by Jenny Chen / Giulia Colletti / Kate Davis / Thomas Laval / Viola Yip
Despite our Ruination was included in the exhibition It was a dream of a trip which was curated by 21 curators and hosted by Shanghai Curator Lab. We took one month to work together in a tense situation. That was too crazy to be true. Thanks for all friends/cooperators/enemies, I’ve learnt a lot in this long lasting dream/nightmare.
“A constellation is made up of some stars that are nearer, others further away. It is only from our perspective, that of the here (and now), that they appear to take on a significant configuration.”
Spencer, Lloyd. “On Certain Difficulties with the Translation of ‘On The Concept Of History’”, 2000
In an age of rising accountability over our most intimate gestures, where governance of borders, rights, and minds seems to be the norm, how can we evade regulation and take a journey into the unknown?
Taking cue from Walter Benjamin’s critique, Despite Our Ruination is
an exhibition that emanates from a constellation of objects. Displaying alphanumeric messages, a pager embodies impending automation, as well as the interdependency between humans and technology, which in our informational era is tinged with mysterious impulses. Within the constellation, these impulses are explored through the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text, using cleromancy to establish unexplored connections with the universe. Reimagining the rules that govern reality is a task also undertaken by science fiction novelist Octavia Butler, whose seminal book Wild Seed explores power struggles, eugenics, and cyborg identities. The blurred edges of actuality and fiction are at stake even in The Real As Imaginary, a piece by Peter Ablinger consisting of the recitation of a text over white noise that completely envelopes the speech. The white noise is, in fact, a theoretical idealization, assimilated to natural sounds such as the rain in a forest, which nurtures organic and inorganic species. In forests disturbed by humans, the matsutake grows. It is a mushroom utilised by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing as a trope to picture a post-Enlightenment natural world, one that can answer to the promise of cohabitation in a time of unprecedented human destruction. These entities are assimilated into a natureculture vision, aimed at re- establishing a synthesis of nature and culture in a time when the dualism of science and the humanities prevails.
The constellation opens up to a series of artworks that challenge normative structures of thinking while stimulating critical paths. This interpretative exercise draws on artistic practices that deconstruct limitative visions on the environment,
noise, and the future of human and non-human species. The invited artists’ research spans from visual to sound art to suggest further vanishing points that jeopardise Western normative accounts of measurability, language, and rationality. Fostering an object-oriented approach that rejects the privileging of human existence
over the existence of nonhuman 10 identities, Despite Our Ruination is an invitation to explore routes not yet standardised.
Lastly, Despite Our Ruination proposes a Virtual Reality experience of the exhibition. Accessible via an internet link it introduces an extraterrestrial setting for the artworks presented. In this free space, the conventions of the white cube no longer assert a rational framework rooted in the history of exhibitions.
Supposedly technology never dies, it’s just no longer dominant; like the pager. Mostly seen in movies, their obsolescence is assumed. However, pagers are still used in hospitals, as for urgent messages, their simplicity makes them more efficient than the pervasive smartphone. Today, we work alongside ever-evolving and increasingly intelligent machines already capable of independent learning and development. Imagine that we are the pager and these machines the smartphone; what type of future awaits us?
This, of course, is not an accurate comparison. As biological beings we have to adapt to new conditions; otherwise, we die. That being said, some humans and machines already function as cognitive units, as for the past few decades humans have bent the laws of natural selection that previously governed Earth and life. Despite the vast quantities of data being gathered, and the multitude of scientists, technologists and futurologists attempting to answer this question, future forecasts vary greatly and there are no conclusive answers or solutions.
I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, is an ancient Chinese divination text and one of the oldest Chinese classics. Published in the Western Zhou period (late 9th century BCE), I Ching was first mentioned in Europe by Leibniz in 1703. This sparked philosophical questions, such as universality and the nature of communication. The foreword of the English edition of I Ching was written in 1949 by Carl Jung.
For Jung, I Ching was a way of exploring the unconscious, and an approach to the nonhuman field. As stated in his introduction: “The Chinese mind, seems to be exclusively preoccupied with the chance aspect of events. What we call coincidence seems to be the chief concern of this […] mind, and what we worship as causality passes almost unnoticed”. (1) The I Ching not only offers a path into the unknown but raises a counter perspective to scientific causality by investigating the asynchronicity of real events.
Octavia E. Butler was an African- American science writer. Her novels and short stories tackle a scope of issues still omnipresent today, such as climate change, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and pharmaceutical developments, as well as sexual identity. Her science-fictional storytelling warns of malignant possibles, and gives voice to destitute living forms, offering a path for an expanded understanding of the world.
Butler’s novel Wild Seed (1980) introduces Doro, a thousand-year-old cyborg living off the bodies of others. A gang from the New World destroy the African village Doro cultivated for centuries, and force him to leave. On his way, he meets a shapeshifting and equally powerful rival; Anyanwu, able to heal with a kiss. Their encounter triggers a century-long conflict jeopardising the essence of humanity.
Aside from her published writing, Butler’s notebooks serve as a space for her innermost thoughts. These pages enliven Butler’s practice and inform
her inspirations and horizons. Partial sketches of a novel, or an expression of a condensed state of mind, mirror the author’s profound wishes for humankind.
The Real as Imaginary
Peter Ablinger’s The Real as Imaginary is a composition for a solo speaker and noise. The performer can have any voice type; however, the text should be translated into a language that the audience can understand. The performance noise track should be generated by the sum of frequencies in the recording of the performer’s recitation of the text. The noise track, then, needs to be further filtered through oscillated frequency bands to create “windows”.
As a result, this noise track is played at a volume that is just loud enough to envelop the performer’s voice; but with the oscillated “windows”, the voice floats between the foreground, background and space in between.
The Real as Imaginary questions whether the “imaginary” and the “real” oppose each other in our perception. Ironically, perceiving reality relies on our imagination, as Ablinger expressed, “I had asked whether it would ever be possible to reach the real, whether it would ever be possible to break through the prison of my imaginations onto the real.” (2)
The monologue allows Ablinger to search for the idea of the “real”, and the relationship between the “real” and the “imaginary”. At the end of the text, he concludes that:
“The imaginary as real, and equally the real as imaginary – this would then be, so to say, a formula for the interpenetration of the two, a formula for the living and for the being-here.” (3)
“We are stuck with the problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination. Neither tales of progression nor of ruin tell us how to think about
collaborative survival. It is time to pay attention to mushroom picking. Not that this will save us – but it might open our imagination.”(4)
The matsutake is one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world, as it grows in destroyed forests across Asia and North America. Due to its capacity to nurture trees, matsutakes enable forests to flourish in human-damaged places. It
is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it can fetch astronomical prices. In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms, using the matsutake to ask a crucial question: how are we going to live in the ruins we have made?
The matsutake becomes a metaphor to narrate a tale of diversity within our daunting landscapes, exploring the unexpected edges of consumerism, and challenging the connections between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes; demonstrating the potential for fungal ecologies to foster a better understanding of cohabitation in a time of significant human destruction.