0. Introduction: Cultures and natures

I fall in the dark through the dark
Waiting

Sending out the invitation, the signal, the sign
To you, the stranger, unlike anything in me
I open

Building an entrance
Building out of plasma
Creating a tunnel a passage a pathway
For you to travel through

― Essi Kausalainen, Love Song

0.1. Assemblies and divides

People are sitting in a circle in a woodland clearing, warm earth below, blue sky above, sun shining through leaves and pine needles. They have just returned from special individual places and have taken on the identities of other natural beings. …

Turning first to east, then to the other three directions, they invoke the powers of nature. They invite the beings of the Three Times—naming those who have nurtured the earth before, those who are saving it in the present, and those of future times for whom the earth is being preserved. Each being in turn speaks for itself and its kind, telling of its place in the earth’s order. “I am rainforest; I am kangaroo; I am mountain; I am lichen”. Then a few remove their masks and move into the circle’s center to listen as humans to what is happening to the others.

I am rainforest … You destroy me so carelessly, tearing down so many of my trees for a few plans …

This is a description of the Council of All Beings, a communal ritualistic exercise, “a ritual of despair and empowerment” developed by Joanna Macy, John Seed, and fellow deep/spiritual ecologists in the 1980’s (in Merchant, 1992: 146). The Council of All Beings emerges from spiritual ecology, to later become a workshop methodology that “allows us to step aside from our human identity and speak on behalf of other life-forms” (Macy & Brown, 2014: 146), part of a wider set of practices that Macy calls “the work that reconnects”. The Council is not a decision-making body, it is an affective exercise of heightening identification and compassion with nature. It uses key political procedures—a circular setting, speaking in place of another—and merges them with subjective and ethical identification with nature. Humans first listen and embody other bodies’ perspectives, and then they try to bring those that do not speak our tongues into the circle. Importantly, the circle, as represented by the successive movement of the speakers into the centre, is not oriented towards the (social) inside but is an opening towards the outside.

The Conference of Parties (COP) is an annual inter-governmental meeting whose main goal is to review the implementation of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC). Following the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where the UNFCC was adopted, the meetings have taken place in various cities around the world, from Berlin in 1995 to COP21 at Paris in 2015. “The UNFCC….now has a near-universal membership of 195 parties” (UNEP, 2015). It is one of the largest assemblies in the history of mankind, but what does this ‘near-universal membership’ stand for? To which universe does it refer to? The meetings mostly take place in the conference rooms, and ‘parties’ are representatives of 195 governments. In all its comprehensiveness, this great political plenary is but a tiny fraction of the world. Non- or extra-human beings—birds, rocks, mushrooms, oceans, penguins, pines, multitudes of ‘earth others’ (Plumwood, 1993)—are not invited to the Conference of Parties. Fates of many of these bodies are being determined in their absence, without meeting them. I need not mention the many impasses and dead ends that COPs have encountered so far, what is most striking is the radical cut instituted between those who decide and those who do not have a word (including vast sections of humanity).

Conference, council or assembly has historically been one of the key mechanisms of human politics, a place where problems are brought to the circle to untie the knot. In many of its communal instantiations, the participating members are directly involved in the question, they do not represent another person. The participants and the community match on 1:1 scale. As many cultures grew in size, more complex institutions were designed, but assembly is still one of the sacred planes of politics. The basic premise for each council’s operativity has generally been taken to be the ability to speak. In an assembly, the participants are qualified as free to use the ability to speak, to put forward ‘matters of concern’ (Latour, 2004). For their internal freedom, modern councils institute a cut between an inside and an outside, mostly leaving out all of extra-humanity. This is but one, albeit, in my view, highly important, of the procedures or protocols through which rifts or ‘Divides’ of modernity operate. Latour speaks about two ‘Great Divides’: one concerns nature and culture, and the other is the Great Divide between ‘Westerners’ and ‘Them’, all the other cultures (Latour, 1993: 12, 104).

Clearly, humanity is ‘part’ of nature, and human bodies are brimful with ‘other’ cultures, e.g. digestive enzymes (Neimanis, 2012). The divides are thus cultural practices: knowledge, economic, political, technical protocols. Beyond the two ‘Great Divides’, ecological feminist analysis finds out an entire ‘web’ of other divides that are connected with the first tow. Val Plumwood explains these operations as the ‘logic of dualism’ or the ‘logic of colonisation’ (Plumwood, 1993). In dualisms, the inferior side of the binary is inferior, and used to support the definition of the superior side, e.g.: man—woman, society—nature, mind—matter, us—them etc. (ibid.). From the outset, it should be clear that the divides are not embedded biologically, the logic of dualism is a set of discursive and material protocols.

At a more careful look, nature-culture divide is in fact a heavily trafficked zone. The other dimension of the divide consists in policing and control of the instituted boundary. Latour (1993) proposes that modernity concurrently enacts separation (‘purification’) and intermingling (‘proliferation of hybrids’) between cultures and natures. Latour individuates a formulation of this procedure in the dispute between Robert Boyle and Thomas Hobbes about the division of tasks between science and politics. In this reading, Boyle and Hobbes through animated discussion, arrive at a Modern Constitution settled along these lines:

the representation of nonhumans belongs to science, but science is not allowed to appeal to politics; the representation of citizens belongs to politics, but politics is not allowed to have any relation to nonhumans produced and mobilised by science and technology. (1993: 28)

I do not wish to examine the historical correctedness of Latour’s interpretation, what I wish to single out that representation is a shared trait between politics and science. Representation is a specific mode of engagement with the world that excludes by inclusion, it backgrounds the represented by bringing the represented to the foreground. Representation in the modern sense determines who is allowed to speak for the ‘inferior’. The logic of dualism is a question, first and foremost, of hierarchy and power of representation.

Two modes of separation and hybridisation gain another light in view of another protocol that perhaps most heavily traffics between the social and the natural. Capitalism as a mode of production seems not to posit a separation between nature and culture, it imports (value) and exports (waste) across the line. However, capitalism is based on a hierarchical division of labour that operates not only on the social level, but also along the culture-nature axis. In Marx, capitalism runs on ‘surplus value’ accumulated from social labour, that is, from the physical and/or mental force of bodies. Through successive political economic analyses, this vision turned out to be too narrow and the real expanse of capitalist accumulation was tapped. Feminist theorists have revealed that the broader terrain in which capitalism accumulates value is ‘social reproduction’: cheap or unpaid labour performed mostly by women (e.g., Firestone, 1970; Mies, 1986; Federici, 2012). Feminist analysis further saw how the process of accumulation was based on devaluation and appropriation of woman’s body by naturalisation and proletarisation (Federici, 2004). In ecological feminist analysis, ‘natural’ is thus seen as the primary stratum of capitalist accumulation (Merchant, 1980). From an ecosocialist perspective, Jason Moore has recently claimed that the real ‘project’ of capitalism lies in “appropriating the unpaid work/energy of humans and the rest of nature” [my emphasis] (2015: 72). This is an important proposition. In Moore’s proposal, the principal goal of capitalism is the production of “Cheap Natures”, areas of appropriation of energy, food, resources, etc. The “view of Nature as external is a fundamental condition of capital accumulation” (Moore, 2015: 15). Through a “double internality” capital “organises” nature, by externalising it organisationally and appropriating it matter-of-factually. This is the ‘state of exception’ that Giorgio Agamben individuated as foundational of modern biopolitics: “the extreme form of relation by which something is included solely through its exclusion” (1998: 19). In Michel Foucault, biopolitics refers to techniques of power that “foster life or disallow it to the point of death” (1978: 111). Biopolitical techniques are intimately entwined with capitalism into a general system of ‘administration’ and ‘governance’ of life (ibid.: 115).

The roots of strategies of accumulation by exception stretch hundreds of years into the past, but we are witnessing a peak stage now. Michel Serres in Natural Contract (1996) sees this as a ‘war’ of civilization against nature. The key underlying factor behind ongoing climate change are ‘anthropogenic’ emissions of carbon-dioxide, released by burning fossil fuels (IPCC, 2013). However,  before rushing to promote an abstract ‘man’ or ‘anthropos’ as the global perpetrator or master (as with the notion of the Anthropocene, see 1.3.5.), we should be clear that we are referring to a specific set of discursive and material strategies, performed by determinate subjects (humans) upon determinate objects (other human or extra-human bodies). As feminist politics of location insists, bodies are differentially positioned and these differences must be accounted for (Braidotti, 2011).

This research, and my life as a white, male-born subject coming from a postsocialist part of South-East Europe, are specifically and differentially
determined by the power of biopolitics. However, they are not entirely determined by this matrix. Foucault points out that life is not “totally integrated into techniques that govern and administer it; it constantly escapes them” (Foucault, 1978: 115). From my standpoint, through this research I seek possibilities of living together with other bodies amidst the damage wrought by the apparatuses of domination. Life, understood as power that comes before (ante) and goes well beyond the apparatuses of biopower, is the space of posthuman eco-aesthetics of intra-action.

 

0.2. Assembling posthuman ecologies

At the root of the word ‘ecology’ is ancient Greek oikos, which means ‘household’ and ‘family’, and is closely associated with oikonomia, ‘economy’. Ecology as ‘economy of nature’ was the definition given to it by the founder of the discipline Ernst Haeckel in the mid-1800s. Some strands of environmentalism have translated this into the ‘management of household’ (Pepper, 1996: 184). Jean-François Lyotard discloses another genealogy which is less visible in the term oikos. Home, Lyotard argues, is not “the place of safety. The oikos is above all the place of tragedy” (1989: 97). Family/home is a place of the oikeoin, of the ‘secluded’: women, slaves, animals, plants, under the control of the master of the household, domus. Ecology thus refers to the secluded that are inside: “an otherness that is not an Umwelt [environment] at all, but this otherness in the core of the apparatus” [my emphasis] (ibid.: 100). Ecology talks about what is captured in the logic of domination exercised by the patriarchal and phallogocentric modes of thought and power relations. The secluded of the techniques of administration and governance of life is the subject of ecology. At the same time, for Lyotard, ecology is also a discourse:

of the thing that has not become public, that has not become communicational, that has not become systemic, and that can never become any of these things. …[a logos] which is preoccupied, in the full sense of “pre-occupied” with listening to and seeking for what is secluded, oikeion. (ibid.: 105)

Ecology is becoming ‘(pre-)occupied’ by ‘anotherness’ or ‘difference’. Ecology as a ‘discourse of the secluded’ seeks modes of speaking with those who do not speak, or are not allowed to do so. Ecology in the modern context starts as a critique of power over life, and seeks affirmative or creative modes to render justice to the minorities that form the core of the apparatus.

The affirmative aspect of ecology can be understood through the notion of assemblage. Ecology as a ‘discourse of the secluded’ cannot proceed through circles in which ‘free citizens’ speak. Rather ecology can be imagined as a commons “where each singularity can live out its own strangeness to the extent of its possibilities, and experiment with its own form of concatenation” (Raunig, 2013).1 Gerald Raunig here draws on the monistic philosophy of Baruch Spinoza from the late 1600s.2 In Spinoza, humans, plants, animals, are ‘modes’ of existence whose essence is an ‘effort’ to persist in being (Bennett, 2010: 22).

What it means to be a “mode”… is to form alliances and enter assemblages: it is to mod(e)ify and be modified by others. The process of modification is not under the control of any one mode…. Neither is the process without tension, for each mode vies with and against the (changing) affections of (a changing set of) other modes, all the while being subject to the element of chance or contingency intrinsic to any encounter. [my emphasis] (ibid.)

With Spinoza, ecology can be understood as a practice of ‘forming alliances’ with other bodies. What is crucial is the ethico-politics of how freedoms and autonomies are mutually modified among different bodies. Not all the meetings produce alliances and assemblages. Only when meetings are “not under the control of any one mode”, we can speak of ‘collaborations’ (Neimanis, 2012), ‘confederations’ (Bennett, 2010), ‘associations’ (Latour, 1988), ‘assemblages’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). In this sense, these associations are where “lifeways—and non-living ways of being as well—[are] coming together” (Tsing, 2015: 24). These inter-bodily assemblages could also be called symbioses.

To imagine how the work of assemblage proceeds, I will claim that we cannot look at it through the lens of a representational ontological politics (‘speaking for another’). As an alternative to this world-view, this research looks at sciences studies that postulate a posthumanist ontology based on performativity (Pickering, 1996; Barad, 2007). In a ‘posthumanist space’ (Pickering, 1995), human and other-than-human bodies perform together and apart. Through scientific experiments, but also everyday chores, bodies engage in ‘mangles of practice’ (ibid.), sometimes producing new compositions and effects in the world. This is the link that I want to draw between a posthuman ecology and visual arts. To enact a performative eco-aesthetics is, I propose, to participate in the performativity of the world. Posthuman performative eco-aesthetics is a reassertion or intensification of the performativity of the world itself (Barad, 2003).

Performative understanding of the world brings another understanding of agency. In a modern outlook, matter has been interpreted as a pre-determined substrate. In Barad’s performative ontology, matter is a dynamics of mattering/materialisation (2007). Through the interpretation of quantum field theory, Barad proposes that matter appears as a vibrant ‘murmuring’ or ‘tethering’ of in/determinacy, a desiring experimentation with the possibilities for change (2012a, 2012b, 2015). This is in line with Spinoza’s idea that modes are animated by ‘desire’, a sort of gravity pull towards compositions with other bodies. Following Spinoza, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari say that bodies are “distinguished solely by movement and rest, slowness and speed” (1987: 254). The dynamics of freedom to move or to rest is at odds with modern biopolitical projects. Deers, lynxes, wolves and bears, together with humans, are stopped and hurt by razor fences that nation-states erect as I write (Neslen, 2016).

In-between the apparatuses that capture life, I have come to be touched by moving pulses of bodies. Through ecological artists, I learned about desires and struggles to move and rest of bodies such as: aronia berry, copper, mychorriza fungi, Southern Ocean currents, algae, bees, lichen, puffins, and many more earth others.3 Through my own practice I have encountered and sensed similar desires of carbon-dioxide, dracaena marginata, sheep, copper minerals. Other naturalcultural thinkers introduced me to the desires of electrons, dogs, water, matsutake mushroom, lightnings, and many many others.4 Across the arts and humanities, and in close interaction with sciences, a number of practitioners via different media are thinking how ‘we’ participate in a ‘more-than-human sociality’ (Tsing, 2013). In philosophy and critical theory, these research orientations are called: critical posthumanism (Wolfe, 2010; Braidotti, 2011), new materialisms (Coole & Frost, 2010), feminist materialism (Alaimo & Hekman, 2008), feminist matter-realism (Bradiotti, 2011), object-oriented ontology (Harman, 2005; Bryant, 2011; Morton, 2013). Among many differences, what brings the above mentioned artistic and these theoretical approaches together is their profound re-imagining of the notions of agency and life. They provide venues for thinking ‘life’ beyond the regimes of power and capitalist accumulation, and to rethink the human subjectivity in relation to this different understanding of liveliness.

As a descriptor of this conversation, I believe that we can speak of a posthumanist art—philosophy space of shared theoretico-practical experimentation. Although, as shown, it is composed of many currents, I take a common notion of ‘posthuman’.5 It is a mode of thinking that comes “both before and after humanism” (Wolfe, 2010: xv). In my interpretation, ‘before’ stands for the entanglement of human bodies within the general dynamics of matter, and ‘after’ is a standpoint of thinking how to re-invent nature-culture engagements after the historically determined humanism and associated with modernism. Humanism and associated modernity have been cultural infrastructures for a relatively tight set of material and discursive practices which correlates closely to factors driving climate change (IPCC, 2013) and geological strata modifications (Crutzen, 2002; Haff, 2013). In view of the unsustainability of these practices, I see posthumanism as a critical mode of thought that senses an urge to move away from anthropocentrism, androcentrism, phallogocentrism, racism, sexism, speciesism, ultimately fascism. Further, posthumanism creatively imagines other modes of ‘worlding’ that would be more collaborative with other species and nonorganic bodies (Haraway, 2003, 2008). Posthuman ecology is thus not a world devoid of humans (Weisman, 2007; Zalasiewicz, 2009), but a world that is not at sole disposal of the historically determined figure of the Human or Man.

The constitution of this posthumanist space is thus embodied and grounded in the material conditions of the Sixth Extinction, climate change, as well as informational/extractive capitalism and biopolitics. Posthuman or more-than-human ecologies would be locales decolonised from the modernist practices of domination of life. To work out these imaginaries, I will try to wed an immanent movement of critique of the present (Foucault, 1984) with experimentation with the possible, an inquiry in a “critical and creative” mode, in the spirit of affirmation (Braidotti, 2013).

These two analytical modes—the posthumanist space and the present modern predicament—are not two oppositional planes. ‘After’ humanism is not an overcoming or sublation (Hegel’s Aufhebung), a ‘progress’, all distinctly modernist narratives. The ethos of this work is not oriented contra humanism, in the dialectical sense, nor is it oppositional in the tactical or strategic sense. Rather, it is situated within the apparatuses of modernism, but seeks to look ‘diagonally’ or ‘anamorphically’ (Dean, 2016), through and away, to tend towards ‘other’ insides: towards the secluded ‘earth others’. It is especially to these minorities that ecological praxis needs to be accountable and responsible, because they are the most disempowered and voiceless. In the current organisation of academic and artistic labour, still very much oriented towards humanist achievements, it is very easy to lose sight of this. Therefore, I see my task not so much in elaborating post- or anti-anthropocentric systems of thought—I take advice from them—it is rather about imagining ‘disanthropocentric’ ways of inhabiting the world (Cohen, 2015: 11). With Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos’s proposal of ‘spatial justice’, posthuman ecology is a movement of ‘self-withdrawal’ from the territories occupied by humanism (2015). Posthuman ecology is thus not an ‘exit’, but more alike ‘quantum leaps’ (Barad, 2012), deep through and lightly away from the logic of modernity. Where do these leaps go?

The relation between the present social reality and posthuman ecological performance can be described in terms of a “practice of as if”: a “technique of strategic re-location in order to rescue what we need of the past in order to trace paths of transformation of our lives here and now” [my emphasis] (Braidotti, 1994: 6). This practice takes place in the very here-now, but it re-orients the present, disposes it in a different manner, for other possibilities to come. It is a ‘re(con)figuration’ (Barad, 2007) and a prefiguration (Boggs, 1977). Social apparatuses of Foucauldian biopower operate through an ‘axiomatics’ (DG, 1983) that translates life into code, representing it in a series of binaries in order to control it. This regime is set as if it were possible to capture life in the logic of dualism. This position is at radical odds with ‘nature’s queer performativity’ (Barad, 2012), where we learn that matter is a lively (self-)experimentation with in/determinacy. My posthuman eco-aesthetics will be a practice of another as if: it is a practice, situated in the here and now, that performatively pre-enacts how ‘social practices’ would look and feel like as if ‘we’ truly lived in a ‘more-than-human world’ (Abrams, 1996), as if ‘we’ on daily basis tried to make symbiotic relationship with other bodies, as if ‘we’ deeply attempted to touch and be touched by difference without reducing it. Posthuman eco-aesthetics thus seeks to create possibilities for heterogeneous bodies, other-than-human and human, to generate assemblages of freedoms.
Based on the above, the thesis pursues the following questions:
In the context of bio-political/capitalist processes that functionally appropriate life,
with a performative understanding of life as an immanent force of differentiation,
by using hybrid artistic―philosophical tools:
how to create co-performances between human and inhuman bodies, i.e. how to re(con)figure apparatuses of dualistic logic into spacetimes of composition in common with sentient and non-sentient others?
How to situate (translate, document, narrate) these co-performances in the contexts of visual art and research, and in the broader realm of culture?

The thesis is divided in three parts that correspond to three performative modes of this research.6 Part I is a critical ‘ontology of the present’ (Foucault, 1984), a critical analysis that charts boundary-making protocols of modernity, starting from the culture―nature rift. Against this hegemonic discourse, this also traces recent philosophical discourses and art practices that propose alternative, nonmodern understandings of the world. Ontology of the present creates a set of analytical tools to identify how dualisms capture and appropriate life, and seeks for perspectives that see differently. Images that parallel this part of the text are derived from the fieldwork, and seek to show materialisations of the logic of dualism.

Part II is an ‘analytics of the possible’, a moulding of a set of concepts and frameworks that rework the boundary-making mechanisms identified in the ontology of the present. Analytics of the possible, as a discursive mode of doing research, works through intimate entanglement with artistic projects. Analytics is a diagramming exercise that works out how to situate naturalcultural co-performances (‘infraphysics of becoming’). Images that parallel this section are from fieldwork and perform analytics of specific apparatuses of capture.

Part III is a description of the ‘infraphysics of becoming’, a visual and discursive narrative of art projects over the course of the research. The narratives involve contextual analyses of specific power apparatuses, and the situated performative actions with(in) them. Images in this part follow the text on the right, and are parts of the documentation of art projects. The projects can be found in the accompanying documentation.

The three performative modes have developed concurrently as a continuum of practice. Taken together, the three modes, as described in the three parts of the thesis, do not create a theory nor a methodology, they are a singular movement of entanglement of this research praxis with the world.

Notes:

  1. Gerald Raunig is in these terms describing a real-life situation, that of the Occupy movement. For all its progressive nature, it should be noted that no natures were invited to the Occupy assemblies. This attests to the challenges an environmental politics has to deal with.
  2. Spinoza’s philosophy runs counter to dualistic ontologies that were shaped in the same historical period, and its nonanthorpocentrism has exerted great fascination on ecological thought (Sessions, in Merchant, 2008: 169-71).
  3. In the spirit of assemblage, my thanks for generous mediations in these border areas go to, in alphabetic order, to Aleksandra Mitovski, Arendse Krabbe, Bartaku, Christina Stadlbauer, Elin Øyen Vister, Essi Kausalainen, Hanna Husberg, Helena Hunter & Mark Peter Wright, Tom Corby, Tuomas A. Laitinen.
  4. Another assemblage, my thanks for getting to sense other-than-human existences is here due to Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Astrida Neimanis, Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Vicki Kirby, among others.
  5. Posthumanism, in part due to its name, is a movement in thought often associated or criticised for its fascination with cyborgisation of the bodies, as promoting a sort of a teleology of becoming more-than-human. For example, in a posthumanist classic, Katherine Hayles traces a genealogy of how, through the science of cybernetics, we have become ‘virtual bodies’ (1999). In his book What is Posthumanism Cary Wolfe, however, usefully distinguishes between two large narratives that belie posthumanism: one is concerned with technological ‘upgrading’ of the human (transhumanism), as such it is based on premises of rational humanism. The other avenue tries to re-invent thought after humanism. Rosi Bradotti’s feminist posthumanism is concerned with an ethics of ‘contamination’ of human bodies with other bodies, impurities, queerness. It is in this sense that I will use the word ‘posthuman’ in my research.
  6. In line with the posthumanist performative understanding of discursive and material entanglement, the research is based in ‘flat ontology’ (De Landa, 2002), or what I call ‘flat ecology’. In a flat ontological understanding, concepts as well as bodies differentially perform in a plane of immanence. For detailed elaboration of flat ontology of the research, see Part II, in particular 2.1.