Practice as Passage | Steilneset Memorial Vardø
06.13.2014, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

image_1“He [a Sami from Vahranger by the name of Anders Pouelsen] also said that when he lifts the rune drum high into the air, or when his son Christopher lifts the stone high into the air, they will get an answer, just as two persons do when they speak to each other … when asked, [he] replied that when he learnt the rune drum craft from his mother, it happened because he wanted to know how people were faring far away, whether they were enjoying good fortune, and he wanted to know whether travellers will be in luck, and he wanted to help people in distress, and with his art he wanted to do good, and his mother said that she would teach him such an art. He himself had not asked to learn. He was questioned further at length, and he abided by his previous confession and did not change it in any way, nor would he confess more about his activities than that this was an art of playing the drum with which he had done no harm. Thus, on the basis if what has been confessed, the following was decided. After diligent examination and due consideration of the nature of this case and of Anders Pouelsen’s length confession, we have learnt how exhorted creatures, represented by figures on his rune drum, indue him to believe, at the Devil’s whim, the acts and signs he asked about and looks for, acts and signs which according to him are indeed confirmed by events, and he states that he has learnt this craft from his mother and another Sami in his youth.”  — from written records of the The Witchcraft Trials in Finnmark Northern Norway, Liv Helene Willumsen (p.377-392,  the Regional State Archives of Tromsø | The Archives of Finnmark District Magistrate No. 25 | Records of Court Proceedings 1692-1695)*

A variety of planetary equilibria made it possible for the human species to evolve.  Human activities on a global scale are now pushing those equilibria to their tipping points.  Our species continues to act in ways that exceed the “limits” of its own “world” on this planet.   As part of our current field research, we (smudge) have been enacting a particular, performative “turning” and “inhabitation of change”.   Through this “performative research,” we bring our own psychological states and material embodiments to sites and moments in which we, as humans, meet up with and address earth forces.  Our wager is that our encounters with earth forces will activate recognitions of our personal, cultural, and perhaps even species limits.

Outside the Steilneset Memorial in Vardø, Norway, we paused for a good part of this morning on a vibrant edge of a geological formation that is possibly over 2 billion years old.  The vertical tilt of black rock that began as horizontal strata signaled dynamic forces that animate the earth’s continuous enfolding, unfolding, and refolding.  Perhaps those Europeans who tried and burned Sami people and supposed witches in the 1600s near the monument and these rocks, feared not only the power of the Sami people, but also the sensation that these rocks induce:  the sensation that the earth is an animate force.

The present situation of our species is that we live on a planet that is now moving farther from equilibrium.  This situation is an accumulation of moments, events, and actions in which humans did not attune to the limits of Earth’s most recent equilibria.  The process we (smudge) have been practicing in the past few weeks (an aesthetic/psychological/physical “turning at the limits of the world”) distances us, however gently, from 21st century affordances.  It positions us where forces that configure and reconfigure the planet’s material realities can reach us.  When we step into the practice, we try to sense forces pressing upon us (geographic, geologic, cultural, historical, psychological, etc.) more barely than they do in everyday life.  The practice gives us time and place to remember, acknowledge and respect the reality that humans cannot reign in or control planetary changes now underway.  The practice is ritual in the sense that it is an end unto itself.  It is not about communication, teaching or creating change other than within ourselves, while we are in the process.  It is highly internal, psychological, and individual — while at the same time it is highly connective across human and nonhuman distance and difference.  Proof of the practice is that it has successfully set up occasions in which we think and feel highly entangled with dynamic and changing earth forces at “edges or limits of the world.”  It is a humbling reminder and provocation to know and be with human-animal feelings of exposure to our individual and species’ limits — instead of attempting to tame, control or ignore them.


What can be learned when we invite, respect and turn towards the difference that these feelings present, and do so with something other than fear?

Contemporary Western-encultured humans have lost touch with the limits of the world, and our imaginations and capacities as Western-encultured designers and citizens are impoverished as a result. Turning at the Limits of the World is our attempt to turn our own practice towards a necessary  difference.

We performed the following turn on Friday, June 13, 2014, via passage through Peter Zumthor’s Memory Hall, Louise Bourgeois The Damned, The Possessed, The Beloved  and the Earth’s adjacent shoreline in Vardø, Norway.



*according to the Guidebook distributed at the Steilneset Monument and produced by the Varanger Museum, Anders Pouelsen was 100 years old. His case was deferred, but he was murdered with an axe while in legal custody. All images this post FOP 2014.







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