Renga for the Fifth Season: Phats Valley Residency
09.25.2014, 12:52 pm
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no proper vantage
I look to
can the app explain
why I cannot read the sky
from within the fifth season?

September’s insects
my ears must turn to find you
no use, you call from every
mountain as you search for your
spring summer autumn winter

formal connection.
the silhouette of Corn Hill
the mounds of Fresh Kills.
what colors the grasses that
spring from the City’s navel?

says the New York Times today:
east coast exodus.
Traveling today’s gentle tide
with new appreciation

autumn equinox,
no matter our doings here
sun keeps its own course.
from the ground, a growing sense:
balance is a distant star.



How might a 1200 year-old, seasonally-responsive poetry form be updated to meet the contemporary realities of 2014?  This coming weekend, we’ll experiment with the possibilities during a public event that is part of our week-long residency at Phats Valley in Truro, MA.  Over the past week we’ve been collaborating with Oliver Kellhammer.  Our shared project is to attune to the local geologic, geographic, environmental and seasonal history of this small section of Cape Cod – with the added intention to tune into the larger planetary forces that are re-shaping this place, here and now.
We, among others, have recently come to call the Anthropocenic-changes affecting all places on the globe, during all months of the year, “the fifth season.”  While inhabiting the local autumnal changes just starting to emerge on the Cape, we’ve had an extra eye and ear out for Anthropocenic inflections of the “seasonal.”  The unseasonal events that can’t be placed in time, but bring with them strange assemblages of displaced flora, fauna and human-made materials as well as strangely unpredictable weather patterns.  We’ll share initial outcomes of our week-long collaboration via a process of on-site renga creation (collaboratively linked poetry) at this Saturday’s workshop.  We’ll offer participants a series of starter lines for the  5-7-5-7-7 syllable count poetry form.  Guests will join in the collaborative writing after having a chance to experience the Phats Valley site and environs for themselves and gather inspirational “data” for poetry creation.  We will also share an accumulation of words and phrases that we gathered together during our field expeditions and conversations.  We’ve collected them into a saijiki-inspired almanac (saijiki is an almanac composed of seasonal words, called kigo in Japanese). Our Phats Valley almanac is composed of words, phrases, and thought fragments that are both responsive to the local Cape environment and at the same time suggesting its connections to the dawning “fifth season” that is the Anthropocene.
Details for the public event:

Renga for the Fifth Season | Cartography Primer No 2
Saturday, September 27, 2014
2pm | 18 Phats Valley Road, Truro, MA

Cartography Primer is a series of workshops that will investigate the Pamet Marsh area through mapping and exploratory exercises. Cartography Primer No 2 will take place Saturday, September 27th at 2pm, at Phats Valley Residency in Truro, MA and will be led by artists-in-residence Oliver Kellhammer and smudge studio.

“The sun and the moon are eternal voyagers; the years that come and go are travelers too. For those whose lives float away on boats, for those who greet old age with hands clasping the lead ropes of horses, travel is life, travel is home.”

—From Narrow Road to Interior, Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉), translated by Helen Craig MCCullough

In the spring of 1689, Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō set out on a five-month journey in Japan. His experiences are documented in his book, Narrow Road to the Interior, also known as The Narrow Road to the Deep North. While traveling, Bashō drew upon and further developed a 500-year old practice of collaborative haiku poetry called renga. Bashō’s style of renga included juxtapositions of place, events and allusions to literary, historic and mythic sources. Renga, in its most basic form, is recognized as being inherently collaborate (linked verses by multiple authors build upon each other’s words), inspired by the environmental and social contexts of the moment (such as what trees are in bloom, what stage the moon is in, and who is present at the time of the renga writing “party”), and responsive to the impermanence of the moment.

On Saturday, September 27th, artists-in-residence Oliver Kellhammer and smudge studio will practice a contemporary translation of Bashō’s collaborate, time-based poetic form and journey-based practice for Cartography Primer No. 2. They will use that translation to produce a collaborative, renga-inspired work that speaks to the impermanence and continuous renewal of “place” and daily life: the change that makes the world.

Today a renga-like creative practice that responds to the unfolding contexts of its own production would involve many social and environmental conditions unknown to Basho. Indeed, the material conditions of daily life in 2014 are barely understood by those of us who are living them.

For our renga-inspired event, we will invite participants to attune to ephemerality, impermanence and change by walking and pausing in Truro. We will ask guests to spend an hour with “the change that makes this place.” We will invite them to use words, diagrams, sketches and found objects to creatively respond to local events and experiences of change as it plays out across their time-based experiences of “this place.” The exact site and route of travel will be shaped by what is present at the event: people, weather, light, season, affordances.

We will then gather around a large scroll of paper. Together, we will create a collaborative, renga-like work on the scroll: a flowing, “call and response” sequencing of words, images and objects that poetically link our collected, incomplete, and ephemeral experiences of “place”.

The resulting renga-like work will take up challenges and possibilities that are offered by change, as it propels all humans into uncertain but linked futures. We will seek ways to share this work with a public audience.



The Cartography Primer is a workshop series held in conjunction with the Phats Valley residency program. Through walking tours, mapping and other means, we uncover and document the unique history of the site. Phats Valley Residency is administered by The Nomadic Department of the Interior (NDOI), a creative research group co-founded by Ann Chen and Davey Field.

WaDokei: Attuning to Temporal Time
09.22.2014, 8:27 am
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video: bohinic (This video demonstrates how the hour indicators are moved in proportion, from equal spacing at the equinoxes, to close spacing on one half and wide spacing on the other as the year approaches the solstices.  In reality, it would take a year to complete this revolution.)

In celebration the Autumn Equinox, we offer a reminder of the wadokei, also known as Japanese temporal time keeping.  Wadokei clocks divide a day into unequal temporal hours, composed of six daytime units (from local sunrise to local sunset) and six night time units (from sunset to sunrise), regardless of the season. In summer, the daylight hours are longer and the nighttime hours are shorter, and the opposite in winter. Only on on equinoxes, such as today, the hours are spaced evenly. Whereas on solstices, the clock would have half open spacing on one side and half closed spacing on the other.

On these days of equilibrium, perhaps what feels so good is the reality that the time of our body “clock” actually feels like what our mechanical/digital clocks communicate back to us. In contrast to say, December at 5pm in Eastern Standard Time, when it it feels as though night has, and will be lasting forever. Even iPhones ticking off the minutes of an even 24 hour clock get to feel “right” at least twice a year, on the equinoxes.

Back in the Muromachi period (approx. 1337 to 1573) the wadokei were invented. The history of their design is fascinating:

“[Wadokei] are divided into two sets of six units called “koku”. Each koku bears the name of one of the 12 noble animals of Japanese culture, from the rat to the boar, and were numbered in an unusual way. Midnight, the hour of the rat, was associated with number 9, while 6 represented dawn. The numbering continued, with the number 4 was the last koku before noon. As with midnight, number 9 also represented noon, and the sequence repeated itself along the afternoon and beginning of the night. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 were not used in Japan for religious reasons as they corresponded to the number of bell strokes used by Buddhist monks as a call for prayer. The crucial times in this seasonal system were the boundaries between daytime and nighttime. These points in time, at dawn and dusk, were defined as the times when three lines on a human hand became visible or invisible.” – From WorldTempus, 2012

In 1873 Japan adopted Western style timekeeping and surrendered this incredibly embodied daily attunement to seasonal variations for the detached linearity of 24 equal hours, 365 days a year. Where might we all be if things had gone the other way? What if the West had adopted temporal time? Might we better prepared to meet the planetary changes underway today? It’s hard to imagine that being more aware of changes in light and season, and having time actually reflect our bodily rhythms on a daily basis, wouldn’t scale up to aid us in keeping awareness of other, even larger earth forces inflecting our lives.  Temporal time certainly makes it harder to forget that we’re inhabiting a planet that’s rotating AND moving through cosmological space on a minute by minute basis. Who knows what else such clocks might help us remember or relearn today.

Luckily, not all hope is not lost. Contemporary designers have reintroduced the wadokei, just in case you’re curious.

Radical Materialism: Making the World Matter
08.30.2014, 9:50 am
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world_of_matter_mabe_bethonico_museum_of_public_concerns_poster_video_text_2014_compressedMabe Bethônico, Museum of Public Concerns, poster, video, and text, 2014, via World of Matter

On September 10th we will be presenting our work at the CUNY Graduate Center’s The Center for the Humanities conference entitled, Radical Materialism: Making the World Matter. The conference begins at 9:30am and runs until 6pm (in The Skylight Room, 9100 at 365 Fifth Avenue, New York).

“Images and words can be reportage, witness, representation, and simultaneously also constructive, connective, material reality. How does the particular ability of images and words to hold all of these qualities act in a reconsideration of the earth’s resources? Continuing the James Gallery’s ongoing investigations into “things” and “objects,” this conference will open discussion on fossil fuel imaginaries, embodied research, postcolonial ecologies and eco-aesthetics, and the material/non-human turn with visual artists, literary scholars, art historians, designers, geographers, activists, and writers of literature and philosophy. Held in tandem with the exhibition World of Matter, the conference examines the creation of political worlds of words and images by approaching environmental crisis as a material question with deep roots and profound opportunities for the changing life of the earth.”

On September 9th, there will be an opening and book launch from 6-8pm for the World of Matter exhibition which will be on view at the James Gallery through November 1, 2014. World of Matter, “comprises visual practitioners and theorists conducting long-term research on material geographies, who engage ideas and practices from art, spatial culture, urbanism, anthropology, art history, cultural theory, photojournalism, activism, publishing, curating and education.”

From The Center for the Humanities press release for the exhibition:

The world we inhabit is expanding. Global population growth, increased mobility, accelerated contacts, rising levels of production and consumption, and the expansion of natural resource extraction have had a significant impact in environmental, social and psychological terms. What forms of interaction with the material world acknowledge that there are limits to what we, as humans, might know and control?

Participants in World of Matter draw upon methodologies from the social and natural sciences, journalism, and also poetics and aesthetics, to scrutinize zones of geopolitical-ecological upheaval. The research conducted by the artists, journalists and theorists in World of Matter coheres around a sensitive reconsideration of the planet’s “resources.” Their projects adopt a variety of formats and strategies to delve into relations between humans and the world, in some cases by way of historical narratives, in others, through scientific laboratory research, community collaboration, visualization technologies, or activist organization. These experiments animate an emerging notion of artistic global citizenship, breaking up well-worn patterns of representation by embracing a plethora of aesthetic, conceptual and interventionist engagements with “matter.”

World of Matter artists are Mabe Bethônico, Ursula Biemann, Uwe H. Martin & Frauke Huber, Helge Mooshammer & Peter Mörtenböck, Emily Eliza Scott, Paulo Tavares, Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan. This exhibition is made possible in part by the Center for the Humanities, the Ph.D. Program in English, and the Center for Place Culture and Politics.

A full schedule of related events and programming will be available via the CUNY website early next week.  We hope to see you on the 9th and 10th.


Hold The Thought: The Next 3.5 Years
08.16.2014, 9:54 pm
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1157707940_9d47f0a5d1_bGozan no Okuribi (五山送り火), aka Daimonji (大文字), Kyoto, Japan, image cc via Vincent Follézou

The O-Bon festival is currently underway in Japan and concludes tonight, August 16th, with the Gozan no Okuribi (“five mountain send-off fire”). Five giant images are set ablaze on the mountains surrounding Kyoto—a boat, a shinto shrine gate, and three kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing).  The fires are lit to send-off the spirits of deceased ancestors that have been “visiting” for the last three days. The tradition of welcoming back and sending off those who once lived is an annual ritual in Japan, more than 500 years old.

A year and a half ago we wrote a piece on this blog entitled, “Next Five Years.”  At that time, in response to planetary changes we were experiencing, we outlined a re-framing of our work, “perhaps more vital than any single new project.”  We recently revisited what we wrote 18 months ago, and feel that much of what we wrote still applies.  Yet, given the rate of compounding change, we sense that what unfolds in the next three-and-a-half years will be much more sweeping than anything we had imagined from March of 2013.

On September 21st, 2014 there will be a Climate March in New York City, two days before the United Nations meets for an urgent Climate Summit. Given growing awareness of the wildcard potential of our collective futures, there is potential that those who gather in New York this September won’t be “marching” in a fashion typical to previous political gatherings. It’s likely that many of those who care enough to turn out also realize that we have less time (if any) than some suggest to alter the course we now are on, and we have fewer, if any, “solutions” to pursue.  Rather than defaulting to legacy discourses and worn-out political strategies, what can become possible, or what might be “won” (if we even chose to use such language) through the process of walking together and showing up at all, are new ways to be with the reality of what is materially passing in and out of being right now. And this might be what we hoped for most of all a year and a half ago when we wrote “Next Five Years.”  At that time, we anticipated that within that five-year window, humans would “grasp the speed, scale, and material realities of planetary change events more concretely. Arguably, thoughts, dreams, actions and creative gestures that we humans make in response to our first inklings and shared experiences of Anthropocene events will set the stage for their potential consequences.”

The algorithms driving the change that is the Anthropocene are already in motion—yet their outcomes and consequences remain unknowable from here, and highly volatile.  The gathering in September, whether or not we chose to march, could cross a threshold,  or a limit, in our national consciousness. What new daily practices might we invent in the process of turning at that limit?  We could use some new, “cosmopolitan American” daily life practices to aid us, as the O-bon Festival aides Japanese people in connecting with, and holding thoughts about, what is materially passing in and out of being right now.

From the Center: Toshiki Okada
07.14.2014, 4:12 pm
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SonicLife06from Sonic Life of Giant Tortoise by Toshiki Okada, performed at JACK, Brooklyn, photo Carol Rosegg

She described the feeling. It would start somewhere near her solar plexus and then move up slowly, all the way up into her tear ducts. Or, maybe it would be easier to describe the feeling like being really, really hungry. So hungry, that you have this deep hole, or actually a hollow feeling, in your center. But for which there is no fix.  Yet somehow, this feeling would actually feel good, because the feeling itself would mean that you had “really lived.” And you would then have this “bittersweet” feeling for the rest of your life.

She was Susannah Flood, momentarily acting the nameless part of a Japanese man in Toshiki Okada’s play, Sonic Life of the Giant Tortoise at the JACK theater in Brooklyn. Over 65 minutes, this “character” moved across all five actors on stage, both male and female. At this moment, he was describing what he imagined it would be like if his girlfriend had died, though in “reality,” she hadn’t. He seemed desperate to have some relief from the banality of his daily life, and by imagining that she was “no longer here,” he created a context for having “wistful” feelings that were otherwise impossible.

sonic-master675photo Carol Rosegg

Several weeks ago we wrote about what might come after we humans have accepted that from here on, we are inhabiting an unprecedented planetary reality filled with unpredictable events of change, especially as a result of global warming. And, we asked, what might come now, given the fact that the algorithm of this unfolding material change was set into motion long ago and irrevocably, and that there’s no longer anything to “solve,” “teach,” or “communicate” about this reality.  Upon arriving at our own acceptance of these “facts,” we described experiencing a “weighty sensation.”  We also went on to explain that this acceptance is, for us, preferred to pretending that things were otherwise, because there was the potential to pay attention to this uncomfortable sensation, this “hollow center” you might say, and make something from there, rather than ignoring it:

we’d like to imagine a growing number of creative people attuning to different registers of the current material realities of daily life and offering images/sensations/words from their deeply felt experiences of those realities—from places and times where this bare reality strikes deep. AND then, instead of turning away from these highly inconvenient and disturbing sensations and thoughts, what if they took the time and did the incredibly hard work to make something from within such sensations and thoughts, without expecting any outcome (especially any company) in return? – from FOP May 2014

As we experienced Toshiki Okada’s production, we felt as though we were witnessing an uncanny (re)enactment of the realization we had only a few weeks prior. There’s no getting back things that were dear to us once they are gone, but in their absence, highly nuanced constellations of feelings surface that can be surprisingly instructive. The psychological space of these feelings is vast, but unfamiliar and largely unexplored in Western culture. According to Okada’s production company, the word  切なさ/setsunasa was translated from Japanese into the words “bittersweet” and “wistful”  for the English version of the play. This word is untranslatable into English, but the kanji used, “切/kiru” is used in the verb “to cut.” When used as an adverb, as it is in the play, it is more akin to “loss” and “loneliness.”  And it also suggests an “atmosphere” around the feelings. It is not as strong as “literal sadness” and could be used to describe a constellation of feelings felt by a person during the autumn season. The word’s etymology includes both a sense of sadness, as if the “heart was torn,” and an even older link to “thinking something precious.”  For us, Okada’s work is exhilarating, as it uses the difficulties of translation to invite global audiences to cultivate more nuanced vocabularies and psychological capacities for being with, and describing, what is in the midst of passing out of being.

Okada is well-known for delving into the uncomfortable psychological spaces of Japanese society. And post-March 2011 his work and process changed significantly. Though Sonic Life was written pre-earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns, the work deeply resonates with the ongoing realities currently unfolding in Japan — and far beyond. That’s the incredible power of this production. Most of us, contemporary humans that is, experience some version of daily life as being out of sync, and perhaps banal, in comparison to what we know in our core (or hollow center) about what is actually unfolding in the world, just beyond our comprehension — (global warming, rising seas, droughts, superstorms, or Fukushima).  An actor on stage whispers speaks to this under his breath, to no one in particular:  “you people aren’t living at all.”

Yet, the play is far from being accusatory. Through faltering, dead pan statements delivered in stops and starts without a traditional plot, hauntingly unanswerable provocations are left to hang in the air. The medium, or mode of address, is the message. Are we actually relieved to lose someone/thing because it breaks us from the numbing flow we’ve been buffered within for too long? Is it human nature to have our material affordances and life itself become more meaningful and dear only after they are irrevocably lost?

The character(s) in Sonic Life want to be “capable workers,” but they are mostly bored out of their minds, working, commuting and consuming for no real purpose. They’ve been lucky enough to escape most of the cruelty and pitfalls in life so far, only to be left with an almost desperate sense that they haven’t really lived, and that they “want to live more fully” and even to say out loud, “I’ve lived my life to the fullest.”

As one character puts it:  “What I’m doing right now, actually, despite what it looks like, is having a dream.”

Yet, this dream is our reality and there is no mistaking it. The actors of the performance make disarming eye-contact with audience members.  The division between stage and audience blurs as direct references are made to the “outside” that is unfolding in real-time (subway rumblings, traffic, sound of the a/c inside the theater).

Sonic Life 2photo Carol Rosegg

The play closes with a circuitous unfolding of words, offered not as conclusion or truth, but as open thoughts that are, again, directed to no one in particular. “The life we are living is a far cry from what humankind ought to be living.” This is quickly followed by a seemingly protective, reassuring counter statement/question:  “Maybe we’re not cut out to live how humankind ought to live?”  Maybe we just can’t bear it.  It’s a lot of pressure.  It’s simply beyond our imaginations and capacities as a species to hold the thought that the everyday is connected to something bigger, and act in accord with that thought. And, maybe if everyone is unable to do this, as seems to be true, then our individual “failures” to live as we ought to are neither failures nor tragedies.  And, even if we are able to live as we ought to live, the current situation on the planet suggests that everyone has failed, not just me or you.  Perhaps this could be reassuring.  Either way, we come to a realization that we have limits.  As one of the characters points out, we can’t fly like birds AND there’s no need for us to fly like birds — therefore this “limit” of not flying is okay.

Yet, in the Anthropocene, we’ve invented technologies, economies, and cultures that extend beyond both our own species’ and our own planet’s limits. We have designed ways to fly, that involve huge carbon footprints.  Perhaps humans ought to live without flying like birds. But we don’t.


*sincere thanks to Nana Koetting at chelfitsch for her assistance in translation.


On Change #7: A Brooklyn Subtlety
07.02.2014, 1:09 pm
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image_5* all images FOP 2014

An inhalation of overwhelming toasted sweetness coincides with something sticking to the bottom of your shoes. It’s as though you are suddenly swimming in air filled with sugar. At the far end of this vast warehouse, sited along a quickly-changing stretch of Brooklyn waterfront, an enormous white sphinx looks back at you. She’s larger than you imagined. Her glowing presence is part of a completely immersive sensory experience — the stickiness, the scents, the curves of searing white contrasting with the derelict, dark, rusty, crumbling architecture.  Shafts of light cut down from a lofty ceiling. Figurines of children, made of molasses, are melting in the summer heat. Their black substance spills violently across the floor, resembling both blood and oil.

The former Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn (at one time, the largest in the world) currently is haunted by the material it traded in, for over 100 years. Through July 7th, the factory is home to Kara Walker’s project entitledA Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

Sugar runs wild through this space and permeates it in totality. This material occupation drips from the walls, and not so ironically, from collapsing infrastructure. Thoughts race: what did you consume today that included sugar, or perhaps more realistically, what did you consume that didn’t?  This material is literally both inside and outside of you today, and has been all your life. Sugar is instantly and irrevocably bound to a multitude of complex human realities — racism, gentrification, global trade, labor, capitalism. Yet, in this encounter, the bare materiality is disarmingly commanding unto itself.

Forces of people and planet have assembled with this material and set it into motion, and in turn have been set into motion by it, for hundreds of years.  For a brief window of time, those forces now are subordinated to the mighty voice of its singular substance—through a booming female form.  We look up to her and feel incredibly small in comparison. It’s the Anthropocene and Walker’s work baths us in our entangled complexities. Here, material suddenly seems to be speaking more loudly than it has in the past, or perhaps we have new ears to hear it. When did we begin to take for granted the elaborate networks of people and planet that have delivered this particular material, and so many others, into our lives?  Through an encounter with A Subtlety, this material’s power and agency speak back to us and hold us in its steady gaze.







70°N | There is no Darkness Here
06.21.2014, 3:09 am
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tromsowindow seat view after departing Tromsø

For the past month, we’ve been subject to a wide range of changing circumstances and planetary forces. But one force has been constant— the force of light.

Before visiting the north, we had naively thought that the “midnight sun” would be bright and clear.  We thought that our days here would be bathed in light similar to the light we know in New York—only for longer periods of time.  We had imagined that we would adapt to that difference easily.

We’ve now come to understand that in the land of the midnight sun, things are a bit more unfamiliar than we had imagined. Here, people talk about the extremes of light as if they were a weather system. The early summer days of our trip have been filled with rain and low hanging, overcast skies. Instead of brilliant clear light, for long string of days we’ve experienced an undifferentiated continuum of grey skies. The light of 2pm has been the same as that of 7am, and that of 4am as well.  And this day’s light is the same as yesterday’s and tomorrow’s. It became incredibly challenging (without watches) to determine if time was passing or even if we were tired.  The decision to sleep has come less out of exhaustion and more out of randomly realizing “what time it is” and then deciding to close the curtains because of what the mechanical clock says, rather than what the body says. The effects have accumulated.  They’ve resulted in a low-grade psychological and physical drain. We’ve shared many conversations about how to manage these effects, and no one seems to have come up with a way to work around what can’t be stopped:  no matter the curtains, blinds or T-shirts over the eyes, the light still leaks through, psychologically if not physically.  Closed eyelids continue to detect what exceeds our evolved limits regarding light and sleep.

As days ebbed by, we started to wonder about the toll this was taking on our brains/bodies. We were moving more slowly, or perhaps the world was? How might we alleviate this intensifying sensation of disorientation? It felt as if somehow a higher atmospheric pressure was impinging on our bodies at these locations. We couldn’t seem to pull out of our cognitive fog. There must be some kind of polar magnet interfering with our brains. Could there be such a condition as “latitude sickness?” If so, we had it, and it wasn’t the first time.

Rekjavik2midnight sun in Reykjavík

Reykjavikmidnight sun in Reykjavík

Tromsomidnight sun in Tromsø

Oslomidnight sun in Oslo

photo 1midnight sun in Vardø

photo 4midnight sun in Kirkenes

As the disorientation intensified, it actually helped to deepen our realization that we were, indeed,  in “the north.”  Its vast space and mythic intensity was sinking in.  We were far from the landscapes, ecologies, and daily weather that was so familiar as “home.”  Psychological vertigo set in. Timescales, long and short felt as though they were collapsing.

northrare moment of light over the Varanger Penninsula

From within our mental haze, we looked out over the Barents Sea and back across rock landscapes that were still rebounding from their dramatic crush by Pleistocene Ice. We imagined into the not so-distance future where the vast, empty spaces around us are filled by new systems of transit and new affordances designed to exploit the changes brought on by the warming climate.  For the life span of our species thus far, the north has demarcated an edge of the human world.  What lies beyond has acted as a physical limit to human habitation.  We felt that we came up against the limits of our own capacities to inhabit this place every day we have been here.  Sensing these “local” limits helped us to also sense how we are connected to and embedded within much larger, even planetary contexts of limits.

kimekshipyard in Kirkenes


At these far north edges of space and time, borders between Norway, Russia, Finland, and Sweden are less distinct, and the temperatures are warming. More people will be arriving, along with their affordances. There are harbors preparing now for the opening of the Northeast Passage and the resulting new “opportunities.” Fishing industries that collapsed decades ago are coming back again as fish such as cod migrate to cooler northern waters. But as warming continues, the cod will likely keep heading even farther north, leaving another round of economic bust in their wake.

It seems to us that as resources along these northern coasts and offshore are exploited, “the north” will become less of one sort of edge—known until now as the Ultimate Thule, the end of the world—even as it becomes more of another sort of edge—the edge of big, fast-moving regional change that will ramify southwards and around the globe.

For our research for Future North, we’ve attempted to bring an aesthetic framework to the task of addressing incredibly challenging and complex contexts of change in the north. As guest researchers who are passing through towns and landscapes that home to local people, we realize now that for the past month, we have been living an equivalent to what is now arriving as our planet’s strange “present.”  In many ways, we are all strangers now, even in our local landscapes, and our home landscapes are becoming strangers to us.  Wild deviations from the familiar norms of our home places are becoming more frequent and straying farther and farther from known models for prediction.  Compounding strangeness is not specific to the north, but it is particularly intense here.

As residents of the 40th parallel, our contribution to the Future North project, perhaps, was to bring with us a perspectival distance and difference that comes from being from elsewhere — the elsewhere that is quickly becoming everywhere. 

The local relays into the global, the past and present relay into the far future. As guest researchers, and in comparison to the deep, rich, highly nuanced local histories and practices we glimpsed, we were two humans passing through.  We have attempted to acknowledge and respect these realities, while asserting that what is unfolding here is not separate from what is unfolding (strangely) elsewhere, be it the wildfires of New Mexico, the rising seas in New York City, or the urgent cultural adaptations unfolding in Japan.

slagslag outside the Sydvaranger iron mine in Kirkenes

As strangers in our local landscapes, how might we turn brains, bodies and spirits toward the vastly different planetary realities now arriving?  How do we scale to changes that aren’t in sync with the physical, cognitive, and cultural structures that we have evolved?  The psychological effects of big, fast planetary change are real.  This reaffirms our sense that making our physical and psychological states sturdy enough to navigate change as gracefully as possible is a highly individual and personal task.

The stories that we tell ourselves along the way, while we are in the midst of big fast change, will be highly consequential.  Turning at the Limits of the World is our attempt to invent a meaningful way to inhabit the changes that are already unfolding, and to prepare for those to come.  With it, we try to cultivate an awareness of the limits we have already crossed.  And we try to move meaningfully with the material realities that compose the present moment.

What difference might the Future North project return to the changing north it encountered?


all images this post FOP 2014


*We are deeply grateful to Future North collaborators and the inspiring people we have met, learned from, and been hosted by over the past month. Sincere thank you to: the Future North team,  Tanya Busse and Jet Pascua at Small Projects,  Åsa Sonjasdotter, Lindsay Bremner, Pikene på Broen staff, students at AHO, Tromsø Academy of Landscape and Territorial Studies, Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, Hilde MethiAnnette Wolfsberger, Dominic Gorham, Svein Harald Holmen, Aurelien Gamboni, Marit Nøkleberg, Christian Fredrik Eriksen.




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