This post develops a conversation with Jethro Brice, who is preparing for field work along the crane migration route in the Hula Valley of Israel/Palestine. My current foci include peat bogs, bog-mosses, and questions of scale.
Plunged into a new setting, what do you look at? how do you start drawing? what might a ‘more-than-human’ focus entail? what would make the work interesting to others (humans)? Here are some starting thoughts.
With bog-moss in mind, what more might I see? I have learned to isolate single sphagnum strands, as if for identification and pull them gently from a clump without breaking them. But they exist collectively, as part of a plant community, as part of a bog … What might sculptural attention yield?
Herbert George (2014) offers a sculptural approach, suggesting viewers can consider an object in terms of Material and Place and its characteristics include Surface, Edge, Texture, Colour, and Scale. Its physicality includes Mass, and Centre of Gravity, and it addresses the space around it through by Volume and Space. A sculptural object might challenge its own solidity through Movement and Light. Viewers (and sculptors) bring Memory to their consideration.
With this guide, I might start to survey found objects – both expected and disturbing components of ecological ‘habitat’. Drawings may become interventions in place, and investigation might lead to an animation of objects, perhaps including photographic documentation. Self-questioning (about why I am doing this) will fade as I become obsessed with a subject and become urgent again when a deadline approaches. Something might grip me – that I cannot explain and cannot assess. I might discard it. On what basis can I decide what to keep working on?
Timothy Clark’s argument ‘Derangements of Scale‘ (a contribution to Telemorphis: Theory in an Era of Climate Change) helps excuse an indecision in how to work. The setting of a peatbog might make it relatively easy to accord ‘the nonhuman a disconcerting agency of its own’ (p5). To look at bog-moss as a carbon landscape, I have already experienced the sensation that ‘Climate change disrupts the scale at which one must think, skews categories of internal and external and resists inherited closed economies of accounting or explanation (p7)’. Clark concludes:
‘It is far easier for critics to stay inside the professionally familiar circle of cultural representation, ideas, and prejudices than to engage with the long-term relations of physical cause and effect, or the environmental costs of an infrastructure, questions that involve non-human agency and which engage modes of expertise that may lies outside the humanities as currently constituted.’
Clark believes that the mainstream literary criticism make up ‘forms of ideological containment that now need to change.’
Audra Mitchell models a way of approaching such deranged scales through academic work on International Relations. Writing about extinction, she says ‘This is not the Schumpeterian ‘creative destruction’ that fuels and smoothens the processes of global capitalism. Rather, it consists in the punctuation and rupture of histories and lifeways through the intrusion of non-being, or the eruption of ‘the void’ into the realm of human-dominated worlding.’
Michelle Bastian works with creative imagination in combination with scholarship in a forthcoming chapter on leatherback turtles, ‘Encountering leatherbacks in multispecies knots of time’ (Rose et al, references below).
So – without knowing yet how it can shape drawing in the field, academic work by Timothy Clark, Audra Mitchell and Michelle Bastian inspires me. Mitchell Thomashow’s version of cosmopolitan bioregionalism also appeals:
‘Developing the observational skills to patiently observe bioregional history, the conceptual skills to juxtapose scales, the imaginative faculties to play with multiple landscapes, and the compassion to empathize with local and global neighbours – these qualities are the foundation of a bioregional sensibility…’
‘… Restore natural history to collective memory so that it is no longer endangered knowledge… Understand that different scales may yield contrasting observations… Avoid the illusion of contrived stability…’
What an excellent principle for field drawing!
Avoid the illusion of contrived stability …
• Timothy Clark (2011) Literature and the Environment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Timothy Clark’s article Derangements of Scale is available on: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/10539563.0001.001/1:8/–telemorphosis-theory-in-the-era-of-climate-change-vol-1?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
• Herbert George, The Elements of Sculpture, , Phaidon, 2014
• Deborah Rose, Thom van Dooren and Matthew Chrulew (eds.) Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death and Generations. Columbia University Press: New York. (including Michelle Bastian)
• M. Thomashow, ‘Cosmopolitan Bioregionalism’, Bioregionalism, ed. M. V. McGinnis (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 121-32 (pp. 130-31)