Hannah Rogers, Karen Elizabeth Bishop, Alice Smits, Taru Elfving, Shruti Sunderraman, Bilge Hasdemir and Markus Petz
What does it mean to observe art? What senses can be brought to bear when we experience the early stage process of art-making? What does fieldwork mean for theorists, philosophers, scholars, and art practitioners?
The Second Order group was made up of very different methodologists: academics, theorists, curators, critics, journalists. We were commissioned to observe and intervene in other groups, but also took as our non-exclusive responsibility the possibility of communication between the groups. It emerged that among our members writing was a major way of working.
As writing was a shared practice, we collectively considered the process of subjective contemplation it can offer. As an experiment, our group challenged itself to consider creative writing as a method. We used the example of ethnographic poetry, but welcomed all kinds of writing and the different kinds of thinking, feeling, and sensing that can be considered through a variety of forms, modes, and genres. Drawing on our observations, intuitions, conversations, whispers, individual and collective experiences, we offer our experiments in language below.
Sketches for Field Notes from the Kilpisjarvi Biological Station
Karen Elizabeth Bishop, 9.2018
1. The magpie: one for sorrow, two for joy. No birds on this hill, but we turn our attention to great fortune besides.
2. We call it the devil’s field. Too many rocks to cross.
3. This next part implies the cold. Your face will not be enough. Sit alone and see if you can feel the direction of the whole wind against the rock.
4. Just before the gulley a pile of tin cans and metal scrap. Remains from the prison camp at the end of the war. The nazis didn’t make it up here until almost the end.
5. We never find the crash site. Instead we circle two wire reindeer pens and cross a dry riverbed. You instruct me in irrigation and salt. We prefer not to know what’s lost.
II. Reindeer Life
1. I cannot bear to see such tight landscape, he tells me, one arm still before the window. There is no room for them to move. No room to wander. Twenty years later we are still on this question of space.
2. My mind is not a reindeer’s mind. But I know that they have a turn in their mind. A turn to spring. The new growth takes them north.
3. They have a taste for lichen. But in the summer they trample this lichen they like and eat other green things and flowers. Whatever flower you choose they eat it. And also the red berries that flood the fell.
4. They follow the winter into the wind. The winds are changing. They have to behave in time. Time on the slope falls differently.
5. Human beings are not such ecological animals. The reindeer has another logic.
1. The dogs sit on the prow. We sit below deck. There won’t be anyone there to check passports. I forgot my money anyway and the clouds carry us over.
2. We look to the water to tell us what we already know. It’s hard to look past the shadow of the mountain.
3. Three countries claim this corner. And here a woman who has swum around all three. I have also studied the names of all the trees and flowers, she tells me bending. And I was glad to do so.
4. Wooden boards keep our feet dry. The suture holds for now.
5. At the top a sleeping hut piled over with rocks. We add one rock more and do not lie down. Rain falls beneath us and we descend.
1. We thought they might give us the mountain to celebrate. But they kept it for themselves. We’re a nation apart.
2. Soil, rice, jam. I eat the soil and pull three rocks from my mouth. They could have been teeth.
3. The ice age recedes. The medusa succumbs to her burns.
4. I do not hear you for the water at your back. Later I will be jealous at the water at your window, the angle of your roof. Your beds in a line.
5. I buried my face in the soil but did not open my eyes. I do not play at death.
V. Bird Thoughts
1. We are the noise. We are looking through the noise. Birds correspond to thoughts.
2. The sun doesn’t leave the shadow. It’s the plants. They know their own mind. The mushroom flowers across the screen.
3. I pull a woman from the water. White like the moon and as distant. She tells me: your future is now. Our future is now. She breaks in two.
4. Sound travels like a nerve on the spine. I collect it here, you say, showing me your copper wires and tree branches. Can you hear it, can you hear anything? A clearing upon the hill. The lightning above the door.
5. Hands flat upon the table. A smokescreen and a skull. The noise comes in waves in light against the sky. Trees lit up like eyes upon the shore unblinking. We turn back toward the sensing dark.
Notes from The Ocean
The Arctic is quiet.
I do not expect mighty things to be quiet.
Nordic mountains are strange influences
on the ocean.
The Arctic is quiet.
An introvert of power.
Unaware, perhaps, of what its voice can do.
It hums not around its mountains.
It befriends Olympic winds,
particles of salt running wild as wolves.
But the Arctic is quiet.
It whispers lores to its people
impolite ears never catch its words.
They are untranslatable,
People run on its rocks and
stamp their immigrant presence.
The waters do not discriminate.
All mud is welcome.
All sediment is home.
The Arctic remains quiet.
The Lost and Found Department
There is no Lost and Found department at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station.
I went looking for a lost thermos. I heard someone yell, “I can’t find my other sock!” We all found ourselves searching for belongings in a place that doesn’t have a Lost and Found department.
Here’s a guide to finding things around the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station:
Roll in the mud, the green, the soil. You have instructions to forget sight, sound and smell. Obey the wind. Your mind will let itself off its leash. You will not find the keys you lost. You will find the sense to be free.
Learn from the lichen. It will teach you endurance from cold winds and from reindeers of life stamping on your quests. You will not find your lost glove. But you may find vision.
Take off your jacket and dig your hands deep into the soil. Right up to your elbow. Maybe all the way up to your shoulder. And then your head. Bury yourself in bacteria and brown. The clay does not have your lost shoe. If you ask them gently, they might teach your nose lessons in paying attention to life in hidden places.
Gaze lightly across the lake. Screen the horizon for nothing in particular. The water is loud. You don’t have to be. The skies approach. They don’t come bearing a lost sweater. They have a message for you from Time.
Climb the Saana with weak knees. Befriend reindeers. Respect their need for distance. Be gentle to their caution. The mountain and the reindeer have outlived human conclusions. They do not have your lost charger. They have sensibilities to offer. Drop your apparatus. Let them test you now.
If you have lost your compass at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, give up all will to find it. Some things ought to stay lost.
Hannah Star Rogers
Knows about as much about the straight line
as we do, what the professional naturalist
might call the mechanical part of understanding:
the cloning of a mushroom
in a starch-based glue, that training and
pruning are crucial for botanic color-making,
cases and categories cannot provide a lens
a window, she says oblique teeth
leaf shape: oblong with yellow
disappearing into the taxonomy of thought
the production of non-knowledge
the salient features are feasible as
sand and sediment move lower based on
the grade narrowing toward
the portrait of the self
refusal to go on
the providence of
those who understand the line.
What I want this poem to do
Hannah Star Rogers
I want the reader to see
how much more similar we are to lichens than to
winds, not that this is an excuse for grazing reindeer
or optimizing our diets
toward the living who are less like us
but to see that existence has more in
common with itself than nonexistence and that what we are
is what we are not being so that there is an excuse
for wishing you are otherwise
until you are as you are.
(1) I went to Ecology of Senses? Field_Notes
What was that?
Socratic dialogue – it's not what I want.
Were they artists
No I’m not an artist.
Were they scientists
I was trained as a scientist, but no I am not.
Practitioners Praxisters Prax-schm-ishiners...
I am not being contrary, but no I am not.
Well who are they ... are we then? ...
(2) What do we want. A process?
But no-output expected…. Or wanted?
Would you like to see my no-output?
Is there a no-process and no-dynamic to go with it? How about a presentation?
No it's not a presentation I don’t like that word.
I think we are getting somewhere – perhaps maybe I don’t know perhaps not?
(3) What can I say? What can I contribute? Second Order?
Whose order? Disorder! Self-order-(an/ anodon)nized? We are a slime mold?
But we are doing our own thing.
We are rather loose.
I think it is framed -
I don’t like the term frame.
From the centre in own directions -
No not quite that.
Can you help – no help - too much wisdom from you!
Banned words pungent · droplets · in a landscape- no more facts
In a post-fact, neo-truth fake news world – no clichés allowed
(we all know what you mean)
and that’s bounded, restricted not unbounded restructed
Everyone goes to Berlin so I go to Seoul – a new …
There is nothing new – no, maybe perhaps not
It's not essential, Arduino, Android, PowerBank
Breathe the earth, take your clothes off and rub yourself with something soily
Artistic stereotypes (but we are not artists – no, maybe perhaps not
How do I say, what I do not want to say, what I say AYE SAY!
Embedded Second Order
Sanna and Malla embraced in warmth my arrival in an Arctic summer’s wain
As a Humus sapiens, I would delve ʽn’ dive where rangifer and salvelinus dwell
Peili fjord á pied-à- mer sand blackstones, bladderwrack and jellyfish pain
Rain in the face so cold nice for a quick dip sauna etiquette- mixed? up face in soil smell
life and electrics, smokey turvekota, Aurora, Feminist moment – Field Notes with children
waves, ripples, currents moiré patterns in the hydrosphere-cum-atmosphere-soilsphere-me-as-well
slime mold, talking so much talking big words and strange books, growing, divine, thinking silence again
Unfinished notes on attempts at listening
I am sitting on a very comfortable rock, half-way up mount Saana, just above the tree line. Attempting to listen to the wind, I realise it cannot be heard as there are no trees to transmit its approach. I only sense it as it hits my cheek facing North. Ice cold contact with the glaciers not yet melted across the imaginary border between Finland and Norway. Or, as I learn later, a border with fences not for human migrants - so far - but rather for obstructing the age-old seasonal migrations of reindeer and their herders. Patterns of ongoing colonial governance haunt the landscape. The group I have joined today, still in its hesitant formation, searches for a particular historical site yet the GPS leads us persistently astray. We find all kinds of other traces of human activities instead yet have difficulty reading them. How to make sense of a place without much prior knowledge of neither its complex histories nor the local effects of the warming climate? Have the winds changed?
Eating my packed lunch on another rock, I listen to the wind again. After a while it appears to me that the deep rumbling sound is not the approaching wind, but water running below my feet in the hollows under the boulders. Surely I did not hear this very sound two days ago when first visiting the site. Perhaps I am simply noticing more now. Returns make sense. Yet I find myself an unreliable medium when trying to pass on knowledge from one group to another. There are some trace fossils here, in this valley between times - well over two billion year old bedrock on one side, while the rock on the other side of the stream is around a quarter of its age. Having collided 400-500 million years ago, the rocks are pausing here like us, for the moment, but in their radically different sense of time and change. Landing in this site, with an uneasy sense of colonial package I carry with my methodologies and genealogies of practice, I have been scraping together bits and pieces of insight from diverse perspectives engaged with/in during the week - expertise slightly out of place here as well as situated knowledges of myriad kinds. Feeling the terrain through my feet, my eyes fixed to the followed uncertain paths, the long hikes have led away from an overview and towards an increased complexity of detail and divergence. What to do with this deepening sense of awareness and accountability of my own unknowing?
meanings and values that apparently await our discovery
practical skills and affective intensities
Becoming(s), nonhierarchical alliances, symbiotic attachments
more care-full relations
in the microbial world
Hearing, smelling, tasting, viewing, touching, ....sensing
field of senses
field of collaborations
field of experiences
ecology of connections
harmony, differences, relations, interconnections
more-than-human agencies and vital materialities
adaptations, alterations, diversities, entanglements
partially knowable, multicultured and multinatured, magical.. World
in the discovery
in the experience with the experience
touching, viewing, tasting, smelling, hearing, sensing
field of senses
field of collaborations
field of experiences
ways of sensing.
A Red-Letter Episode(s)
This is a story of taking a second order look at observing observers and based on experiential records. It is also about how what is primarily known as unobservable might become significant component of the way of observing.
"Once you observe the observing observers
you’re unlikely to observe anything else throughout the same way again."
Exploration of multiple possibilities of artistic approaches, which were developed in relation to art&science, puts a special emphasis on collaborative forms of relations where practitioners of different fields share their skills, knowledges, inquiries and concerns. Ambiguities that science generates were opened up through the capacities of art&science which might remain elusive and concealed otherwise. While open-ended discussions and unconditional explorations were welcoming uncertainty with its full potentials, collaborators surely dared to ask bigger/ more sincere / more naive questions that would concern us all. And then was the intersection where a wide-range of interests were meeting.
Each field trip, which got us to Kilpisjärvi Biological Station at the end of each day,led to a greater integration of different knowledges, ways of knowing and deepened sensing. And each field trip, again, was a reminder that what we would like to express does not necessarily depend on the words we find. It rather comes into being with/in shared experiences, temporary encounters, everyday interactions, intimate entanglements, intense affections and sensuous connections. This is why rather than aiming to develop a common language, which might a be “disciplined”/”institutionalized” bridge between art and science,
we headed towards the senses, ways of sensing, which are far from guided and guiding mediations. This is also about how one would be fully immersed in Kilpisjärvi, in space, in landscape...
Sensorial engagement was also central to the exceeding of blurred boundaries between “disciplined” academic practice and embodied experience. Even the potential of un-disciplined exploration(s) seemed to ease crises of inter-/multi-/trans-/post- disciplinary interaction(s)/exchange(s)/collaboration(s) as the way(s) of exploration allowed itself to be unpredictable, arbitrary, harmonious, unsettled -as much as possible-.
Being on either side of the Finland-Norway border, one needed to ask herself/himself about the meaning/(less) of the border(s). This was also a question about being on either side of the art and science border, or being in between, or crossing the border as being a wandering practitioner.
Also, while standing at the three country cairn, at which borders of Sweden, Finland, Norway meet, the question was heard louder: those borders? – for whom? –for what?
We-all-are embedded in ecology of senses, connections, relations. From now on, nothing will exist in isolation from what was sensed in Kilpisjärvi.
----to be continued---
Tracing the land - Kilpisjärvi, Sept. 2018 - Alice Smits
Nature writing often has been about humans reflecting on what they see from 6 feet above ground, bringing along representations and symbols to make sense of a place. But what is the sensing in sense-making? In Kilpisjärvi, we roamed around for 5 days in the tundra, bending our gaze low at micro scale with attentiveness to the realm of ‘cryptozoa’, critters unseen and hidden, and to the macro scale of the clouds and skies above us and everything animate and inanimate, visible and invisible in between.
Stories of reindeer were with us all the time, with their shifting of minds as they adapt to the seasons – in the summer going north to find the freshest leaves where the new snow has fallen, in the summer heading south always with noses in the wind - as a guidance as we set foot in strange lands. On the first day we were trying to be a herd, to submit our individuality to the consciousness of a group, and while we walked silently as the stones cracked beneath our feet, always being sensitive to each other and our environment, always looking out, sensing the other.
Landscape becomes land. As we were told stories are only told by those who stay inside, those who are with the land have no time for stories. On the second day we crawl like slime mold in the dirt, eyes cast downwards to the earth, fingers grasping, backs touching, imagining ourselves as a collective intelligence, twisting and turning together, breaking up and coming back together. We talk about the lichen, a symbiosis between organisms, so alien yet maybe not so different as we start recognizing ourselves as consisting of only 50% human DNA, co-habiting our bodies with foreign organisms that support us and challenge our sense of unity and oneness while we open our skins to the outside. We tried to be fluid.
To disorient, rewire ourselves, to leave our fixed patterns and follow new paths to explore what we are capable of. We invented new languages – we talked of 'enlichement, bending words to allow us to feel and think differently. “One being’s signal is another being’s noise” somebody quoted Jakob von Uexkull who proposed the term Umwelt for describing each one's subjective sensory world. We tried to hear and feel all the noises as good as we could and added our own to it, not sure who was listening. They might have been there… We used stuff to sense better.
While reindeer are the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light, to allow them to see things in the glowing white of snow, we use black lights to see what they see, we wire ourselves, grow antena’s to pick up electromagnetic waves, fly drones to see from up high, explore our technological bodies to sense beyond what our bodies are capable of. We took samples, lots of samples, while we straddled the land, and put them under microscopes to see things that otherwise remain invisible to our eye. We digged in the earth, tried to imagine the passing of time of the rocks, and listened long and attentive to the rumbling of water underneath.
Physics equaled its distanced gaze with rationality, but we do not move into the irrational and instead seek another basis for knowledge that is situated, of a place, recognizing our sensing bodies as organs that make sense. Practice as thinking is always part of the environment, focusing on the event, the specific rather than the general, allowing ourselves to listen, feel, smell, hear, taste before passing judgement. We start realizing that we are not moving through empty space but through one that is filled with life, and we imagine our entanglement with everything around us and the fluidity of our bodies.
There are also other things, the common, the little things that mingle and cross as we stretch out, trying not to grasp. We also fail, all the time, but we keep searching, exploring, we fall and lay still to then move on, always moving, changing, transforming, learning how to move without direction and closure. We learned a lot. The landscape in the arctic is not silent. It keeps traces of its past like scars on its surface. We now might be part of it too.
Images by Hannah Rogers, Karen Elizabeth Bishop, Alice Smits, Taru Elfving, Shruti Sunderraman, Bilge Hasdemir and Markus Petz