Visual & Performative Essays
April 9th Contributions
Annette K Arlander, Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts, Helsinki
Day with a Bog Birch – Vegetalising
This thematic essay / video essay consists of an introduction, a video, the transcript of the voice-over text, and a note about spending a day with a tree as a peripheral and at the same time central activity in trying to reach beyond the human. The video depicts the repeated visits to a small birch on a bog in the old-growth forest on Paljakkavaara during a Mustarinda residency in Hyrynsalmi in September 2020 as part of the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees. The video Day with a Bog Birch (with text) (20 min) was recorded on 23 September 2020 with a birch growing in the bog near Mustarinda house every hour from sunrise to sunset (7 am to 7 pm). The texts were written after each session, recorded and edited with the video the following day, and also published on the project blog. Besides this day with the birch, I had performed a single real-time session with the same birch on 14 September, making a two-channel installation With the Bog Birch (15 min). Later, I performed another real-time session on 25 September 2020 Standing with the Bog Birch (20 min) that could be combined with the time-lapse video of the day.
Day with the Bog Birch is the one that is interesting in this context as an example of a strategy I have explored with several trees; returning to them repeatedly, often for a whole year, or every hour for a day, like here, producing time-lapse videos that show the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes taking place and also creating an emotional bonding with the tree. By spending time with a rather unremarkable tree, experiencing the subtle changes taking place around them, sharing the situation with the tree, becoming with it, if you wish, the tree becomes remarkable, and a deeper understanding for our shared participation in life is potentially created.
Voice-over text on the video Day with a Bog Birch (with text):
Well before daybreak on twenty third September 2020 I am down on the bog below the Mustarinda house is Hyrynsalmi, waiting for the sun to rise at 6.56 am. My plan is to visit a small birch here every hour today, from sunrise to sunset, or seven to seven, and to record my visits with a video camera, as I have done with some other trees elsewhere, before.
This September morning after the autumn equinox begins with an overcast sky and a soft drizzle. I place my camera tripod next to the duckboards that mark the path, and adjust the row of trees on the horizon, the border of the small bog, to be in balance and begin. There is no sound audible from anywhere, no wind in the trees, no birds, no insects, nothing – an expectant silence, soothing somehow. The trunk of the small birch is covered with lichen, wet and soft. The ground of moss is wet and soft, too, elastic under my weight. I am no longer afraid of sinking into it, being sucked up by the bog, but feel supported by its soft bounce. For how many breaths should I stand here? Light grows slowly stronger, the day is arriving cautiously, as if on tiptoe.
Next session, 8 am; I am early, waiting. The drizzle has stopped, and the uniform grey sky is lighter above the forest edge. The daylight is much stronger now, although no sun is visible; my eyes cannot see the difference, but the camera shows the change. Standing with the birch I look at its yellow leaves, some of them almost brown, and at the small spruces and pine trees on the bog around us. The pines are small, and the only pines anywhere near; in the forest around the bog there are mainly spruces, with some birches, aspen, rowans and goat willows here and there. A sudden breeze, very gentle, is moving the leaves and my hair. Three birds fly above us high in the sky, then five birds. When I return through the forest a bird is chirping up in a spruce, and in the yard the dog barks at me. The house is waking up.
9 am, the sky is clearing. There are dark clouds in the east, but in the west the sky is blue. The camera shows that the light has increased a lot. It is chilly, could it be colder than before? I can feel the frost on my hands. Well, it is not frost, really, but cold. The breeze is chilly, too. Although on a bog we are high up on the Paljakkavaara, the fell or hill, so there is less likelihood of frost, yet. Winter is approaching, however, there is no doubt about that, and everything around us is preparing for the freezing darkness. After the equinox yesterday, the night is already slightly longer than the day. The sun is almost piercing through the clouds, though, changing the atmosphere, but not yet. Only later, on the way back, the moss in the forest is glistening in the sun and the orange rowan leaves in the field are shining bright between the tree trunks.
10 am, the sun is shining through a soft haze, strong enough to feel warm. For the birch these rays would mean nourishment, but now, when all the chlorophyll is stored in the roots for the winter – as far as I can see, there is no green left in the leaves – it can rest and hopefully enjoy the warmth, like I do. The sun really feels almost warm at times. The small spruces and pines with their evergreen needles can go on working as usual. I guess the reason why they have such hard time living in the bog is either lack of minerals, or lack of oxygen in the water, or both, lack of light is not an issue. But they clearly seem to suffer some hardship. Many of the spruces look rather old, even though small and skinny. Between the birch and the path there is a small spruce and a small pine, growing together by coincidence as if from the same root, both clearly very young, almost like babies. I wonder if they are locked in combat or actually like each other, their lives in any case being completely intertwined.
11 am, the sky is overcast again. The grey autumn mood is back, silent and chilly. The plastic bag I covered the camera with has disappeared. I find it among the trees far to the north; it seems the gusts of wind blow from the south. While standing with the birch I look at the colours of the peat moss around us: deep maroon purple, rust and orange, almost copper, mustard yellow, brownish green, pale yellow and well, green in all shades, soft and spongy, alluring and deceptive. The small puffs of white cotton-grass seem to float in the air, bent here and there on their long stalks. Now the wind is audible as a murmur in the distance. The bog is a place to disappear in, to drown in a suddenly opening bottomless pool or to get drawn under the peatmoss by some evil elf. Holding on to the little birch feels safe and comforting when being lured into thoughts of threatening mythology by the ominous sound of the wind.
Noon, the light as before, grey. The wind comes in sudden gusts, first from the east, then from north-west. I think I hear the sound of a bird, a croak of some kind, far away. When I return from the birch to turn off the camera there is a tiny fly examining its surface carefully. Is there something to eat, some dust from my fingers, perhaps, that could be of use? It seems so fragile I wonder how it survives in the wind. This is the time when all of us have to prepare for the winter, whether hibernating or not. The time when the incredible abundance of the harvest season turns to a time of cold, dark scarcity. The loads of blueberries, lingonberries, crowberries even rowanberries all around will soon be gone, and all the mushrooms, including the masses of funnel chanterelle or yellowfoot will disappear. These are the last moments to gather and preserve what you can for the coming months, and here I am, idling with a birch…
1 pm, already afternoon. The wind is almost howling in the distance, momentarily. The sky is not uniformly grey, there are brighter patches and the clouds are moving across the sky, towards the east, it seems. There are insects, some kind of mosquitoes, dancing above the bog in front of us when I stand by the birch, I wonder if they were there before and I simply did not notice them. The lichen on the birch look rather big on the slender trunk. There are mainly two kinds, the ordinary grey and somewhat leafy ones that are common on the tree trunks here, and then smaller pale, yellowish green, map-like lichen between them. There are a few of a third type, too, slightly brownish and with bigger leaves. The world of the lichen is foreign and fascinating, something to explore later. When I turn off the camera the sun suddenly comes out, almost, for a brief moment of bright clarity, and then disappears again.
2 pm, the cloud cover is thicker, the grey tone of the sky darker, the wind more persistent – it might even rain again. It is as if everything would be cringing, expecting a storm or simply preparing to endure six months of winter. I’m feeling cold despite my clothes. At the end of the session, I hear movement, and suddenly a colleague from the residency and the beagle are walking on the duckboards. We greet each other with a wave, and I wonder whether the dog actually entered the picture, as it did when I was standing with the birch a few days ago. He is allowed to move freely with some kind of transmitter attached to his collar, so he can be found if he strays too far. Although it feels like far away, ‘korvessa’, ‘korpi’ being the Finnish word for wilderness or deep forest, the bog is actually right behind and below the house.
3 pm, grey and chilly, there is an opening in the sky above the forest edge in the west, a patch of bright white below the dark clouds, indicating that the sun could potentially break through the clouds somewhere there, as it did later, after the session, albeit briefly. This time the beagle followed me to the bog, and I was worried that he would start barking or messing with the tripod, but he was very silent and attentive and somehow sensed my concentration. It seems like he sat behind me on the path the whole time, but I cannot know for sure. When I took my coat and turned back towards the house, he seemed very confused and disappointed; probably he expected a long walk after this brief introductory pause. Today I am focused on the birch, however, rather than on him.
4 pm, no perceivable changes, no bright openings, no warm afternoon sun, no sculpting sidelights, no dramatic shadows, nothing spectacular whatsoever – the same grey sky and the same silent bog, waiting for winter. In a few months more than a meter of snow will cover all this life, press down on it and also protect it. This area has the most snow in all of Finland, they say. That is why some of the trees have weirdly bent forms and broken tops. Probably the birch is doing wisely to store all its chlorophyll down in the roots and hibernate all winter. Some plants do sleep at night, but do they sleep during the whole winter? At least the life-processes are slowed down. Perhaps humans should try that, too; simply cover up and sleep in the cold… I can hear some hammering from the house, faintly; they are building a new staircase before the snowfalls begin.
5 pm, soft drizzle when I walk down to the bog. The plastic bag protecting the camera is wet, but the drizzle finishes and transforms into soft humidity while I am standing with the birch. The light diminishes slowly now, already two hours before sunset at 7.03 pm and the wind dies down. There is something deeply romantic and national about this view, a small birch in a bog, an archetype of Finnish romantic nationalism or national romanticism, and that is probably one reason why I chose it. It reminds me of the paintings of the Golden Age of Finnish Art, although I should be wearing a long woollen skirt and a scarf on my head, of course. Turning one’s back to the camera or the viewer is romantic in itself; the birch and the bog make the image national, or even nationalistic. Or then not, that remains to be seen; neither what I see in front of my eyes nor what I imagine the camera to see is what will actually be recorded, I guess.
6 pm, evening mood, grey, calm, chilly, almost dusk. I stand with the birch and look around me on the bog and suddenly realize that I see only spruces and tiny pines, no birches, except far away at the edges of the bog, and wonder why. Is the soil too acid, or simply too damp, or is this fact pure coincidence? When I return to the camera, I realize there is a small birch behind the spruce to my right, outside the image to the left, and two birches about the same size as my partner further down the path next to the duckboards. The spruces towards the centre of the bog do not seem to thrive that well, and the pines are all very young, but still, how come most of the birches are on the fringes? They form a row of beautiful golden guardians around the bog, probably with some aspen and rowans, which I cannot distinguish from the distance. My friend is obviously one of the few brave ones, who survive here in the damp swamp.
7 pm, dusk, invisible sunset, darkness proceeding slowly. The day ends like it began, with a soft drizzle. What did I learn about my companion and partner in performance during this day? Do I know or understand birches better now, or bogs for that matter? Did I gain insights about the similarities and differences between birches and humans, or why not bogs and humans, too? Our inter-dependencies, or rather the complete human dependence on vegetation I knew about from before, did I learn something about it now? Perhaps it is unfair to demand that I could express that right-away? I do have a feeling that the thing I somehow realized more deeply is the shared suffering involved in life, the sheer endurance needed to survive, and how impressed we should be by every tall or tiny creature that somehow manages to do that. When I think of the birch standing here through the night, not to mention through the winter, I shiver, stunned by respect. It is too easy to think that well, they are used to it or made to cope with it and so on. No, a birch, too, must be sensitive and vulnerable in order to live and change, and at the same time so unbeatable, so strong to stay alive…
With hindsight, when listening to this diary of a day and/or reading these spontaneously written and relatively uncensored field notes, there is perhaps not that much new or deeper understanding generated. Trying to “vegetalise one’s sensorium”, to follow the suggestion of anthropologist Natasha Myers, is not so easy. In order to learn alongside trees or plants more generally and to support their world-making projects one has to “reach toward them with the openness of not knowing and forget what you thought counts as knowledge.” (Myers 2021, step 7). Moreover, it is only one step. And it takes time.
The project blog Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees https://meetingswithtrees.com
The Bog Birch (videos) https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/761326/999357
Natasha Myers (January 2021) “How to grow liveable worlds: Ten (not-so-easy) steps for life in the Planthroposcene.” ABC Religion and Ethics https://www.abc.net.au/religion/natasha-myers-how-to-grow-liveable-worlds:-ten-not-so-easy-step/11906548
is an artist, researcher and a pedagogue, one of the pioneers of Finnish performance art and a trailblazer of artistic research. Graduated from the department of directing at the Theatre Academy 1981, Doctor of Arts (Theatre and Drama) 1999. Professor of Performance Art and Theory at Theatre Academy 2001-2013. Professor of artistic research at University of the Arts Helsinki 2015-16. Professor in performance, art and theory at Stockholm University of the Arts 2018-2019. AVEK, Media Art Prize 2014, State Prize for Multidisciplinary art 2018. https://annettearlander.com/
January 22nd Contributions
Annette K Arlander, Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts, Helsinki
Dear Spruce – Dear Deceased
This video essay consists of an introduction, two short videos, the transcript of their text, and a note about writing letters to trees as a brave (new) peripheral activity reaching beyond the human. The videos depict the action of writing letters to two spruces in the old-growth forest on Paljakkavaara during a Mustarinda residency in Hyrynsalmi in September 2020 as part of the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees. The first letter was written on 25 September and edited into “Rakas Kuusi – Dear Spruce” (5 min 47 sec) with the text in Finnish as a voice-over, with English subtitles. The second letter was written on 29 September and edited into “Dear Deceased (with text)” (6 min 26 sec), with the text in English as a voice-over.
The first of these letters, “Rakas Kuusi” [Dear Spruce], written in Finnish while sitting on a root burl of the spruce, is here translated into English:
Dear Spruce, or dearest spruce, thank you for providing this splendid seat right next to the forest path. Already walking here for the first time, in the beginning of September, right after arriving in Mustarinda house I noticed you and thought I could come and sit on your lap for a while. I can see from the photos I took. But then I completely forgot you, and even though I have walked past here almost daily, I have not noticed you at all. Only a few days ago, now, when September is nearing its end, I noticed you here by the path and remembered my previous plans. I stopped actually to look at the strange spruce stub only a few meters in front of me on the path. The spruce is broken, although its lowest branch remains alive and spreads like a large fan above the path. I stopped on this spot on the path already twice before while video recording the old impressively formed aspen tree, which stands sculptural here nearby. I was so concentrated on pondering how to record it, that I did not remember you at all. Only when placing the camera stand right next to you, I realized your presence. Please forgive my negligence, I clearly could have come to you much earlier. On the other hand, you have probably not missed my attention, or anybody to sit on your root burl, or what should I call this formation that grown on top your root. It is quite a fine lay-by and I am probably not the first human to sit here. I might be the first human, however, to sit here writing a letter to you. No, I will not hang these sheets of paper on a branch of yours, nor even burry them under your roots; this letter is only an attempt at focusing my thoughts, so that it would be easier for you to sense them. I am not sure if you can actually read thoughts, I doubt that you understand human language, but I could imagine that you can sense my presence in some way and perhaps also my thoughts on some level. Scientists have realized that plants and therefore surely spruces, too, and you as well, have very diverse sensory capacities and they can see different qualities of light much better than humans with their eyes. Why couldn’t they distinguish the intentions of humans in some manner, because it sure does make a difference if I am coming to fell the tree or in a peaceful mind to make acquaintance. Here in this forest, you do not have to be afraid of people beginning felling you, but storm winds or pack snow or their combination have felled many of your relatives. A completely moss-covered trunk in front of me might be a former spruce, although the more recent deceased lying on the ground is a birch. It is so rare to see all the stages of life in the same forest, when such a large part of the forest is so-called commercial forest, plantations of trees of more or less the same age. I wonder whether you know yourself how privileged you are, while allowed to grow here in peace from the beginning to the end of your life? Well, peace is of course a relative notion, there are people walking past here all the while, but anyway. Your trunk is full of all kinds of lichen, and they grow on your old and dry lower branches. And beard lichen, which is such a beautiful sign of clean air, at least so they say. Your crown is handsome and green and this root burl of yours does not seem to bother you at all, unless you count as a bother that some human beings might sit down here to rest for a while. It is actually a good reminder not needing to feel ashamed for one’s handicap or the deformities that life creates on us. They can even be useful sometimes, if not for oneself, then for passers-by. Thank you for that encouragement, if it came to my mind from you. And with these provisions I will now continue my walk. All the best to you for the coming winter and thank you once more for your hospitality!
The letter to a dead spruce, written while sitting on its fallen trunk was written in English:
Dear Spruce, dear deceased or departed, or whatever is the proper term for a respected and beloved dead being – because there is no doubt that you are dead, dead as a spruce, that is. Your body, broken and now separated from the roots, lies on the ground dry and dead like a skeleton, except that you are steaming with life of all forms – insects, fungi, larvae, lichen, microbes, and all the things that I cannot see. And who knows what mice or other furry creatures have nests further up in your former crown? You are clearly serving your community also while dead. I am not sure how you decide whether a tree is dead or not, because some trees are able to grow new roots from their trunk, or at least new branches to form new trunks growing from a trunk fallen on the ground. Perhaps that is not possible for spruces, though. I have never seen one on any of the spruce cadavers, and there are plenty of them in this forest. On the other hand, your roots seem intact, everything below ground, although invisible to me, could be alive, and simply waiting for the right moment to throw some green needles up in the air. Well, deciduous trees are doing that, creating a whole selection of new stems and young trees from the cropped stump, but again probably not the spruces, I’m afraid. And it looks like your wood has been quite thoroughly eaten by insects, perhaps before you even fell to the ground – that could have been one of the reasons that you fell in the first place. Usually, the spruces around here seem to fall with their roots open, like losing their grip of the ground in a storm. But you are really broken midway, at the waist, well, at knee height, or wrists would probably be closer, if we use human measurements. – I was attracted to you at first by the huge mushrooms that grow like small parasols from your stump, and then by the intricate forms of your almost bare branches that spread out from the trunk on the ground. Sitting on a corpse, on a cadaver, is morbid of course; and thinking of you as a rotting heap of life, all kinds of creatures busily trying to decompose you to minerals and nutrients, like a giant compost, does not make sitting here more pleasant. In actual fact your trunk seems rather steady and comfortable to sit on, not that different from a wooden bench, despite your rounded form and the slightly irregular, itchy bark. There is a small ant nest (small compared to the giant ones all around here) right at my feet – hopefully they are not disturbed by me, planning a defence attack. The sun is still warm, and it is very quiet, no wind. I wonder how many winters you have already been lying here, not that many, I suppose, but that is hard to know. There is no moss growing on top of you, but that might be simply because your branches keep you raised from the ground. And how many years will it take for you to decompose completely and turn into soil? In some places here you can still see the contours of a tree trunk in the moss, although most of the wood is gone and the moss cover is continuous. You are fertilizing the soil, I guess, whereas a human body decomposing on the ground would excrete poisonous substances, at least that is what I have heard. There is something fascinating in wood being such a living material, although it is clearly part of a dead tree, or a formerly living tree. I imagined I would sit here and think about death and dying, and the value of being able to witness the processes of decay instead of being protected from all such “unpleasant details” by an overly hygienic and artificially maintained almost sterile environment. But instead, I am thinking of wood and what a marvellous material it is. – I apologize for disturbing your well-earned rest here in the forest with such human-centred and utilitarian thoughts. And, on the other hand I have to thank you for your generosity, because I like to think that you gave me those thoughts here, in some manner. Thus, many thanks for this moment on your beautiful trunk, and all the best for the coming winter!
These letters exemplify my attempts at finding ways to address and encounter trees, a practice I have developed recently, a rather peripheral activity reaching beyond the human. The first letter to a tree I wrote to a small pine tree after performing with it repeatedly for a year,as a kind of explanation how the work was made, to be added as a voice-over to the video work. The first letter to a tree written next to the tree, as a performance for camera, performing writing as an action, was written to and with an ancient Olive tree in Ulldecona in Spain in December 2019. This practice of writing to trees with the trees as performances for camera I have since been exploring in various places, in Stockholm, in Helsinki, in Mustarinda in north-eastern Finland and recently with pines on Örö island, using either Swedish, Finnish or English. In this context the idea expressed at the end of the first letter, that a thought occurring to me while writing next to the spruce might be in some manner provided by the spruce, their contribution to the conversation, as it were, is the most interesting one. The second letter returns to that idea even more explicitly at the end, suggesting that the spruce gave me specific thoughts. The idea can be interpreted as a literary gesture or dismissed as pure fantasy, but it could also be seen as a possible solution to the dilemma of communicating with trees, which was one of the reasons for writing letters to trees to begin with. In “Phytographia: Literature as Plant Writing” Patricia Vieira proposes “the notion of inscription as a possible bridge over the abyss separating humans from the plant world [because] all beings inscribe themselves in their environment and in the existence in those who surround them.” (Vieira 2017, 217) Following this line of thought, although it seems that the human who writes to the spruce is doing the inscription, we could also see the trees inscribing themselves onto the thoughts and the text emerging in the encounter.
More about the context in the project blog Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees https://meetingswithtrees.com
Vieira, Patricia. 2017. “Phytographia: Literature as Plant Writing.” In The Language of Plants – Science, Philosophy, Literature, edited by MonicaGagliano, John C. Ryan and Patricia Vieira, 215-233. Minneapolis London: University of Minnesota Press
Gianluigi Biangini, DA, Aalto University
I AM THE EVIL. DISCOURSE OF A MISERABLE DISHWASHER AT THE EXCLUDED PERIPHERY OF ART RESEARCH NETWORK-CONSENSUS.
This text-performance deconstructs the consensus-network of art research: its corrupted and centralised logic of mobbing and expulsion of every form of “obstacle”, “rupture”, “intensity”,“diﬀerence”, ”interference” at the far peripheral cemetery of disconnected-links.
I AM THE EVIL. DISCOURSE OF A MISERABLE DISHWASHER AT THE EXCLUDED PERIPHERY OF ART RESEARCH NETWORK-CONSENSUS.
How is it possible to make space for art in art research if the discourse is dominated by a consensual signiﬁer? But also just doing research, because without an “object of research” (i.e.,art as expression) the game of knowledge becomes only an implosive discourse of consensus.
The problem is that the signiﬁer relates the sense to normative frames of the discourse. When the “common-sense” signiﬁer is transgressed, as for example if I present myself to an on-line feminist seminary in a conference of art research with an emoticon mask and I do not say anything (just hearing). I will be addressed immediately as a provocative bad guy that disturbs the order of discourse (for sure behind the mask there is a misogynist toxic male). Soon I will see faces becoming nervous, a repressed rage growing up, a shining hate in the eyes and after a while they will disconnect me with some banal excuse. The logic of the network is to form homogeneous islands and expelling everything is diﬀerent and anomalous: the variation at the fringes that can resist centralisation and banalization. There is no “epistemological obstacle and consequent rupture that allows a system of knowledge to evolve” (Bachelard, 1938) . An obstacle that could interfere with the conformist frame-process of a network of connections and make its members re-think or , at least, suspend their judgement or make them opening to an undeﬁned diﬀerence. The network is conformist and bypasses every “obstacle” to reach an average ordered consensus without fringes of diﬀerent intensity. In this way it prevents “ruptures” that are dangerous for the centralising power of a hierarchy. The network of art research realises, in a more vulgar way, a new edition of Plato’s paradox: “you cannot know anything more than what you already know”. This because the “obstacle” is by-passed with the logic of connection/disconnection.
The members of the network do not think/co-create by encountering diﬀerence as a creative occasion but they are scared from the “unknown”, the “strange”, the “unexpected”,the “resistance of an interruption” (that instead are essential features of art (and science)). After one day the directors of the feminist seminar will send me an email: “your intervention with the emoticon mask was “uninteresting”, “superﬁcial” and “sexist”. Instead I just wanted to show the impossibility of an artistic expression in a rationalist system of knowledge that prevents the performative edge between virtual and actual; this was the sense I was giving to the emoticon mask: mocking a mask of order and consensus. I participated to the feminist seminar by chance, because the on-line conference routed me there with a link. With my intervention I was incarnating the simulacrum of what an artist should not be: a “cute emoticon with social skills” that searches for consensus just for career and renounce both to art and research.
My emoticon performance was showing something else, an outside, with a gesture of otherness. If whatever is not understood in the feminist frame is “sexist” the universe in its inﬁnite diﬀerence, multiplicity of events, chance and inexplicability is also “sexist”. In the logic of the network, embraced by art research, every variation must conform to the axiom of a “cute” attitude or else the consensus of the network will exclude you by its connections with a click. You will remain isolated with no links and connections. This event is just an example of many that occurred to me. I am not intending to accuse feminism in particular. They also have the “right to experiment and doing mistakes” but they will not pay for the mistake. Instead, I will pay with the exclusion (and the consequent staining and punishing rumours circulating in the network) for having expressed a diﬀerence. This means not being selected for grants by the network of colleagues of colleagues. Only the stain will propagate in the network but not the “interference of diﬀerence as breaking-out, breaking-through, breaking-forth”(Kingsmith, 2017).
By participating the feminist seminar for few minutes, before being disconnected, I have learned that a branch of feminism has chosen “they” as a personal pronoun. I fully agree with them, we are a multiple variation, even if I do no see the opportunity of the word “feminism” to use “they” as pronoun (I would use the word “othernism” that does not have speciﬁc implications); but then, their actual behaviour is to fear an “authentic they” as a threaten to their order of discourse. Their feminism is only superﬁcially ideological. However, this kind of fear for the otherness is typical of all art research network. In art research you must always be in the discursive frame that means just to participate and be absorbed by a consensual banality. It’s the triumph of “common sense” and the fetishisation of the principle of “reality” (the opposite of parallax peripheries that are de-realizing and de-actualizing experiences). I am well acquainted with philosophy and I could produce elaborated discursive strategies in the discursive frame but this do no satisfy me or I would chose to be a philosopher. As art researcher I wish to put in practice and exceed philosophical insights by performance, because the discursive is a dry reductive praxis of representation that does not perform an expressive eﬀect that moves beyond the representation. Expression, as explained by Merleau-Ponty (Ponty, 1947), generates meaning in itself; it does not merely represent a thinking that is already happened before in the abstract mind like an identity process. The gesture, the style, the performance, the rhythm make their own sense. The ﬂesh expressivity makes sense in itself. Philosophy discusses only “concepts” even if creative philosophy, thanks to an expressive-performative use of ﬂesh-writing, can reach an aﬀect-concept at the price of losing analytic clarity for gaining in resonance. Usually the discursive proceeds through a linear logic that purges the heterogeneous resonance of the expressive event and its many dimensions, variations, aﬀects, paradoxes to explain the multiplicity with linear banality. Another limit, in art research, is that not only this performative expression on the edge of the virtual is negatively stained by the norms of the frame where the event happens, but art research does not allow even a robust and honest dialectic as in philosophy. The consensus is dishonest melliﬂuous victimhood. Inside art research network dominates a moderate, fragilized consensus, that is also a paternalistic polite blackmailing that freezes the creativity even in the discursive itself; not only in the performative. In my opinion art research has taken the worst path possible: both the poles of “performance” and “philosophy” are depressed and repressed. There is not enough openness for a performative-philosophy in this consensual model. Art research, as it is, is just a ritual of consensus when it could have strong potentiality to open the ﬁeld of “another-knowledge”. A knowledge of the edge-worlds between actual and virtual. An art researcher can be a maker-anthropologist of this edge.
The problem is that in doing something new there is always the problem of conjugating a vanguard attitude that has subtile perception of things with a democratic access. There should be a serious training in philosophy and experience in performance before saying I am an “art researcher”. Instead people who have these features are excluded, marginalized and by-passed because it is disturbing for the nihilism of the “cuties” to have someone who interrupts the circulation of the signiﬁer to open an event that is not safe. My attitude can sound “arrogant” but there is an actual problem of plasticity of minds to implement a creative model of art research and I do not see how it can be solved by the actual consensual way of doing that enforces rigid and moralist frames of common sense. I do not see the reason for art research in this mode to approach knowledge. It is simply a conformist and corrupted scam without “internal play of knowledge”! A scam for privileged few that are IN. While the other in excess, that means the one who really do art research, are sent to clean dishes in the restaurant.
I have heard someone saying that art research is otherwise-than-knowledge. I agree with him or her, art research is only network-consensus for “cuties”. This is the only otherwiseness I see in the actual model of art research. But where is art in all this being “cute”? Where is art research in this regime of reduced emotivity and expression? If one breaks the consensus to show an artistic attitude (intensity of pathos) is immediately cursed by the network and its dynamic homeostatic equilibrium. Vitality is secession and rupture, it is not consensus of the cuties. The cells of a body divides to renew life in a metamorphosis, they do not search for a suﬀocating bureaucratic homeostatic consensus. Artist vanguard is secession as is shown from the Viennese Secession and the Secession of the “Salon des Independents” that have created Modern Art as a series of vanguard-waves. Secession does not necessarily means “separation” and “fragmentation” but an heterogeneous play of diﬀerence between people interested in a speciﬁc ﬁeld of knowledge. If there is no transgression of the norm there is no art; because it’s the vitality of life itself that requires new forms of expression. We cannot substitute nature with culture. It does not make sense to speak of new materialism if there is not the expressionism of matter, intensity and secession. Nature is not a harmonic consensus of a single species obsessed by control and self-control.
Even this text is a transgression and a secession since its title. You probably will reject it telling that does not concern “periphery”. I could have written a text about my praxis of urban interventions where the idea of parallax periphery is not peripheral as in this text. This text is a periphery of the periphery, a discourse on my urban interventions would be too central for the theme of “periphery”. In a true text of art research I must risk to be eccentric and disturb the consensus or is not art research. If I don’t provoke the static centrality of consensus there is nothing vital, nothing active, it is just boring information and sameness. It’s just privilege of a cultural elite protected by the institution with a good salary and collective blame for the true art researcher. Writing in art research must incorporate a minor performative gesture that moves beyond the signiﬁer of the discourse, that opens a brave periphery in the centrality of the consensus. In the performative gesture there is already something peripheral, de-actualizing and transversal that skirts the centrality of an identity-system as consensus. But what are the consequences when you break the consensus in art research? The decision of consensus must be centralised in the consensual and whatever is peripheral disturbs this centralisation, that is also a reciprocal “facialization”. The disturbance must be purged out by the consensus or the interface loses its banal cybernetic smiling: something disturbing happens in-between the faces: a crack, a rupture. Nobody wants to include a disturbing dissensus in the harmony of “cute people with social skills”. One risks becoming a “bad name” that circulates in the network, a rejected to keep at bay in the marginalised periphery of the free-lance dish-washers. If you disturb the consensus in a place where social-capital is the currency for a career you will become the object of a violent mobbing by the network. The network marginalises the periphery through its mobbing and if you insist to transgress the marginal place they segregate you, they will call the surveillance who will smash you on the ground and you will get handcuﬀed and humiliated by the power of the network. I know it because I have experimented it! (As art researcher!). For this reason the title Brave Peripheries in this conference is a “fraud”. How is it possible to have brave peripheries in a regime of consensus and privilege that is surveilled by the police?
THE CUTEST IS THE FITTEST. THE NEW EUGENICS OF THE SOCIAL-NETWORK MATRIX OF ART RESEARCH.
This problem of consensus constantly re-presents itself in all the occasions of art research. In the obtaining of grants, in the co-optation to postdoc, in the publication of articles. Because art research is a small social-network “the cutest is the ﬁttest”; the one who gets more “likes” in the like-economy of the network of art research will get the grant or will be co opted or will be published; because it is the almighty trans-institutional social-network that decides who co opt in and who must be marginalised. The network is In and Out with its dynamic but consensual architecture. There is no space for independent research, even if the foundations, such as Kone, formally allow an independent application; because who decides the grant is still the network and its hierarchy and the privileged elite of consensus. Each grade of decision is consensual. It is like an implosive spiral that pulls to the identity-centre and selects the “cutest”, purging out every eccentric artistic attitude and serious art researcher. In this centripetal system the periphery is marginalised instead of being the lively creative motor of art research. This means that the deterritorializing line of becoming at the margins of the consensus is abolished with a stain to prevent a dangerous “line of ﬂight”. The scapegoat is an ancient ritual incorporated in the western institutions but with the network there is not even the necessity of this “negative mark” to reinforce the mystic of the community. The system of social-network in its impersonality just bypasses with indiﬀerence the potential perturbation that is simply isolated and neutralised in its aﬀection by connections/disconnections (Berardi, 2014). There is not the danger of a “line of ﬂight”(Deleuze and Guattari, 1987) because the ﬂexibility and interchange of the connections prevent it. The network can continue its course toward “the cutest is the ﬁttest” even without dirty its own hands with a sacriﬁce that is still a form of recognising in negative fashion a “line of ﬂight”. The exclusion is now automatised by the technocratic matrix of the impersonal network with its standards, links and connections that make obsolete the aﬀective concept of “relations” between people. It’s the automatisation of the “banality of the evil” described by Hannah Arendt (Arendt, 1963). It’s pure nihilism at work in a concentric dynamism of norms, punishment, blackmail. In this way the public discourse is colonised and striated by the norms prescribed by the network and no action can appear as political in a public sphere (Arendt, 1958). There is not even periphery but only a dynamic centralising centre surrounded by void spots of neutralised isolated noise that spin in themselves. Only “black holes,”(Guattari, 1995), that spin in themselves. Rotten desire that cannot ﬁnd a creative assemblage for its passion.
The network, as an emergent impersonal banal brain, designs its emoticon-members cutting out the perturbing periphery as a potential conﬂictual contender of the centre. Marx described the conﬂict between Empire and Provinces, Territorial States and Cities of the Coast, City and Country; this secessionist play that challenges the integrated central consensus cannot exist anymore with the network that is a dynamic IN that does not leave space and resources for an independent OUT. It does not leave space for independence IN but not even OUT. It wants to manage all the money and resources of the ﬁeld. The network of art research is an axiomatisation that moves to occupy and annex every space and institutional resource.
In this dynamism “diﬀerence” let its place to an innocuous “diversity” that does not threaten the fundamental moralism of the network and its banal single-thought. The purity of consensus in art research is protected by all attacks and conﬂicts. In the last instance there is the police to defend the banality of its evil! Even this text, if published (I do not think so), will be used against me by the rumours of the network or ignored instead of eliciting a thought-provocation as an epistemological “obstacle”.
This dynamic fortiﬁcation of the consensus is the essence of the ordobliberalist (biopolitical) scheme in which a State, in collaboration with Corporations, designs a society “from cradle to grave” for market and entrepreneurs. The State designs a competitive society to respond to the challenge of the global market and generates its smart entrepreneurs and its boring functionaries of the culture and art to keep the consensus. The eﬀect of this State-eﬃciency, that kills art and culture to promote start-up companies, is the removal of impure thinking (that is creative thinking through the senses) and the reducing of life to abstract functions of pure reason. Whatever could produce an excess is eliminated by the eﬃciency of the design. This ordoliberalist matrix is repeated until the obsession in the so-called artistic research. In this context the art researcher is only a “functionary of the consensus”. The main attitude of the “functionary of the consensus” is to be “cute”. An apparent fragilized self that looks open to the other but that, actually, hides a form of minimalist patronising attitudes that blackmails every form of expression, intensity and emotion above the line of “common sense”.
The cute emoticons lower their voices to the minimum as a moral diktat. In this way the voice of the marginated cannot be heard beyond the uniformity of consensus at low-intensity. In this way an artistic pathos cannot be expressed and aﬃrmed. We have passed from the “scream of Munch” as archetypal expression of art to the expressionless of the Emoticon of the art research social-network (but also the “art system” is the same if not worse than art research). This low-voice attitude helps the “cute art researcher” to escalate the hierarchy of consensus until he is present in all the boards possible at the top of the institution. A centralised elite is necessary at the top nodes to seal the consensus in a top-down order of exclusive network-nodes that prevents internal expression and an independent secession. In the climbing of a career in art research the face of the emoticon passes from the moderate inexpressive cute to totally inexpressive and neutral as the face of the ordoliberalist State. Actually, what the top emoticon shows is a fake neutrality because he or she implements itself as the inexpressive model of the art research social-network. Its inexpressive face is not only neutral but also intimidating as a symbol of discipline, power and silence. But even the “cute” guy at the ﬁrst steps of the climbing is a blackmailing ﬁgure. It is only apparently “friendly”. It sets up a scheme of fear and intimidation for every artistic expression or attempt of “line of ﬂight”. Because the consensus is total, it forms only personalities that are consensual. Because they have been designed by the network to lose the pathos of its bodily nature they swim easily in this nihilist realm of consensus with their social-skills. The ability of networking has become a positive feature required by the network itself. The “cuties” do not have any sacred ﬁre, any platonic eros. They have naturalised the nihilism of the banality of the evil. They are second nature. They circulate in the consensus without resistance. They will tell you that they are “green”.
The “green”, the “fuchsia” and the “rainbow” are just new axioms of the newordoliberalism. It’s a new norm of the social-network of art research (and not only) in order to appear cutest in a new capitalist order. The ideological bar for identiﬁcation with the “cutest the ﬁttest” is raised to an ever higher and more restrictive eugenic-moralistic level.I have explained the mechanism of this evolute network-fascism and its mobbing that well operates in art research. I already know the answer, my attitude is too “male”. I should neutralise my speciﬁc features to become a disembodied nothingness to be in tune with the cute social-network. Before being worried about saving the Earth I am worried of my expressive nature. If the “expressionism of matter” is reduced to the “cute”-signiﬁer all the talking of inhuman, post-human, deep ecology is an absolute green-washing falsehood. The system of consensus cuts out the human from accessing the depth (immanence) of living expressive matter and blocks the wide range of expression (variation) of nature. Being a “rainbow or green cute” does not help at all. It adds just new axioms of rigid moralism and discipline to the design of the box.
G. Bachelard, The formation of the Scientiﬁc Mind, ﬁrst publication 1938.
A.T. Kingsmith, On Rupture: An Intervention into Epistemological Disruptions of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hume, 2017 ( Journal of Speculative Philosophy). https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/jspecphil.31.4.0594?seq=1
M. Merleau-Ponty, Sense and non-sense, ﬁrst publication1947.
F. Berardi, AND, phenomenology of an end, first publication 2014.
G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A thousand plateaus, ﬁrst publication in English 1987.
F. Guattari, Chaosmosis, first publication 1995.
H. Arendt, Banality of the Evil, ﬁrst publication 1963.
H. Arendt, The Human Condition, ﬁrst publication 1958.