Category Archives: trees

Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest

As i mentioned on Monday, a fabulously perceptive and captivating exhibition titled Verschwindende Vermächtnisse: Die Welt als Wald / Disappearing Legacies: The World as a Forest opened at the Zoological Museum in Hamburg back in November. The show follows on the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist who, over 150 years ago, (co-)formulated the principle of species evolution during research trips to South America and Southeast Asia. 150 years is not a very long time. Yet, if Wallace were to return to these tropical habitats, chances are that he would not recognized them. The rainforests have been destroyed at a very rapid pace by heavy logging, agricultural clearance and urbanisation. Large numbers of species have been driven to extinction in the process. Would Wallace still be able to develop the theory of evolution through natural selection in this context?


Exhibition view (entry lithograph of Amazonia.) Photo: ReassemblingNature.org, Michael Pfisterer


Armin Linke, Orangutan in the Tanjung Puting National Park, Kumai, Kalimantan Tengah (Borneo) Indonesia, 2017. Photo: © Armin Linke

Disappearing Legacies: The World as a Forest gathers contemporary artworks as well as zoological and botanical objects to investigate the changes in the tropical regions that Wallace once traveled and to shed light on the ecological issues faced by today’s fauna and flora of Amazon, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The show also interrogates our traditional concept of nature: how can it be mediated and maintained in a context characterized by extinction, deforestation and climate change?

The artworks are exhibited inside the main exhibition space of the museum and not in a dedicated, white space gallery. The curatorial decision means that families who enter the space to see taxidermied bears and exotic flowers are confronted with challenging questions and artifacts they might not otherwise get a chance to explore in such details. It might look like an unusual curating choice to some but i thought it was a brilliant move as 1. I’m always in favour of broadening the audience of contemporary artworks 2. by installing the works in the middle of a traditional Museum of Natural History, the curators invite us to reflect on the role that such an institution should play in the age of the anthropocene and Sixth Mass Extinction. Is our knowledge about biology and evolution in need of an update?

Here’s a quick and very partial tour of the exhibition:


Shannon Lee Castleman, Tree Wounds, Muna Island, Southeast Sulawesi, 2010-2011


Shannon Lee Castleman, Tree Wounds, Muna Island, Southeast Sulawesi, 2010-2011


Shannon Lee Castleman, Tree Wounds, Muna Island, Southeast Sulawesi, 2010-2011. Verschwindende Vermächtnisse: Die Welt als Wald. Photo: UHH/CeNak, Reiss

I was very moved by the Tree Wound photographs that Shannon Lee Castleman took during a field trip to Muna Island in Indonesia.

While visiting the island, the artist noticed enormous wounds on many of the older teak trees in the conservation forest. These forests are older teak plantations that have been awarded “conservation” forest status—not because of bio-diversity (which was devastated by timber planting in the 19th and 20th centuries) but because former plantations maintain the water table for the island. Castleman was told that since felling teak in these forests is illegal, impoverished villagers who pass by large teak trees will give a tree one cut with an axe after another … until finally the tree falls or dies and no-one is to blame.

The portraits of these wounded trees recount, on a micro-scale, the tragedy of deforestation and illegal logging taking place all over the world.


Julian Oliver & Crystelle Vũ, Extinction Gong, 2017


Julian Oliver & Crystelle Vũ, Extinction Gong (details at the back of the gong), 2017

The Extinction Gong, by Julian Oliver and Crystelle Vũ, is a ceremonial automaton for the Sixth Mass Extinction.

The Chinese ‘Chao Gong’ beats to the rhythm of species extinction, estimated by biologist E.O. Wilson to be about 27,000 losses every year, or once every 19 minutes. Even though this is a conservative estimate, it is still much higher than the average background rate (the non-anthropogenically influenced extinction rates) of plant, animal and insect species extinction.

Should biologists declare a new species extinct while the Extinction Gong is active it will receive an update via a 3g link and perform a special ceremony: four strikes in quick succession alongside a text-to-speech utterance of the Latin Name of the species lost, resonating through the gong.

The front side of the Chinese ‘Chao Gong’ is painted with the Extinction Symbol, the official mark of the Sixth Mass Extinction. The back, however, reveals the engineering of the artwork.

“This diametric expresses a brutal and contradicting irony – while advances in science and technology augment the devastating impact of human endeavours over wild habitats, so are they our best means of studying and understanding it.”

I found the work extremely moving. It gives presence and dignity to insects, plants and animals who disappear quietly while most of us remain deaf and indifferent to the loss of biodiversity.


Robert Zhao Renhui / The Institute of Critical Zoologists, Useful Nature, Useless Nature, 2017


Robert Zhao Renhui / The Institute of Critical Zoologists, Useful Nature, Useless Nature, 2017


Robert Zhao Renhui / The Institute of Critical Zoologists, Useful Nature, Useless Nature, 2017

Over the past few years, Robert Zhao Renhui has been documenting the ways in which the human species is altering other life forms. Directly or indirectly. His photographic works show animals, insects and plants that had to evolve in order to cope with the pressures of a fast changing world or as the direct result of human intervention and for purposes ranging from scientific research to the desire for ornamentation.

For the exhibition in Hamburg, the artist focused his research on insects. Over a single day, Zhao gathered insect carcasses from windows, insect traps, house corners and other crevices in his studio in Singapore. The carcasses reveal the wide variety of insect life that co-exists with human beings yet go largely unnoticed.

The carcasses are neatly aligned in one exhibition window. A nearby display features a collection of gadgets and chemicals used to repel and kill insects.

One of the questions raised by Zhao regards our selective love for nature and for insects in particular: why do we classify some species as useful resources or products while we regard others as pests or vermin? What gives us the right to celebrate some, tolerate others and wipe out a third group of insects?

The work is sadly echoed by the result of recent studies that observed that insect populations have dramatically plummeted in Germany: the researchers counted that the country hosts 76 percent flying insects compared to 30 years ago.


Lower jaw of the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros in the CT scanner of YXLON. Photo: Reassembling the Natural / Etienne Turpin, 2017


Skull of the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros in the CT scanner of YXLON. Photo: Reassembling the Natural / Etienne Turpin, 2017

As rhinoceros horns are in high demand on the black market, even the skulls of the already dead animals have been stolen from zoological museums. On the occasion of Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest, CT-scanner developer Xylon International produced a high-res scan of a Sumatran rhinoceros skull from the Mammal Collection of the CeNak. Even the horn of the specimen was cut off before it was acquired for the collections.


Armin Linke and Giulia Bruno, Riau, (Sumatra) Indonesia. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Anna-Sophie Springer, 2017


Drone Akademi Indonesia, Indonesian Province of Riau, Sumatra. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, 2017

In 2014 activist geographer Radjawali Irendra founded Akademi Drone Indonesia (ADI), an organisation dedicated to research, education and policy surrounding unmanned vehicles for terrestrial and aquatic research and an advocacy interested in environmental issues.

Indigenous communities and poor people whose land rights are threatened use ADI’s drones to collect detailed spatial data, create their own aerial imagery and challenge official narratives.


Paulo Tavares, Trees, Vines, Palms and Other Architectural Monuments, 2017. Satellite and ground identification of the ancient village of Bö’u, the old geopolitical center of the Xavante territory of Marãiwatsédé, which is still outside their demarcated land. Credit: Bö’u Association/autonoma


Paulo Tavares, Trees, Vines, Palms and Other Architectural Monuments, 2017. Policarpo Tserenhorã and Domingos Hö’awari conduct botanic inventory research in the cemetery site of the ancient settlement of Tsinõ. Credit: Bö’u Association/autonoma

From the early 1950s to the late 1960s, the A’uwe – Xavante people, an indigenous nation of Brazilian Amazon was subjected to a brutal land dispossession and forced removals to open space for giant cattle farms and soy plantation. The campaign was part of a strategy of territorial colonisation that the Brazilian military described as “occupying demographic voids.”

In 1966 the A’uwe of Marãiwatséde were deported from their ancestral land in an operation led by the Brazilian Air Force. In 1974, the State Indigenous Agency (FUNAI) emitted a certificate attesting that this territory wasn’t indigenous land anymore.

In collaboration with the Bö’u Xavante Association of Marãiwatséde, a team led by architect Paulo Tavares conducted a forensic analysis of the sites, mapping and surveying their ancient villages and cemeteries in order to provide evidence of their ancestral possession of this territory.

The sites studied display very similar feature in that a patch of vegetation had grown precisely in the arc-like shape of the ancient village. Made of a combination between medium and large trees, palms and other types of plants and vines, these botanic formations contain certain species that are associates with Xavante traditional occupation and land managing systems.
The botanic formations are the equivalent to an architectural ruin. Some of the questions raised by this research into forest wilderness/domestication include:

Can we claim trees, vines and palms to be historic monuments? Is the forest an “urban heritage” of indigenous designs?


Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares, Forest Law, 2014. Installation view


Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, Savane Du Sud (Pirouette), 2017

I’ll leave you with more images from the show and a text from Alfred Russel Wallace that reads like it has been written yesterday and not in 1910:

Yet during the past century, which has seen those great advances in the knowledge of Nature of which we are so proud, there has been no corresponding development of a love or reverence for her works; so that never before has there been such widespread ravage of the earth’s surface by destruction of native vegetation and with it of much animal life, and such wholesale defacement of the earth by mineral workings and by pouring into our streams and rivers the refuse of manufactories and of cities; and this has been done by all the greatest nations claiming the first place for civilisation and religion! And what is worse, the greater part of this waste and devastation has been and is being carried on, not for any good or worthy purpose, but in the interest of personal greed and avarice; so that in every case, while wealth has increased in the hands of the few, millions are still living without the bare necessaries for a healthy or a decent life, thousands dying yearly of actual starvation, and other thousands being slowly or suddenly destroyed by hideous diseases or accidents, directly caused in this cruel race for wealth, and in almost every case easily preventable. Yet they are not prevented, solely because to do so would somewhat diminish the profits of the capitalists and legislators who are directly responsible for this almost world-wide defacement and destruction, and virtual massacre of the ignorant and defenceless workers.

Alfred Russel Wallace, 1910


“Natives of Aru shooting the great bird of paradise”, in Wallace, The Malay Archipelago, 1869


Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, Savane Du Sud Dessus, 2016


Verschwindende Vermächtnisse: Die Welt als Wald. Photo: UHH/CeNak, Reiss


Beetle drawings in Alfred Russel Wallace’s Natural History Notebook, 1854. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, 2014. Courtesy Linnean Society London


Palm oil plantation in the Indonesian province of Riau, Sumatra. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, 2016.


Mark Dion, Monument for the Anthropocene, 2014


Exhibition view (Wallace panel / Mark Dion rhino replica.) Photo: ReassemblingNature.org, Michael Pfisterer


Exhibition view. Photo: ReassemblingNature.org, Michael Pfisterer


Exhibition view. Photo: ReassemblingNature.org, Michael Pfisterer


Verschwindende Vermächtnisse: Die Welt als Wald. Photo: UHH/CeNak, Reiss


Barbara Marcel, The Open Forest, 2017. Still from the Videoessay


Barbara Marcel, The Open Forest, 2017. Still from the video essay


Armin Linke, Palm oil plantation, Kecematan Bataian Kabupaten Rokan Hilir (Sumatra) Indonesia, 2017. Photo: © Armin Linke


Armin Linke, Fighting fire in the peatland, Kecematan Bataian Kabupaten Rokan Hilir (Sumatra) Indonesia, 2017. Photo: © Armin Linke


Armin Linke, Inagritech International Agricultural Machinery fair, truck for palm oil collection, Jakarta Indonesia, 2017. Photo: © Armin Linke

Previously: Palm oil, peatfires, Nutella and the anthropocene.

Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest / Verschwindende Vermächtnisse: Die Welt als Wald remains open until 29 March 2018 at the Zoological Museum in Hamburg.
The exhibition is free.

Prof. Anna Tsing will give a keynote lecture on 26 March in the context of the Hamburg exhibition. On 26 April a second version of the exhibition will open at Tieranatomisches Theater in Berlin. In the fall, a third iteration of the exhibition will open in Halle/Saale.

Palm oil, peatfires, Nutella and the anthropocene


Armin Linke, Fighting fire in the peatland, Kecematan Bataian Kabupaten Rokan Hilir (Sumatra) Indonesia, 2017. Photo: © Armin Linke

Although Charles Darwin is usually the only name that springs to mind when mentioning the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace was actually a co-discoverer of the theory. Wallace developed some of his most important ideas about natural selection during research trips to South America and Southeast Asia.


Anthony Smith, Bronze statue of Alfred Russel Wallace. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, 2014. Courtesy Linnean Society London

150 years later, the tropical habitats that the British naturalist explored have been radically transformed. The rainforests have been ravaged, ruined and flattened to make space for monoculture and other human pursuits of profit.

Verschwindende Vermächtnisse: Die Welt als Wald / Disappearing Legacies: The World as a Forest, an exhibition currently open at the Zoological Museum in Hamburg, “confronts the destruction of these tropical habitats in the context of the Anthropocene and mass extinction.”

If Wallace were to visit these rainforests today, would he still be able to formulate the principles of evolution by natural selection? Or has the biodiversity of those regions dropped so significantly that he would come back from his journey with little more than a few notebooks filled with drawings?

Both the premise and the works selected for the exhibition are worth a trip to Hamburg. I’ll come back with a full review of the show on Friday but in the meantime, i’d like to share a video i found so eye-opening and powerful that it deserves to be singled out in a post.

The video was produced by PetaBencana.id (an organization offering a free web-based platform that combines crowd-sourced reporting and government agency validations to visualize disasters in real time) for the Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest exhibition. It explains the devastating impact that palm tree monocultures in Indonesia are having on the local landscape as well as on the whole the Earth System and its climate. I thought i knew about the havoc that palm oil plantations are wreaking on the environment, i had no idea it was this bad (burning an area the size of my country in only 5 months!!):

PetaBencana.id, Peat Fires & Palm Oil: An Introduction

Indonesia is the world’s biggest exporter of palm oil and its production, a highly lucrative one, is seen as essential to its economic growth. The oil is everywhere around us: in our soap, cereals, biodiesel, washing powder, instant noodles, lipstick, etc. And of course it’s a key ingredient in France’s favourite sugary spread.

The industry, however, is extremely damaging for the environment. Vast swathes of rainforest are destroyed to make space for the monocultures of oil palms, threatening biodiversity, destroying the habitat of endangered species (Borneo pygmy elephants, Sumatran elephants, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinoceroses, the orangutan, etc), pushing indigenous people off their lands and contributing to the release of climate-warming gases. Indonesia is the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly due to the conversion of its forests and carbon-rich peatlands, a type of wetlands which are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth because they act as natural terrestrial carbon store and are thus essential in the fight against climate change.


Palm Oil plantation in Riau, (Sumatra) Indonesia. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, 2016

As for the images i’m using to illustrate the topic, they have been made by photographer Armin Linke, his colleague Giulia Bruno and exhibition curators Anna-Sophie Springer and Dr. Etienne Turpin. They traveled to Borneo, Java and Sumatra, met with local residents, plantation workers, smallholders, environmentalists, government officials and scientists to document the problem and reflect on the speed with which Indonesia is currently transforming into a palm-oil nation amid giant peat fires.

But as i wrote above: more soon…


Harvested fruits of palm oil in Riau, (Sumatra) Indonesia. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, 2016


Armin Linke, Palm oil plantation, Kecematan Bataian Kabupaten Rokan Hilir (Sumatra) Indonesia, 2017. Photo: © Armin Linke


Trucks bring oil palm fruits to the pressing plants in Riau, (Sumatra) Indonesia. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Anna-Sophie Springer, 2016


A motorcycle loaded with palm oil fruits in Riau, (Sumatra) Indonesia. Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, 2016

Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest / Verschwindende Vermächtnisse: Die Welt als Wald is curated by Anna-Sophie Springer and Dr. Etienne Turpin. The exhibition remains open until 29 March 2018 at the Zoological Museum in Hamburg.
Entrance is free.

Finding ‘skinship’ with trees


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop

Mari Keski-Korsu‘s work investigates how ecological and socio-economical changes manifest in everyday life. Her artistic research takes many forms: she took activists, artists and scientists on an expedition that delved into nuclear power, made some witty experiments in DIY climate manipulation, co-curated together with Petri Ruikka a whole edition of the Pixelache festival around the theme of empathy, shot a documentary that retraced the historical Finnish immigration routes to US, etc.

Over the past few years, her focus has been empathy. For the artist, empathy isn’t limited to a connection with other people and their emotional state. She is also interested in reaching out to the whole ecosystem humans are only a small part of. Throughout her performances, workshops and other works, she invites the public to discover how empathy with non-human and even non-animal species can be experienced through bodily presence, experimental communication as well as alternate visions of perception.


Scottish Sculpture Workshop – Frontiers in Retreat: Edge Effects at CCA in Glasgow. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, SSW


Scottish Sculpture Workshop – Frontiers in Retreat: Edge Effects at CCA in Glasgow. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, SSW

The artist is currently participating to the ongoing Edge Effects, a programme of workshops, walks, films and performances organized by the Scottish Sculpture Workshop at CCA and other venues in Glasgow this weekend. The event explores the co-dependencies between ecological, social, economic, and political phenomena.

Yesterday, Keski-Korsu invited Glaswegians and other guests of Edge Effect to a 

Beat to the Balance experience at Arlington Baths, a Victorian bath house founded in 1879. 

Beat to the Balance introduced participants to a ritualistic sauna practice which consists of whisking bodies with branch bundle of different tree species. The goal is to open energy flow and make more perceptible the interdependence between tree communities and humans. In the sauna with trees, self-care transforms into ourselves-care, kinship that could be an even stronger asset than warfare; it is a building block for the narrative of humanity.

If you read this post on time and are lucky enough to find yourself in Glasgow tomorrow, you can meet Mari Keski-Korsu at these two Edge Effects events: Regenerative Notes – Reflecting and Developing Empathetic Practices in Post-Fossil World and Holding Space with Trees Workshop. In the meantime, here’s a little online conversation i just had with Mari:


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop

Hi Mari! I was surprised to read that you actually studied to be a professional whisker. Apart from whipping people with tree branches, what does a session of whisking involve?

Whisking, tree leaves bathing, sauna ritual or holding space with trees; connecting with trees in the sauna can have many names in English. It doesn’t really include whipping people, although the touch of the leaves can be sometimes a bit fierce. To me, this ritual is a holistic, empathic space with trees and humans. But it naturally depends on the person entering it. Some think of it as a massage with different kinds of phyto- or aromatherapeutic benefits from the tree species, others receive it as a spiritual experience with the energies of the trees and connect very strongly with the forests. For some, it’s a total relaxation where your mind and body melts to the environment. Of course, it is also purifying as the sauna itself. 

Whisking can only happen in a sauna in the presence of warmth or steam – löyly – that has an etymology of a spirit. The steam opens up the person treated, the trees at hand and everyone inside the sauna.


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop

Do Beat to the Balance treatments add something or depart from traditional whisking?


There is no such thing as “traditional whisking”, but there is tradition of whisking which has been kept alive in, for example, Finland, Baltic countries and Russia. In Finland, people usually whisk themselves with a birch whisk and whisking as a ritual or treatment for the other as I approach it, doesn’t exist either. The case is the same in most other sauna cultures. All the whiskers have their own styles and approaches, too. 

Beat to the Balance can sometimes include building a sauna together with the community like the sauna at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop or bringing sauna to places like the tent sauna in Astrid Noack’s Atelier inner yard where the community had had difficult times because of drug dealing and violence.

Sauna has been a place for healing and holistic health-care, it was the cleanest place in the household because of its temperature. Women gave birth in sauna because of this but also because it’s the perfect place to get the endorphins going; dark and warm like a safe cave, warm water always available. And when it was time to leave the Earth, the corpse was washed in the sauna for the last time. In between, sauna was a “poor man’s pharmacy” with all the plants. I’m interested in bringing the communal healing practice back to the sauna. The sauna already has a social power when we enter it naked and equal, but I also see it as a political power together with trees and humans – and even though many people don’t see as such nowadays, it does have a very strong spiritual meaning. All this is an asset that we can enhance.


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop

Do you enter into the tree/individual relationship that 

Beat to the Balance seeks to create or do you stay outside of it, as someone who only facilitates the connection? 

I am there to facilitate the connection but it’s not something I fully stay out of because it’s also the connection in between the two humans (or more) in the sauna. Before I start, I have a plan in mind where we should go – this is also a very practical thing: the sauna is a hot environment where one needs to work efficiently and take care of the safety of all parties. But in the framework, I go with the flow, listen to the trees and the person, what is needed at what point.


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop

The trees used in the sauna were Birch, Oak, Maple, Rowan and Juniper. Do the types of tree matter? Do you select them according to the species that are growing in a specific location or do they have special properties that better enable the tree-human connection?

The types of trees matter greatly. Any tree species and also other plants like herbs etc. can be used in sauna. The tree species one should avoid are of course the poisonous one but other than that, there’s no limitations. The trees have different ways they affect us, also different energies and depending on one’s physical, psychological or life situations, different trees support in different ways.

If I know in advance whom I’ll be treating, I prepare everything ready, think about the person or observe them and ask the forest what is needed. I do the same if I don’t know in advance but just on the spot without collecting branches and plants but with whisks made before. In addition to knowing the effects of tree species, there are also some simple physical matters: for example, trees with big leaves are good for moving the steam around in the sauna.


Mari Keski-Korsu, Beat to the Balance. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, Scottish Sculpture Workshop

I’m also curious about the fact that the description of the work talks about tree ‘communities’. Why should we think of trees in terms of communities?

I would like to ask you, what do you think a tree is? And what do you think a forest is?

My point of view, in some words maybe animistic, is that everything has a spiritual essence or some kind of consciousness, even though it doesn’t function the same way or is the same as human consciousness. The forests are interconnected ecosystems with vast networks of information transmitted with eg. with mycorrhizae rhizomes. Many tree species in the forest have common interests, and they are not necessarily competitors to each others.

I understand the worry with the anthropomorphism but on the other hand: we are humans and because of that our perspective is human (or maybe what our gut bacteria want). Scientist and author David George Haskell talks about this, too and I agree with him that it might be dangerous to project human concepts to the trees or forests, but it’s also stupid to totally reject the analogy between human minds and the networked flow of information within ecological communities. To me, working together with forests and trees brings an experience-based knowledge. It’s an empathetic practice where I imagine myself into the forest network. Then, it’s very hard to see anything just as a resource anymore.

To quote Haskell:
“Mind emerges from relationships among living cells. We experience one manifestation of these relationships inside the bony plates of our skulls. Other minds may exist within other living networks. To speak of a forest’s mind and intelligence, then, is not to impose caricatures of humanity on other species. Rather, our human experience of mind allows us to imagine what might be possible…”


Mari Keski-Korsu, Alpaca Oracle, 2015. Photo by Antti Ahonen


Mari Keski-Korsu, Clydesdale Oracle, 2015. Photo courtesy of Scottish Sculpture Workshop Lumsden

The work is part of a series of transdisciplinary inter-species communication works. Now let’s say i’m a very skeptical person (which i am actually) but want to participate to 

Beat to the Balance, Alpaca Oracle or Calling for the Others. Do you think i could still gain from the experience? Do participants need to enter into the performance with a specific mindset and openness?


It’s of course okay to be skeptical. But I would think one always needs some open-mindedness to even want to enter something that is out of their comfort zone. Sometimes you hear people saying: “I can’t even imagine that.” I think this is the key. If we can’t imagine something, it surely can’t happen. Everything is imagined first, including this narrative of humans we experience at the moment. Most of us live in the world of individualism and rationalism, and I’m aware of threads of pseudo-science but there’s also a strong discourse in the field of science about “alternative ways” to understand the world.

We are living the times of paradigm change and that is the time when opposing voices grow stronger. Modern science has existed for short time and it keeps bringing us good things. Indigenous cultures, holistic world views or other experience-based practices have been around for much longer. It’s also good to point out that these kind of experiences are not easily put into words, one just needs to have them.

I welcome them with open arms since I do believe there are much crazier things happening in the world that are putting our species, along with many others, in severe risk of extinction.


I invite you to place yourself in a situation where you imagine equality between eg. companion species or trees. This happens trough empathy. It’s difficult for us to imagine this because if it happens, we would be forced to change things in our lives immediately.
  

Mari Keski-Korsu, Oracle. Photo by Mari Keski-Korsu

Works like Alpaca Oracle and Clydesdale Oracle aim to ask help and advice for humankind from other animals. Could you give us some examples of what participants have learnt from their participation in these works? Can the experience be replicated and applied to other contexts once the participants go back home?

People of course have different kinds of experiences, one of being guided to the situation I described. Many times, people are first very judgmental of their own experience and they can’t believe in it. But this is about being aware and listening to the smallest nuances and what they mean to the participants.

In the Oracles, I have worked with companion species that are also herd animals like humans are too. In the so-called Western culture, we have accepted the idea of being individual, every person for themselves, survival of the fittest and so on. We often forget that all the flourishing or success of human species is based on collaboration and the collaboration is based on empathy.

From just looking at the well-being of ourselves or those who are very close to us, we should look at the well-being all humans, all species and all ecosystems. This can be achieved by learning empathy and enhancing it. As one example for this, a participant in the Oracles said that during the session, they learnt to listen to the herd and be less of a predator. When you suddenly realise there was an interconnection and a message received, it is a very surprising moment for everyone and it creates an atmosphere of respect and an understanding of interconnectedness. Some participants have continued to practice the experiments on their own, of course. From my point of view, it has brought me back to something I knew as a way of life when I was a child and I’ve been so happy to re-learn again. It changed how I experience the world. Maybe we could consider these practices as self-help but I also think they are more than that. It’s active doing, focused practice with aims.

Mari Keski-Korsu and Grit Ruhland, Calling for the Others, recorded at Agrikultura, in Hyllie, Malmö, 2017

I’m quite curious about a sentence you wrote in the description of Calling for the Others: “The others who are called, could of course be cattle but the idea is to call any members of flora & fauna, other entities and everything in between (i.e technology).” What is the role and technology here? I thought it was partly responsible for our disconnection from the non-human world? 

I also think that technology is partly responsible for the disconnection but at the same time, I wish that the existing technology could be used more wisely, efficiently and empathically. Could this happen if we try to reach our awareness and understand holistically how, for example, a car came into being? What natural resources were used to make it and what were the processes? What it requires to exist and function in those terms? Can this be a bodily experience? We tried this out in the Calling for the Others sessions by moving with the cars in the highway, letting their sound hit our bodies and place our bodies as they wish.

This created a contrast that underlines the fact that these are the environments where we spend most of our time. To me, empathic inter-species communication is not about going to some remote place where we can think that nature exists and humans haven’t disturbed the peace of it. I don’t believe in the concept of nature, as some separate entity from humans. To my understanding, we need to learn and practice the communication skills regardless of these contrasts and in the environments where we live. These environments and cultures include technology – technology being not only the gadgets, factory farms or cars but the very first time a fire was lit or an axe was swung.

How does the work address the questions explored by the Edge Effects program: What multiple forms of knowledge, discourse, and models of action would construct a viable future for humans and other forms of life? What kinds of boundaries should be dismantled, so that change in the direction of an ecologically sustainable future could be possible?

In the crisis of humanity, among the skills we need to become more aware of, (re)learn and embrace is an ability to nurture deeper connections and emphatic communication with other species & entities in the ecosystems we live in, to respect the interconnectedness of all. To my understanding, we need this to change the narrative of humans. Through the empathic view, Homo Empathicus is destined to see everything differently; we can’t keep lavishly exploiting the natural resources of this planet and every species, including the human one, living on it.

Thanks Mari!

Beat to the Balance is part of Scottish Sculpture Workshop – Frontiers in Retreat: Edge Effects which takes place until Sunday 30 July 2017 at CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts and venues across the city of Glasgow.

Edge Effects marks the conclusion of the five year Frontier in Retreat programme and is presented through a series of eight satellite exhibitions taking place across Europe between July and December 2017 and in Seoul in 2018.

Previously by Mari Keski-Korsu: Albedo Dreams. Experiments in DIY climate manipulation.


Scottish Sculpture Workshop – Frontiers in Retreat: Edge Effects at CCA in Glasgow. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, SSW


Scottish Sculpture Workshop – Frontiers in Retreat: Edge Effects at CCA in Glasgow. Photography: Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo for Edge Effects, SSW