Small Acts of Care (2019)
As part of GU Womxn, contributions from Emily Hawes, Sophie Huckfield,
Laura Onions, and Larissa Shaw formed a publication as part of Interdependencies,
Art Licks Weekend (October 2019).
This text is written in response to South London Botanical Institute and was displayed at DKUK (Peckham), The Old Police Station (Deptford), 4Cose (Cambridge Heath), and 1C Enterprise.
Images curtesy of Sophie Huckfield
“ART CAN BECOME A RESOURCE, THAT MEDIATES BETWEEN THE ECOLOGIST AND THE INDUSTRIALIST. ECOLOGY AND INDUSTRY ARE NOT ONE-WAY STREETS, RATHER THEY SHOULD BE CROSSROADS. ART CAN HELP TO PROVIDE THE NEEDED DIALECTIC BETWEEN THEM… WE SEE NATURE AND NECESSITY IN CONSORT.”
- Robert Smithson, Untitled in Robert Smithson Collected
Writings ed. Jack Flam (Berkley: University of
California Press, 1972.) 376.
Knowledge as a Resource
Knowledge is our resource and our product, sustaining the collectives’ belief that there is a ‘flat’ organisation, anti-hierarchical in its distribution of labour, and open to restless streams of intelligence from all its contributors and collaborators. These collaborative inputs are disseminated social and spatial entities which no single artist holds lead on the production of knowledge or power over its distribution. We can see the portents of larger variations, where the dissemination of contemporary knowledge production offers freedom to form local subjects and willing collectives.
I was uneasy with the demand of visibility and hyper-production under which I often feel I need to meet as an artist. In one of our first meetings together, we discussed that as a platform of collaboration, we avoid the often-isolating conditions that artists so often end up working in through working together. On the contrary, our platform enabled us to build interpersonal relations with other artists and to perhaps ‘dilute’ the solitary nature of being an artist.
"…immaterial labour , which is defined as the labour that produces
the informational and cultural content of the commodity”
— Marianna Cage, Marketing is Violent, 2012.
The shepherd is a telling bio-gauge of the health and strength of our rural system. If we let the shepherd disappear through lack of acclimatised changes needed to meet the growing population, we will lose an important source of knowledge about how to deal with the complexities of how to conceive the necessary transition of our societies, practices, and lifestyles to sustainability. We need the shepherd to learn how to manage natural and common resources and how to produce sustainably, both in any physical outcome we produce and to ensure we are fair on ourselves as artists and as practitioners before we reach burn out. I am talking about the well being of the artist as their own ecosystem, which is equally vital. As such the city artist needs the shepherd or the rural artist for this
bio-indication of sustainability.
Capitalist Logic/Denying Local Knowledge Today marks that for the first time in human history, the global population outnumbers the rural population. This does not imply a triumphant tipping towards urban culture, but instead does echo a capitalist logic towards indigenous populations and land. The capitalist logic was initiated with the enclosure of land for agriculture and farming, then closely monitored with strategic geopolitics, and finalised with the industrialisation of the cities; all that favour consumers and wage labourers over subsistence and commoners.
Vandana Shiva urges for the balance and counteraction against monoculturalisation by denying local knowledge and value, implying to the slow eradication of local rural and agricultural practices. Its oscillating design and revision of hierarchical pedagogies (instead, that everyone is learning and teaching) is an example for a self-coordinated, interdependent, local framework on a transnational scale.
"In the city, the terms of dwelling and perceptions
of social agency are often aleatory.
While the urban economy is governed by
a tendency toward informality and improvisation
within the capitalist economy, the rural community
is entirely tethered to a preindustrial agrarian past.”
— Okwui Enwenzor, Huit Façettes, 2007.
The Hanunoo people in the Philippines leave no room for ‘dominant forestry’ and Western botany. The Hanunoo can divide their native plants into 1,600 differentiated and characterized categories of genus and sub-genus, where ‘trained’ botanists can only distinguish 1,200. The lived experiences and diverse and complex knowledge systems that have evolved with the many uses of the forest for food, shelter, agriculture, tools and uses of all kinds were cast in the shadow of the introduction of ‘scientific’ forestry, which considered the forest only as a source of industrial, commercial and capitalist functions. The interconnection between agriculture and the forest were fractured and the uses of the forest as a source of food became indistinguishable.
“The disappearance of local knowledge through its interaction with the dominant western knowledge takes place at many levels, through many steps. First, local knowledge is made to disappear by simply not seeing it, by negating its very knowledge is made to disappear by simply not seeing it, by negating its very existence. This is very easy in the distant gaze of the globalising dominant system. The western systems of knowledge have generally been viewed as universal.”
— Vandana Shiva, Monocultures of the Mind, 1993.
The universal and local dichotomy is lost when it is applied to the westernised categories of knowledge. The western is largely interpreted as a local tradition, spread globally through ‘intellectual’ colonisation, hybridisation of plants and the collection of botany throughout centuries of western invades.
The monocultures of introduced plant varieties lead to the displacement and destruction of local natural diversity. The Latinisation of scientific names assigned to plants and animals on harvesting implies a kind social immunity to its geo-history, traditional uses and heritages when introduced to the Western system. We accept that modern western science is not to be implied, critically evaluated or questioned; it is merely widely accepted. Western science achieved this status by elevating itself above other local knowledge systems and societies by, simultaneously, excluding other knowledge and lived experiences from the rightful territory of long-established and systematic knowledge. Scientists, in conformity of a methodical scientific system, were viewed as putting forward statements directly in response to the realities of a directly observed environment.
This powerful structure forms its absolute ownership and exclusive monopoly.
The term ‘cultural hybrid’ or in a plant-focused realm ‘hybridisation’ (in relation to hybrid plants) is more commonly and widely used when two or more cultures exist in one place or come together. It is applied with the same level of ease as the label ‘fusion’ cuisine. However, it is important that we emphasize the importance of the need to examine the specific context of both, and all, cultures involved. It should be stressed that hybridity does not take place when one culture simply absorbs the other. It is this ongoing complex process of entanglement between cultures where this interaction is not harmonious, in many arguments against how multiculturalism generally perceives itself.
In the finale of this interaction, a third new layer is born where new forms and new cultures, to some extent, can be created. This is true with the slowly but increasing visibility of non-western and cross-cultural artists over the recent decade. This needs to be at the fundamental of every arts organisation in order enable a broadening understanding of how we can support all cultures in contemporary visual art.
In by wiping local knowledge invisible by rendering it non-existent, absent, or illegitimate (in one instance through the Latinisation of plant names), the winning system also causes alternatives to become absent by destroying and appropriating the history and realities in that they try to represent. The disseminated linearity of the winning knowledge interrupts any integrations between these systems. Local knowledge conveniently falls through the fractures during the process of appropriating it and writing its new history. It no longer belongs to the world in which it was taken from. The winning scientific knowledge breathes a monoculture by creating voids for alternatives to disappear into, as seen in monocultures of plant species, it heads into the displacement of the culture and the local diversity.
For the necessity of learning to act at a time of fearing a global environmental crisis, our neo-capitalist logic is directed by a crisis of reproduction, where the foundation of things produced are in precarious times. Many citizens like us want to be active with much needed reproductive work and determine the changes we wish to see. What agency gives us mechanisms for coping? Resisting? How do we change our conditions to encourage alternatives and to allow other worlds to be possible that is independent from what we have done as practitioners, activists, artists, students, citizens, researchers, teachers, scientists and interdependencies? How do we prepare and anticipate for sustainable work at a local and translocal scale?
Diverse Economies & Diverse Pedagogies
The Eco-Nomadic School is a network for locally-based projects from across Europe that have been visiting each other to learn, teach, share and discover the knowledge held in their communities for the last 10 years. The school, in its broadest definition, came from the motivation and conviction that education and pedagogy do not necessarily take place in institutions, but within civic and social realm in alternative political initiatives and activist intentions ultimately existing in everyday life. The Eco-Nomadic School is the open organisation that would prepare society for sustainable practice.
“What I felt in a range of discussions of cultural power is that it often is imagined as two forces that clash, like the ‘clash of civilisations’ idea. They come equipped with all their own ideas, philosophies, values, etc., and they clash: somebody wins, somebody loses. My interest always was, what happens when they clash? They are negotiating – even with a big asymmetry – different forms of power and authority. […] Hybridisation is therefore all the meanings, positions, movements, negotiations around difference and power generated in that space. It is a particular strategy and it is a strategy in the context of a larger struggle for authority.” – -[Homi K. Bhabha & Zoë Gray, In Conversation with Solange de Boer, 2006]
In sub-context of Paeolo Friere’s writings, The Eco-Nomadic School expands the nexus of education to forms and formats that do not exist within the current institutional frameworks, based on what terms that is radical inclusivity. It promotes that civic education shares the belief of supporting and reproducing of everyday life as common knowledge across places, local education and cultures.
Katherine Gibson has coined the term ‘diverse economies’ as a platform to discuss the many initiatives of economic autonomy that are increasingly more common worldwide which speak a system of economic differences as an alternative coping strategy to the current capitalist logics. This system can be understood similarly to a rhizome in plants; a rooting subterranean stem that splits off horizontally from the main stem to produce new shoots to the surface. We can only see the visible plant from above ground, as we can only interpret our capitalist economy we are situated within, where outside the economy, or beneath the ground exists huge mass economies, or huge mass plant networks. Beneath the ground holds the network for sustaining life to the plant, as is true for the ‘other’ economies that sustain life for more of the global population than ours supports.
The same can be applied to education and ‘diverse pedagogies’ in the same way ‘diverse economies’ can be applied to capitalist logic, stressing the importance of their inclusivity and heterogeneity fluidy transporting across formal and informal education, within city communities and within the rural. The Eco-Nomadic School is without set locations and independent from fixed institutions to reject a hierarchical logic or affiliations towards diverse knowledge. As the same with diverse economies, diverse pedagogies too fit under the small, visible, rhizomatic part of capitalist institutional education.
Guattari, who I often intangibly attempt to approach through Deleuze, introduces ‘transversality’ to discuss independent and resilient subjectivities in the sense of capitalist logic. In this context, transversality engenders a new terrain to be transported beyond it that encompasses physical and social spheres of organising learning across a multitude of alternating planes: It is not symptomatic nor hierarchical and creates unexpected and continually evolving positions. In A Thousand Plateaus, Guatarri and Deleuze identify the nomad from the anatomy of the migrant. The nomad is described to be unstable, vulnerable and without fixed ground, in a position of displacement of any fixed logic. Whereas the migrant has choice over where they travel, understood in terms of trajectories. The migrant and the nomad are visitors, and travellers, who receives recognition on arrival and on departure. As for the nomad, they demonstrate the knowledge at given circumstances to be totally ignorant of customs of habitual practice, yet the nomad becomes the transmitter of impulses and information across the globe. The nomad transforms into universal knowledge never to be questioned or critically evaluated, but to be merely accepted.
“In a decisive move towards self-analysis, (scientific) discourse today has begun to re-examine languages in order to isolate their (its) models or patterns. In other words, since the social practice (the economy, mores, ‘art’, etc.) is envisaged as signifying system that is ‘structures like a language’, any practice can be scientifically studies as a secondary model in relation to natural language, modelled on this language and in turn becomes a model or pattern for it.”
— Julia Kristeva, Semiotics: ACritical Science and/or a
Critique of Science, 1969.
- Larissa Shaw