Rm Conversation Pit: invitation
A twelve weeks residency at the Rm Archive room at RM Gallery and Project Space November 2018- February 2019. Over this time I will hosted Rm Conversation Pit, a series of habitable installations and amicable talking events. Adopting the impromptu format of a happening and the architectural intent of a conversation pit, each Rm Conversation Pit brought together a small group of people and a provocation on re-thinking nature-culture through which to engender speculative free-form discussion. Participants were invited to share in a dynamic of thinking-together, a process articulated by object-oriented ontology philosopher Timothy Morton as “a physical process that happens in-between people and in interactions with people”[*] For each conversation a conversation pit was constructed in the Archive room, an evocative dwelling-space in which to incubate small moments of re-thinking-together and hopefully seeding ongoing thinking and sharing.
RM Conversation Pit #1: Sharing in an intimate world
The provocation: sharing in an intimate world acknowledges the impossibility of maintaining an anthropocentric worldview[‡] 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 in our bodies, the biota, animals and plants 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 the original meaning instructional for addressing this unexpected encroachment of nonhumans into physical and psychological human space. When intimacy is extended to include nonhumans, it 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 birth-right.
RM Conversation Pit # 2: The Agency of Things
The provocation: Water, soil, rock, a tree, a chicken, a cat, some wheat, some excrement, a plastic bottle, a river. Our relationships with these things may be articulated as resources and waste that we need to manage but also as entities with whom our lives are intertwined. Both statements extort us to act responsibly toward these things, however the dynamic at stake in each is significantly different. In the first and more familiar statement, we adopt the position of guardian and primary actor in an active/passive relationship. In contrast to this, the second statement reflects emerging thinking and language elicited by the realisation that 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, of things.
Our language, the vehicle of our thinking, falters here; It is telling that the word ‘thing’ appears to fill a gap in English 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, a cow eats, farts and produces carbon dioxide and milk), 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.
RM Conversation Pit # 3: Between Elsewhere and Away
RM Conversation Pit: Summer Sessions
Rm Conversation Pit Part 2 invited participants to take part in a meandering, amicable conversation about urban dwelling and ecology. While Rm Conversation Pit Part 1 engaged with academic discourse, Part 2 of the project aimed to draw on every-day knowledge, DIY ideas, and personal experience. These conversations were pitched, in a lo-fi manner, against the background of an ever growing environmental crisis.
Participants were invited to ponder the self-appointed Western position as masters of the Natural World. A so-called Natural Order in which, subservient only to God and Angels, it was proper for Humans to (in descending order and variable over time), admire (whales, dolphins) nurture as companions (dogs, horses, cats) raise to eat (sheep, cows, pigs, chickens) kill as vermin (rats, stoats, possums) plunder to eat (fish, sea food, ‘game’ animals and birds) grow to eat (fruits, vegetables, nuts) cultivate to host the above (soil, land) build on, mine, drain (land) throw unwanted material items into as ‘waste’ (land, sea, atmosphere) As this hierarchy collapses around us we are beset with questions of how we should now live. Rm Conversation Pit Part 2 posed two questions
I am hungry, I have teeth, what can I eat?
provocation: In a post-Holocene Earth eating becomes strategic, what can I eat if I care? What can we eat and survive as a biosphere? How can I eat and not participate in resource hungry Capitalist consumption?
Not a passive consumer
Provocation: If, as though of the left posits, Neo-liberal Capitalism requires urban and suburban dwellers to be passive consumers, how might we reclaim roles of active participation?
Under the banner of Modernism urban and suburban dwelling evolved as a passive transition point between a flow of resources from a generalised and abundant ‘somewhere’ and an unseen and endless ‘away’. If we now accept that nature is not that thing over yonder, existing perfectly in wilderness and imperfectly in farmland, but rather is an immersive biosphere in which all participate, how might this change the way we occupy our cities?
- Could we, should we and how might we transition our homes from sites of passive consumption toward a of role active participation in a cyclic domestic hub?
- What happens to the category of things we now term ‘waste’ garbage’ or ‘rubbish’ now we know there is no away? How might we live with nonhuman others now that we are not at the top of an anthropocentric hierarchy?
For Part 2, Rm Archive room became a relaxed summer space to drop in for a conversation, a cool beverage and to contribute to an evolving window brainstorm.
Things That Might Come Into My House
The gallery side of the wall drawing became a stenciled text work for the Rm Conversation Pit closing event.
All these things have, at some time, come into a house in which I lived. Except the Katapo spider, I made that up.