FOP


Cosmos Night: Flood of Light
08.08.2019, 10:14 am
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FOP/smudge 002019

The night sky isn’t dark at all. Literally, within what we’ve been calling darkness, there is a radiance of light.

There is a way to empirically experience the flood of photons flowing through the seemingly dark sky: view the Moon at night. As you allow the photons bouncing off of the moon to enter your eyes, visualize the “dark” space between the earth and the moon, the moon and the sun, indeed — the entire 360 degree space around the sun — as what it actually is: brimming with blindingly bright photons that are missing the moon as they wave past and away from it at the speed of light.

Many people might be familiar with the sutra made famous by Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. It uses the analogy of a finger pointing to the moon to remind us about mistaking the pointing finger for the moon. It’s a lesson in realizing that the word we use to describe an object or experience is not the object or experience it points to.  

Grammars of western languages compel us to think in terms of subjects and objects, insides and outsides, me and that-other-over-there. But the space-time continuum of the night sky is a non-duality. Light is moving within the dark, and dark is moving within the light.

Light. Darkness. Not one. Not two.

Our current project, Cosmos Night: Flood of Light, is a micro-production for engaging these ideas. We will stage its first iteration at Arts Letters & Numbers early next month for a group of resident artists, culture workers and community members. We offer it, and its various future iterations, as radical acts of hospitality for living daily life within the Anthropocene.

The work is part empirical observation, part moon-viewing gathering, part act of self-cultivation and part participant co-production. It will include experiencing the waxing September moon, a 22-page risograph zine created for the occasion, and a moon-viewing tea service. Tea will be offered in the spirit of the Taoist sages, court poets, tea monks, and all others who have taken time to pause and find aesthetic means for aligning their lives, bodies, and minds with the vast forces of the cosmos.

We have created this micro-production for the joy and meaning that results when humans cultivate relationality with vast, geo/cosmo forces. We see it as being a practice for working with our minds and the languages we use as we live through the unprecedented change of the Anthropocene. Our aim is to provide an aesthetic medium for accessing what is magnificently beyond us by re-weaving brains, bodies and minds back into the cosmos.

Each time we nest seemingly commonplace activities of daily life–such as moon viewing and tea drinking–within cosmological forces and scales, we perform a vital aesthetic-ecological act.

from the program for ALN micro-production, Cosmos Night: Flood of Light, risograph zine

Our research and preparation for the project found quite a few examples of human awareness of the material reality that dark exists within light, light exists within dark. Our risograph zine produced for Cosmos Night: Flood of Light is our creative response to these examples. One is the Sandokai, a Chinese poem from the 700s (which we’ve written about before) reads in part: Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light.”). And, in David Hinton’s translation of a collection of Zen koans (No-Gate Gateway), Case #39, entitled “CLOUD GATE ALL WRONG” begins, “A monk asked Cloud-Gate Mountain, Radiant brilliance silently illuminates this Cosmos vast as Ganges sands…”

We are inspired by the history of humans sitting still, observing, sensing, thinking, and creating in relation to the vast material realities that shape our lives intimately—while using nothing more or less than their brains/bodies/minds. 

Cosmos Night: Flood of Light aims to be an occasion where, together with participants, we will empirically experience the 360 degrees of wild, blinding light stretching before us for billions of light-years, and unhinge a few of the names we’ve used to point at (and miss) the wildly unpredictable forces that are neither nameable objects nor binary opposites: night, day, light, dark, sun, moon. We hope to do this in an undistracted state, using the “technologies” of our bodies, the out of doors, the night sky, and aesthetic experience. We hope to gain (re-discover?) an embodied experience of reweaving our selves into the cosmos. 

Additional documentation will be posted in October 002019.

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Cosmos Night: Flood of Light is part of a larger, ongoing project Koans for the Anthropocene, through which we aim to offer local, ephemeral, unrepeatable acts of aesthetic hospitality. Through Koans, we invite audiences to pay close attention to the ever-shifting and impermanent conditions of life on Earth by enframing seemingly commonplace activities of everyday life (the drinking of tea, the awareness of sunlight) within perspectives on time, landscape, and interactivity that are geologic in scale. By offering embodied experiences of the Anthropocene nested within the cosmological, we aim to deepen collective abilities to re-scale human expectations of stability and predictability, without sinking into distraction or despair, and to creatively inhabit Earth’s ever-changing conditions.



Living the Improbable
04.12.2019, 4:42 pm
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“Human beings were catastrophists at heart until their instinctive awareness of Earth’s unpredictability was supplanted by a belief in uniformitarianism — … and also a range of government practices informed by statistical probability.” – Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement

impact, smudge studio 002019

We recommend two pieces of reading, perhaps most effectively experienced side by side. Amitav Ghosh’s 2016 The Great Derangement and Michael Preston’s “The Day the Dinosaurs Died” from the April 8th, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.

They resonate deeply with ideas shaping our current work and process, and reading them has helped to segue us into our upcoming projects. The book and article also renewed our sense that creative practice will continue to play a vital role in how the Anthropocene unfolds from here.

For Ghosh, “The Great Derangement” is the “time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into modes of concealment that prevented people from recognizing the realities of their plight...” as agents of the Anthropocene. He sees forms of Modern writing as distracting (mostly Western) humans from sensing, noting, or being able to imagine the Anthropocene events that have been taking shape over the last 100 years. Ironically, this potentially catastrophic distraction is chronic in an era that “self-congratulates itself on self-awareness.”

In The Day the Dinosaur’s Died, Preston, via Roger Shattuck, reiterates Gosh’s lament that, “Twentieth century art has tended to ‘search itself’ rather than exterior reality” and “human consciousness and identity [has been] placed at the center of every kind of aesthetic enterprise.”

Humans aren’t the reason for, nor are they the culmination of, Earth’s 4.6 billion year existence. Ignoring this has been unhealthy for our species — and many many other species on Earth. Ghosh posits that art has had a significant role in preventing modern humans from making meaningful contact with this perspective.

Preston dramatically reveals this perspective to be scientific fact. “The Day the Dinosaurs Died” literally blows our self-referential, self-congratulatory impulses to bits by vividly reminding inhabitants of Earth that our planet is not immune from the destructive-generative forces of the cosmos. He actually reminds us that as indifferent and random as they might seem, we are indebted to these forces. They paved the way for our own species’ evolution 66 million years ago. The KT boundary-marking asteroid ushered in the opportunity for new forms of mammalian life to thrive and evolve in the Paleogene (including, eventually, we humans) via the total obliteration of nearly life forms all that had thrived in the age of dinosaurs. Best we don’t forget the generative, ongoing power of the geo/cosmos, as Ghosh admonishes.

Though not written as the Anthropocenian fiction or “literary art” that Gosh wishes for, Preston’s piece is filled with awe-inspiring wonder and gripping storytelling. It left us with a lingering sensation of the extent to which the actual material reality of living on Earth is wildly unpredictable, and fascinating — in some ways even more compelling than what we humans have creatively imagined about the fact of our existence on Earth thus far. All of what humans make…is derivative.

Case in point, from Preston:

“When Earth’s crust rebounded, a peak higher than Mt. Everest briefly rose up… a gigantic jet of molten material, which exited the atmosphere, some of it fanning out over North America. Much of the material was several times hotter than the surface of the sun, and it set fire to everything within a thousand miles. In addition, an inverted cone of liquefied, superheated rock rose, spread outward as countless red-hot blobs of glass, called tektites, and blanketed the Western Hemisphere.

Some of the ejecta escaped Earth’s gravitational pull and went into irregular orbits around the sun. Over millions of years, bits of it found their way to other planets and moons in the solar system… A 2013 study in the journal Astrobiology estimated that tens of thousands of pounds of impact rubble may have landed on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and on Europa and Callisto, which orbit Jupiter—three satellites that scientists believe may have promising habitats for life. 

The asteroid was vaporized on impact. Its substance, mingling with vaporized Earth rock, formed a fiery plume, which reached halfway to the moon before collapsing in a pillar of incandescent dust. Computer models suggest that the atmosphere within fifteen hundred miles of ground zero became red hot from the debris storm, triggering gigantic forest fires. As the Earth rotated, the airborne material converged at the opposite side of the planet, where it fell and set fire to the entire Indian subcontinent. Measurements of the layer of ash and soot that eventually coated the Earth indicate that fires consumed about seventy per cent of the world’s forests. Meanwhile, giant tsunamis resulting from the impact churned across the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up coastlines, sometimes peeling up hundreds of feet of rock, pushing debris inland and then sucking it back out into deep water, leaving jumbled deposits that oilmen sometimes encounter in the course of deep-sea drilling.

The damage had only begun. Scientists still debate many of the details, which are derived from the computer models, and from field studies of the debris layer, knowledge of extinction rates, fossils and microfossils, and many other clues. But the over-all view is consistently grim. The dust and soot from the impact and the conflagrations prevented all sunlight from reaching the planet’s surface for months. Photosynthesis all but stopped, killing most of the plant life, extinguishing the phytoplankton in the oceans, and causing the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to plummet. After the fires died down, Earth plunged into a period of cold, perhaps even a deep freeze. Earth’s two essential food chains, in the sea and on land, collapsed. About seventy-five per cent of all species went extinct. More than 99.9999 per cent of all living organisms on Earth died, and the carbon cycle came to a halt.”

Humans evolved within the aftermath of this chaos. We owe our existence to it. No one knows what material outcomes the Anthropocene will usher into reality over the next few decades, but we are in the midst of many unfolding extinctions.

Ghosh argues that it is the responsibility of artists and writers to imagine possibilities. We agree. Though Ghosh is primarily making his case for the field of literary fiction, we feel this applies to the visual arts, politics and beyond. He calls for art that “communicates with vividness, the uncanniness and improbability, the magnitude and the interconnectedness of the transformations that are now underway.”  One strategy for moving toward this vision is to move away from distorted notions of time and history as “continuous, irreversible, forward movement, led by an avant-garde.”

Our intuition is that American culture might have arrived at a point of being able accept that it is time to learn to co-exist with uncertainty; that we should indeed prepare to live through what, according to economic, environmental, and environmental statistics, might have seemed improbable only a few decades ago; that we can learn something vital about uncertainty by making engaging the geological and cosmological realities that intimately shape our lives. A real and meaningful connection exists between our lives today and the wild forces that have continually shaped and re-shaped our planet over billions of years. To make this connection is the aim of our work as “environmental” artists.

The environmental challenges (floods, fires, droughts, historic storms, etc.) over the last few years are pressuring our culture into a state humility. Denial, habitual beliefs and simple answers on what “to do” or how to “solve” the climate crisis have shifted somewhat, giving way to more unsettling realizations. The emerging awareness of endless entanglement reflects just how complex the issues are: simply not using plastic bags is not an environmental “solution”; there is no single plant-based milk that “solves” questions of sustainable farming or nutrition in the Anthropocene.

The unsettled and uncertain is a worthy place from which to initiate creative work — it’s real.

Together, Preston and Ghosh make a strong case for recalling that our planet and its species is not immune from the improbable. Myths of Modernism might have made humans feel temporarily safe, mistakenly leading us to believe we could engineer everything and anything, but this has never been a reality.

The logics that created the Anthropocene will not offer us the pathways we will need for living the Anthropocene.

Sensing the connections between human experience and cosmological change, as abstract and improbable as they seem, opens space for accessing our species’ instinctual awareness of planetary unpredictability. It also opens space for (modern) humility. If we are less surprised when change of all magnitudes comes, we might respond differently to the (ever-changing) pressures of everyday life within the Anthropocene. Change is inevitable. How we live it can be intentional, well considered, and creative. 

It is the job of artists to make the material realities of life on Earth something livable, even if how is not yet imaginable from here. But, if we no longer look for solutions, or for “heroes”, we can free up our focus for the urgent tasks at hand. There is a much more interesting and lively story unfolding (outside!) and it can be re-learned. We have always been living with and in the improbable.

 

 

 



Earthly Impressions: Drinking Tea at the Tilt of the Earth is an Ecological Act
03.13.2019, 8:45 pm
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tea1.jpg

On March 1st and 2nd, smudge studio staged a micro-production at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle. Our project was hosted by the Earthly Impressions:  Book, Text and Archive in the Anthropocene symposium, convened by The Anthropocene Research Cluster at the University of Washington.

During two afternoon sessions, we offered Tea at the Tilt of the Earth to two small groups of symposium participants and members of the public. Both days, the event began at solar noon (12:21 pm in Seattle).

Upon arriving at the Henry’s auditorium, guests received a short introduction and then invited to take a seat on the stage and observe an array of the Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacups.  In silence, they read a card contextualizing the micro-production within the themes of the symposium, while shade-grown sencha from Japan was brewed and served. After 15 minutes of silent reading and drinking of tea, we moved into James Turrell’s Light Reign Skyspace at the Gallery for discussion. The light, air and change in temperature of the bright, early March afternoon poured in through the open roof of the Skyspace, and co-mingled with Anthropocene-infused forces. Planes passed through the framed sky overhead and traffic sounds filtered in through the open ceiling and door.

During the discussion, participants expressed appreciation for the chance to pause within the busy flow of the symposium, as well as a chance to sit with one another (mostly strangers) in silence. They also said they welcomed the material prompt of the tilted cups which invited them to project their imaginations into planetary-scale forces, and pause to intentionally experience how our own bodies are “impressed” by those forces at the scale of the everyday. The tea was also savored!

This is the first Tea at the Tilt of the Earth event that smudge studio has offered in 002019. We look forward to further collaborations and offering context-specific micro-productions in the near future.

 

*sincere thanks to our generous host Jason Groves. All images this page FOP, 002019, micro-production photography by Stefan Gonzales.



This is Where We Are, Tipped Towards 002019
11.27.2018, 11:43 am
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Our planet continues to move around the sun at a remarkable 67,000 miles per hour. Its season-inducing movement plays out in countless ways across the systems of Earth. As we orbit towards winter solstice on December 21st,  Earth’s 23.5º axial tilt tips the Northern Hemisphere further away from the sun and into its winter months.

In honor of this ongoing change that will bring a conclusion to 002018, we offer one more chance this year to order your own Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacup. You can learn more about the cups and order one or more on smudge studio’s website. Thanks to the inspiring home studio set-up of our production collaborators Zachary Fields and Janna Dewan  in Portland, Maine, they were produced using 100% solar power (kiln, wheels, lighting etc.).

We are very happy to make the cups available for your efforts to ground and connect daily life with the larger material conditions that shape life on Earth.

Each cup is shipped with a certificate of authenticity of its limited edition and an “instruction” card for invited use.

Finding ways to practice daily life at the scale of the geo/cosmo magnitude is an ecological practice that is becoming more and more vital each day.

Bill McKibben recently wrote in the New Yorker:

“The poorest and most vulnerable will pay the highest price. But already, even in the most affluent areas, many of us hesitate to walk across a grassy meadow because of the proliferation of ticks bearing Lyme disease which have come with the hot weather; we have found ourselves unable to swim off beaches, because jellyfish, which thrive as warming seas kill off other marine life, have taken over the water. The planet’s diameter will remain eight thousand miles, and its surface will still cover two hundred million square miles. But the earth, for humans, has begun to shrink, under our feet and in our minds.”

We appreciate McKibben’s geological scale of thinking. This brilliantly concise paragraph spans the local, global, personal, political, social, human and the non-human — all of which exist within the larger, seemingly indifferent cosmological forces. The geo/cosmo scale out of which we evolved precedes our existence and is far from reliant upon us. What if we hadn’t developed so many life ways that encourage and allow us forget this important empirical fact?

And yet, this is where we are. Drinking tea at the tilt of the earth invites us to re-weave our modern-encultured consciousness back into the cosmos.

The photograph on smudge studio’s winter solstice and 002019 “holiday card” (part of a series that we have been producing for 15 years) was taken inside the Fowler Dune Shack, located in the Provincelands of Cape Cod’s National Seashore, during our September residency, where we worked on our ongoing Turning into the Night project.

In late-November, we had the good fortune to return to the Sleeve House, designed by our friends at actual / office, and take up Turning into the Night from within a space that seems designed for it. The house is sited in a rural setting near the Hudson Valley, where it escapes nearly all urban light. Poised atop small hill, the structure includes expansive windows that channel light from all directions, affording a heightened awareness of the constantly moving sun and moon, and the ever-changing weather conditions. Despite being solar-powered and insulated to the point that air infiltration is practically zero, the Sleeve House is one of the most “porous” buildings we have inhabited. Our awareness of the expansive landscape remained acute even while residing inside the building. Our stay inspired us to renew our commitment to adapt Turning into the Night to the winter season and to continue learning from the consequential, continuous change that is generated by our planet’s movement.

 

*sincere thanks to actual / office for making our second micro-residency at the Sleeve House possible.

** all images this post FOP 2018



Drink from the Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacup
10.22.2018, 11:39 am
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After nearly a year of prototyping and research, we are pleased to announce a new project, Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacup. A limited edition of 70 hand-thrown porcelain tea cups is now available.

The project draws on embodied experiences of the past year, in particular, East is a Circle and Turning into the Night.

As artists, we are curious about what happens when we attempt to hold the thought of Earth-magnitude processes, and experience them at the scale of local, daily-life practices. We consider this embodiment to be a form of environmental practice. Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacup signals and responds to the highly consequential fact that the Earth rotates at an angle as it orbits the sun. The planet’s tilted spin generates continuous change that directly shapes the ongoing evolution of Earth-life. It causes the transitions from day to night as well as seasons, temperatures, ocean currents, and climates. Human bodies/brains/minds literally embody these forces in our multiple biological and cultural clocks.

We look forward to activating the project in upcoming micro-productions, were we will prepare and offer tea to guests — and invite them to drink at the tilt of the earth. And we look forward to being able to offer these cups for personal use, in daily life, to anyone who is interested in creating their own practice for attuning to the tilt of the earth.

We offer this cup as a material tale. Its unique form both invites and accommodates a humble gesture — the drinking of tea — in a way that orients one’s body and gestures toward an awareness of planetary forces. We also offer this cup as means for reorienting daily life within the Anthropocene.

As the first in a series of material tales, the teacups are a departure from smudge studio’s previous projects, in particular printed works and multiples that included   text-based books, postcards, field guides and calendars. Like the multiples, the tea cups are designed to be affordable, easily distributed, portable, and taken up in one’s own daily life. As material tales, they are objects that embody, in a poetic way, smudge studio’s core conceptual interests and offer inspiration for living within the Anthropocene.

Each porcelain cup has been handmade in Portland, Maine by our production collaborators for the project, ceramic artisans Janna DeWan and Zachary Fields. Over several weeks, Janna and Zachary developed specially designed tools to create the stability and accuracy of the 23.5º tilt.

The foot of each cup is stamped with the kanji for tea (茶) at a 23.5º angle, and the year of production: 002018. Each cup is packaged with a “tale” for activating it and a handmade certificate of its limited-edition.

We welcome pre-orders now.  All cups will be shipped by December 1st, 002018.

Thank you for your support, and we hope your experience of drinking tea at the tilt of the earth becomes a meaningful practice for meeting and living the Anthropocene.

 

 



Within Dark there is Light, Within Light there is Dark: Autumn Equinox in the Provincelands
09.23.2018, 4:02 pm
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all images this post, unless otherwise noted, FOP 002018, Fowler Shack

Last night at 9:54pm EDT, autumn began in the Northern Hemisphere. We were fortunate enough to mark the arrival of this new season on the same day that we departed from a week-long residency at the Fowler Dune Shack. The shack was built in 1949 and is located in the Provincelands of the Cape Cod National Seashore, far from urban lights and sounds. It is a rare context for living in intimate proximity with the Atlantic Ocean.

Turning into the Night continues, and our time at Fowler was an incredible incubator that deepened our project of living with and attuning to the changing light of the season. We have, of course, noticed the dramatic shift that’s taken place since we started the project in late May. The sun rises more than an hour later now and sets more than two hours later than when we began. Though we aren’t sure how we will adapt and augment the project to the lengthening periods of darkness in the coming weeks, we’re committed to continuing. We feel are learn something vital from paying close attention to the transitions that sunlight is undergoing. We feel it will inform our ongoing work about living daily life in the Anthropocene. And certainly, our awareness of seasonal change is greatly increased because of the project.

On the day before we left the Fowler dune shack, we held a tea ceremony to mark the seasonal turn. This year, we used tea to pause with the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, and will make tea for the Winter Solstice in December.

Tea on the deck while half in sunlight and half in dark shadow, just as the Earth is on equinox. Tea again at 1pm (noon Sun time) while sitting on the sand upon a long, narrow paper place setting. The white paper line ran directly east-west on the side of the dune–each end pointing out the places on the horizon that the sun will rise and set only on equinox (Super 8 footage, forthcoming).

Five thousand years ago, due to their close observations and attention to planetary movement and change, the ancient Chinese discovered that the yearly changes of seasons and progressions of Earth’s shadow composed the what we now recognize as the ying yang graphic. They used an 8 foot tall pole to cast and record the sun’s shadow daily, and found that the shortest shadow falls on Summer Solstice, and the longest shadow on Winter Solstice (read more here).

 

image, Allen Tsai

Our project, Turning into the Night, has found a deep a home within the lines of Zen ancestor Shitou’s 1300 year old poem entitled the Sandokai (known in English as the Identity of the Relative and Absolute). We first encountered the poem several years ago. Now, both our project and the increased pressure of the Anthropocene have opened new pathways into two of its lines: “Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light”. John Daido Loori’s translation (available via Zen Mountain Monastery), in particular links us to the deep, enigmatic roots of Daoism, which conceptualized human existence within evolving planetary limits.

We look forward to sharing more about how we will translate this poem, our time in Fowler, and our continuing engagement with Turning into the Night into shareable works and experiences for audiences in the coming months. Enjoy the changing light.

 

 

 

 

 



The Power of Now: Opening at Pasquart Art Centre
09.06.2018, 3:28 pm
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We are happy to announce our piece The Last Eight Minutes: Everything We take to be a Constant is Changing is included in an exhibition entitled The Power of Now, opening September 8th at the Pasquart Art Centre, Switzerland.

Curated by Samuel Leuenberger and Felicity Lunn, the exhibition examines “the aesthetic and cultural significance of time within contemporary narratives and its impact on how we structure our lives and experiences. In their work, the 34 international artists selected for the exhibition explore the temporal nature of labour and leisure, politics and power, the body and representation or technology and memory. Due to the complexity of the concept of time, the exhibition is divided into four thematic groupings: Time and its Discontents, Sculpting Time, Capture: Staging the Live, Speculative and Planetary Time.”

The Last Eight Minutes is included in the exhibition under the thematic, Speculative and Planetary Time, and invites visitors to experience the 8 minutes and 21 seconds that it takes (at this time of year) for light to travel from the sun to windows of the gallery space.

installation images courtesy Samuel Leuenberger, 2018

Visitors to the gallery are offered a seat and a card that introduces the intentions the work:

For the Pasquart exhibition, we designed a unique clock that divides a single hour into seven segments of 8 minutes and 21 seconds. Visitors to the gallery can use the clock as a visual reference for the duration of time it takes photons of the sun’s light to travel 93,000,000 miles and bathe everything seen in the room and outside the window through eight minute old light.

 smudge studio designed clock for The Last Eight Minutes (7 sections of 8 minutes and 21 seconds)

The show runs until November 18, 002018.