In this text three emergent accomplices — Krill, Spore and Terra — give voice to the anthropoetics of time-travelling fossil-becomings. They express an ‘animistic perception’ mirroring humans’ ‘default setting’ to ‘encounter ... sensorial surroundings as a field of sensitive and sentient powers’ (Abrams 2019, n.p.). These voices without organs, arising from an alembic transcribed with arcane symbols, had been channeled by In Her Interior (IHI) through field trips, programmatic word theft and the fugue-induced sympoiesis (Dempster 2000) of collaborative writing across timespace and collective production in open systems; inviting surprise, disappointment, destabilisation, crisis, fleeting resolution and homeostasis. The iterative conditions of making were creation-destruction-crisis-creation anew. And thus the results were generative and theoretically repeatable.
Keywords: speculative poetics; sympoieisis; ecolit; collaborative writing; generative text; performance text
In February 2019, In Her Interior (IHI) exhibited the mixed media (video, sound, sculpture) installation her eyes were as black as coal ... at Hunter Art College Galleries in New York for Refiguring the Future, a science, art and tech event. A polyvocal poetic text, A mouth swallowing the storm, formed the installation’s central spine. Following (unfaithfully at best) constraint-based processes (Roubaud 2009) and rules analogous to algorithmic poetry machines, the text emerged as ‘a life-form … that … becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also an operant machine for writing a poem’ (Bök 2011).
In this particular text three emergent accomplices — Krill, Spore and Terra — give voice to the anthropoetics of time-travelling fossil-becomings. They express an ‘animistic perception’ mirroring humans’ ‘default setting’ to ‘encounter ... sensorial surroundings as a field of sensitive and sentient powers’ (Abrams 2019: n.p.). These voices without organs, arising from an alembic transcribed with arcane symbols, had been channeled by IHI through field trips, programmatic word theft and the fugue-induced sympoiesis (Dempster 2000) of collaborative writing across timespace and collective production in open systems. The methodology was crisis, the results — generative. The notion of ‘creating-in-crisis’ is at the heart of a methodological approach which invites change, failure, destabilisation and ultimately, fleeting homeostasis as a generative model for creating new knowledges. Novelty can arise from crisis.
A mouth swallowing the storm places a Harawayan ‘making-with others’ (Haraway 2016) at its heart, both the writer and the written collaborating in a trans-disciplinary, trans-generational, trans-global, trans-feminist experiment in decolonising authorship. Collaboration as a method functions as a ‘critical gesture towards the individualised, market-driven agendas and neoliberal practices of the contemporary academy’ (Speedy & Wyatt 2014: 2). Rather than working towards a known end product, this approach privileges a Deleuzian becoming (Parr 2010: 25) — in unexpected and mycelial directions — over the relentless production of the new, the always-already finished. The outcomes of such emergent practices reflect a way of being-with the world, forging alliances across boundaries and reorienting relations away from the anthropos and towards the intra-activity of all beings in what scientist Karen Barad would call an ‘ethics of entanglement’ (Barad 2010: 150) — generating connections, rather than participating in the sedimentation of human exceptionalism and division.
The text is an active meditation on deep listening, engaging with the ‘arts of living on a damaged planet’ (Tsing et al 2017), and becoming attuned with our planetary ‘companions, before we kill them off entirely’ (Gan et al 2019).
On 8 February 2019, the artists Virginia Barratt and Francesca da Rimini, collaborating as In Her Interior, exhibited the video and soundwork installation her eyes were as black as coal ... at 205 Hudson Gallery in New York. They had produced the work for an event called Refiguring the Future, which sought to ‘push, probe, tear apart, and re-envision what the future can be’. Three characters — Krill, Spore and Terra — emerged from the not-yet photographed black hole, conditions momentarily perfect to give voice to the anthropoetics of time-travelling fossil-becomings. These beings — speaking for the cosmos, the earth and the mycelial world — made commentary on the human condition in the Anthropocene and speculated on a multiplicity of futures. This polyvocal conceit works as an analog of a classical chorus. At the same time these seemingly individual characters are always part of a oneness.
field trip one: through settler eyes
The first time we went to Hallett Cove.
I slipped on the perfectly round surface of a striated rock. It was very beautiful, and absolutely unlike any other of the numberless rocks that seemed dumped at this site. My flesh reddened where the rock and I had sharp contact and I spilled some blood and my salts became part of the ocean. I’d just had a communication with a rock.
speaking to fossils
How do you speak to a fossil? How do you listen to opal?
I can hear the grey clouds advancing from the west.
All of the human strata will be pressed to the thickness of a single epidermal sheet.
field trip 2: foreigner stones
On the second trip to the cove of rocks, it was windy and cold. Four of us wandered along the shore, meandering, picking up shell fragments and dropping them, standing in the wind-blown spray, rolling our pants legs. I undressed and negotiated the stones, water creeping up my body as i stepped from rock to rock, or walked in the sandy crevasses between the stones. They seemed to quiver at my presence, rolling a little, shivering, moving with the waves, moving near my feet, or away. I lay down in the water, not so far from the shore, among the stones which were many and varied, shimmied between them so they hugged my body. The stones gathered around me as I lay buffeted by the ocean, they rolled against me and into each other. I wasn’t bathing alone.
Settler-named Hallett Cove is on Kaurna land, the traditional lands of the Kaurna people, who lived on the Adelaide plains and surrounds, in so-called Australia. Hallet Cove is known now in Kaurna language as Murrkangga, and is connected to a story of grief and lamentation. A dead nephew, his smoked body being carried back to country and a lake of tears forming a fresh water spring at the site. A story of country forming. The other story is of Permian ice sheeting and visitor rocks. The rock I had slipped on the first time we visited this cove was part. of a glacial dump, what our ethnobotanist friend from Denmark, Mae Britt, would call ‘foreigner stones’.
Rocks, boulders, stones, pebbles are picked up from different sites by a glacier as it gouges its way across country, marking its passage with lines of slow flight, deep cuts in bedrock. In the event of a melt, the gathered rocks are dumped far from country, together, elsewhere. Drop stones. Come-latelys. Erratics mingling with local middens of shellfish and earstones of the mulloway.
The cove, with its folds, chatters, ripples, striations is overcoded by settler geology language. Is not home, is not campsite, is not hunting ground, is not fishing spot, is not hearth and campfire, is ‘a treasure chest’ of ‘artefacts’, proudly collected and interred in museological displays, humidity controlled, protected against their journey towards dust, as their home would have it.
The otoliths have been listening across time that isn’t measured in ages but in moon rises, star formations, cycles of birth and death, times of plenty, in fire and in ice. In smoking ceremonies.
The second time we went to Hallet Cove.
I saw the darkness descend. I saw the moon rise twice. I saw the waves going backwards.
I had a dream.
A field of acid yellow flowers. Yellow grass.
The river was red, red water, red dirt, a river.
I can hear the red river.
I can hear the fossils of the ancient Eromanga Sea.
I press my stone ears to the escarpment, listen to the sound of stratification, a large bird folding its wings.
I can hear the ants swarming home.
I can hear the grass seeds clasped in their mandibles.
I hear all these things, and much more, without seeing them.
the smoke of existence 1
I am driving back from West Beach with A, wrapped up in a light filtered through angst. The light is yellow grey. I am not sure if this is the light that everybody is driving through, but my meta-skin is pushing through the smoke of existence. And it is yellow grey.
He asks me: do you think when we die our cells meet up with the cells of the others?
The smoke of existence curdles, turbulent, then settles.
I’m not quite sure what he means, so I ask him again, and I guess he’s asking if we meet others in the elevation once we stop being our lived selves, once we lose our individuation and become part of an undifferentiated milieu. Once we become motes, glinting in a sharp of light. How does an unbodied energy recognise another unbodied energy? Are our dead friends molecularly dense for a while in the period where we are remembering them urgently, calling to them by name and then become sparse, spreading across timespace in a slow wave?
Attempting to give voice to the ineffable is painful and elusive, and ultimately impossible. The answer to how to speak as the dead speak, to live as a rock lives, to flow as a river flows is not a word. The answer is a yearn, the answer is an endless reaching out. I try to draw a line to a point along which to pull myself, but lines don’t exist as lines here and points are planets that just get further and further away.
spine of wonder
And wild dogs, howling,
hurling themselves into the red water, one by one.
What sound does a loping, flying, flesh-tearing body make, as it transforms into a spine of wonder, broken amongst earstones and erratics?
We reach towards it, strain to listen through the hot gales of the Eromanga Sea.
Opalised three-corner jacks pierce what’s left of my feet, red raw ribbons dangling from the end of my legs.
Death lies lightly on the skin.
Life teems in the microscopic folds.
The mites that feed on me are me, and I am no more than them.
How does an army of mites bring down a system?
We are all lice under the skin, no more no less, same-same.
The insignificance is astonishing.
the smoke of existence 2
The answer to this is ... well it’s not something i can know, but there is something about what i don’t know that makes sense. The answer is somewhere in this thought: when you put your fingers in the dirt you connect to the mycelial network, you make the earth your keyboard. When you do this — put your fingers in the dirt — then you connect to everything that ever was. somehow this is the way we reverse engineer individuation, back to the undifferentiated nature of the everything. We don’t need mouths to speak, and mouths cannot speak what we know of the dirt.
red raw ribbons
I can taste the sour yellow flowers, the red river flows over my tongue.
I remember you.
I know you only by your taste, as gritty as the violet wildflowers tethered to the ochre cliffs, as tangy as ruby saltbush berries.
But where did they come from, these wild strange children? They resemble nothing I’ve ever seen before.
As wild as the desert dogs, barks as bad as their bites.
I pull my red raw ribbons in; these children seem ravenous.
we are part-cloud
already hiving off
I am lightening the heft of haunch and head needing to say less
Needing to be more All and none
and when mouths *do* open,
the flight of butterflies, the march of ants, or the stream of time disgorges.
maria sibylla merian
Out of the azul ether, L sends some information about Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th-century woman of letters and pencils, self-taught (of course) scientist, collaborator with Surinamese Indigenous knowledge holders, and prodigious and ‘revolutionary’ illustrator of the life cycles of insects, butterflies, and their companion plants. A woman who at some point ‘abandoned’ her husband, taking her daughters to live in the Labadist religious order, where presumably she could live a life of the mind and the hand more unfettered. Anyway, the illustrations captivate us immediately, impelling us bowerbirds to both steal and honour them.
The wall above my desk is a carapace of printouts of whatever is intriguing me from year to year. It thickens in parts, as new segments are carelessly stuck over old, spawning new associations and lines of flight. Hags, weather witches, coins from a wreck in a volcanic lake, ladders of string and feathers, a banner unfurled to yell from St Pauls ‘Make Wealth History’. Somewhere in the middle of this flattened nest of heart comfort and gaze balm is a photo of the child when she was just a few months old. She’s all scream, the perfect red Cupid’s bow now rendered black, and the mouth a deep throaty well wherein monsters lie.
Adjacent to this idol’s rebel yell is Caravaggio’s Medusa, with a mouth more fearsome but shaped or angled similarly.
The child is always drawn to these two images, and although she is fearless by a nature that increasingly resists all bounds, she seeks reassurance about the woman with a head of snakes. ‘Yes, she’s angry, and she can turn men into stone. And yes, that’s a photo of you. I was with you. I took that photo.’
I have serpents in my hair too, green and golden. But this I don’t tell her.
This is important: to become none.
My disaster is the warm cradle for what comes after.
something woke you
A supple curve, pressing a defence against the fanged night.
There is no reality that does not produce appearances, no praxis that does not generate illusions,
coming as the shark of the bush, with its conveyor belt of teeth, that fractal infinity machine,
so far from the ocean
Something woke you, first one, then a pack.
You stop breathing and listen to the bush/dingo/bush.
I shoot another arrow, then another and another.
Your sister sleeps. Luminous creature,
alive and skittering across sweet water.
The dark night, the fear of waves, the terrifying whirlpool. And now, the deep blue sky soaks into the back of my eyes.
How can they know of our state, those who go lightly along the shore?
All things derive from a void and are swept into the infinite.
a second midnight skin
Wherever I go I take them with me, they are golden and iridescent blue, and are opportunistic.
I am ignorant, but they teach me and we feed one another.
I walk through the world with my mouth wide open, harvesting the morsels that others shed.
A mouth swallowing the storm.
We are infolding like rows of teeth with tails,
The tails lash onto one another, they strengthen, soften, become string for knotting or weaving a net
a net not made to catch ordinary shapes, but to sieve the air for the imperceptible
to comb the waves for deep rumbles or high whistles
to wrap around thoughts and keep them together, patterning the skin of ideas
speaking directly to holdin
A is reading out the story about people committing suicide in areas where 5G is being rolled out, so i said that we need to leap straight to telepathy, and A says — Holdin has the right idea (Holdin died exactly 5 weeks ago to the hour, but time has no meaning since Holdin died and became everywhere all around forever, a dissipated energy, a sparse slow wave spread over a vast area). We both speak directly to Holdin then, bypassing the internet.
Neither of us moves our mouths.
Bodies are compressed, fossil-becoming. Beasts walk upon them with light feet or none. The powder of bones lifts into the thick air and scatters its motes. Finds its way into the smallest of fissures, trickles down rock faces, filters the light to turn the sun vermillion.
our bones are rocks
This morning i was listening to a podcast about how our bones are rocks and i followed a guided meditation linking human bodies at a material level with other waters, other bloods, other calciums, other atoms, other molecules. In, in, in and out, out, out. We are micro and macro simultaneously. This zooming through fractal fields is like speaking to the dead, the undead, a constant becoming.
We cannot deny energy.
a second midnight skin
We recline on the warm blue beach of micronised plastics in the atomic breeze
wearing littoral shoes
and a second midnight skin
A bird, lizard in its beak, dives into the mound springs. A woman who was once a tree, a tree once a child.
Goats fouling the waterholes.
Copper, gold, uranium. The poison, leave it!
The earth can cradle plastic as easily as it cradles forests. New mountains grow out of fecal waste and derelict houses.
Humans will disappear long before the last insect dies, and the insects, tireless, will carry away human remains for their own purposes.
The magic building site holds its queen in the foundations, fed by the mouths of machines, fattened by mites and concrete dust. The intricate procedures carry on above her, the dance of the cranes, the upward climb of scaffolding.
From the many butterflies of Maria Sibylla Merian V chooses 5, and meticulously scalpels and sculpts them, transforming them into a small delicate swarm of blue and orange and red, that will eventually fly from the baby’s mouth across the video screen and across centuries and oceans into a gallery in downtown New York.
Before we leave Adelaide I show H the animation, calling it the Magic Baby. She is enchanted (Great, perfect response!) and makes me play it over and over again, nine or ten times. Later her parents tell me that she’s been going around chanting ‘I am the magic baby’, over and over again. Her brother was too young to be a magic baby himself, she explained, although she had witnessed his blue eyes emerging from the parched bed of the river of salt.
Songs for skinwalking the drone.
An elegy in stone.
The brush of an angel’s wing.
Their persimmon lips. Their violet eyes.
Their besotted murmurings.
this is the land speaking
At farmer’s twilight, you hear them before you hear them, a psycho-sonic encounter with the noumenal.
Wolf or bear or dingo or shark
ready to rip holes on either side of your spine
The spectres themselves are rarely seen. They melt into the bush: acacia cambagei, stinking wattle, gidyea scrub
you never see them become witch
‘boats of the dead’
hold a fondness for cellular information and your 12-year-old back
corpses in the machine graveyard drip your blood through the house that shouldn’t be there
ringed with rosy hue, they hang there in space, seven rungs tied to that big vine.
You shiver as they go.
As night falls the lake becomes a heavy, colourless, transparent glistening, trying to reach a tree that is always disappearing into the bush.
The storm bird calls.
This is the creation I know, this is the land speaking
a series of worlds mirrored, vast dark holes in memory.
we are country
It’s one of those sharp blue autumn days in adelaide, and I’m sitting on the grass at Tarndanyangga — place of the red kangaroo — 34°55′50″S 138°36′15″E — colonial name Victoria Square, Victoria for the Queen of Empire and the sponge cake filled with raspberry jam and cream. It’s a panel of art, activism and climate change, wedged awkwardly into a festival of Indonesia culture. There’s only a handful of us here as listeners to the five speakers, reminding me of the late 1990s when artists and activists were still figuring out how to come together to shine light on the atrocious (and surely illegal, as indefinite detention is a crime, in the international jurisdiction) imprisonment of asylum seekers in remote ‘holiday camps’ in the Australian deserts and sharpest western corners of the Top End. Ground, bodies and rights are always contested, and battles won do not enjoy the sleep of victory for very long. Nevertheless, we draw strength and inspiration from our times of hard-won joy, draw breath, and start again. Again and again.
Two women, strong Aboriginal artists/activists/academics, and members of the UnBound Collective, reflect on where the themes coalesce for them. Faye Rosas Blanch describes herself as a ‘rainforest girl’, a Murri woman of Yidniji/Mbarbarm descent. She says, ‘Stories remember’.
Two words that can be interpreted in various ways, and for me I’m thinking of stories that tell themselves, become instantiated in place, pass through lips and ears, through dance and smoke, rise up out of the early morning mist, becoming-cloud.
Simone Ulalka Tur is a Yankunytjatjara woman, from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in the north-western South Australian desert. She and her elders, especially the Kupa Pit Kunga Tjuta (literally ‘many women from Coober Pedy’) had fought the ultimately successful long campaign in the twenty years ago against a nuclear waste dump on their country. A fight that again is taking form, as the federal government again seeks to site a dump on country, someone’s country.
Simone speaks of ‘embodied knowledge’, and the ‘Indigenous ontological perspective’.
‘We are not disconnected from country, we are country.’
We are country.
A gullet of mud dying, not dying.
… the river that was once underground rises up. The curve reveals itself, lines stripped bare.
Keeping our eyes on the horizon, we dive in and under.
Yesterday we walked here.
We found disgorged eagle pellets containing fur, a small rat’s eye peeping out from the half-digested mess.
We ate wildfire eggs in the river bed and dropped the peeled shells on the sand.
starry or otherwise
And me? I’m here on this country not as a First Nations person with a line cast back into the past for hundreds, thousands of generations, but as one of those who was washed ashore. I’m one of those green and purple and orange foreigner stones nesting all over the beach at Hallett Cove, birthed by the melting glacier millennia ago. I’ve birthed and buried my line on this country, which gives me no right to lay claim, but impels me to seek solidarity and join the struggles of those who are, without doubt, country.
And, in the age of (incontestable!) climate change, I can reflect on another kind of belonging, and responsibility, saying, at least, at most, I am earth, sky, water, dust, starry or otherwise.
Black leaves rain down on the marshlands. An ominous borealis dances underneath a turbulent sky that hums, shivering hearts.
Small bronze mirror crabs clamber onto the waders’ feet, clacking. They steal skin flakes to eat later.
Everybody holds hands, their mouths hang open, they listen in silence to a mirage interrupted only by yellow-ringed finches falling from a cumulus of accumulated ash.
O bright luck!
Is it any more than a line cast out to the future along which to pull oneself?
Always already dead, annihilation a condition of life.
Codicil, on co-creation
creating open systems of production, using the framework of sympoiesis as articulated by Mary Beth Dempster+ is endlessly challenging and rewarding. It is aspirational and often speculative, and asks that as a maker, you remain always open, perhaps perpetually in crisis, it asks of you to perhaps think as a swamp thinks++ in tidal motion, sometimes drowning, sometimes deep in mud, air roots breathing through lenticles, walking through the world with your mouth wide open, every particle of the swamp adjusting to the ever-changing conditions. It asks you to be truly co-creative and open source your selves and your work, offering it to others with no attachment to outcome. It is pretty difficult, but ultimately rewarding in that you receive the gift of unmaking yourself over and over again.
The gift that keeps on giving but is hard to take.
+ Sympoietic systems are homeorhetic, evolutionary, distributively controlled, unpredictable and adaptive
++ Acknowledging here my swamp writing companions, Ashley Haywood and Nick Taylor, we have drowned each other in our tides, swallowed all the words and spewed them out again, briny and bloated, time and again, as the waters rise and fall, and the lenticels open and close.
You have to sense when to relentlessly fight for your progeny, and when to yield, offering them up to the lion’s hot breathy maw. You need to eat, to cook, to leave the house to fetch water from the well, to gather wild greens, and field mushrooms from fairy rings after the rain. Remember to sleep. But sometimes you need to stay awake all night to finish that thing, to break its back. But I can’t, and you know this about me. It’s good to take a walk after lunch and observe the ants. If they are swarming you know that rain is on its way.
Unless they are swarming because it’s that one night of the year that they’ve all grown wings and they’re off to that anty bacchanalia. Sometimes you need to find a rock, hold it in your palm, then return it to the same spot. Or maybe you must lie on the grass and spot which creatures the clouds are becoming. In the making frenzy it’s important to remember to water the garden, to feed the compost, to reply to incoming texts within at least 72 hours. To set aside the rest of life, at least for 1 week, or 1 month, or 1 year, to do this thing, this DIWO thing. DIWO — do it with others. To know that despite the fiercest of arguments you and your accomplices will be friends at the end of the making. That’s probably the most important thing, that and the work, you want it to be good, to know that it was the best that you could do, under and within all circumstances.
I think i fight less than you for my progeny, because i am anti-natalist, and i don’t want to care for any babies. I want to lose all the precious things, throw them to the lions so that they can feed and breed the unthinkable. Suddenly the hard place i began blooms like a carpet of ruby saltbush in the spring. The desert was always, beautiful, though, even with the ants and the 3 corner jacks tearing up what’s left of your feet. And here we are, so far from home, with our krill and our terra and our spore, wondering how they got here in the first place.
But you know, i couldn’t have done it on my own. I find working alone so desperate sometimes. The system is so fucked. Precarity rules, and when somebody sits by me, or adjacent, or proximal or trans-me, then i find myself in their flow, when i was in the valley of shit, and it might be less like shit then and more like muddy water that becomes a stream of life.
Co-creation is inherently anti-capitalist. I leave it here without explanation.
It’s beyond any monetary value that can be neatly quantified, what accomplices bring to the feast. Paolo Virno talks about virtuosity essential to late capitalism, defining this as humans’ inherent cognitive and communicative capacities, that can be turned to create commodities and profit for the masters. But, it is this infinitely generative virtuosity, especially when performed in the company of others — be they strangers, xenokin, biofam or familiars — that can be deployed to execute new ways (or to recuperate the most useful of old ways) to care better for one another than for the machine.
 In Her Interior, http://www.inherinterior.net/projects/refresh/
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