Dwelling with Oak tree

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The Oaktree is old, some of his branches end in stumps but others stretch out wide, forming a canopy under which walkers, dogs, cyclists, runners, pheasants and rabbits pass by. The Oakley Creek walkway brushes up against his truck, cutting between him and his companion who stands a few meters closer to the creek. I have cycled and walked beneath this tree for around six years; a small wedge of my 53 years, a tiny sliver of his 160 years. Long enough to become aware of one another’s presence. I have watched his green leaves emerge in spring and gulped is soft oxygenated shady air in summer. I thought long and hard about the shared habitation of old-world trees brought by my ancestors and the regenerated and replanted native trees tracing a shared history of relocation and negotiation of space. I can’t help thinking that maybe the trees have been more generous in the sharing and we have.

Today it is autumn, and the Oaktree’s leaves are golden brown and making their leisurely way from branch to earth.  As I cycled, I was thinking about how I could transition my shed/studio into a heterotopic space for dreaming and imagining. A dwelling space sufficiently private and safe to invite people to join me in undertaking the vulnerable journeying that I had in mind, but that still located within otherness, a space of unknowing and hopeful waiting with those both significant and other. As my bike and I approached the old oak, it seems that he invited me to gather up his fallen leaves and take them to my dwelling place. I stopped and spent some time with the tree checking in with myself and with him that I had understood. Self-consciously committing to unknowing while holding the balance of my awareness of the suggestive hopefulness my perception (am I purely projecting this) and my scepticism (you think this is research – really?).  It seemed that he also suggested to me that I should bring my camera and make a video looking up the length of his trunk to the sky and take this image with me too.

tree detail

I cleaned and prepared my shed, making an open space for a bed of leaves. On the appointed day for leaf gathering, I set off with my phone camera and some large bags. I lay under the tree with my camera; I gathered leaves into awkward bundles to carry out. Back at the shed, it seems like the right thing to do was to turn the leaves each day until they were completely dry. Turning the leaves and waiting to see what happens next.

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breathing

Lying under the Oaktree I place the camera on my diaphragm with the intention of recording my breathing, surprisingly it also recorded my heartbeat, the tree moving in a regular and surprisingly rapid pulse, the speed of my heart pumping blood around my body evidencing an experience of duration distict from that of the tree. For me, existence is divided into the tiny segments of my heartbeat and the longer segments of my breath in and out of my body. The Oak tree appears to breathe in a continuous uninterrupted flow through his permeable leaves.  I imagine his inhale and exhale as an annual cycle, his duration marked by the seasons of leaf growing; a long inhale, then leaf dropping and resting in the cold of winter.

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breathing with Oaktree: link to video

After turning leaves, making videos with the tree and extending my breath work practice both with the tree and in my leaf pile I feel ready for some further experimentation in the space.

I have been playing with projecting these videos in my shed with the leaves, though the space is not large enough to get the projector far enough back for them to fill the walls. The movement of the trees with my breath is mesmerising and the sounds of the walkway’ the birds’ the movement of leaves, sets up an in-between space, an amorphos zone  between the ‘here’ of my shed and the ‘there’ of the Oaktree by the creek. I think  this could work well in an exhibition/installation context, however it feels slightly at odds with the practice of breath work, partially because usually you close your eyes during a breath work journey, but there is also a sense of artifice in the translation of the tree through projection. It feels contrived, which is not usually how I feel about projection. I am waiting with this question at the moment, not rushing to resolve it.

I have been making a dwelling space, a leaf hut, so as to be surrounded above and below by the leaves.

In the first trial I used a pink lace fabric from my collection, but it was too visible, separating the leaves too much from the inside of the space. It looks better photographs than it did in the physical space.

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I enjoyed the way the umbrella skeleton forms a low shelter, though again it is a bit large for the space. For the second iteration I used bird netting that I had left over from the garden. I very much dislike the plastic brutality of the netting, it is just a stand-in until I find something better. It does however hold the leaves reasonably well and is less visible. I would like to be a little lower and more fully covered with leaves (a lower pitch or more leaf catching net so the leaves don’t slide off)

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It is a lovely space to share with friends as in this informal gathering. It is redolent of childhood huts, moments of altered reality and brief holidays from the normality of everyday urban life.

I have not felt ready to invite someone for an event yet. I would like to do some breath work sessions, though I have two concerns regarding going ahead with this – one is my reticence to lead another person into a breath work session with the level of experience I have myself. (Though I would start with a very introductory and short breathing session, possibly leading into reflective conversation). My other concern is that I’m not sure how good for your lungs it is to breathe in Oaktree leaf dust, or even how dusty it is when you’re not moving and stiring up the leaves. I don’t want to cause someone to have an Oaktree allergy.

Travels with friends

I took TJ Demos on a bike ride with me; he talked, and I listened and pedalled. He spoke via the multi-layered avatar of a downloaded PDF, (the introduction to Decolonising Nature), read aloud via the Voice Aloud Reader app on my phone, delivered via Bluetooth to my in-helmet headphones. Demos talked about the way in which we apprehend nature impacting on how we assign responsibility for climate change, as we travelled over and alongside the motorway, passing manicured parks and rambuntious mixed-species urban thickets.

I breathed the rank air of the cars, and the soft air of trees with a momentary waft of roast potatoes as Demos promised catastrophic circumstances. I inhaled mudflat, and post-rain sewage as Demos evoked the plethora of voices speaking with him through the litany of thinkers and writers listed in numerical order in the notes accompanying each page, read out in full detail by my reader.

He spoke of the complicity of big industry as the cycleway crossed over a train yard and ended in an industrial park. We turned for home with the setting sun in our eyes and the possibility that we might, together, move beyond anthropocentrism.

The next time I did this ride I took my recording devices with me and recorded what the bike saw, what I saw and what we heard.

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Screenshot 2019-05-28 18.28.32
view here on Travels with Friends: TJ Demos, first minutes

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view here on Travels with Friends: TJ Demos, mid clip

 

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what we saw

 

what he said:

“Political ecology necessitates engaging with these inequalities of our neocolonial present, just as centuries of colonialism initiated climate change.32 Accumulation by dispossession occurs when the fossil fuel economy in so-called developed nations creates the atmospheric pollution that, in causing global warming, now threatens the existence of small island nations, such as Kiribati and the Maldives, creates havoc in the Bangladesh’s delta, and melts perma- frost in Alaska. Or when agents of “green capitalism”—which grants post-1970s cor- porate practice a cosmetic environmental guise—buy tracts of rainforest in the Brazil- ian Amazon in order to plant eucalyptus monocultures (green deserts that contain no life) for biofuel that forces Indigenous and Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian former slave) communities from their once-biodiverse, natively managed land. What are these cases if not contemporary corporate colonialism?33 “

Notes:

32. In this regard, Eyal Weizman is right in arguing that climate change is the telos of colonial modernity. See Eyal Weizman and Fazal Sheikh, The Conflict Shoreline: Colonialism as Cli- mate Change in the Negev Desert (Göttingen: Steidl, 2015).

33. For more on this argument see Ashley Dawson, “Putting a Human Face on Climate Change,” in Climate Change and Museum Futures, ed. Fiona Cameron and Brett Neilson (Lon- don: Routledge, 2014), 207–18; and Santiago Navarro F. and Renata Bessi, “Green Neocolonialism, Afro-Brazilian Rebel- lion in Brazil,” trans. Miriam Taylor, Truthout, December 28, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28232-green- neocolonialism-afro-brazilian-rebellion-in-brazil.

Demos, T.J. Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology. Sternberg Press, 2016. p 17

FYI

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Rm Conversation # 3: Between Elsewhere and Away

As a New Zealand European born in the sixties I have grown up in a society who belived itself to be cradled between infinate resourse and the no-place ‘away’. How do i now live, waking up to a biosphere in whom no material thing can be added or taken away, where everything that is something was something, and will continue to be some thing?

 

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Rm Conversation Pit #3: installation including tent poles, fabric and video projection of waters pooling over a street curb as they make their way to the sea.

 

 

 

 

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@ Mayonez on Friday

 

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I don’t know if the water knows how it will make its way to the sea.

I don’t know if the road knows that I run over it.

I don’t know if the trees know that I breathe their breath.

 

I invite you, for a moment, to imagine yourself positioned outside of anthropocentric humanism. Consider the possibility that thought, while currently the primary mode through which humans access our surroundings, is not innately the highest or most valid access mode in existence. We ourselves have many other access modes, such as imagining, dreaming, tasting, and feeling though we habitually consider these less valid. Similarly, nonhuman entities have access modes that may be inaccessible and foreign-seeming to us, and consequently we overlook them or deem them invalid.

The advent of the geological era of the Anthropocene, with its grudging acknowledgement that human activity has been the driver of this geological epoch change, leads humans into an imaginative crisis of world. It is the end of the Human World; the world effect within which we have been living for the past 10,000 years, in which humans are separate from, and autonomously act upon, the Natural world. The Anthropocene empties out this singular world affect. Now everyone has a world, water, running down the gutter or into my bath has a world. Rocks have a world, a world in which timescales are vastly larger than our own, so huge that we have perceived them as static. The Anthropocene makes us realise that when we look at a rock we are a human looking at rock; the shape of us in there in out looking.

Interestingly we are comfortable to scientifically imagine rocks as moving as liquid over a vast time scale, however we are less comfortable to philosophically imagine a rock as acting within its own world and world time. We accept scientifically that we are, or tellingly, our bodies are made up of an array of received and inherited DNA, that bacteria living in our gut are essential to our ongoing life, yet we feel uncomfortable to think ‘I am a heaving pile of entities cohabiting’. To acknowledge that not only do I have a micro biome, but that I am a biome.

 

immersive video installation that utilises the eye of the camera to capture moments of entities interacting with their world, flowing, fluttering, moving through or being moved over. It invites your human knowing, eye, mind and body, to reflect on other ways of being and knowing.

… if you knew me

Photos from …. if you knew me, curated by me at DEMO 25 October 2018

My thanks to Denise Batchelor, Mark Harvey and Gitanjali Bhatt for contributing their work for this exhibtion

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left; Denise Bachelor, Just Breathe. right; Jill Sorensen Milk Bottle. wall; Gitanjali Bhatt, The Hunt

 

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left; Mark Harvey Weed Wrestle. far left; Gitanjali Bhatt, The Hunt. front; Jill Sorensen Milk Bottle, wall;

 

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….if you knew me.

I have curated an exhibtion at DEMO, Auckland NZ

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In 21st-century suddenly everyone cares about climate and how it might or might not be changing, the atmosphere is filled not just with CO2, but with information and misinformation, blame, denial and handwringing. Beneath this cloud of discord, hype and anxiety we collectively and individually face a bewildering array of options and responsibilities.

The artists in If You Knew Me variously observe, reflect upon and engage with the increasingly familiar moments of awkwardness and uncertainty that now populate daily life. Small but uncomfortable choices and decisions that prickle us as we struggle to negotiate how we should now live as human-people in the epoch variously named the Anthropocene, the Capitalocene or the less pronounceable Chthulucence[1] proposed by Donna Haraway. Uncomfortable with the ‘Anthropos’ of Anthropocene, Haraway suggests that the current moment is not so much an era in itself but an interlude between the benevolent Holocene and a yet to be definitively named future epoch, a hiatus she terms “The Great Dithering… a time of ineffective and widespread anxiety about environmental destruction”[2]. A stuttering pause in which we know something must be done but are not sure how to do it, who should do it or what should be done. An extended moment of bewilderment as we see the reliable face of Nature, backdrop and resource of our human drama, dissolve into a disinterested biosphere, a cyclic network of entities and agencies in which we are one of many presences. In this version of ‘world’ there is no ‘infinite earthly resource’ and no ‘away’ between which to cradle the machine of human progress. With no valid prop for human exceptionalism other than self-interest and habit we are left to navigate an abrupt transition from a Nature we once stepped-upon, to a teeming biosphere within which we must negotiate a human niche.

The four artists in If You Knew Me engage with digital video, using the medium to acutely observe moments in which we dither in the face of mundane activities once considered inconsequential,  now appear suddenly suspect or even duplicitous.

 

 

 

[1] Donna Jeanne Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Experimental Futures Technological Lives, Scientific Arts, Anthropological Voices (Durham London: Duke University Press, 2016).

In the term Chthulucence Haraway invokes the Chthonic ones, the ancient, ancestral powers of the earth, who cannot be contained or ignored.

[2] Haraway.