A series of amicable talking events adopting the impromptu format of a happening and the architectural intent of a conversation pit.
Each Conversation Pit brought together a small group of people, a conversation space and a provocation on re-thinking nature-culture through which to engender speculative freeform discussion. For each conversation a conversation ‘pit’ was constructed within my home: an evocative dwelling-space in which to incubate small moments of re-thinking-together and seeding ongoing thinking and sharing.
Domestic Hub Conversation PIT #1 Blanket Hut: sharing in an intimate world
Conversation pit #1 acknowledges the impossibility of maintaining an anthropocentric worldview in which Humans are separate from the Nature in an era of eco-crisis and invites us to tease out ways to orient ourselves within a biosphere in which we are continuous with the network of entities we previously called nature.
This re-imagined world-view has been described as the third-place (Bruno Latour) or in the words of Timothy Morton, an experience of intimacy and closeness with nonhuman entities, which may include the bacteria, the biota and entities with whom we cohabit, but also trash; the plastic, chemical and biological waste we have carelessly spread around and are now intimately surrounded by.
I would like to draw attention to the semantic origins of the term intimacy, a noun deriving from the Latin root intimus, meaning innermost, most personal, profound. If we put aside the anthropocentric usage of intimacy as referring solely to close and/or sexual relations between humans, we may find this older meaning instructional for addressing this unexpected closeness with nonhumans. When extended to include nonhumans, intimacy appears less comfortable, indicating a close, family-like connection between disparate entities. Close, as in next to your skin and embedded in your thinking, and family-like as in inherited, an inescapable birthright.
*In which Humans are separate from the Nature, a construction in which the natural world exists over yonder, providing both resource and backdrop for human activities.
Domestic Hub Conversation PIT #2 Petroleum and Water
Petroleum and water; this relationship may be articulated as two entities with whom our lives are closely tied – or – two valuable resources that we need to manage. Both statements extort us to act responsibly toward petroleum and water, however the dynamic at stake in each is significantly different. In the second and more familiar statement, we adopt the position of guardian and primary actor in an active/passive relationship. In contrast to this, the prior statement reflects thinking and language emerging in response to the acknowledgement that we now live in the Anthropocene, the geological era in which human activity has irreversibly changed the planet. It suggests a recalibration of human identity to a less anthropocentric role in which we interact with the autonomous agency of other entities.
Is it useful to consider alternative to our (Western/neo liberal/ Cartesian informed) attitude to the large portion of our biosphere that, for want of a better term, we call things (stuff, objects, inanimate matter)? Or does this introspection merely get in the way of the important task of getting on and managing things through the established systems? It is telling that the word ‘thing’ appears to fill a gap in our language, operating as a proxy-term that stands in for those ‘objects’ and ‘materials’ we are not quite able to imagine as entities, beings or persons. We can acknowledge effects of things (carbon becomes coal, becomes carbon dioxide and energy), but we baulk at ascribing things agency as such. While we can scientifically imagine a timeframe in which we can apprehend their action we fail to philosophically imagine this more-than-human scale activity as a mode of being.
Domestic Hub Conversation PIT #3 Dwelling-with
Might we usefully open our dwelling spaces to become more inclusive of the entities around us? Could we imagine a future where cross-species dwelling-with is designed into our houses and civic buildings? Might we consider Dwelling as active cohabitation in which humans are one of many actants of the domestic biome along with soil, water, building materials, solar energy, wind/ air CO2, oxygen, biota, plants, animals (pets, other humans, pests), consumer goods, food and fossil fuels ‘in’, waste ‘out’.
While the term home has connotations of cohabitation, inclusiveness and nurturing, house has more austere connotations demarking an inside for human dwelling and an outside for all other entities. The permeability of the house is strictly monitored; there are clearly defined orifices for the entry of entities, energies, goods and resources. There are equally well-defined orifices for departure, the multifunction entry/exit for inhabitants (human, companion and machine) are supplemented by multiple exits to ‘away’ for entities no longer required, which exit discreetly as ‘waste’. This basic function of ‘house’ is indicative of our normal conception of ‘dwelling’ as a deliberate and thorough separation of space for human activity from the ‘natural world’ (which is tellingly referred to as outdoors). At its most basic, this is the function of securing a safe place for human flourishing and is common to a cave, a hut, a shack, a shed, a house, a hotel. But at what point might we consider that we have moved from safe to isolated, from comfortable distance from to complete subjugation of?
The big wake-up call of the Anthropocene is the reminder that we are not separate from nature, Earth is not an infinite resource for our progress, and there is no away. Like all mammals, we are made up of a plethora of entities; bacteria, microorganisms, viruses and inherited DNA. Like all mammals we are permeable; food, water, oxygen, oils and chemicals move continually between our environments and our bodies. In addition to this I suggest that that despite sectioning ourselves off into a human enclave we still desire connection with others, and this desire emerges as accultured nature; we keep pets, we value views out across the land and sea, we cultivate gardens. It emerges as vicarious care, we watch nature documentaries and YouTube videos of funny cats and heart rendering animal rescues. How might we, speculatively or pragmatically, reimaging dwelling as continuous with this complex web of biota?
Domestic Hub Conversation Pit Resources: Donna Haraway: SF: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble. Timothy Morton:Timothy Morton in Conversation with Verso Books Bruno Latour: Why Gaia Is Not the Globe, 2016,