s perform their new audiovisual collaboration unearthed, and Jana Winderen performs her new work Pasvikdalen. On the final day of the Sonic Acts Festival we will take a field trip to Australia Harbour in the port of Amsterdam for the second version of Raviv Ganchrow’s work-in-progress Long Wave Synthesis, another Dark Ecology commission. The first prototype was presented in Kirkenes in October 2014 – the second version promises to be an even more impressive infrasound experience. More information: www.sonicacts.com/2015
This valuable collection will soon become one of the first essential go-to texts for artists and scholars who want to think about the Anthropocene, global warming and ecological issues in general. A treasure trove of original thoughts and creativity. - Timothy MortonThe book The Geologic Imagination (336 pp.) is truly a guide to Dark Ecology and the festival theme of Sonic Acts 2015. The publication is a richly illustrated collection of essays, visual contributions and interviews, and is accompanied by unearthed, the new sound work by BJ Nilsen. The Geologic Imagination features new essays by Timothy Morton, Douglas Kahn, Paul Bogard, Michael Welland, and Raviv Ganchrow; there are interviews with Dipesh Chakrabarty, Matthew Coolidge, Liam Young, Noortje Marres, Kodwo Eshun, Kurt Hentschläger, and Mario de Vega; and visual contributions by Femke Herregraven, Mirna Belina, Ellsworth & Kruse, the Center of Land Use Interpretation, Marijn de Jong, and BJ Nilsen & Karl Lemieux. The publication accompanies the Sonic Acts festival 2015. A major part of contributions is connected to the Dark Ecology project that started in October 2014. The book also contains unearthed, a new soundwork BJ Nilsen made during the Dark Ecology explorations of the border zone between Kirkenes (Norway) and Nikel (Russia). You can order the book here.
Sonic Acts and Gonzo (circus) celebrated the start of the New Year last Saturday in a packed De Balie Salon. Sonic Acts officially launched their new book with an afternoon filled with Geologic Imagination. We invited Timothy Morton to speak about The Fast Track to Ecological Sadness, Femke Herregraven talked about her research project The All Infrared Line and Raviv Ganchrow shared his research into infrasound for his work Long-Wave Synthesis, commissioned for Dark Ecology. Afterwards, DJs from Gonzo (Circus) provided a soundtrack of adventurous music to the drinks.
Book Launch The Geologic Imagination (photo Pieter Kers)
Book Launch The Geologic Imagination (photo Pieter Kers)
Book Launch The Geologic Imagination (photo Pieter Kers)
Book Launch The Geologic Imagination (photo Pieter Kers)Interview with Raviv Ganchrow about his new work: Long Wave Synthesis
Sonic Acts and Gonzo (Circus) invite you to celebrate the start of the New Year on Saturday 17 January 2015 at De Balie Amsterdam. Saturday 17 January 2015 at 16.00 De Balie, Amsterdam We expect a full house, so please be quick with sending your reservation via e-mail to reservations[at]sonicacts[.]com On this afternoon, Sonic Acts officially presents the new book The Geologic Imagination. This new Sonic Acts publication is filled with wonderful interviews, essays and image contributions of theorists and artists on the forefront of today’s critical thinking on geological development. The book is a prelude to the coming Sonic Acts Festival in February; a major part of contributions is connected to the Dark Ecology project. The book also contains unearthed, a new soundwork BJ Nilsen. You can pre-order the book here and pick it up at De Balie or have it shipped to you. For the book launch we have invited Timothy Morton to speak. He is one of the contributors to the book. According to über-curator Hans Ullrich Obrist, Morton’s books are number one on the list of ‘things to know right now’. Morton’s lecture for this Saturday afternoon is entitled The Fast Track to Ecological Sadness. He will argue that we need to proceed quickly from eco-guilt and eco-shame to eco-sadness. Designer and researcher Femke Herregraven – also designer of The Geologic Imagination – will talk about her research project The All Infrared Line, which investigates the physical backbone facilitating global financial trading. More specifically she will present the research commissioned for Dark Ecology into how climate change opens up new investment opportunities for financial markets and how the melting Arctic ice will increase the speed of financial trading. Sonic Acts’ curators Lucas van der Velden and Arie Altena will interview Raviv Ganchrow about his research into infrasound for his work Long-Wave Synthesis, commissioned for Dark Ecology. This sound installation at the scale of land-art probes the relations between how we perceive the landscape and long-wave vibrations. It creates a complex topography of acoustic waves (in a range of 4 to 30 Hz) spreading out from an array of custom-built very low frequency generators. The work Long-Wave Synthesis will première during the Sonic Acts Festival. You may expect fascinating stories about his exploration of infrasound. Finally DJs from Gonzo (Circus) will provide a soundtrack of adventurous music. The Geologic Imagination (336 pp.) is a richly illustrated collection of essays, visual contributions and interviews. The publication is accompanied by unearthed, a new sound work by BJ Nilsen. The book contains essays by Timothy Morton, Douglas Kahn, Paul Bogard, Michael Welland and Raviv Ganchrow; interviews with Dipesh Chakrabarty, Matthew Coolidge, Liam Young, Noortje Marres, Kodwo Eshun, Kurt Hentschläger, and Mario de Vega; and visual contributions by Femke Herregraven, Mirna Belina, Ellsworth & Kruse, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Marijn de Jong, and BJ Nilsen & Karl Lemieux. Order the book now! Timothy Morton (US) is Professor and the Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University, Houston. His work explores the intersection of object-oriented thought and ecological studies. He coined the term ‘hyperobjects’ in 2010, to explain entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional localisation. Moreover, hyperobjects ruin any traditional ideas about what an ‘object’ is in the first place. Morton is the author of Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (2013), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (2013), The Ecological Thought (2010), Ecology Without Nature (2007), seven other books, and 120 essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music. Femke Herregraven (NL) is a designer and researcher whose work traverses the contemporary realms of global finance, information and geopolitics. Her research and speculative scenarios, in the form of websites, installations, video, prints, drawings, and games, deconstruct these power structures and explore of possible alternatives. Herregraven’s ongoing projects include Geographies of Avoidance, about the financial world’s ability to escape regulations through offshoring, and The All Infrared Line, about the physical backbone of global finance. She is curator at Sonic Acts, part of the Bitcaves collective for design and research, and has been a tutor of Design Research at ArtEZ Academy of Arts in Arnhem since 2011. Raviv Ganchrow (US/NL) completed his architectural studies at the Cooper Union, New York, in 2000, and received a second degree, in 2004, from the Institute of Sonology at The Royal Conservatory, The Hague. Ganchrow is a sound artist and researcher. His work focuses on interrelations between sound and space, aspects of which are explored through sound installations, writing and the development of acoustic-forming and vibration-sensing technologies. Since 2006 he has been a faculty member at the Institute of Sonology, The Hague. Gonzo (circus) is a printed magazine of one hundred pages in full-colour, it is a website with blogs, reviews, in-depth reports, series and more. Gonzo (circus) is also a gathering of idiosyncratic professionals who work voluntarily and curate nights with music and other art forms, initiate debates, and inspire other culture lovers: www.gonzocircus.com
International book launch with TIMOTHY MORTON & FEMKE HERREGRAVEN on Thursday 15 January at 19.00 in Landmark. Sonic Acts and Dark Ecology officially launch their new book - The Geologic Imagination - richly illustrated and beautifully designed collection of essays, visual contributions and interviews. This new publication is inspired by geosciences and zooms in on planet Earth. Fundamental to The Geologic Imagination is the idea that we live in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Human activity has irreversibly changed the composition of the atmosphere, the oceans, and even the Earth’s crust. Humanity has become a geological force. Consequently, the perspective has shifted from humans at the centre of the world to the forces that act on timescales beyond the conceivable. These ideas challenge us to rethink our attachments to the world, and our concepts of nature, culture and ecology. With this book Sonic Acts examines how art and science map and document new insights, and how the changes and transformations that occur on a geological scale can become something humans can feel, touch, and experience. The Geologic Imagination features new essays by Timothy Morton, Douglas Kahn, Paul Bogard, Michael Welland, and Raviv Ganchrow; there are interviews with Dipesh Chakrabarty, Matthew Coolidge, Liam Young, Noortje Marres, Kodwo Eshun, Kurt Hentschläger, and Mario de Vega; and visual contributions by Femke Herregraven, Mirna Belina, Ellsworth & Kruse, the Center of Land Use Interpretation, Marijn de Jong, and BJ Nilsen & Karl Lemieux. The publication accompanies the Sonic Acts festival 2015. A major part of contributions is connected to the Dark Ecology project that started in October 2014. The book also contains unearthed, a new soundwork BJ Nilsen made during the Dark Ecology explorations of the border zone between Kirkenes (Norway) and Nikel (Russia). In connection with the international book launch Plattform, Sonic Acts and Dark Ecology present talks by Femke Herregraven and Timothy Morton. Morton, one of the contributors to the book, will reflect on Dark Ecology, thinking at Earth magnitude and The Geologic Imagination. Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. He is the author of Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End Of The World, The Ecological Thought, Ecology without Nature, nine other books and 120 essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, music, art, design and food. Morton is a proponent of object-oriented ontology (OOO), a new philosophy that shows how nonhuman things—a fox, a pencil, the biosphere, a song, a quasar, a mixing desk—are as rich and alive and special as we think humans are, and how they influence each other in a sensual, molten ether. Femke Herregraven will talk about her research on how climate change opens up new investment opportunities for financial markets and how the melting Arctic ice will increase the speed of financial trading. Femke Herregraven's work traverses global finance, information and geopolitics. Works exist online and as installations, video, prints, drawings, and games, often exploring geographies of avoidance and the ways in which financial systems carve out new geographies through spatial organisation. Herregraven’s ongoing projects include Geographies of Avoidance, addressing the offshore escape of financial regulation and The All Infrared Line, revolving around the physical backbone of global finance. The Geologic Imagination Published by Sonic Acts Press Edited by Lucas van der Velden, Mirna Belina, Arie Altena & Sonic Acts Designed by Femke Herregraven Includes a USB device with the soundworkunearthed by BJ Nilsen 336 pp., English, Illustrated Available from January 2015
After many months of preparation and four incredible days, the first Dark Ecology journey is over. With a group of 45 artists and theorists we visited sites on both sides of the border between Arctic Norway and Russia. We were in Kirkenes in Norway and the industrial towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny in Russia. Highlights include the lecture by Timothy Morton – the philosopher who coined the term Dark Ecology –, a visit to the mine under the iron ore plant in Kirkenes, and a truly mind-blowing concert in the gymnasium of the school in Nikel, featuring hiphop from Komi and an electrifying performance by Franz Pomassl. All the impressions still have to sink in, but in the meantime we have the first photos and videos to share with you. For the first photos see the Dark Ecology Facebook or vk page, especially check this photo album on Facebook (photos by Sonic Acts’ Annette Wolfsberger) and this Flickr album by Nik Gaffney. Matthijs Munnik made a visual essay about the first Dark Ecology journey. Our Russian partner Fridaymilk made video diaries of each day, you can watch all of them below. More photos, videos and reports will be published in the coming weeks on the Dark Ecology website. Dark Ecology Day 1 video: Creators, artists, researchers and musicians meet in friendly Kirkenes. Dark Ecology Day 2 video: Crossing the border to Russia, excursion in foggy Nikel, visiting a fascinating factory and presentations at the culture palace. Dark Ecology Day 3 video: Sound performance in a garage, eye-tracking of the Northern landscape and tuneful Secret Chamber in a school gym. Dark Ecology Day 4 video: Sound installation in the Norwegian tundra, Chikiss, Love Cult and conclusions that exceeded expectations.
The first Dark Ecology Academy, a two-day intensive workshop that forms part of the Dark Ecology project, will take place in Kirkenes on 13 and 14 October 2014. It is led by the Austrian sound artist Franz Pomassl. Pomassl introduces his artistic approach on the first day. His presentation reflects on the relation between sound, space, perception, physics, and the body, and is based on a selection of his site-specific sound installations in public space. He will concentrate on theoretical aspects of expanded electronic music and beyond, and there will be an occasion for open discussion as well as for short presentations by the participants. The second day is hands-on, and features a range of site-specific sound experiments, as well as visits (on foot and by boat) to locations in and around Kirkenes that are sonically relevant and unique. This workshop is aimed at aspiring, emerging and curious sound artists and musicians, and admission to it is free of charge. We encourage participants to bring their own tools and instruments. For more information, please e-mail: darkecology[at]sonicacts[.]com. If you want to participate send us a short e-mail outlining your background. Franz Pomassl (AT) is a sonic artist, electronic musician, sound curator, academic lecturer and researcher. He runs the record label Laton. In his performances Pomassl uses a broad range of homebuilt analogue electronic equipment. He is one of the dazzling figureheads of the cutting-edge electronic music scene and has released seven full-length solo-albums, and three vinyl EPs, in addition to numerous tracks on labels such as Raster-Noton and Mille Plateaux. With a reputation for being an unparalleled performer, Pomassl is one of the emblematic figures of a sonic quest pushed to the extreme.
Dark Ecology is a three-year art, research and commissioning project, initiated by the Dutch Sonic Acts and Kirkenes-based curator Hilde Methi, and in collaboration with Norwegian and Russian partners. Dark Ecology unfolds through research, the creation of new artworks, and a public programme that will be presented in the zone on both sides of the border in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The programme for 2014 includes lectures, presentations of newly commissioned artworks, guided walks, a discursive programme, concert evenings, and a workshop. Dark Ecology is informed by the idea that ecology is ‘dark’ (as the American theorist Timothy Morton has argued), because it invites – or demands – that we think about our intimate interconnections with, for instance, iron ore, snowflakes, plankton, or radiation… Ecology does not privilege the human, it is not something beautiful, and it has no real use for the old concept of Nature. What we now know about the impact of human beings on the planet has led to the need to rethink the concepts of nature and ecology, and exactly how humans are connected to the world. This rethinking occurs in philosophy as well as in the arts. Though these issues are relevant anywhere in the world, they are especially pertinent in the Barents Region with its pristine nature, industrial pollution and open-pit mining. Speculation on global warming fuels local economic growth, as the prospects for both the exploitation of the oil and gas reserves below the Barents Sea and the trade through the Northern Sea route are rising. Disparate interests and ‘approaches’ from both sides of the border have to negotiate. This interaction informs the Dark Ecology project, and is a starting point to invite artists and theorists to develop new approaches and new works. Preliminary Journey Programme The journey starts on Thursday 9 October in Kirkenes with a symposium featuring a keynote lecture by Timothy Morton, and several guided walks investigating different aspects of Kirkenes. In the evening the first ‘Secret Chamber’ concert, curated by Ivan Zoloto and Anya Kuts from Petrozavodsk, will take place at a secret location. It features Chikiss, one of the most versatile artists on the Russian electro-indie scene, and slow ambient techno by Sergey Suokas. On Friday 10 October the programme crosses the border to Nikel. Different aspects of Nikel, its history, industry, culture and environment are explored through guided walks, followed by the second part of the symposium with, amongst others, Dutch artist/designer Femke Herregraven presenting her latest research commissioned for Dark Ecology. Nikel and Zapolyarny are the locations for the programme on Saturday 11 October, which include a visit to the new site-specific work by the Norwegian artist Signe Lidén. The symposium focuses on sound art and ‘dark acoustics’ and includes artist presentations by amongst others Espen Sommer Eide, Raviv Ganchrow, and Jana Winderen. The second ‘Secret Chamber’ concert has live performances by Love Cult from Petrozavodsk, and ambient hip-hop all the way from Komi by Mnogoznaal and TILMIL (more to be confirmed). On Sunday 12 October Dark Ecology returns to Kirkenes with a first work-in-progress presentation of the large-scale sound installation Long Wave Synthesis by Raviv Ganchrow, commissioned by Dark Ecology, and a closing keynote speech. The trip is followed by a two-day Alternative Academy in Kirkenes on 13 and 14 October 2014: an intensive workshop on electronic music with Austrian sound artist Franz Pomassl for aspiring, emerging and curious musicians from the border zone. Anyone who is interested in participating in the journey or the alternative academy can contact the organisation by e-mail: darkecology[at]sonicacts[dot]com, and do so before 10 September. If you cannot be there in person, you can follow the project on the Dark Ecology website or Facebook. Dark Ecology Online Platform The results of the Dark Ecology explorations will be distributed in the Barents Region and internationally. From September onwards an online platform will offer documentation and reflection, through interviews, travel reports, videos, photos and audio recordings. Partners Dark Ecology is curated and produced by Sonic Acts and Norwegian curator Hilde Methi in collaboration with the Russian partners Full of Nothing (Petrozavodsk), Fridaymilk (Murmansk) and Roman Khoroshilov (Nikel). Dark Ecology is generously funded by BarentsKult, Public Art Norway (KORO), Arts Council Norway, Creative Industries Fund NL, PNEK (Production Network for Electronic Art, Norway), Mondriaan Fund and Finnmark County Municipality.
Starting this September, project Dark Ecology will highlight the border zone between Northern Norway and Russia around the Arctic Circle – the so-called Barents Region – with a three-year art, research and commissioning programme. We are very excited to announce that the first Dark Ecology journey into the region will take place from 9–12 October 2014. The four-day journey will bring together international artists, researchers and curators and is open to anyone with an interest in the topic. It will showcase new commissioned works, including a major site-specific installation by Raviv Ganchrow, and presentations by researchers and philosophers such as Timothy Morton. If you are interested in joining the journey or have other questions, please contact us: darkecology [at] sonicacts [dot] com. Follow the project on Facebook and be among the first to hear about the full programme, the sites that will be visited and where to book your tickets and accommodation. The border zone of Northern Norway and Russia is a region where you can feel, see and smell how human civilization is inextricable from industrial pollution in the heart of sub-arctic nature. Our knowledge of the impact human beings have on the Earth has resulted in a necessary re-evaluation of the concepts of nature and ecology from philosophical and artistic perspectives. The issue of redefining nature, ecology and the connections between humans and other things in the world is relevant everywhere, but it is especially appropriate in the Barents Region with its pristine nature, industrial pollution and open-pit mining. The anticipated impact of global warming fuels local economic growth as the prospects for both the exploitation of the oil and gas reserves beneath the Barents Sea and the trade through the Northern Sea route are increasing with the melting of the ice sheets. The diverging interests and approaches from both sides of the border have to negotiate. This mix forms the background and input for Dark Ecology. We borrowed the term Dark Ecology from American theorist Timothy Morton. He has argued that ecology is not something beautiful, has no real use for the old concept of Nature, and does not favour the human. In that sense ecology is dark. It invites – or demands – us to think how we are intimately interconnected to iron ore, snowflakes, plankton, or radiation. In this project Sonic Acts uses the dark ecology theme as the starting point for research and new artworks that will be presented in the border zone in a public programme – in 2014, 2015 and 2016 – that includes lectures, presentations and concerts, as well as workshops and masterclasses. Dark Ecology will be documented online and offer reflection through interviews, travel reports, videos, photos and audio recordings. Dark Ecology is curated and produced by Sonic Acts and Norwegian curator Hilde Methi. It is generously funded by BarentsKult, Public Art Norway (KORO), Creative Industries Fund NL, PNEK (Production Network for Electronic Art, Norway) and Finnmark County Municipality.
Fridaymilk presents Dark Ecology Day 1: Creators, artists, researchers and musicians meet in friendly Kirkenes. Dark Ecology Day 2 video: Crossing the border to Russia, excursion in foggy Nikel, visiting a fascinating factory and presentations at the culture palace. Dark Ecology Day 3 video: Sound performance in a garage, eye-tracking of the Northern landscape and tuneful Secret Chamber in a school gym. Dark Ecology Day 4 video: Sound installation in the Norwegian tundra, Chikiss, Love Cult and conclusions that exceeded expectations. Fridaymilk will publish a series of video diaries about Dark Ecology, from the preparation to the journey itself. All videos will be published on www.darkecology.net and www.fridaymilk.com.