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.”
For the most part people are aware of what the outside of success looks like. This is often measured by how long your resume is, where you’ve shown your work, what gallery represents you, what kind of review your show got, how much someone pays for your work, and even what university you graduated from.
Outside success always seems to look terribly glamorous, and every once in a while it can be… But it still never means all that much, and it still never makes the work of the work any easier, if anything it makes it a little harder because the stakes get higher, the possible humble failures become less private and more visible and more cruelly judged.
The day after a successful opening or the completion of a body of work is something I have always likened to a hangover. There is a need to have a big greasy breakfast and get all of people’s celebratory compliments out of your bloodstream. A kind of panic sets in the very next day, an urge to get into the studio because you know you have to start all over again, building something from nothing, seeking the company of those trusted beneficial failures, waiting for those absurd internal dialogues with your own gang of voices. It’s not a very glamorous scenario. But this is precisely what internal success looks like. It is visible only to yourself and while you can trick the rest of the world into thinking you are a good artist, you can never really convince yourself, which is why you keep trying. If you’re lucky and motivated enough to keep making art, life is quiet, you get to work at what you love doing, happily chipping away at something, constructing something, adjusting to a cycle of highs and lows and in betweens, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for two years or 50 years, the patterns remain exactly the same. The anxiety continues to set in, the doubts creep in, the baby steps towards mending fragments starts all over again, the cautious urge to peek between the cracks is there. When you find yourself in that place, that’s when you’ll know that the inside is driving the outside.
Both the inside and the outside aspects of success have one thing in common: they both happen only if you’re paying very close attention. Neither one happens casually. There is a kind of will, a hunger, a deep-seated ability to focus that successful people have. As Susan Sontag said, “Be clenched, be curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention.”
As you move away from the structures and comforts of a university setting, with built in responses and scheduled deadlines for completion of work and a captive audience of classmates and teachers indulging in your art in a controlled setting know that you will have to create an alternative support structure for yourself from now on. Those of you that are paying closest attention will do well, those of you who are listening attentively to your real needs will become sensitive and receptive to recognizing a good idea, those of you who are willing to engage in an intimate relationship with possible failure, and risk taking will go very, very far.
That hunger, that desire for success is nothing more than a fear of failure, just like when I had that decisive reaction in my graduate review. And the odd thing is that when you are actually succeeding, it tends to be quiet and comes always quite unannounced and without a lot of fanfare. You will, in fact, be the only person who ever really grasps or recognizes the internal successes. The work of the work is visible only to yourself.
The most rewarding triumphs always seems to dangle just on the either side of the potentially devastating, awkward catastrophes, the embarrassing clichés, the self conscious doubting. As though the biggest leap can only come as a relentless gamble. A self directed “you go first” attitude… a dare to oneself.”
But as I looked closer, I noticed that what was supposed to be an ink painting was actually a photograph. Yao carefully adjusted the image on Photoshop to create the semblance of a shanshui painting, down to little details like a red chop for the artist’s signature.
They are actually images of landfills, dumps, and rubble. The green netting is a common sight at these places.
Chinese landscape painting uses shifting perspective in order to allow the viewer to imagine walking through the landscape. By disguising these junkspaces as traditional majestic landscapes, the artist kind of tricks the viewer into strolling through these places where no one would want to stroll. Brilliant and beautiful.
This is our new landscape. The Fresh Kills Landfill is bigger than the Great Wall.
Finally dug this amazing topographical map from the bottom of a box and hung it above the couch.
I think it was my grandfather’s. He was in China during WW2.
Reminds me of terrace farming that I saw in China. Cross-sections of mountains. Geometric descriptions of organic forms.
Hudson River on My Mind, 2009. Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel. 78 × 108 inches
Read her essay.
“Tortoises seem to be a perfect vehicle for re-choreographing continental drift. Their hard, round shell resembles the surface of the earth. With a reputation for moving slowly, they are well-suited to demonstrate a geological phenomenon.