fold #06 on Re-imagination

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fold #06 on Re-imagining

Graphics by Jinhye Lee

Full programme

Dates:
December 2022 – March 2022

 

Fold #06 on Re-imagining
Ambassador
Tessa Zettel (AU)

03.12.2022 – 21.01.2023
Steffie de Gaetano in WARP #07
Exhibition: Permeance

 

 

 

 

 

This research text is
part our long-term programme
on art and sustainability in fold #06
on Re-imagining

 

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Find the full reading list on Re-imagining here

Unfolding Re-imagining

Imagining again, forming new approaches to old problems, re-creating – this is what it means to re-imagine. To re-design, re-think, re-make, re-define, re-interpret – in all these senses re-imagining involves a return to what we know but with a renewed gaze. Now that we have moved through an awakening, we can mobilise ourselves to look with fresh eyes at the world. In fold #06 on Re-imagining, we commit ourselves to explore what it means to go back to practices that are familiar. But instead, work hard in the exercise of rethinking them. This act has the potential to instigate an epistemic rupture with the past, yet promises to carve out paths for knowing anew. 

b(re)aking from past knowledge

To re-imagine is not simply looking or conceptualising again, but also implies a break from established practices. We can think of these as inflexible ways of knowing and of doing things – as habits that are sedimented into our actions. “Sedimentation”, in this sense, is spoken about in depth by French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.  In his seminal work, Phenomenology of Perception (1945), he describes sedimentation as the processes through which we absorb information about our surroundings. He argues that we are structured like this so that we may interact with our environment intelligently, with little to no effort. Many complex actions, like riding a bike for example or typing on a computer, become sedimented in our bodies and turn into habits. These habits are of course made up of many small fragments of information that come together to form fixed structures of knowledge. The same holds too for our thinking and how we make things. Just as a river accumulates particles and debris of passing sand, so do we as we go through life and store bits of information. Gradually and unconsciously, these build up into a bedrock of understanding which ultimately guides our behaviour in the world. 

To break out of our sedimented practices and to create new knowledge, we must go through the process of unlearning. But what is unlearning? How does it come to bear on the concept of re-imagining? Grisold et al. define this as “a cognitive process where subjects reduce the influence of old knowledge for the sake of creating new knowledge and/or patterns of thinking” (2017, 4622). To re-imagine, then, is to vigorously shake the body and the mind out of settled and well-established paradigms and to cause a rupture with all that we think that we know. Let us therefore think of re-imagining as attentiveness, as critique, as well as the capacity and willingness to change. Going forward, this fold will explore the points of rupture with the past and novel ways of exploring the future.

(re)visiting sustainability

In light of SEA Foundation’s commitment to the theme of art and sustainability, it is important to ask “what role does re-imagining play in this project?” There has been a trend in climate thinking recently that also pushes the idea of re-thinking. One which proposes we re-frame the debate surrounding environmental disaster, so that we may move past the geo-political impasses we are faced with. A key thinker of note here is Bruno Latour. In his Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime (2018), he calls for a re-imagining of our relationship with nature. Specifically, we take on a more synergistic relationship with ecologies and move past debates that get stuck in the dichotomies of “the local” and “the global”. This reframing reconceptualises nature as an agent. In such a framework nature is able to respond to and interact with anthropocentric society; it becomes an active agent. This metaphorical description of our relationality with nature lifts it up and rethinks it as a participant in the discussion, as opposed to merely the background or setting for human existence.  

Fabulistic (re)telling of our place on Earth

Re-imagining is as much about sharing knowledge as it is discovering it. As such, the practice of storytelling and exchange is pivotal to SEA Foundation’s understanding of re-imagining. Within the literary and artistic fields, the term “eco-fabulism” describes a type of story telling that centres on fictional depictions of environmental crises. Author Katharine Haake, writer of Assumptions We Might Make About The Postworld (2017), tells us that fabulists use supernatural elements to draw attention to the political and cultural landscape. As such, this type of storytelling becomes a crucial site for protest.  What can fabulism open up for us in the context of re-imagining? 

For Matt Bell, eco-fabulism in particular is pivotal for rethinking our narratives concerning climate change. This branch of storytelling draws from the supernatural elements of, for example, Latin American or African cultures to speak about the spiritual, cultural, and political impacts of environmentalism. He writes; “we’ve always needed non-realist stories to deal with the real world: among other things, these stories make the familiar strange again, allowing us to more easily see the world we live in […] To ignore the non-realist and fabulist ways of telling stories is to give up other ways of investigating the problems of the world we share.” In this sense, eco-fabulism becomes an important facet of the re-imagining fold insofar as it is capable of shifting the grounds onto which we build our epistemic structures. Through re-telling we may come to understand our relationship to the world outside of scientism and embrace primordial connectivity to nature once more. This inevitably has profound implications for how we re-imagine sustainability and the way our artistic practices may come to bear on this.

Weathering and (re)building community

The ambassador for this fold is activist and scholar Tessa Zettel. Fold #06 of Re-Imagining therefore also takes as a central starting point. In her article, co-authored with Jennifer Mae Hamilton and Astrida Neimanis, “Feminist Infrastructure for Better Weathering” (2021), they work against neoliberal and big infrastructure approaches to climate change. Zettel et al. critique in particular “resilience” based responses to climate change. Instead, they develop a practice-led research method that attempts to facilitate better weathering. Setting up various low-stakes and experimental spaces for individuals to be vulnerable together, whilst discussing environmental issues over e.g. a breakfast by a lake, a haircut, a workshop, Zettel, Hamilton, and Neimanis attempt to carve out alternative, non-capitalistic spaces for “better weathering” climate change together. By encouraging vulnerable conversations between strangers, the practices that Zettel and her colleagues set up presents to us a bridge between our heads and our hands. To create strong infrastructures for better weathering, we must speak with others about our views and feelings surrounding the environment. In this setting, much as with eco-fabulism, we come again to know ourselves and nature through being situated in the stories of others. It puts a new spin on ancient oral traditions of passing down information through spoken word.

The significance of “weathering” in this feminist configuration is its ability to bring us back to an embodied and temporal experience of climate change. Importantly, this not only includes the obvious meteorological shifts, but also recognises how our bodies “weather” a total atmosphere of socio-political, geological, or cultural changes implicitly included in the climate crisis.

Reading sources

Bell, Matt. Appleseed. Custom House. 2021

Grisold, Thomas, Alexander Kaiser, Julee Hafner. “Unlearning before creating new knowledge: A cognitive process”. HCISS. University of Hawaii. 4614-4623.

Hamilton, J. M., Zetta, T. & Neimanis, A. “Feminist Infrastructure for Better Weathering”. Australian Feminist Studies, 36:109, 237-259

Latour, Bruno. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime. Polity Press. 2018.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception (1945). London: New York. Routledge. 1974.

 

This is only a selection of reading resources on Re-imagining. For the full reading, list suggestions visit the Re-imagining reading list.

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