Multispecies Salon

Here’s a passage from the intro to the book, Multispecies Salon, by Eben Kirksey, Craig Schuetze, and Stefan Helmreich…

 

As cultural anthropologists became focused on issues of representation and interpretation, ethnographers interested in plants, animals, and microbes began asking: Who should be speaking for other species? Arjun Appadurai has raised similar questions about the ability of anthropologists to represent other people. “The problem of voice (‘speaking for’ and ‘speaking to’),” he writes, “intersects with the problem of place (speaking ‘from’ and speaking ‘of’). . . . Anthropology survives by its claim to capture other places (and other voices) through its special brand of ventriloquism. It is this claim that needs constant examination.”10 Such critical scrutiny should be redoubled when anthropologists speak with biologists, nature lovers, or land man agers about the creatures they represent.

As multispecies ethnographers speak for members of other species—or even attempt to speak with them, in some cases—we certainly still run the risk of becoming ventriloquists.11 Bruno Latour seems unaware of this risk with his playful call for scholars in the humanities and social sciences to build new speech prosthetics: “subtle mechanisms capable of adding new voices to the chorus.”

Echoing Lewis Henry Morgan’s early writing about clever animal mutes, Latour suggests that “nonhumans” have “speech impedimenta” that must be overcome so that they might more fully participate in human society. In Politics of Nature, he proposes bringing democracy to nonhumans by drawing them into parliamentary assemblies, where they will be represented by human “spokespeople.”12 Questioning the ability of other organisms to hold their human representatives accountable initially led us to ask, rhetorically, “Can the nonhuman speak?”13 But after further reflection, we realized that this question was not quite right.

“Nonhuman is like non white,” says Susan Leigh Star. “It implies a lack of something.”14 While lacking speech should not be the defining characteristic of a broad category of beings, Latour’s notion of the nonhuman has another problem: It assumes too much about the very thing it opposes—that is, the human.”

Next Epoch Seed Library

Ellie Irons and I are collaborating on a new project: Next Epoch Seed Library.

Ellie posted our project description and call for participation on Medium. Check it out! We’ll be launching in March and hope to have a varied collection by then with many different species, locations, and contributors represented.

She also had some very pragmatic words on why native species are interesting but not all that great or important or helpful.

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Now some of you may be thinking: this seems like an enjoyable, innocuous activity…sort of…but should we really be gathering and promoting the seeds of weeds? Aren’t they ecologically damaging? Aren’t they a nuisance? Good question! I ….Yes, weedy species are aggressive, often not “native”, and can be prone to altering the composition of delicately balanced, historically relevant ecosystems

BUT: maybe what we need more than historically relevant ecosystems (those that mirror a past ideal of a bio-diverse, well-functioning environment), are living, breathing plants that are up to the task of dealing with the shit-storm we’ve created. Thriving plant communities come with loads of ecological and social benefits. Is it really worth raging against the geographical pedigree of a plant introduced 200 years ago if it’s functioning to stabilize soil, feed late season pollinators, generate oxygen, cool the ground, and improve human mental health? Sure, there are villainous weeds out there (think Kudzu), but it’s all context-based, and plant communities that suffer from being overrun by a weedy villain are often not in the best shape to begin with. Or so I hear from some of the ecologists I’ve grilled on this topic.

In the end, humans have made inaccurate assumptions so many times about so many things, that I’ve decided I’d like to (in general) fall on the side of life. If something has a will to live, I’d like to give it a chance. And these weeds certainly have that in spades. If you’re unconvinced, or want more evidence, I’ve enjoyed and been edified by the sources below over the past few months. As noted by Stuart K. Allison, landscapes decimated by human activity can be restored to their “original historical trajectory” without being returned to “their exact historical past”. This is my point exactly: ecosystems can still be functional with new mixtures of plant communities. Let’s not waste human energy, time, and herbicide fixing something that’s already working. We have bigger fish to fry.

Photo taken by Ellie in a former parking lot in Providence, RI.

About Trees

abouttrees

Notes & Links from Panel Talk at The Kitchen last night, with: Katie Holten, Jessamyn Fiore, and John Holten.

–      Words are broken: earth, landscape, nature

–     Different translators, same sentence

–     “Wait a minute, that’s my project”

–     Trees as companions

–     Gordon Matta-Clark show at Zwirner

–     Para-poetics: poetry for non-humans

–     Sunday Salons on the Anthropocene

–     Oliver Sacks – gingko article

NOTES: Producing Waste/Producing Space Conference at Princeton University

Mariana Mogilveich

Katamari Damacy – Video Game

“Urban Metabolism”

Urban Waste as Raw Material

Curt Gambetta

Waste facilities disengage from City & fortify themselves

“Waste remains an unruly substance.”

“Culturally, socially, materially leaky”

Perfume Barrier – McCarty Landfill, Houston

Max Liboiron

Clarify & Define definitions of Waste

You Cannot Do Discard Studies Intuitively

Fraction of 3% Municipal Waste is Household Waste

Industrial Waste – 97%, mostly mining

Waste as Metaphor

Waste as profit generator – Invented 1956 by Lloyd Stouffer

Picture 3

Robin Nagle

Dead Horse Bay – Remnants of People who were displaced from Sunset Park by Robert Moses

Latour – Objects have Agency

Archaeology of the Contemporary Past

Samantha McBride – Recycling Reconsidered

Museum of Waste

Capital / Ecology / Sovereignty

Trans-natural, Porosity, Seepage

Museum – Spectacle

– Experiment with Production of Knowledge

Analytic Satire

Discussion

ML – Call for Definitional Precision

What is the educational system for?

Who Governs the Ocean?

“We are lettered parasites…who have… disciplined hinterlands” – Vera Candiani

ML – Impossible Problems –> Changing Business as Usual

You need: Collaboration –> Compendium (vocabulary)

Methodology should no be based on metaphor

Theory of Scale and Power

Overthrow Capitalism

RN – “It cannot stay inside the academy otherwise we are only talking to ourselves”

How do you do a research question with other people?

Don’t use metaphor as a case study. What can this metaphor do/not do? How are we wielding it? Where does the metaphor stop?

WASTELANDS

Vittoria DiPalma

Early Biblical Texts: Weston – Wilderness (primitive) – Wastland (despoiled proof of devine censure, place of salvation by transforming to a garden)

SWAMP – visceral disgust, science/technology, increase usefulness & mitigate contamination

MOUNTAIN – fear, repulsion, fascination, attraction – sublime

FOREST – moral disgust, gardening, redemption

FENS = Wetlands

We have the same reactions as our ancestors to wastelands.

Use visceral disgust –> Action

Moral –> Hold polluters accountable

Redemption –> Art *** Can sanction contempolation rather than engagement

Love grows from intimate knowledge.

Wastland does not inspire love.

Lindsey Dillon

Industrial Wastelands

Cleanup is impossible but only way forward offered.

“Slow violence”

Damon Rich

Sol Lewinsky – Where do “publics” come from?

Popular Education – Using people’s esixting knowledge

Jane Jacobs

Emotion <-> Aesthetics

OBSOLESCENCE

Infrastructure – Conceptualized as layers, each resting on each other

Possibility of Radical Ethics around contraction (of economy) in relationship to artist’s work

Great Depression – Pausing of suburban expansion, looking inward

Problem underlying urbanism

Sanitary City –> Toxic City (w/ local inflections)

Seed Library Proposal with Ellie Irons

Composite

We are drawn to the range of resilient life forms found in neglected urban and suburban landscapes. the contrast between carefully planned and maintained landscapes and spontaneous spaces provides a filter through which to contemplate questions of wilderness versus civilization, biodiversity versus “nativeness”, and the idealized versus the “natural” .

Our proposed project looks closely at plants that tend to live in close association with dense human populations. Growing where others can’t or won’t, the plants held in our seed bank are those best adapted to live in the long shadow we throw on the landscape. Recasting these “weedy” species as companion plants for Anthropocene age, the project draws parallels between the characteristics of successful spontaneous plants and patterns of human population growth and flux in globalized cities. We are encouraging viewers to look at the overlooked and to be aware of how our value systems interact with both humans and non-humans.

We would like to create an interactive library of seeds gathered from wild-growing plants in the Bronx. Anyone can take seeds to plant or add to the library.

It will include:

1. A central piece of furniture built largely from locally scavenged materials. This would be a card-catalog style structure with many small drawers where the seeds are organized and labelled for easy access. A peaked roof will symbolically connect it to the outdoors.

2. A “work table” with envelopes and supplies for adding seeds to the library, plant ID books, a map of the Bronx with sites where we gathered seeds indicated.

3. Photo and video documentation of our process of gathering the seeds.

4. Live plants in pots on the table, at window sills, and on the floor.

5. A project website including an online catalog of available seeds as well as further documentation of their gathering. We will encourage visitors who take seeds to email us photos of their growth.

Inspiration + Links for an Upcoming Project

Capture

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Nina Katchedourian – Geneology of the Supermarket

“The Genealogy of the Supermarket interrelates people who appear on common products in the grocery store and organizes them so that they appear to be members of one large family.”

“A “world view” of extreme and almost paranoid interconnectedness emerges. As with many of my map works and chart pieces, the project seems to suggest some underlying coherent research or guiding principal, but the piece ultimately speaks more about taxonomy itself.” — source

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Parallel Botany by Leo Leonni

“On the other side of the hedge, however, reality is ours. It is the absolute condition of all existence. The plants that grow there are real because we want them to be. If we find them intact in our memories, the same as when we saw them before, it is because we have invested them with the image that we have of them, with the opaque skin of our own confirmation… Motionless, imperishable, isolated in an imaginary void, they seem to throw out a challenge to the ecological vortex that surrounds them….

“There are plants, for instance, that appear clearly in photographs but are imperceptible to the naked eye. Some violate the normal rules of perspective, looking the same size however close or far they may be from us. Others are colorless, but under certain conditions reveal a profusion of colors of exceptional beauty. One of them has leaves with such a tangled maze of veins that it caused the extinction of a voracious insect that at one time had threatened the vegetation of an entire continent…

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Brandon Keim: Thoughts on Taxidermy, Fashion & Bighorn Sheep

“There are at least two distinct currents to this mainstreaming of naturalia. Label one the Nineteenth Century Explorer: Spiced with steampunk, evoking an age of mannered discovery, gentleman adventurers launching expeditions and returning with tales to delight drawing-room crowds. A spirit of mechanical marvels and curiosity cabinets, maps drawn well but incompletely, of biological ephemera and naturalists’ drawings…..

“…..A psychic escape from the pervasive sense that no space on our map remains blank, that civilization has filled its container and is pushing back inwards. A need for nature in denaturalized lives…..Or maybe the meaning is not so dark. Maybe naturalia frames emerging appreciations of urban and suburban ecologies, or a sense of new, as-yet-unfilled maps arising in digital and social space, freed from old topographies.”

“…..A sign, a signifier, a t-shirt drawing of a deer based on an image found in the first page of Google’s image search. And I can’t shake the feeling that naturalia debases nature, turns animals into objects, renders our beautiful, extraordinary living world and its inhabitants as aesthetic commodities with no more or less meaning than paisley or a bright colorway. It’s life as accessory.”

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From Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge, an essay by Jorge Luis Borges:

“The oriental tome organises animals into categories thus: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”