Togetherness – Vibrant Matter Collective

unknown1.gifAnimation: Agata Sander

Every Wednesday from January till June 2019 a mixed group of people of different ages and with different backgrounds, among them also researchers and artists, comes together in Kristiansand City Hall to have a meal, talk, make music and alongside plants, microorganisms and small animals build a green biotope. We are establishing a temporary society, modelling a possible universe. We come together to be together and take care of ourselves, each other and our environment. That is basically it, and the pictures and films you’ll find here – and more will be added every week – tells you about what goes on in our temporary society. The project is sponsored by Arts Coucil Norway.

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Togetherness Vibrant Matter Collective project will explore the cultural premises for social innovation and development by challenging human self-perception and how the relationship between the human and nature is understood when approaching the question of sustainability. Through a broad interdisciplinary approach, the project will explore and experiment with new ways of inhabiting the world in which people, nature, and technology interact in ways that presuppose a more horizontal representation of the relation between humans and their surroundings than that which an anthropocentric approach to the earths vast diversity provides.

The overall focus of the project is directed towards the aesthetic dimension of the cultural prerequisites underlying the formation of today’s society and the accesses to new knowledge on man and nature that methodology established in the arts can provide.

Through critical reflection, the project will examine the anthropocentric foundation that has characterised choices which have increased climate and environmental challenges. Such ambition will develop in interaction with experiences derived within a residential neighbourhood in Kristiansand, Norway, actually modelling ways to inhabit the world in a non-anthropsentric way.

image.pngTHE POSITION OF INTERDISCIPLINARY WITHIN THE FINE ARTS 

In the space that exists between science, philosophy and art, innovation takes place. Artists participate in shaping what could be defined as “new ways to coexist” in the future when their projects touch upon technological and ethical issues. This position of the fine arts has a historical foundation. While science and philosophy have introduced new discourses, technology and ways of thinking, the fine arts have concurrently produced expressions for this research front’s embodied senses and feelings; its sense-based equivalent (Rancière, 2012). The sounds, the lights and the lines from Beethoven, Picasso and Schönberg were, in their times, as foreign as the texts from the foremost contemporary philosophers and scientists. They all contributed to their specific fields for a joint future. The fine arts explored and provided – then as now – a voice to the interaction between the future’s sensory experiences, technological innovations and discourse-based reflections.

image.pngRELATIONAL AESTHETICS

In contemporary art, it is relational aesthetics that represents the ambition to take part in this field of research joint endeavors (Bourriaud 2007; Bishop 2012; Thompson 2012; Kester 2013; Valberg 2018. Artists establish social laboratories with the intention of bringing arts practices “beyond the safe confines of the studio and right into the complexity of the unpredictable public sphere” (Pasternak 2012). Here, contemporary artists seek untraditional alliances within philosophy and science, but also new alliances with their audiences when they, for example, come together alongside researchers in a particular neighborhood in order to modulate new possible ways to “inhabit a world” for a limited amount of time. Many such works were created from the 1990s and onwards, some even from the project manager of this project. This has created opportunities to redefine the relationship between artist and public, encouraging individuals embedded in local communities to become co-creators of artworks that are completed only through their participation.

image.pngPOSTHUMANISM

The goal which relational aesthetics is aiming to achieve is producing future-oriented and remarkable objects and models, sensory experiences, and relations, which are ready to unfold in specific locations, between participants, and in media that operate in the traditional arts’ peripheral areas, or outside them. The setting for these types of social laboratories has been anthropocentric; humans have been at the center. This project breaks away from such a premise by including other lifeforms – microorganisms, organic materials and “technological bodies” – in a creative community. In this way, a community (“collective”), which is modelled on posthuman principles, proposes a possible and sustainable future characterised more by horizontal than by hierarchical models for relations between different lifeforms.

The basis for this change in mentality owes a great deal to the philosopher Michel Foucault’s criticism of an anthropocentric world view (Foucault 2006). This criticism is supported by significant international skepticism towards how humankind has managed its self-appointed authority to manage the earth’s resources. The results, particular in relation to sustainability and social justice, have been disturbing, and have contributed to a posthuman discourse to which this project owes a great deal. Jane Bennett describes the intention of posthumanism this way: “The task at hand for humans is to find a more horizontal representation of the relation between human and nonhuman actants in order to be more faithful to the style of action pursued by each” (Bennett 2010). Togetherness –Vibrant Matter Collective examines how more equal relations between different lifeforms can become physical experiences developed in a concrete, sensory community in Kristiansand.

image.pngSUSTAINABLE SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

In this respect, the project is embedded in a widespread research ambition to contribute with relevant knowledge related to climate and environmental challenges. The unique, and radical, aspect of this project is how it on a basic level examines the anthropocentric mentality which has influenced decisions responsible for climate and environmental challenges. Additionally, its ambition is to – by establishing a temporary model of a non-anthropocentric community located in a residential neighbourhood in Kristiansand, Norway – achieve a deeper level of understanding in a concrete, practical field in which models of sustainable methods with which to inhabit the world are developed (Rogoff 2005, Thomson 2012, Valberg 2017).

As the saying goes: “In order for people to build boats, they must wish to reach the islands.” This saying also contains an important message about this project. A green change involves more than a single effort, like selective sorting of waste, or technological innovations. The change reminds us that it is necessary – and also possible! –  to develop notions of other ways to live and play and develop a terminology (neologisms) that can describe experiences of togetherness: Visions of a sustainability «that will come», what the philosopher Jacques Ranciére hopefully describes as “sensory modes of experience that anticipate a community to come”, remind us of this (Ranciére 2012). Production and analysis of these kinds of experiences represent a contribution from the fine arts to a sustainable society.

image.pngAPPROACHES

The project respectfully celebrates the creativity, resistance, and flight lines which unfolded within European history in the 20th century. In a century of great human challenges, such as authoritarian political ideologies and pariah-made groups of people on the run, Europe stood up to strike back. This project will explore how art in a transdisciplinary collaboration can prolong these practices of solidarity into contemporary life and the challenges facing us. It is hands-on, with a bottom-up anchored methodology, and will focus especially on practices addressing the relation between human and nature. As such, it is a post-human attempt to modulate a possible universe of solidarity, but with a notion of solidarity that exceedsthe 20th century notion of solidarity between humans. 21st century challenges are largely connected to questions of environment and sustainability, demanding a notion of solidarity that transcends borders between humans, other species and organisms. In its ultimate consequence, such a non-anthropocentric notion of solidarity also raises the questions of possible relationships and solidarity between humans and mechatronic bodies with artificial intelligence. This last question has been the focus of project participant Ninas Jørnason’s research, as has been the case with many researchers within the non-anthroposentric discourse (Jøranson 2016, Bennett 2010, Braidotti 2013; Haraway 2008)

Such an approach will have to rely on original thinking and scientific and artistic innovations, or knowledge already established in the forefront of contemporary research put together in original ways, here with the art as a major provider of premises. The arts have a solid standing of being in the forefront when it comes to illuminating tomorrow’s society and its challenges, as will be the case in this project too.

The project is based on two discourses, both with associated theoretical platforms: Post-humanism and Relational aesthetics. Post-humanism examines the aesthetic, ethical and practical implications of expanding the circle of concerns regarding moral, relation and participation beyond the human species, broadening the scope of research beyond the human and into the world of other living organisms, plants, mechatronics and matter. Significant contributors to the project’s post-humanistic platform have been philosophers and anthropologists, such as Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, Bennett Braidotti, all discussed in project manager Valbergs recent publications (Valberg 2017, Valberg 2018). Within the artist-reseachers field contributions like those of Dr. Rasa Smite, Prof. Anette Arlander and Jana Winderen has had an impact.

The relational aesthetics describe the tendency within contemporary art to bring art out of the art-institutions and into everyday life, like in a neighbourhood. Artists establish social laboratories for «modelling possible universes» (Haraway 2008). For shorter or longer periods of time, these projects are meant to modulate a temporary “world” and reflect on its symbolic value, or as Nicolas Bourriaud (1998) formulates it: “Each particular artwork is a proposal to live in a shared world” (p. 122). The work’s ability to create new capabilities and social relationships that break away from established configurations of the sensible and possible plays a significant role in determining the quality of artworks in this field.

Such art-practices offers new approaches to arts methodology, arenas, and agendas when emphasizing the impactof the work. Nato Thomson (2012) formulates the consequence of this focus on impact strikingly:

“Focusing on methodologies is also an attempt to shift the conversation away from the arts’ typical lens of analysis; aesthetics. This is not to say that the visual holds no place in this work, but instead this approach emphasizes the designated forms produced for impact. By focusing on how a work approaches the social, as opposed to simply what it looks like, we can better calibrate a language to unpack its numerous engagements”.

Within relational aesthetics new methodological strategies have been established centered around the notion of prolepses.It refers to the artist’s sketch of an action plan. Like planting a seed, the prolepses are ment to foster conditions for remarkable objects, sensory experiences or relationships to appear. Togetherness –Vibrant Matter Collective will build on prolepses that can promote «togetherness» and at the same time «otherness», and thereby modelling «possible universes», based om a non-anthropocentric platform.

The prolepses are presented as a result of experiments carried out and documented in a pre-project. An important part of the pre-project was to develop technological solutions that could capture intersubjective relationships between music-making humans and microorganisms like phosphorescence. This work will continue in the main project. The three URL-addresses referred to in the described prolepses below are video-recorded work developed and documented in the pre-project, as early «sketches» of work to be further developed.

The four proleses are:

Nr. 1) The aim is to visualize how living organism, included humans, interact with each other and transform matter in their surroundings all the time. The idea is to explore how plants, microorganisms and small animals like insects, millipedes and woodlices, can be the ecosystems building blocks and simultaneously its creators. Plants will grow from seeds in the soil and transform the ecosystem aboveground, microorganisms and other decomposers will eat dead organic matter in the soil and together with the growth of fungus and plantroots transform the ecosystem belowground. Within this model events will take place, as described in prolepses nr. 2, 3 and 4. Creating a mechatronic «turtle», (i.e. the project logo) to observe possible relationships between humans and mechatronic bodies is part of this experimental approach to cohabitation that stretches the boundaries between species, and even the boundaries between life and matter.

The way the model is built is just as important as what the model represents. The landscape emerges as a result of synergy in the collective– its shape, construction and scope is a result of the interests and needs of the participants (be it animal, plant or matter).

Nr. 2) Singing with microorganism. The pre-project examined ways to produce sounds corresponding to the response from gloving phosphorescence (Nor: «morild»). With the help of underwater speakers emitting sound from a singing voice, we have established response from phosphorescence. In the project, we will continue to make the phosphorescence reactions determine the form and content of the compositions for singing voices made during the project. https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=WggGQfVoAFY,timeline 4:55 – 6:50.

Nr. 3) Whilst embedded in a local community over half a year, the participants will take part in an music ensemble consisting of professionals and amateurs; The Vibrant Matter Ensemble. The question is: Are we able to create new music where non-experts (as in a neighborhood) can play side by side with experienced musicians to foster relations between music-making humans and organisms in nature, like microorganisms. The project will establish symbiotic links between the way the music is written and performed, the processes the performers have to engage in to play them, the sounds that are heard and the overall cultural message communicated.

The prolepsis is blurring the boundaries between music, research, relations and social interventions, making the arts a gateway to the possibility that remarkable objects, sensory experiences or relationships may appear, bringing new and unforeseen knowledge and experiences regarding the relations between music-making humans and nature (microorgansims). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h55l3YNhnYQ

Nr. 4) «Participatory Singing». Establishing an “audience” has been the art’s survival strategy under market-oriented conditions that require a binary connection between seller and buyer. During the pre-project, we have been looking for historical examples that defy such a premise. In southern USA in the 1800s, so called Sacred
Harp Singing was popular. We have translated some of these songs and worked on the basic principles of such a collective song practice not intended for an audience, but rather to foster a feeling of trust, courage and togetherness. Such shared feelings embedded in trust are a prerequisite for a group aiming for unusual goals like achieving sensory experiences, listen to and communicate with organisms in a non-anthropocentric setting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAitqzgqOVIh

A key concept in relational aesthetic methodology has been to «inhabit» (Bourrioud 2007; Rogoff 2005; Illeris 2016; Merleau-Ponty 2010). Prolepses are designed to gain access to empiric materials and analysis derived from the inside of the phenomenon to be investigated. This is encouraged to ensure that the tools used to illuminate the phenomenon sheds light on its unique characteristics, and thus create genuinely and embodied new knowledge, rather than perceive and interpret the phenomenon from outside with categories already established with existing connotations and pre-understandings. Rogoff (2005) states:

“Philosophically we might say that it is a form of ontology that is being advocated, a ’living things out’ which has a huge transformative power as opposed to pronouncing on them. In the duration of this activity, in the actual inhabitation, a shift might occur that we generate through the modalities of that occupation rather than through a judgment upon it.”

This is a practice-bound ontologythat, to paraphrase Helene Illeris (2016), leads to research in which the central point for transformation is to perform new, embodied, and collaborative ways of inhabiting the world. Ways that challenge individualistic, anthropocentric ways, not by criticizing them from without, but by experimenting with existentially orientated alternatives from within.

Scientific Board (Scientific advice):
Trond Lossius (Head of Artistic Research and Fellowship Programme, Oslo National Academy of the Arts), Professor, Phd.Dr. Sibylle Peters, Professor at Folkwang University of the Arts, Hamburg, Germany, Professor Jadwiga B. Podowska, University College of Southeast Norway (Visual artist) and Professor Jan Bang, Agder University (Musician).

SCHEDULE FOR THE PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION AND CONCLUTION

Spring 2019:Running the project in Kristiansand Town Hall («Rådhuskvartalet»)

Autumn 2019: Planning, implementation, documentation and evaluation of City Event in Collaboration with Green center, Kristiansand, on City event summarizing and showing some of what is created during the project.

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