Nonhuman, inhuman, unhuman, other-than-human. Ultimately all the above dualisms come to this ‘non’ or ‘other’, the red ribbon of all the small and Great Divides that humans may reassert against that which is radically else, including other humans. Nonhuman marks the edge of the human project, inasmuch as it has taken shape through the carving out of a human space within a larger universe of nonhumanity. It intersects with the concept of nature, but it is an even more drastic cut, since historically it was postulated on many occasions that ‘we’ are part of ‘nature’. Few would have categorised themselves as nonhumans.
Nonhuman is the radical outsider, or the radically outsided. However, nonhumanity comes in degrees. I will begin with our allegedly closest kins among the nonhumans – animal (that we are). Many animals are systematically enslaved by humans, some are killed in the wild, some imprisoned for human curiosity, yet others spend their lives navigating the interstices of the ever-thickening webs of human legislations, market logistics, arms trade, etc. Of course, many beasts are almost family members, almost persons, almost right-holders. From “Aesop to La Fontaine to contemporary Hollywood animation films” (Braidotti, 2011: 452), critters have been some of the favourite moral metaphors of what is good and what is evil in humans.
That animals are inferior to men is a belief first systematically formulated by Aristotle, who organised living beings in hierarchical order based on their innate capacities1. Plants are lesser than animals and humans because they presumably do not have consciousness. One level up, animals are inferior to men because they behave according to instinct, rather than reason. Considering that until the 16th century Aristotle’s writings were a key scientific philosophy of Europe, this hierarchy of the living for a very long while impacted the fates of animals in the mainstream of Western thinking2. In the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, a philosopher acutely aware of the world outside the human, dedicated an essay to ‘the essence of animality’. However, he concludes that animal is “poor-in-the-world”. Animals do not have a world because they are “captivated” but they still rank higher than stone, which is “wordless” (Iveson, 2010). The progression of the animal in human ontology has been slow.
One day, a philosopher met ‘a little cat’. In his rightfully acknowledged piece The Animal That therefore I am, Jacques Derrida recounts an encounter with his cat. He is naked, and ‘the little cat’ is staring at him. He is ashamed, and “ashamed for being ashamed” (Derrida, 2008: 4). To find another human―animal settlement, Derrida criticises the homogenising subsumption of all the animal world under the generic term ‘the Animal’. In frustration with this tradition, he coins an alternative word l’animot (ibid.: 41). However, in the process, ‘the little cat’ wanes in the background, and here I am following Donna Haraway’s critique that he did not learn more about this cat than before the encounter:
The question of suffering led Derrida to the virtue of pity, and that is not a small thing. But how much more promise is in the questions, Can animals play? Or work? And even, can I learn to play with this cat? Can I, the philosopher, respond to an invitation or recognize one when it is offered? (Haraway, 2008: 22)
Donna Haraway offers a way out of Derrida’s philosophical quandary of l’animot that “‘doesn’t respond’” (Derrida, 2008: 112). The more profound question might be quite different: am I able to respond?
Haraway opens up to another way of worlding in which humans are ‘companion species’ or ‘kins’ with a great variety of nonhuman creatures, engaging in relations of ‘significant otherness’ even with technological and nonorganic bodies (1997, 2003). Haraway’s invitation is: “Who are my familiars, my siblings, and what kind of livable world are we trying to build?” (1997: 52) This is a dramatic expansion of territory not only of philosophy, but first and foremost of ethico-political cohabitation:
Like it or not, I was born kin to Pu2393 and to transgenic, trans-specific and transported creatures of all kinds; that is the family for which and to whom my people are accountable. (ibid.: 62)
Some of these ‘creatures’ that Haraway mentions are offspring of humans, as genetically modified OncoMouse (Haraway, 1997) and the first cloned sheep Dolly. Importantly, it is not only transgenic mice are ‘cyborgs’; humans themselves are bio-techno hybrids too (1991)4. Nonhumans are not only ‘among us’, or we among them, but these ‘other’ bodies are a constitutive part of humanity, e.g. bacteria in the digestive tract. Human bodies are made through “collaborations of a post-humanist kind” (Neimanis, 2012: 216).
Bruno Latour develops what he calls the ‘sociology of associations’ to trace how the two blurry realms of natures and cultures hybridise (1999, 2005a). Nobody is a member of a society by species lineage, the question is who/what participates in ‘assembling the social’ (Latour, 2005). The links are continuously made between nonhumans—microbes, machines, all sorts of things, living and non-living—and humans. The social is how these ‘associations’ take place, how humans and nonhumans “exchange properties” and ‘compose’ a ‘collective’:
Instead of a science of objects and a politics of subjects, … a political ecology of collectives consisting of humans and nonhumans. (Latour, 2004: 61)
In Latour’s sociology, an actor is “any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference” (Latour, 2005a: 71). From this minimal definition of social agency, Latour imagines a ‘parliament of things’, which enacts complex procedures of “progressive composition of a common world” (2004: 61). Few authors have gone this far in ‘socialising’ nonhumans, however precisely ‘socialisation’ might be a problem in Latour’s project5. Without following Latour’s conclusions, it is to be said that, by way of Haraway and Latour, and the efforts of a multiplicity of their colleagues and followers, nonhumans are (discursively) liberated from much of the stigma that was attached to them throughout modernity.
On the material side of things, we cannot ignore the fact that animals are as exploited today as ever, and billions of them remain humanity’s “zoo proletariat” (Braidotti, 2011: 111). ‘Carnophallogocentrism’ is terrifyingly alive and well (Derrida, 2006), animal bodies are the most deprivileged participants in the biopolitical regime of capitalist exploitation of life (Braidotti, 2011; Haraway, 2008). The horrific exploitation patterns of animals are part of the ‘web of oppression’ spun by the ‘logic of colonisation’ (Plumwood, 1992). (Eco)feminist theory has worked intensely on thinking and practising a transversal alliance between animal liberation and women’s rights (see, Adams & Donovan, 1995; Donovan & Adams, 2007). Mainstream animal ethics has proposed giving ‘rights’ to animals in order to ‘liberate’ them. Standing in solidarity with animal rights movement, there is also another, perhaps more radical way.
Deleuze and Guattari invite humans to leave behind fantasies of supremacy and to become-animal. Darwin and Freud may have dipped the human into a collective nonconscious memory that links us immanently to the prehuman, but these considerations have clearly not been realised on the level of social practices. For DG, animal is a trajectory out of the identity of the Oedipal subject. Modern subject should thus aim for “a pack, a band, a population, a peopling”, becoming a multiplicity. Becoming-animal is not about “imitating” a dog, but transforming what a body can do to enter into “the domain of symbioses that bring into play beings of totally different scales and kingdoms, with no possible filiation” (DG, 1987: 238). Life is an immanent force that rushes forth across species, categories, filiation lines. It is a radically open space of transcorporeal kinship. Following DG, Braidotti postulates a ‘bioegalitarianism’, described as “a vital connection based on sharing this territory or environment in terms that are no longer hierarchical or self-evident” (2011: 110). Becoming in this open space embraces a variety of inhuman trajectories. DG and Braidotti, for example, further suggest becoming a plant, a mineral, molecular, earth and so on. This practice of ‘becoming-minoritarian’ is an invitation I will try to pursue in my project.
It is by no means sufficient to animate objects or usher the liveliness of matter without re-inventing, re-imaging and remaking the ways by which we encounter these different, and now hopefully more significant, other others (or othernesses from what was thought to be ‘other’). Arts of encounter between humans and other-than-humans is a domain in which posthuman eco-aesthetics moves. Art facing or addressing the nonhuman is a vibrant and varied field. The works discussed here therefore only represent a cross-section of practices that have an ethos in tune with my research.
Before mentioning recent practices, I have to refer back to Joseph Beuys, who was one of the first to co-perform with animals6. Many artists have followed suit. Marcus Coates’s performances are consistent attempts at learning what it is like to be an animal. In Stoat (1999) Coates attempts to walk on bespoke high wooden platforms aiming to reproduce the animal’s gait. In Goshawk (1999) he ties himself high on the trunk of a Scots pine in order to mimic the standing point of this bird. In Indigenous British Mammals (2000), lying buried below a piece of turf in moorland, Coates emulated wild animal calls of the region. In more recent works Coates situates performances in areas subject to urban regeneration projects, where, dressed as a shaman, he tries to get in touch with animal spirits and seek advice about the developments, thus linking animal with socio-political and economic worlds (Journey to the Lower World, 2003; Vision Quest – A Ritual for Elephant and Castle, 2012). Coates’s performances may look naïve and ludicrous, a sort of lay ‘new age’ shamanism, but who says that animals do not have a sense of humour? Practising extended cohabitation, in Falling Asleep with a Pig (2009), Kira O’Reilly shares a house, like a barn, with a pig for 36 and 72 hours. In his work A holiday from being human (GoatMan) (2016), Thomas Thwaites lived on a goat farm for a week in the guise of a prosthetic sheep, with legs and an add-on stomach that allowed him to simulate ‘eating’ grass. Learning to meet plant is an ongoing engagement in the performative practice of Essi Kausalainen. Through careful work on listening and responding, Kausalainen creates plants―humans co-performances, choreographies in which mutual boundaries are tested. Mari Keski-Korsu in Alpaca Miracle (2014/2015) “looks at the possibility of expanding human understanding on the present state and future prospects of life on Earth by practising the skills of inter-species communication” (Keski-Korsu, 2015). In this work, humans, with the help of an animal communicator, are introduced to a herd of alpacas in search of advice. In Rita Vitkauskaite, Karl Heinz Jeron & Bartaku’s Aronia M. Overture (2014), human singers are invited to “assist the Aronia Melanocarpa (chokeberry) to express its essence” by putting aronia concentrate on tongue, letting it deploy its taste and astringent properties.
Multispecies Salon was a series of events and panels organised in 2006, 2008, and 2010 by the American Anthropological Association, bringing together ethnographers, biologists, and artists working in the emerging field of ‘multispecies etnography’7. Multispecies Salon created a space of experimentation for arts and sciences. Among other practices in the show, Caitlin Berrigan invited visitors to feed dandelion plants with blood, receiving in return the plant’s root tea and sprouts, thus creating an inter-species ‘blood bond’ or gift economy. And Miriam Simun disturbed familiar structures of dairy farming by proposing ‘human cheese’.
Elizabeth Stevens and Annie Sprinkle founded a new field of Sexecology with their Ecosex Manifesto (2011: 7). Practising what they preach, the artists engage in ‘pollen-amorous’ affairs with nonhumans that are sometimes formalised in Ecosex weddings. At the point of writing, Stevens and Sprinkle have married the Sea, the Earth, the Appalachian Mountains, the Moon, the Snow, the Rocks, the Coal, Lake Kallavesi and the Dirt. These performative acts bring together an aesthetics of queer festivity with issues of activism. The Appalachian Mountain wedding took place in solidarity with the struggle against mountain top removal for coal extraction. Recently, the duo participated with the ‘EcoSex contingent’ in San Francisco and Santa Cruz Gay Prides, a gesture of radically affirmative “GLBTQIE (E for ecosexual)” (Stevens & Sprinkle, 2015) art and politics.
In her early works, Terike Haapoja staged meetings between humans and plants through interactive works using digital sensors8. More recently, through trans-disciplinary long-term projects, Haapoja developed a so to say multispecies institutional critique, aimed at deconstructing the histories and presents of the inferiorisation of nonhumans. The Party of Others (2011 – ) started as a series of interviews with environmentalist, animal rights, political and art thinkers, in order to crystallise into a political party in Finland. The Party of Others represents those that do not possess a (human) voice of their own. History of Others (2012-) is an ongoing rhizomatic project, in collaboration with researcher Laura Gustafsson, that “seeks to open paths for more inclusive notions of society” through performances, exhibitions, discussions9. Haapoja’s work is both a critical-historical and a creative intervention into the (cultural) protocols of production of nonhumanity.
Matthew Fuller (2009) coined the concept of ‘art for animals’ referring to artists who create human―animal interactions, mostly through digital media (Natalie Jeremijenko), or who encourage novel animal―animal relations (e.g., Louis Bec). Fuller draws on DG’s radically expanded understanding of art, not as a fully human mode of expression, but as belonging to the cosmos. “Perhaps art begins with the animal, at least with the animal that carves out a territory and constructs a house…” (DG, 1994: 183) In the writings of Charles Darwin, art, especially music, is central in the explanation of sexual selection (Grosz, 2008). Art and music go beyond the pragmatics of survival, they are an “opening up of life to taste, to sexuality, to erotic appeal, to excessiveness” (ibid.: 39). Thus, ‘art for animals’ does not indicate that it is art that enlightens animals with ‘our’ gift. Something else is at stake here. ‘Art for animals’, and art for plants, for earth, is a question of participating in the wider artistry of the cosmos.
The key element of interspecies art is the creation of a shared territory where a meeting, or mingling, can take place. Site-specificity here means species- or entity-specificity, a transcorporeal mode of address of radical alterity. This is why multispecies arts are inextricably linked with ethics and politics. In this they tread ground familiar to natural sciences, with a distinction that artists do not seek objective knowledge; inter-species artists experiment with hybrid, trans and queer modes of affective intensity. This is the affective and ethico-political ethos of my research. Transpersonal is the political body in a posthuman ecology. Sensibility and attentiveness to singular differences, observed in the above practices, leads to the key feature of alter-anthropocen(tr)ic art and philosophy.
- Aristotle should also be credited as one of the originators of the scientific study of life. About a quarter of his vast corpus is dedicated to the study of living beings, especially animals. However, Aristotle also demonstrates the extent to which biology has since its inception been entangled with ethical, moral and political speculations.
- The permanence of animals as preferred subjects of taxonomy was perfectly encapsulated in Jorge Luis Borges’s story The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, where he mentions “a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge”, wherein one can find a following classification of animals: “In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.” (1993)
- Plutonium-239 is an isotope of plutonium, primary ingredient of nuclear bombs and one of the isotopes used in nuclear reactors.
- Due to its technological genealogy, Haraway’s ‘cyborg’ is often read only to signify techno-bodies, but it stands for immanent hybridity and multiple identity. Compared to somewhat tamer notion of ‘companion species’, cyborg seems a more provocative and unfamiliar proposition, that incited some very exciting re-readings (Cuomo, 1998; Braidotti, 2002).
- In Latour’s ‘parliament of things’, it is nonhumans that need to ‘knock’ on the door of the Republic in order to be integrated or not. The Republic is divided in two houses: “[t]he first house brings together the totality of speaking humans . . . The second house is constituted exclusively of real objects . . .” (2004: 14). In between, a “group of handpicked experts” possesses the ability “to make the mute world speak” (ibid.). The entities outside of the collective ‘appeal’ to be included, upon which the collective proceeds through the procedures of ‘perplexity’, ‘consultation’, ‘hierarchy’ and ‘institution’ to determine whether they ‘can live together’ or whether they will be ‘externalised’. The most problematic aspect of Latour’s proposal is that it presupposes an insider ‘we’ (who is we?), as well as a progressive, that is, a modern narrative of progress. These problems stem from the fact that Latour’s Republic is based on representational politics, which I believe is extremely problematic in the naturalcultural context. (see 2.1.3.)
- In I Like America and America Likes Me (1974), Joseph Beuys, in his classic shamanic role, spent three days, six hours each, in a cage with a coyote, the symbol of American wilderness. Among other interesting paraphernalia, each day fifty copies of Wall Street Journal were brought into space, which coyote ripped into pieces or urinated upon. At first aggressive, as the time advanced, coyote eventually seemed to have created some form of a cohabitation with the artist. It can be commented in length on the density of symbols and metaphors, and possibly even anthropocentricism of the piece. Whatever may be the case, I find this performance a forerunner to posthuman naturalcultural art, not so much for its breaching cultural space by the animal (something other performances of the period already did), but for its intersectional quality of bringing together human and animal within a differentially shared geopolitical and biopolitical context. In the prelude to the performance, Beuys, in line with his acknowledged anti-Americanism, was transported from the plane to the gallery and back, wrapped in felt, supposedly never touching the ground of the country.
- In the catalogue of the show, multispecies ethnography is described in these terms: “Ethnographers are now exploring how ‘the human’ has been formed and transformed amid encounters with multiple species of plants, animals, fungi, and microbes. Rather than simply celebrate multispecies mingling, ethnographers have begun to explore a central question: Who benefits, cui bono, when species meet?” (Kirksey, Schuetze, & Heimreich, 2014:1-2) Multispecies ethnography is one of the many emerging field that can be said to participate in the larger ‘nonhuman turn’.
- In Haapoja’s Dialogue (2008), a gallery space was populated by a number of trees the visitors were invited to breathe or whistle into a CO2 sensor. Sensors on the trees measured the decrease of CO2 as it was absorbed by the leaves and whistled back to the visitor.
- Haapoja’s and Gustafsson’s project had different manifestations, The Museum of the History of Cattle (with the publication History According to Cattle) (2013), The Trial (2014), a performance that staged a juridical proceeding about legal personhood of nonhumans, and the exhibition The Museum of Nonhumanity (2016), that will be followed by the publication The Encyclopedia of Nonhumanity (2017).