Spectres in Change. Fieldnotes #2

By Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney

How to land in a place is a perpetual question for those of us who live and work nomadically or trans-locally. The fleeting moment of landing can be easily missed on your way somewhere. Whether you step off a boat, cross the threshold of someone’s home, or start a new collaboration. Yet how you land matters. It acknowledges that the place in which you’ve landed has an agency of its own and a history that you have been apart from. Landing could be seen as a ritual beginning with a place and those who call it home.

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Spectres in Change

In 2017 we founded FoAM Earth as a nomadic studio within the FoAM network. We were in the process of uprooting ourselves to begin a multi-year drift when we met Taru Elfving. She was moving back to her native Finland and keen to collaborate with artists capable of weaving together “otherwise incompatible perspectives and positions, while drawing out points of friction and leakage between different epistemologies, across micro and macro, or local and planetary scales.” A few months later we joined a group of such artists and curators for the initiation of Spectres in Change on the island of Seili. Relationships were forged and conversations continued. All of us expressed an interest in returning to the island, to actively engage, as researchers, resident artists, or other roles as appropriate. So when Taru invited us to a second Spectres retreat on Seili, we were keen to combine it with a short research residency.

Arrival

Helsinki, Turku, Nauvo/Nagu. A long dazed journey by train, bus and boat brought us to the island of Seili. Late afternoon. Dinner was ready. Taru Elfving, our hostess and curator, invited us to temporarily remove ourselves from our daily pressures and to commit to a working retreat in the Archipelago Research Institute. A time and place to ask questions and explore responses to the environmental challenges and complex histories of the island. During the retreat we would look at these issues through the lens of “landing” — the condition of arriving and departing as guests on the island and within a scientific community. To explore the different approaches, meanings and methods people use to “land”.

Storytelling

“There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation, and of which words offer only a remote echo — or to which silence is by far the best response. Nature does not name itself. Granite does not self-identify as igneous. Light has no grammar. Language is always late for its subject. (…) But we are and always have been name-callers, christeners. Words are grained into our landscapes, and landscapes grained into our words. ‘Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind,’ in Wade Davis’s memorable phrase. We see in words: in webs of words, wefts of words, woods of words. The roots of individual words reach out and intermesh, their stems lean and criss-cross, and their outgrowths branch and clasp.” — Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

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Observation

Observation as an approach to “landing” is common in both arts and sciences. “Observe and interact” is also the first permaculture principle — “By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation”. When landing in an unfamiliar place (or returning to a place that used to be familiar), observe the place to understand before interfering. You might find yourself driven by survival instincts, surveying potential threats, or maybe you feel moved by a humility and respect for the land and people you’re about to engage with. Observing acknowledges an initial distance between yourself and the place you’re landing in.

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Sharing

Landing in a place inhabited by humans usually involve some form of sharing. Getting to know each other through formal or informal rituals of introduction, by sharing food and drinks, exchanging gifts and experiences. Landing in a different culture or institutional context can require a certain amount of negotiation and adaptation. Sharing knowledge and practices, protocols and daily rhythms can help identify potential common ground, as well as things that might be divergent or complementary.

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Fieldwork

Landing is not something that can be learned from books or modelled in a lab. It is an action that connects the person who is landing with the place in/on which you’re landing. A moment of reciprocal influence. Resonant, resistant, welcoming, oppressive or indifferent. Only through direct engagement with the place can you be sure where and how you land. With attention and curiosity, you can gradually deepen your understanding of the place. Fieldtrips, learning journeys and site visits are different forms of situated, experiential learning. Learning directly from the locals who are invested in and committed to their specific situation. Their knowledge is grounded in first hand experience with the land. In fieldwork abstract data about the situation gains another dimension. It “lands” in your tangible experience of the world and embeds itself in your bodily memory.

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Communing

Landing can become embodied in sensation by paying attention to the points of contact between your physical body and the body of the land. Landing becomes a form of “communing” with the land and its inhabitants with whom you may, or may not share a common language. It recognises the agency of the place, no matter how incomprehensible it might seem. Communing is a practice stretching across millennia through rituals that thread together a common humanity. Some rituals are a way of asking permission to land. Others focus on greeting, acknowledgement and appreciation. Some provide a way of noticing what the land wants to share, where it wants you to be and what it invites you to do. Alongside rituals, techniques for landing can be found in meditative practices, deep listening, performance (e.g. music, dance, body weather), exercises in practical magic (e.g. scrying, geomancy, energetic navigation), or even simply walking. Landing is can be something you do over and over again, whenever your feet leave and return to the ground. Try landing with intent, try noticing what happens in the moments your body touches the Earth.

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Attuning

Conscious landing is closely related to practice of attunement. Even if you’ve been in a place for a while, sometimes experience gets out of sync with the surroundings. You might physically occupy a space while your mind is elsewhere. You can easily overlook the more ephemeral signals continuously emanating from a place, the temperature, the pressure of the wind, the colour of the light, the textures peculiar to a season. Attuning provides a way to (re)connect with your sensory experience. To be touched by a felt sense of place. To notice subtle resonances and disturbances emerging. To more directly engage with an environment.

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Sensing beyond human scale

Once upon a time, not so long ago, landing in one place was a part of becoming disconnected from other places. This can not always be assumed any more. When you land somewhere, you can usually remain tethered to the rest of the world through digital devices. Even in a place with intermittent network connection, the devices land with you. They can direct your orientation and guide you through unfamiliar territories. They can help you land and navigate. They can connect and communicate with other devices in the area. They can mediate, capture, filter and distribute experiences of the place, long after you’re gone. Landing in the 21st century is inevitably a technologically enhanced practice.

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Departure

One last walk, looping around the small island. A ritual of un-landing, of de-parting, of em-barking, of leaving. Suffused with a different kind of appreciation and gratitude. A melancholy of separation. Acknowledging that we are merely passers by. Guests for some, food or even a nuisance for others. Aware that our presence can only be temporary. We come and go. Our work might appear, perhaps linger as a faint trace of memory, and eventually disappear. Landing and leaving deliberately engages with impermanence. The impermanence of our own lives and the impermanence of aeons on geological or cosmic scales. At times humbling, terrifying and liberating, impermanence as the essence of spectres in change.

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transdisciplinary, interstitial, resilient...

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