the periodic table series
‘In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. People just don’t know what to pay attention to, and they often spend their time investigating and debating side issues. In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore.’ Harari, Y. N. (2016) Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.
The Periodic Table is an ongoing series of short performances, that are the result of my interest in the periodic table of elements. There are 118 elements in the table at present, and I am working my way through the families of elements beginning with the noble gases and the halogens. I begin by exploring each element in an improvised interaction with the internet, which I see as a kind of visual, oracular questioning. In this oracular internet search (OIS) I enter the name of the element in the browser and for this purpose I use two web search engines. The first is google, an engine that invades my privacy by tracking my browsing history, while offering me more and more personalised and specialised results, according to the pages I visit. the second is an engine called duck duck go, that does not track my activity and as a result, offers me, in theory, results that are not tailored to my likes and dislikes. I allow the images and texts from the initial search on both engines to lead me intuitively in any direction that I feel is right. This is a way of engaging with not-knowing that relates to a state of openness and attentiveness that I liken to the Daoist concept of Wu-Wei. It is also a way of engaging with random information from the internet that can yield unexpected yet surprisingly pertinent results. The search will at first throw up the most popular images and most visited pages in relation to the words entered, so if I enter the name of an element such as neon, images of neon lights will probably be the first results to appear. After a while as I am led by different aspects of the element, to pages that might have a political, economical and social relevance. For example I might start with the element Xenon that leads me to a news articles about the problems of nuclear energy production because radioactive xenon is a by-product of nuclear testing and then to a web page on racism because xenon is the root of the word xenophobia and so on. This is a kind of searching that lets one association lead to another. In the case of xenon, I can slip my attention from xenon to nuclear power, from radiation sickness to birth defects and then from birth defects to the right to abort. I select a series of images to be printed out and used in the performance.
parallel worlds series
Each work in the series begins as a drawing, a view of our planet from the perspective of each of the oceans. Porcelain sheets are hand-sewn to the cloth on the areas of land. The map becomes a cape, a temporary border between my skin and the earth, felt in my bones through the vibration of breaking porcelain. The Inuit have a word for the fear of unpredictable violence; kappia. It is different from the kind of fear that accompanies awe. This is called ilira. ‘Watching a polar bear is ilira. But having to cross thin sea ice is kappia’ (Lopez 1986). In the destruction of the porcelain cape, there is a reference the kind of apprehensive fear that accompanies the unpredictability of violence and sudden change. The process of constructing each cape takes about two months and in the performance, all this work is destroyed in a few minutes. I roll backwards and forwards, the porcelain breaking under the weight of my body. The map becomes a temporary border between my skin and the earth, the vibration of breaking porcelain is felt in my skull, in my bones.
The environmental activist and scholar of Buddhism, Joana Macy, among others,suggests that we are showing signs of the planet’s distress in our own bodies. She writes, that we collectively sense the degradation of nature, the pressures on our ecosystems, and at an unconscious level, we are living with unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety. That which was hælþ, the old English for wholeness and the root of healthy, heal and holy is under attack. This is a connection, that we feel in our bodies, our soma/some. It is loathsome, worrisome, fearsome, awesome. The injury is done also to our home, our eco systems, our ecology, our economy.
In the performance series Parallel Worlds, I explore the tensions and anxieties that I feel in my somatic and psychic relation to the degradation of the natural environment and the wide-ranging destructive effects that this has on the lives of every person on the planet. In Parallel Worlds, I imagine the interconnection of the human body with the earth’s surface as a porous borderland, where tensions and anxieties can be transformed though a physical engagement with entropy. This is a sense of self that is not only expanded beyond the body but also to the myriad conditions and events that surround us, including the environment and nature. In this view of reality, nothing is seen as an isolated act, but rather as arising from the co-extensivity of all nature. This can be understood as a somatic and psychic reconnection to the ecological body that has been discussed in relation to ecofeminism by Karen Warren (2000) and Charlene Spretnak (1987) among others. In such an ecofeminist context, I recognise the importance of caring for self and other that includes not only the living organisms on the planet, but all non-human parts as well (Warren 2000). I have found the Buddhist concept of Paticcasamuppāda to be very useful as a way to shine a light on the implications of an embodied experience of entangled reality in performance, where it is possible to experience an overlapping of our minds and bodies, our thoughts and our emotions in action, and where the ethics of interconnection can be explored in relation to the concepts of con-sent and symbiosis.
In this series, I use fired porcelain as a material to make clothing for each performance. The porcelain costumes are made to be destroyed or broken during the action, adding a sonorous element to the works.
In the series of works Extensions I explore how a sense of self can be felt as not only expanded beyond the body but also to the myriad conditions and events that surround us, including the environment and nature. In this view of reality, nothing is seen as an isolated act, but as arising from the co-extensivity of all things. This can be understood as a somatic and psychic reconnection not only to other bodies but also to the ecological body. This view of the world questions how each individual might be reflected in the whole and calls for an ethical questioning about the consequences of our actions in the world.
‘Ethics is not a geometrical calculation; ‘others’ are never very far from ‘us’; ‘they’ and ‘we’ are co-constituted and entangled through the very cuts ‘we’ help to enact. Cuts cut things together and apart. Cuts are not enacted from the outside, nor are they ever enacted once and for all.’ (Karen Barad 2007, pp.178–9).
Drawing on both Barad’s view of ethics as a constant adjustment to our co-constituted reality and Donna Haraway’s vision of response-ability as a kind of ‘being with’ in which we ‘render each other capable’, I understand response-ability to be an ethical approach to performance, in which caring about and for that which we are inextricably a part of is an essential skill that enhances our ability for spontaneous and coherent responses to the constantly changing situations that surround us without creating more harm. The connection between what we do and what we are is understood, not as deterministic, but as constantly shaping and reshaping according to what we do and how we act (Macy 2007, p.32).
The interconnection that comes with global Capitalism places us all in the position of collaborating with a system that is damaging to us all. But in the small but accumulative gestures of intra-active engagement with the whole, I think we are articulating a new approach for surviving the contradictions and anxieties we live with, as well as asserting a desire to contribute to a creative and sustainable life-time. In these precarious times ‘in which the world is not finished, and the sky has not fallen’ (Haraway 2016), there is still room to find ways of becoming-with, where an individual’s response-ability to the whole is not understood as an obligation, rather it is sensed and felt in ways that uphold reciprocity and cooperation and that I understand as being essential tools for confronting the unpredictability and violence of the world as well as the trepidation and fear that such uncertainty generates.