4.7 Is there a role for other species in posthumanist art? (Sarah Robinson)

Perhaps it is a feature of our Western perspectival mentality to want to boil things down to their "true essence" or to delve into the "core" get to the Truth or to be ever on the hunt for the Center. This habit is manifest in the reductive tendencies that keep repeating themselves by substituting different names: "it all comes down to genes," or the nucleus, or the brain, or bacteria and then focusing on that spotlighted aspect of life to find the key to the rest. These habits are so deep-seated that they remain unquestioned. The ubiquitous term "seeing through the lens" of something to understand another thing in its terms, is symptomatic of a mentality that must narrow the world to the circumference of a lens. This kind of mentality cannot deal with, much less understand relationships and interdependencies. Opening to other kinds of life expands the imagination and possibility. Perhaps the center is everywhere, truth is everywhere, intelligence is everywhere in different forms, voices and languages, and immersing our own consciousness in the rhythms of other kinds of consciousness is one way for us to move beyond our narrow perceptual habits.

Paul Valéry wrote, “To the spiritual eyes, the plant presents itself not just as an object of humble passive life, but a strange will to join in a universal weaving.” This strange will to weaving seems like a good way to think beyond the container/contained model. Life does seem to weave. In this spirit, the artist Diana Scherer makes living textiles from plant roots, the architect Niklas Weisel creates vertical textiles that grow food from ugly skyscrapers, the artist/architect Tomás Saraceno collaborates with spiders, who spin three-dimensional webs that cosmologists study for insight into the cosmic web in which our galaxy is held. This strange will to weaving does not concern itself with categories but with connections.


Deborah Barlow said...

This is so exciting and provocative Sarah. You are the one to bring this forward.

As an ancillary note to some of the mentions made in your post, my niece's partner Joao Costa is a research assistant at the Mediated Matter Research Group, part of the MIT Media Lab. He has been collaborating with silkworms and bees to develop fabrication processes and design objects. Most recently (just as Covid took hold) many of these investigations were on display at MOMA.

His website: https://joaocosta.co/
Mediated Matter Research Group: https://mediatedmattergroup.com/

Taney Roniger said...

A "will to weaving": Sarah, I love this so much -- thank you. There's so much to say here, but first, to the container/contained model. I'm thinking now specifically about form, about how we can reconceptualize the erstwhile form/content dichotomy not as a unified *thing* whose meaning is enfolded in the thing itself, but as a *doing*, a conative force(ing) -- a willing and leaning whose mode of moving is weaving. While this is clearly applicable to any form that literally grows (as in your examples, which I must look into -- how fantastic!), a more nuanced understanding is needed in applying it to static form. What will it take to change the way we experience static form so that our attention attunes to the dynamic nature of perception?

The examples you offer make me think of a wonderful show I saw last year at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York. It was all about how contemporary designers are using biomimicry to create ecologically oriented, mass-producible urban structures. What fascinated me (beyond the ingenuity of the ideas) was how incredibly beautiful the designs were. The forms, the materials -- they were just stunning. While moving through the show I had a profound feeling of aesthetic empathy, of fleshly identification, with these many different kinds of forms and materials -- and indeed also one of biochemical alteration. So it seems that even when there is no *actual* growth happening, one can experience form as being truly alive.

Again, so much to think about here. I might have to post some images, both of the examples you mention and the works from the Cooper Hewitt.