Between Monday 27th April and Friday 1st May 2020 we posted contributions from Anthony Bennett, Arran Stibbe, Bridget McKenzie, Mike Hembury and Anne Krinsky. You can find the full, week-by-week listing at Quarantine Connection.
Day 15 — Anne Krinsky: The Ephemera Scrolls
Anne Krinsky is a visual artist in analogue and digital media, fascinated by the ways built and natural structures change over time, currently exploring the ephemeral nature of wetlands. She is based in London, England.
Anne says of this piece:
“I have been thinking about ephemerality – of wetlands, water, landscape and life as we have known it, in the face of climate change.
“I created The Ephemera Scrolls for a 2019 exhibition in St. Augustine’s Tower in London, Reading Stones: Anne Krinsky/ Susan Eyre / Carol Wyss. We each made site-specific works in response to the history and architecture of the ancient stone Tower, Hackney’s oldest building. Built in the 13th century, it houses a magnificent 16th-century clock whose mechanisms still strike the hours, occupying three floors connected by steep spiral stone stairs. Through our respective interests in the land, the body and the cosmos, we explored relationships between time and materiality, on four floors of the tower.
“The scrolls are part of an ongoing project about wetlands and climate change. I incorporated photographs I took in 2019 of the River Naab in Schwandorf Germany, as river levels dropped during the hottest June on record. I combined these with images of the Tower’s clock mechanism and of gravestones in the surrounding churchyard. Working with projection, photography and digital print, I designed and installed a series of 10 digitally-printed scrolls on the Tower’s first floor.”
The Ephemera Scrolls
Images: Anne Krinsky: The Ephemera Scrolls in St. Augustine’s Tower Hackney, London, 2019.
Day 14 — Mike Hembury: Corona Diaries — Journal of a Journey
Mike Hembury is a writer, musician and photographer, with a regular column on climate change, whose novel, New Clone City (2018), features environmental themes in an urban setting. He is based in Berlin, Germany.
Mike’s piece was originally published as part of the Corona Diaries series at Leopardskins & Limes and he says:
“This piece came about as a response both to the initial weirdness of lockdown, and to the strange feeling of familiarity that it created within me. Perhaps that’s because, as a sailor, I’m used to spending weeks at a time confined in a small space with my partner. Yet of course, something is missing. The natural world. The whole mighty experiential flash of total immersion in a non-urban environment. So perhaps what I’m talking about here are my compensation strategies. Social distancing, I can deal with. But the poignancy of a too-soon spring, and a landscape already in drought, is something I find far harder to handle.”
Corona Diaries: Journal of a Journey
I guess I’m much reduced, these days.
This morning at 6 a.m. I got up and caught sight of the two poplar trees in our backyard, their still-emerging leaves on fire with the morning sun.
I see these trees every day. But this is not every day. These times are not every day.
Every day is broken and gone.
So there’s me, and there’s the trees. And there’s the moment.
And I do my best to savour the moment, because who’s to know how many moments we have left?
Because of the virus, obviously. Because of eight hundred people a day, dying in Italy. Because of trajectories, and vectors, and exponential growth. Because of lockdowns and impending curfews.
And because the whole damn thing feels so familiar. Like you saw it on TV a while back but can’t quite remember the name. At the time you just filed it away under generic disaster movie but now it’s back to bite you in the ass.
Life becomes less and more at the same time.
So if I’m reduced, it’s not a bad thing. My other life is – was – far too expansive. I frittered my days away with work, the internet, distractions. Now it’s as if I’m on a boat.
I’m limited, but I’m travelling.
It was day one of our work-from-home routine. My workplace had just reduced itself to the max. Anyone who was able to work from home was told to do so. It’s no big deal for me. Most of my work is done online anyhow.
But the first morning, I got up, and something was different. I was different. I had that feeling I know from being on the water. From spending the summer in cramped circumstances whilst around you the Baltic Sea stretches from horizon to horizon.
That first morning, I dismissed the feeling. I figured, it’s not supposed to be like this. I tried to gear myself up for work, for a day, if not at the office, then at least at my desk.
But the virus.
So what did you do, whilst the world ground to a halt? What was your reaction to the biggest hiatus in the relentless productive logic of capitalism since World War II?
Ah, I just stayed at my desk. Wrote some code and a couple of mails, good drone that I am.
No, fuck that.
I had to sneak out, take time off work. Bad. Bad drone.
Worse, I had to take time off from Corona. Bad, bad citizen. Double bad stay-at-home.
I snuck out, but I took care to keep well away from people.
As wellest away as I could.
I took my bike, and took my camera, and took some pictures. Trees budding. Spring springing. That kind of thing.
Things to make my heart feel good.
It’s a dirty city, an ugly time, a vicious virus. Don’t get me talking about the state of the world. I’m not optimistic. Even if I do believe that people can be wondrous and capable of anything we set our minds to.
Even if, near the end of my sixth decade on this planet, my heart burns for revolution. Maybe even more than ever, now that it feels like it’s our only hope.
So, virus and dirt. Despair and seeking out the beauty.
I row the boat ashore from my sea-anchored apartment and go on furtive hunting trips to graveyards, alleyways, stretches of canal.
And come back with a spray of cherry, a bee on a petal, a star magnolia flower suspended against a dirty tenement block.
Or a brick firewall, an old water tower, a chapel of rest black with a couple of centuries’ worth of smog.
It’s a reflex I developed as a kid. It helps me make sense of the world.
If land people need earthing, what do sea people need?
Watering. Oceaning. Waving.
We need the eddy and the swirl. The wind and the horizon. The tininess of a nutshell vessel and the vastness of the endlessly powerful sea. The oneness, the loneliness and the togetherness. The each otherness. The being there. The reverence, the insignificance. The fullness to bursting.
The irony of the times is that being on the water is classed as a sport. And collective sporting activities, here in Berlin at least, are verboten, as of last week.
So now we make do with memories, and pictures, routines, and doing things with our hands.
My love of the past nineteen years is a musician. We have been making music together for around thirty years now.
So we make music. It’s part of our new routine. We learn a new song a day, and every day we record a song and put it online.
Today there’s a call for musicians to play from the balconies of the city.
Maybe we’ll do it. It’s an adventure.
In catastrophic times, we’re on a journey.
Corona Diaries: Journal of a Journey was first published in the Corona Diaries series at Leopardskins & Limes (24/2/20), a site that welcomes “writing that crosses borders (metaphorically and literally) effortlessly. That makes us feel things that we didn’t know we could feel, or simply just entertain the pants off of us. Based in Berlin, amidst an ever-changing city that is wonderfully queer and diverse, we hope to find like-minded writers the world over and make one big, happy, global community of really lovely writers!”
As Mike mentions, his two most active projects right now are a series of photos documenting the spring in and around the city, and a video tune-a-day series of (mostly) European folk traditionals. And you can explore more of his work via his ClimateCultures profile.
Day 13 — Bridget McKenzie: Extraction and the Pandemic
Bridget McKenzie is an independent researcher and creative curator, founding Climate Museum UK as an emerging mobile kit of ‘loose parts’ that creatively stirs responses to the climate emergency. She is based in London, England.
Bridget says of this piece:
“This collage is my attempt to visually represent the whole system of extraction, ecocide and the harm this is doing to the ‘body of humanity’, including viral pandemics such as Covid-19. It’s part of a project in Climate Museum UK where we are growing a collection of articles, views and artistic responses about the links between the Pandemic and the Planetary Emergency. We’re keen to give a platform to more artistic explorations of this issue, as well as about the idea of extractivism more broadly. Sharing this collage work aims to be inspiring to trigger more artistic contributions to this enquiry into extractivism, and planetary and human wellbeing.”
Extraction and the Pandemic
You can read Bridget’s Medium post about the collage, Illustrating Extraction and the Pandemic, with detailed images and commentary on the elements of the collage. And you can explore more of the work of Climate Museum UK and Bridget’s other work via her ClimateCultures profile.
Day 12 — Arran Stibbe: Ecolinguistics and Erasure (an extract)
Arran Stibbe is Professor of Ecological Linguistics at the University of Gloucestershire, and a writer on language, reconnection with nature, the stories we live by, and founder of the International Ecolinguistics Association, a network of 800 ecolinguists from around the world. He is based in Cheltenham, England.
Arran says of this piece:
“In the rush to produce and consume the natural world around us often gets forgotten, erased from our minds as we get on with more important things. The Covid-19 crisis, for all its tragic consequences, has caused many people to slow down, notice the natural world around them and find some kind of enchantment or wellbeing from connecting with it. Hopefully this is a turning point in our society where we re-evaluate what is important and start to notice, protect and preserve the ecosystems that support our wellbeing and all life on the planet.”
The following text is abridged and adapted from Ecolinguistics and Erasure: restoring the natural world to consciousness, a chapter that Arran contributed to Contemporary Critical Discourse Studies (Bloomsbury Academic, London: 2014). The chapter introduces the notion of erasure from our social discourses of key issues of ecological relations and humans’ embeddedness in nature. It identifies some of the ways this is evident, as either a total absence of, or giving a distorted representation of, or else leaving only the weakest remnant of the ecological context for our discourses, with examples from mainstream texts on neoclassical economics, animal farming and pro-environmental sustainability. Finally, it calls for a re-minding of nature within our discourses, as a response to this erasure.
Ecolinguistics and Erasure: restoring the natural world to consciousness (an extract)
One of the ways that disciplines evolve and new sub-disciplines are formed is through a declaration by certain scholars that something of great importance has been overlooked, or erased, by the discipline.
Ecolinguistics recognises that language is embedded in society, but goes further than that. It recognises that language is embodied, i.e., embedded in beings who have bodies. But it goes further than that too, in recognising that humans, human bodies, and human society are all embedded in larger natural systems – the complex interactions of humans, plants, animals, and the physical environment. The claim is that linguistics, or specifically Critical Discourse Studies, has been so focused on power relations between people, on sexism, racism and the multitude of other ways that some humans oppress other humans, that it has overlooked, or erased something of importance. And the relations of humans with other species and the physical environment are of great importance, since the continuation of all life depends on these ecological relationships.
The term ‘erasure’, then is used in a variety of ways to indicate that something important has been ignored, sidelined or excluded from consideration within a discourse. Erasure, however, is something intrinsic to the very nature of discourse. In representing and constructing areas of social life discourses will always be partial, will always bring certain elements together into a configuration while leaving out a whole universe of other elements. The concept of erasure only becomes meaningful when combined with its counterpart, which could be called re-minding. Re-minding is a linguistic act where an actor surveys the universe of elements that have been excluded from a particular discourse, declares that one of these elements is important, that the discourse is ‘erasing’ it from consciousness, and demands that the discourse brings it back to mind. Erasure, then is not so much a property of discourse, or a conscious act of exclusion and marginalisation by the group responsible for the discourse, but part of a discursive struggle where actors attempt to create discursive change by declaring that something of importance has been excluded. What that ‘something of importance’ is depends on the goals and interests of those who are doing the ‘re-minding’.
There are a variety of forms that erasure can take, and this chapter will focus on three main forms. The first, which will be called ‘the void’, is the most obvious and the one most frequently described in social science: ‘something important’ is entirely absent and not mentioned in a discourse at all. The second type draws from the work of Baudrillard, who describes the following hierarchy of representation:
- The image is the reflection of a profound reality.
- The image masks and denatures a profound reality.
- The image masks the absence of a profound reality.
- The image has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum.
(adapted from Baudrillard 1994: Simulacra and simulation, p6)
The first of these levels assumes a pre-discursive reality that is represented in a direct way – with no erasure. The third and fourth levels are of great interest for ecolinguistics, given that so much of what occurs in political and institutional discourse bears no relation to anything that exists within physical reality, but are not specifically erasure. It is the second level that is most useful here – ‘The image masks and denatures a profound reality’ since it suggests a form of erasure where ‘something important’ is represented in discourse, but in a distorted way as a ‘mask’ which erases its true nature. This second type of erasure, then, we will call ‘the mask’.
Baudrillard’s top level of representation, where discourses transparently and directly reflect a pre-existing reality is problematic, since the complexity of pre-discursive reality is far greater than the representational resources of humans. Instead, it is useful to think of discourses as always erasing what they are describing, but doing so to a greater or lesser extent. When discourses include mention of ‘something important’ but still manage to erase it by representing it in a vague, weak or abstract way, then this is the third type of erasure, which we will call ‘the trace’. The image is of pencil marks being erased while a trace of their former presence remains in the indentations in the page. The ‘trace’ can be stronger or weaker depending on how vividly the expressions in the discourse evoke ‘something important’.
Erasure happens at multiple levels. At the lowest level, ‘something important’ is erased from sentences and clauses through a range of linguistic devices including metaphors, metonymies, nominalisations, and hyponyms. If ‘something important’ is erased from multiple sentences then this starts to build up to erasure from the text as a whole. Texts, in turn, draw from discourses (characteristic ways of speaking and writing the world in particular areas of social life), and it is the erasure of ‘something important’ from the discourse that is the key concern, since discourses are what shape the society we live in. Analysis therefore starts on the lowest level, examining the sentences and clauses in a specific text, but also looks for larger patterns across the text as a whole and the discourse as a whole. As an illustration, analysis may start by looking at the erasure of the natural world in specific sentences in a neoclassical economics textbook, discover patterns of erasure across the book, then look at other books, reports and economics news articles and eventually gain insights into the erasure of the natural world within the discourse of neoclassical economics in general.
The relevant elements of erasure, then, are a) an area of social life such as economics or environmentalism, b) a discourse, which is a typical way of speaking about the world in that area which encodes a particular worldview c) ‘something important’, which is entirely missing from the worldview, or present only as a faint trace, or present in a distorted version, and c) an actor who declares that ‘something important’ has been erased and insists that it be brought back into the discourse.
Re-minding is the task of bring the natural world back into consciousness – seeking out the key discourses where the erasure of the ecological embedding of humans is dangerous, and seeking to intervene in those discourses. This cannot rely just on conscientization – on making people aware that assumptions in dominant discourses are oppressing them and encouraging them to resist. Ecological issues are somewhat different to those typically analysed in Critical Discourse Studies because there is a time and space gap between oppressive acts (overconsumption, ecological destruction and waste) and the suffering caused to groups of humans. Also many of those harmed first from ecological destruction are not human at all but other animals and lifeforms without a voice. However, those responsible for destructive discourses are human, which means that there will be some with a sense of ethics who do not want to cause harm to other animals, forests, rivers and to humans in the future.
You can download the full chapter, Ecolinguistics and Erasure: restoring the natural world to consciousness, and find other publications by Arran in the University of Gloucestershire repository. And you can explore Arran’s work with the International Ecolinguistics Association and The Stories We Live By — the free online course in ecolinguistics he created with volunteers from the IEA– in his ClimateCultures profile page. ClimateCultures editor Mark Goldthorpe reviewed the course in this post from July 2017, and Arran produced this free summary of the book that the course draws on, Ecolinguistics: Language, Ecology and the Stories We Live By (2015).
Day 11 — Anthony Bennett: Ace of Wands
Anthony Bennett is a multidisciplinary artist whose work, often collaborative, is inspired by difficult contemporary and future sociological concerns surrounding issues such as food security and migration. He is based in Sheffield, England.
Anthony says of this piece:
“Just before the Covid-19 lockdown, I completed Ace of Wands. The piece reflects on my hope for neoteric connections, conscious and unconscious, technological and magical, mycelial and quantum.
“I have recently been appointed ‘Honorary Research Fellow for Environmental Advocacy at the Intersection of Science and Contemporary Art’ at the Institute for Sustainable Food, at the University of Sheffield. I was due to show three artworks at The Royal Society, London, on the 16th March 2020, at the launch of the Institute – sadly cancelled due to Covid-19. A one-man show of my recent works, entitled ‘Metamycota’, at Studio 1.1 gallery in Shoreditch, London, has been postponed until the end of the year.”
Ace of Wands