after use - features with Sadie Plant
more of a writer in passing than an artist in residence...
join me for a summer of visits to the Kunsthalle, discussions, reflections, comments and commentaries on the exhibitions
On Jackie Karuti's website, I read:
Where the body, machine & location intersect
There is no stage
There is no beginning nor ending
The play has already started
Body, machine, location opens on Friday, but the installation is underway.
landscapes: parched, ochre, riverine, bush
crime: scenes, exhibits, reconstructions
slippages: from cactus to insect, scorpion to stars, windows to mirrors, global to intimate, weather machine to projector, sticks to gates, to rulers, to wands
routes: river, road, wooden parcours
interferences: a gazelle in the road, a song from another exhibition
dialogues: a parliament of birds, a meeting of archive and current works
questions: why are the cattle moving backwards? what do the sea creatures have to say?
answers: not yet
The first visitor I meet says: the sticks are an issue.
Yes: they're too straight and narrow, too phallic, even. Sticks for me are weapons, rods, tools of measurement and control. Haven't you read Ursula Le Guin?
Not for a while, it's true. So I go back to her texts and sure enough, in "The Carrier Bag theory of Fiction", Le Guin offers nets, sacks, and slings as alternative ur-technologies to sticks: "we've all heard all about all the sticks spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but we have not heard about the thing to put things in, the container for the thing contained. That is a new story."
But surely we don't want to purge our stories of sticks, no matter how straight, thin, even phallic. Here in the Kunsthalle, Karuti's sticks are also used gates, skeletal structures, ways of judging distance, making space. Susanne Leuenberger, I notice, sees them as walking canes: prostheses, crutches, things to lean and rely on, aids, supports. They might also be divining rods, or magic wands. Drum sticks. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” wrote Audre Lorde. But they may beat otherwise, mark another time, a different meter, a new rhythm.
Ursula K. Le Guin's essay is published in Dancing at the End of the World (1989) and translated into German by Matthias Fersterer as Am Anfang war der Beutel, Warum uns Fortschritts-Utopien an den Rand des Abgrunds führten und wie Denken in Rundungen die Grundlage für gutes Leben schafft (2020) Audré Lorde's essay is available in English as a Penguin paperback, and as "Die Werkzeuge der Herrschenden werden das Haus der Herrschenden niemals einreißen", in Sister Outsider, Hanser, 2021.
The first contributor to the blog (thank you:)) responds to "Murder" and "Parliament" with a sense of disquiet. Seeing these video works, he writes, "made me think of how the animal kingdom is described and measured in human terms. Already the term "kingdom", as if all the beast of heaven and earth were subject to a divine hierarchy. A herd of cows, a parliament of owls, a school of fish, a herd of cattle - the way we talk about animals often anthropomorphises them in mythical ways. Instead of simply observing them, we see ourselves reflected in them, measure their behaviour in human categories of ethics, politics, even gender. Terms and ideas that must seem completely alien to the animals themselves, at least in the way we humans talk about them."
A murder of crows, a parliament of owls. "But isn't the murderous crow highly intelligent and social? And doesn't the noble owl also swallow their prey in one grotesque gulp? Humans are animals, yes. But animals are not human, as much as we'd like them to be."
As for the carrier bag, the container: this is surely the Kunsthalle itself. "Archival Ramblings", the exhibition which runs alongside and even around "Body machine location", gives a special weight to this idea that the space, the building, the institution itself is the net in which Karuti's works are gathered and displayed. Herding sticks in the gallery. Wood collected from the hills in Bern. That river - the ochre red bed in one of Karuti's videos, which never flows (even though the elephants, who never forget anything, still expect to find fresh water there and are drawn to their deaths by this memory), perched high and dry above the stone green Aare, which always flows (although always is a long time, and last summer there were rivers in the mountain which ran dry, and thousands of fish, more forgetful than elephants, died).
It's another world, says a visitor, looking here and there, from one sandstone to the other.
But that's not quite the case. Nothing is the same, it's true, but there are plenty of resonances, patterns, continuities. Not only the rivers, the hills, the stone. Also the crows, the owls, the roads, the animals with antlers, the herders with their sticks. Yes, even they are here: their cows are bigger, and the summer pastures are higher, but they too move with the seasons. Here is a sign (of a sign) in the Jura.
The Maasai believe themselves to be custodians of all the cattle in the world: from cows come not only their nourishment and wealth, but also a host of mythological elements, songs, dances, images, soundscapes. The calls of their herders, the clangs of their bells.
"Initiative zur Rettung des Glockenklangs ist lanciert – wie geht es in Lyss weiter?" asked Stephan Künzi in the Bieler Tagblatt earlier this week (22.5.23)
Bimmelnde Kühe sorgten erst im letzten Herbst wieder landesweit für dicke Schlagzeilen: In Lyss zog ein Ehepaar alle juristischen Register, um die Tiere von der nahen Weide zu verbannen.
Die Gemeinde schützte den betroffenen Bauern zuerst, weil die beklagten Glocken nicht übermässig laut seien und Immissionen nun mal zur Landwirtschaft gehörten. Auf Weisung des Kantons musste sie aber über die Bücher gehen: «In der Nacht führt der Kuhglockenlärm zu Aufwachreaktionen und ist deshalb unzulässig», schrieben die Juristen in Bern.
Eine Lärmmessung zeigte in der Folge, dass Kuhglocken in einer Ecke der Weide tatsächlich zu laut sind. Allerdings nur bei offenem Fenster, wo doch, wie der Landwirt süffisant feststellte, das Paar in einem Minergiegebäude wohne und gar nicht über längere Zeit lüften dürfe.
The cows have stirred some interest.
Maya Hottarek writes: "Über meine Google Suche ob Kühe larmempfindlich sind, gelange ich bevor ich zur Antwort stosse gleich auf andere Fragen. Warum weinen Kühe? Können Kühe in der Nach sehen? Was für Musik mögen Kühe? Was mögen Kühe nicht? Wie kann man eine Kuh beruhigen? Wieso schreien Kühe nachts?"
These questions bring to mind a wonderful project launched by the Finnish artists Terike Haapoja and Laura Gustafsson ten years ago: The Museum of the History of Cattle. Here too there are no easy answers to questions of the kind raised by Hottareck, but in the attempt to think them through, Haapoja and Gustafsson developed an impressive exploration of what it means to think beyond human history, human interests and perspectives on the world, to speak in the name of a cow: to speak cow as a language. "I borrow your words and carve myself into them, make a hole through them the shape of a cow. You might not see me, but you’ll see my absence. This is where my story begins."
One of the exhibition texts reads:
"In cattle culture, history is divided into three time periods. The Time Before History includes the history of cattle before the domestication of humans. After this comes the Time of History, which for many if not all cattle begins about 10,000 years ago, when bovine culture became intertwined with the culture of humans. The Time of History ended one hundred years ago, when human industrial society made it impossible for cattle to pass on their heritage to later generations. During the Ahistorical Period, cattle were cut off from awareness of their own culture in many parts of the bovine world. Museum of the History of Cattle has been created to fill this void."
It is also in this most recent period that European cows have been transformed from the lean creatures seen in Karuti's videos into the large and lumbering milking machines we know today, some of them so big and heavy that they can no longer safely negotiate the narrow mountain paths to their summer alps and down again. "Calves were taken from us immediately when they were born, and family lines were scattered out of our sight. Doing was reduced to so little that all that was left of our habits died away. We did not learn from our mothers but from the machine that told our bodies how to stand and how to eat. Stuck in the industrial process we would live in collective isolation, cut off from all relations that could anchor us to time, history, culture."
How often this has happened. How deep it runs.
The cows are walking backwards. Aren't we all?
Two other contributors have raised the question of specificity: are Karuti's landscapes located or could they be anywhere? Is this situated knowledge or a view from nowhere? The cows, as we have seen, are clearly in a place: these are Maasai cattle in a Maasai space. But what about the lift and the aquarium? Two glass walls seen through a lens. Does it matter where these videos were made? If you've seen one of them, have you seen them all? But I wonder: body, machine - location?
I saw Tizian Büchi's prize-winning film, L’îlot (in German: Kleine Insel; in English: Like an island) when it was released a few weeks ago. The critics describe it as a hybrid, something like a documentary but not quite. And it too plays with these senses of location and dislocation, place and displacement, but it does so in some very different ways. A river running through a strip of remaining wooded land in suburban Lausanne is overlaid with sounds that might almost but don't quite belong. The main figures, two security guards whose task is quite obscure, and a couple who might be lovers from the two sides of the river or some kind of jinn, genii loci, are very much there, but also from elsewhere. This is a highly specific work: a film on location, filmed on location. Everyone and everything occupies at least two worlds, but the senses of resonance and continuity emerge from lives and landscapes which are detailed and precise.
Then I talk to a visitor who begs me not to tell her where Supersonic, the video of the lift, was made. Du würdest es verderben, wenn du es mir sagst, she says: that would spoil it.
on the terrace
The Kunsthalle's terrace bar has become my favourite watering hole in Bern. A lot of interesting animals come to drink here - humans are animals, right? Unfortunately not many of them seem to have visited the Kunsthaus, but sometimes I do get talking to people who have come out, blinking in the light, and want to stick around. The other day, for example, I met a woman who said how much she loves the audio piece which she listened to while watching Karuti's Beluga. It's Ceal Floyer's work, 'Til I Get it Right, which plays inside a tiny space adjacent to the video of the aquarium. My interlocutor hadn't realised that this is a point of overlap between the two shows, Archival Ramblings and Body, Machine, Location. The soundtrack of one washing into the other: and why not? The sound of the Aare as it rushes over the Schwellenmätteli weir interferes with the omnipresent traffic on Helvetiaplatz, and Ceal Floyer's piece crosses into Karuti's space. That's the thing about sound: it is not easily contained. Floyer's work, which was first shown in the Kunsthalle some years ago, is a take on Tammy Wynette's 1972 song in which she sings: "I'll just keep on falling in love 'til I get it right." By taking out the words "falling in love", Ceal Floyer gave the line even more poignancy than it has in the original - which is saying a lot: you don't have to like country music to hear the powerful emotions in the song.
I guess it can apply to anything one tries, and practices, and often fails. The funny thing, says the woman, is that falling in love is the only thing one can ever do right.
On the radio this morning I heard a leading mathematician explain that 1 + 1 does not always = 2. It all depends on the context. Adding one colour to another does not produce two colours, but another one. One pile of flour plus one pile of flour does not give two piles of flour, but a larger pile. The interesting question, she explained, is not why 1 + 1 = 2, but when they do.
For a moment, this stopped me in my tracks. Later, I thought: isn't this a trick of the language? Perhaps pots of paint and piles of flour are more concerned with multiplication than addition, so that 1 x 1 = 1. But even this formulation seems unable to express the way in which the third one differs from the first two. The third one is bigger, or different, or new.
Karuti's work also invokes a different kind of measurement. New ways of reckoning - with numbers, and also with the past. Western scientific thought, she says, is all about reducing variables: controlled experiments with uniform processes and strict parameters. A question of repeatability. But what happens if we give priority to the differences rather than same? What if we amplify the variables?
the score so far
Last week, at the opening of the CAP Diploma show at the Pasquart in Biel/Bienne, I fell into conversation with Francesca Verga, a musician who is also doing doctoral research in Bern on the work of the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. His work presents a challenge to traditional notions of the manuscript and what it means to write music, instead following what Verga describes as "a very peculiar collaborative way of composing that was articulated in three phases. He was first improvising and recording an audible draft of his pieces; then he was giving the tapes to other composers hiring them to realize the score; and finally he was working in direct contact with his performers in order to guide them through the interpretation of his pieces and the development of particular sound techniques." Scelsi was questioning the authorship of music and the authority of the score, seeking new ways in which to think about what it means to write music down.
Is this another instance of turning the variables up? Each time I visit the Kunsthalle, the soundtrack seems more prominent, the background noise comes more to the fore. The traffic, the river, the snatches of song, and those low grumble rumblings: sound as the elephant in the room.
Elephant, sound, room.
Body, machine, location.
a weather report
"It was very warm that day," writes Sophia Fries, "at least outside. As in most exhibition spaces, in the Kunsthalle the temperatures were comfortably cool. I stayed quite a while amongthe jumbled works, which were not at all randomly arranged – fascinated, until the urgent need for the toilet made me leave the embracing beanbags. There, in this tiny space between the different floors, I was greeted by a fresh wind coming inthrough the open window. While I was peeing I could see the green leaves of the tree holding the Kunsthalle bar, the fast streaming of the turquoise-blue Aare, some snippets of the old town of Bern... 'Weather is the state of the atmosphere,describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy.' This is the answer Wikipedia gives me when asked about the weather. It is something very local. But weather is also the wind, which transports tinysand particles from the Sahara desert to the Morteratsch glacier in Graubünden. Weather is a question of the amount of water in the air. Weather can make rivers dry out. Even though it happens locally, it also happens everywhere all the time, and it alwaysfeels different depending on the body it affects. I wonder what exactly the weather machine in the exhibition is measuring or influencing? The air outside had cooled down and smelled like hot asphalt when I finally left the space. The wet ground told me of a recent summer shower."
A view from inside
"Shifting landscapes", writes Christoph Studer. "The exhibitions of Jackie Karuti and Archival Ramblings end today, and tomorrow they will be deconstructed to make space for the next. The house is not the same as it was when it opened almost two months ago. Some of this comes down to familiarity: I've heard the squawking of the birds, the groaning of the electric guitar, the chiming of the elevator so often that they shifted into a strangeOhrwurm. And of course, like any installation of this kind, the rooms are in flux: the beanbags keep getting rearranged by visitors sitting in them, books and papers get leafed through, the elevator keeps getting paused at a slightly higher or lower level, the orchid in the entrance hall withers steadily, not meant for such a dark and hostile environment. But beyond that, the works have moved since the opening day: sound has snaked itself into the next room via new speakers, new lights illuminate pieces that originally were kept in the dark. And sound levels seem to adjust from week to week, sometimes surprising me with their sudden emergence. To me, Karuti asks usto reflect on our perception, not seeing ourselves as the measure of all, but rather to attempt to perceive the whole as much as possible, and, by extension, not to be tricked into thinking of things outside of us as eternal. Nothing lasts forever, everything shifts. Even inside the Kunsthalle."
Blog posts can be written anywhere, even in a garden on the shore, by a stretch of warm and shallow water screened off from the road by trees and hidden from the boats by singing reeds, in the company of cormorants and dragon flies, ducks on the water, starlings in the sky - and was that a beaver in the darkness? Or perhaps a wild pig, or a badger, snuffling around the tent?
Even on that first day, as I slipped into the water in a burst of summer rain, I was already in another space. An empty space, a vacant space. I've been on holiday.
a guided tour
And so it was that I first saw this exhibition a few days after the opening, with a small group of Kunsthalle visitors and a guide.
What struck me first: the continuities. Here too there are bodies, locations, and machines, and many of the questions raised by Jackie Karuti's work are asked again. But now, not least because of the ground she laid, they seem much more precise and direct.
There are, however, differences. For a start, these artists had the chance - and they have taken it - to make the whole Kunsthalle into a space of their own. And then: this is neither a group show nor the work of a single artist, but a collective exhibition of the work of a collective, NTU.
What exactly this means is not, for good reason, immediately clear. "Do they live together?" asks one visitor. No, not really... then again: of course. In the sense that we all live together and, as it says in the Saaltext: "All work is collective. Life is collective." But not always to the same degree.
Gathering, reading... lesen, lecture, collection. "Everything worthwhile is done with other people."
The artists involved in NTU keep their names and identities: except for one installation and, of course, the exhibition as a whole, the works are attributed to Nolan Oswald Dennis, Tabita Rezaire or Bogosi Sekhukhuni. More than three individuals, more than one new thing: this kind of collectivity mounts an implicit critique of the world of big names, solo exhibitions and monographs which continues - quite perversely, when one thinks of early movements such as Dada - to shape contemporary art.
But different ways of working make it possible to think in ways that challenge more than western notions of individuality. This is just the start.
NTU is working on a cosmic scale. The global south and the western world are elements of a much bigger picture, in both space and time. Drawings of the earth, images of the sun, maps of the stars. The thought that sunspot activity might influence life on earth prompts thoughts of other interventions too.
I had worn this ring for years before someone recognised it as a piece of west African jewellry designed to suit the tastes of European settlers sometime in the nineteenth century. The signs of the zodiac it depicts are western - right? Or do they come from Africa? A glance at the diagram stolen from Kemet in the late eighteenth century, and now on display in the Louvre, leaves little doubt that the western signs are derived from Egyptian astrology. In many African traditions, other patterns are recognised. The three stars of Orion's belt are zebras, or pigs, sometimes three old men, or a hunter with a companion and prey. To the Dogon people of Mali, they were steps to heaven.
They should know: legends and speculative fictions about Dogon contact with the Nommos, creatures from the Sirius cluster of stars, abound. From these non-binary amphibian visitors, they learned about Po Tolo, the star known in the west as Sirius B. But until the 1860s, when it was first seen through a telescope, hiding, as it were, behind Sirius itself, this star was invisible, and so unknown to westerners. Did the Dogon first hear of Sirius B from twentieth century western anthropologists? Had they always known? How can we distinguish old knowledge from new, ancient wisdom from western thought, the colonised from the colonial?
In the star chart pasted onto one of walls in the Kunsthalle, there are clues: an automatic rifle, a clenched fist. No peace without justice. No justice yet.
I hesitate to use the term "Afrofuturism", even though it's one I like, and one which quickly comes to mind amongst these interminglings of mythology, spirituality, healing, and technology. It has perhaps become too broad and harmless, too much of a cliché to be useful now. But there was a moment in the 1990s when it opened up a way of thinking about Africa as the site of something much older and also more advanced than anything the west had known. It was more about music than visual art: one of its precursors was Sun Ra, already singing about space as the place and fusing Egyptian symbolism with an African-American sensibility in the 1970s.
Afrofuturism really kicked off when digital technologies made it possible to make different kinds of music, images, and world views. Not space, but cyberspace, the virtual, nonlinear conceptions of time, ways of rethinking identity, the human, the natural, the technological. Back to Jackie Karuti: body, machine, location.
Whether or not the term Afrofuturism is invoked, something of this 1990s moment of excitement about a truly post colonial future is here in the Kunsthalle too. All the work is recent, but something about the graphics, the colours, the aesthetics of the show suggests that this 1990s moment is one of the key elements of this collective's work.
Which reminds me: does anyone have a copy of Kodwo Eshun's More Brilliant than the Sun? It's the book that Kodwo Eshun published in the late 1990s, the one which kicked off my own interest in Afrofuturism and what it has since become, and a book in which writing about music takes on a whole new quality.
Let me know if you have one: I can't seem to find mine anywhere, and this show makes me want to read it again.
Atlantropa was intended as a pragmatic solution to what Sörgel imagined would be Europe's future overcrowding - its people would need to spread into Africa, he thought. It was also a way of ensuring European economic prosperity, by bringing together Africa's raw materials with northern technology. It was a paternalistic, self-interested plan, but still: what a thought! And when I think of the bodies in the sea, the ongoing exploitation and the debilitating poverty in which so many Africans now live, it's hard to imagine that relations between Europe and Africa could be much worse than they are today.
I still haven't found it. But searches for one treasure often lead to other, unexpected finds. On a friend's extensive bookshelves I came across a book of which I had vaguely heard, but never seen: Atlantropa, by Herman Sörgel, a German writer from the 1930s - I know, but bear with me: he was no fascist - who had the extraordinary idea of damming the Mediterranean in order to change the relationship between Europe and Africa, two continents which he was convinced had a common destiny. Forget alliances with the US, or some idea of Eurasia - for Suorge, it was Africa that was the future for Europe. The dams - one in the straits of Gibraltar, and another further to the east, would have brought down the levels of the sea by 100 and 200 metres respectively. As well as producing enormous qualities of hydroelectric power for both Africa and Europe, a lot of new land to all sides of the sea and, through the additional building of canals, the greening of the Sahara, the realisation of this plan would have linked the two continents by land. The Mediterranean would have been a place of connectivity rather than the death trap of a border it has now become.
on the poverty of twenty-first century life
I've been waiting for someone to complain about this last reference to poverty. Since no one has responded, I'll do it myself: isn't it possible to write about Africa without going down this old and dusty road to the waterhole of guilt and responsibility? Can't we think about the arts scene in Ghana - as in a recent issue of Frieze - without pointing to the massive discrepancies between Europe and the continent from which, even without Sörgelian intervention, it is barely separate? A Gambian friend goes further: can't you drop all this talk about the colonies? Why do you have to think it's all about you?
I wonder what Martine Syms would say. She's a black American artist with a biting sense of humour and keen eye for unhelpful platitudes about race, about art, about Africa. Her Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto takes a very critical view of the kind of mystical, spiritual, techno mix that transforms a sense of otherness into the exotic alien, and turns the histories of colonialism and enslavement into fantastic tales of unknown and advanced societies under water, in outer space or - in the Black Panther movies - hidden in the heart of the continent. Martine Syms is bored with all of this.
We did not originate in the cosmos.
The connection between Middle Passage and space travel is tenuous at best.
Out of five hundred thirty-four space travelers, fourteen have been black. An all-black crew is unlikely.
Magic interstellar travel and/or the wondrous communication grid can lead to an illusion of outer space and cyberspace as egalitarian.
This dream of utopia can encourage us to forget that outer space will not save us from injustice and that cyberspace was prefigured upon a "master/slave" relationship. While we are often Othered, we are not aliens.
Though our ancestors were mutilated, we are not mutants.
Post-black is a misnomer.
Post-colonialism is too.
The most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.
The first of her Mundane Afrofuturist rules:
1 No interstellar travel — travel is limited to within the solar system and is difficult, time consuming, and expensive.
2 No inexplicable end to racism — dismantling white supremacy would be complex, violent, and have global impact.
3 No aliens unless the connection is distant, difficult, tenuous, and expensive — and they have no interstellar travel either.
4 No internment camps for blacks, aliens, or black aliens. [this is a reference to District 9, a film set in South Africa and widely seen as a science fiction critique of apartheid]
5 No Martians, Venusians, etc.
6 No forgetting about political, racial, social, economic, and geographic struggles.
7 No alternative universes.
8 No revisionist history.
9 No magic or supernatural elements.
There is more. And reading this, I think she'd be OK with my reference to poverty.
Or am I still not seeing the art?
brighter than the sun
Yesterday a ship called Aditya was launched from Sriharikota in India. It shares its name with a Sanskrit name for a god of the sun, which is, apparently, its destination.
The message: Elon Musk is not the only one dreaming of missions to space, to the stars, to other planets, Venus and Mars. The Global South is moving on.
The small print: Aditya's destination is a point 1.5 million kilometres away from the earth, which is 1% of the distance to the sun.
in other worlds
In Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Aurora, a ship carrying some 2'000 people from earth arrives, after several generations, at a new home in a new solar system. It has all the conditions for life but, the travellers imagine, there is no life there: they will be the first life forms it will support. Those who launched the mission seem to have overlooked the likelihood, perhaps even the necessity, that such a place would already have lives living there. But there's always someone, or something, there. Haven't we learnt this yet? Australia, Palestine - how many times have we managed, perhaps chosen, to overlook the fact that there is always someone or something in lands we imagine as empty, uninhabited, new to us, waiting for us.
In the midst of this scenario, Robinson raises Fermi's paradox: if there is life elsewhere, why hasn't it already made itself known to us? There are many ways of answering this question, ranging from the possibility that we have in fact already been visited by extra-terrestrial life, to the prospect that any civilisation smart enough to leave home is also smart enough to develop virtual realities and simulated spaces so sophisticated that its people forget how to leave their bedrooms, never mind their planets.
Euan, one of the voyagers who dies on what turns out to be the inhospitable surface of Aurora, offers another solution to Fermi's paradox. It is a wise observation of which we should take heed: "by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it's too smart to want to go." The most intelligent life "enjoys its home", he says: "of course, every once in a while some particularly stupid form of life will try to break out and move away from its home star... But it doesn't work, and the life left living learns the lesson, and stops trying such a stupid thing."
Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora, Orbit Books, 2015; published in German by Heyne, 2016,
rich in contrasts
The aftermath of an earthquake in Morocco. On page 2 of the NZZ on Sonntag I read: Marokko zählt seine Toten.
On page 20, another story about Morocco: "Farbenfroh und reich in Kontrasten. Je nachdem, ob man durch das Gebirge oder die Wüste reist, in die Städte eintaucht oder Badeferien macht, lernt man eine ganz andere Seites des Landes kennen."
Rich in contrasts indeed.
“All these thoughts about the poles make my head spin.” So writes one contributor, who has watched the video based on one of the NTU artists' trips to the Arctic and the Antarctic. Here come more local animals: arktus is ursus; the poles are urs and not-urs, the bear and the anti-bear. But as the video suggests, we can think of poles of some sort as being everywhere: every point on the surface of the planet has its counterpart on the other side. We are so used in thinking in terms of opposing pairs - binaries such as male and female, black and white, solid and fluid - that we can’t help seeing the world itself in terms of up and down, too and bottom, north and south. Maybe one day we will really learn what we think we know already: that the earth is round.
Unlike the earth, as far as we know, our star, the sun, is not a solid thing.
It too has poles, and they swap quite often - every 11 years or so, at the height of the so called sun spot activity which can be seen on two videos in the show. This activity is scheduled, as it were, to peak next year or in 2025. Solar flares and storms will then be raging. And if for many years there have been theories about the influence of these activities on earth - stock market prices, for example - today there is no doubt that the sun’s volatility can have a direct impact on the earth. In 1989, electricity transformers and power stations in Quebec were blown by the high currents induced by the magnetosphere in power lines. A decade ago, there were several cases of black outs and collapses in radio signals and satellite communications. Today, we are far more dependent on such systems and technologies. The food that is delivered, the wars that are being waged, the blog you are reading: it all depends on systems exposed to the whims of the sun.
Hold tight, Aditya! Look out, earth!
after us, after use
I called this blog "after use" because it is an anagram of features, the name of the Kunsthalle Vermittlung series. Now I see it serves another purpose too. Writing about these two exhibitions has shown me just how much we look at the world and its people, land and resources, images and objects and everything primarily as elements to be used, and how limiting, even damaging, this attitude is. Things in the world are useful, to us, or else we do not value them at all. Even art does not entirely escape this logic. But it is a space in which objects, experiences, images can appear without use-value being their only value.
In the west, we have of course begun to see that there is a problem with this attitude. The world and its resources are not just there for us, for our use. Now - bravo! we recognise that they should be used not just once, but re-used again. But using things twice is no answer: perhaps it is even twice as bad. The cultures of the future, those who survive and thrive, will have moved beyond this mindset. Perhaps they won't be thinking about use at all.
They will be post-use societies. After use.