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Video series in the frame of the exhibition “Critical Zones” at ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2020/21

For the ZKM Critical Zone Website, I have been developing a series of 6 Performative Video Tutorials. If we are lost on ecological, political and social levels, how to orientate? If our planet is incompatible with our globalized economy, how to define territory? Finding the right angle to address the global issues plays a pivotal role in the project Critical Zones – in its exhibition part, for the involved artists and thinkers and not least in Bruno Latour’s book „Down to Earth“ (German: „Das Terrestrische Manifest“). How to get down to Earth (how to manifest terrestrially)? How to find answers to these urgent questions?

This series of video tutorials propose a playful way to deal with some of those questions. It bases on the belief that in order to shift our mindset on how we think about our subjective place on Earth, alternative ways of looking at questions can be helpful. The video tutorials use a performative, playful and somatic approach. What does that mean?

The term somatics was coined in the 1980s and accumulates a variety of practices which are positioned between dance, art, therapy and holistic medicine. They all have in common that they train the subjective perception of the own body, taking into account that perception of the self is always in relation to other bodies, ideas, matter and world in general. It also takes into account that training is a fluid, playful and imaginative process. Can this play with perception, a bodily approach to awareness, speak to geopolitical concerns as well?

A tutorial explains you how to do things – in a DIY manner of sharing knowledge. These video tutorials don’t give definite answers, but they ask: What if we would tackle some of the ques- tions addressed by the Critical Zone exhibition with our playful, bodily and locally rooted creativity, in a way that we could learn something from it? What will happen? You can treat the videos as a screen to watch, as inst- ructions to try out or as invitations to use your perception, your bodily knowledge as well as your image producing electronical devices in an experimental manner. And to invite your friends, objects around you and the many beings such as bacteria within your body as well as books, artworks and ideas as inspirations.

Video Tutorial #1 On negotiating a place to land: Grounding

Video Tutorial #2 On the dimensions of being: Densities

Video Tutorial #3 On the perspective of beings: Folding

Video Tutorial #4 On the state of flux:traveling through and with

Video Tutorial #5 On being part of the frame: Dwelling

Video Tutorial #6 On urgency: taking time to be productive

Video Tutorial #1: On negotiating a place to land: Grounding

The »Video Tutorial #1 On finding a place to land: Grounding« looks at tools for negotiating the landing at a possible place: If we can’t believe in globalization anymore, nor in defensive nationalism, what is our territory to dwell in? We are floating in between directions of politics, mindsets, crisis and urgencies.

How to land? Well, Bruno Latour, in »Down to Earth«, says that we can land »by two complementary movements that modernization has made contradictory: attaching oneself to the soil on the one hand, becoming attached to the world on the other.« This is a tension that we will come back to more often in the following tutorials.

But for now: How to attach oneself to the soil? From a somatic sense this struggle reminds me of grounding – being aware of gravity, of the ground that allows my body to rise up, to be heavy in some and light in other parts, to be stable and reach out helps to localize my position, my substance in a particular space. By giving time to sense the ground and by resting consciously we awake our senses. On a somatic level, the contradiction of being focused on a passive, self–centred sensation and to be actively open towards the external might already be solved by a co-dependency: By intending to ground ourselves we are also rising, moving, lifting – our curiosity can grow by itself. (Maybe this approach assumes that we have to »find« ourselves first before we can opens up to the world. I do not claim this to be an authentic universal truth – it is just a tool, a possibility and a playful imagination.)

Enjoy the Grounding!

With special thanks to Franziska Böhm and Kate Brown.

Video Tutorial #2: On the dimensions of being: Densities

Video Tutorial #2 looks at the »problem of dimension, scale, and lodging« that, according to Bruno Latour in his book »Down to Earth« we are facing in the so-called modern societies: The planet is too small to host all the economic needs that globalisation demand, and it is too complex to ignore the events outside of a narrow local point of view.

We are also facing a problem of scale because the actual size of a country compared to what its current way of existing depends on (resources, labour, or simply land), differs significantly from the size of its national borders. And, most notably, because the Critical Zone confronts us with a zooming richness of beings, a thickness and entanglement of networks and causalities that is to be presented as a huge dense space rather than as a thin layer of the globe.
What kind of scales does the Terrestrial, the planet we are to land on, exist in? Bruno Latour notes that the Terrestrial»is designed to differentiate itself by opening itself up« and that it is meant to »cherish a maximum number of alternative ways of belonging to the world.« How can we understand such multiplicities, such dimensions and densities? Do we yet have to re-learn how to measure? Which tools do we have?

A comment to the current situation in April 2020: Not only has space dimensions and densities, time has as well. In a moment where political decisions reacting to the pandemic are slowing down economies, where there is a strange sense of standing still (even though a lot is not, rather to the contrary), where our movement is limited and some of us are stuck in precarious waiting, how do we perceive the density of time? What is the relation of the urgency of a pandemic crisis to the urgency of the climate crisis and what are their differences to the speed of production and consumption? And which are our means to reflect, learn and experience about the situation, as some of us are deprived of our usual ways of research? Hopefully the Video Tutorial #2 On the dimensions of being: Densities can offer some ideas, as it examines the various experiences of the dimensions of being that we can gain by shifting our awareness, and as it offers a format that makes such experience available and transportable to wherever we are.

Video Tutorial #3: On the perspective of beings: Folding

Video Tutorial #3 introduces the idea of turning the perception of ourselves and our environing world inside out. Instead of gazing down at the Earth, we look out as a part of the Earth into a folded space. Bruno Latour outlines the assumption that "to know is to know from the outside" ("Down to Earth") and declares against this mechanistic worldview to undo the "bifurcation between the real – external, objective, and knowable – and the inside – unreal, subjective and unknowable".

This turning inside out of former believes may make us, being ourselves folded bodies within a folded space of flesh and material, aware of new neighborhoods of parts which before seemed to be far apart. To situate ourselves within may mean to turn center and periphery inside out: What is at the center of attention, who is in relation to it? Video Tutorial #3 acts in correspondence with the Soil Map, a scientific as well as artistic visualization by Alexandra Arènes recently published on the "Critical Zones" online platform. In this visualizsation of the material features, the dwelling living beings as well as scientific research of the "Critical Zone" Observatory Strengbach, we can detect a curious turn-around of orientation, so that the atmosphere is in the middle, and the layers of deeper earth on the outside of the circular map. The effect is a highlighting of the dynamic movement of beings and material. Thus, to situate ourselves as folds within folds may even mean to turn the very importance of center and periphery inside out, towards the importance of the dynamic circular processes themselves. Latour introduces this possibility in dealing with anthropocentrism: "What makes the idea of a choice for or against anthropocentrism quite implausible is the assumption that there is a center, or rather two, man and nature, between one supposedly has to choose. And even more bizarre is the idea that this circle has such well-defined boundaries that they would leave everything else outside. As if there were an outside" ("Down to Earth").

What if center and periphery are both everywhere? You are invited to follow this tutorial and let yourself tumble, your perspective fold, and your feeling of the world be surprised.

With special thanks to the temporary collective Láu for the experimental sound collage.


Video Tutorial #4: On the state of flux: traveling through and with

"If the Terrestrial is no longer the framework for human action, it is because it participates in that action. […] Space has become an agitated history in which we are participants […]." ("Down to Earth"). 

Bruno Latour shows that the territory we believed to be our stable ground has vanished – we are now confronted with the notion that former fixed lines of orientation, be it politically or intellectually, are dissolving, or bending, or spinning. "How are we to orient ourselves?" ("Down to Earth"). We learn from the science of the Critical Zone and Gaia-theory that all life-forms and their material worlds are acting in a fine balance, in repeating cycles and adjustments over various lengths of time, and that the human being appears as a disruptive force within them. 

How to engage, how to learn new tools, how to move on when every step seems to be relying too much on a former security, too blind for refined balances? How to be through and with the framework that Latour mentioned in the quote above?

Latour juxtaposes the known system of production with a system of engendering, which »is not interested in producing goods, for humans, on the basis of resources, but in engendering terrestrials – not just humans, but all terrestrials.« And he goes on to state that in this kind of system, "all the animated beings raise questions about descendants and forebears: in short, the question of how to recognize and insert oneself within lineages that will manage to last." ("Down to Earth").

Let’s look at lines of movement, at traveling through and with space. And let’s go for a walk, though this could be applied to any other way of moving you prefer. Let’s go for a walk as walking is a simple way to notice and experience that we are in a constant state of flux, a process of adjusting in response to our own anatomies as well as to the material and living forms we are traveling through and with. 

With special thanks to Marlon for support in camera and sound.


Video Tutorial #5: On being part of the frame: Dwelling


In the last Video Tutorial #4, we already dealt with moving through and with the framework – the framework meaning a common way of looking at the world as a territory that human action is placed in. I quoted Bruno Latour in saying that the framework now "participates in that action. […] Space has become an agitated history in which we are participants […]." ("Down to Earth"). 

In Video-Tutorial #5, titled "On being part of the frame: Dwelling« we want to explore anew this idea that in the Terrestrial, there is no distinction between the frame and our action. As much as the frame takes part in the action, we are part of the frame. Another word that can be used to describe this perspective is dwelling: to take into account a multiplicity of actors which are co-producing the world rather than categorizing »organisms on the one side and an environment on the other" ("Down to Earth"). 

How can we practice this? How to move from looking at the environment as if we would look through a frame to dwelling as part of this frame?

 Is it about getting closer? Latour makes clear that "one cannot pass through a series of interlocking scales, as in the illusory impression of zooming that we can get from Google Earth" ("Down to Earth"). How to grasp this parallelism of our own being and the being as part of something, and within this parallelism the co-production of the world? 

Let us practice to dwell by attending to our body and looking at the space around us as if they would be scenes or frames. Let us play with the idea that we can step in and out of those frames, and notice the changes that manifest in our perception. 

With special thanks to Marlon for support in installation and to the temporary collective Láu for support in sound collage.


Video Tutorial #6: On urgency: taking time to be productive

It seems like things might already be too late, at least they are very urgent ones: climate change is not waiting for us. It calls for productivity and action, yet blind efficiency seems to be one of the things that lead us here.

In “Down to Earth” Bruno Latour distinguishes between production and engendering. In a historical sense of the word production denoted a system in which nature was taken “as a mere ‘factor in production’, a resource that was precisely external, indifferent to our actions […].”  Earth was no agent to be part of the system, it was to be calculated for efficient, fast production of goods. But, as I quoted Latour already in #5, “there are not organisms on one side and an environment on the other, but a coproduction by both” (“Down to Earth”). These dependencies could, according to Latour, be better described and analyzed in a system of engendering. 

To reflect on dependencies and coproduction, to change from one system to another, we need to remain curious and imaginative. How to, though, as curiosity and imagination take time? They demand testing, failing, pausing, reacting. 

We can practice to wait. Even though there seems to be no time, we can practice to take time to be productive. If we do take time in order to perceive, witness, play, to be attentive, may we end up discovering – engendering? 


Performative Video Tutorials

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