D Gallery, 636 S Wabash, ste. 722, Chicago IL .:. Opening Reception Friday Nov 8, 12:45-1:45 .:. Exhibition runs through January 2013.
Hijacking the 9-5 office of Philip von Zweck’s D Gallery, I installed a series of visual models, notes and computations in an effort to trace the transformative animal potential in art and space. These notes entertain the Anthropocene, the End Times, and the limits of human imagination, drawing unreasonable speculations out into models of structured, institutional space.
“This is what happened at 3400 feet — we had reached a stand of red wood trees in an area that had never been cut and my ears popped.” Lyn Hejinian, My Life
“This is what makes the world…I believe this to be the fundamental dynamic. Transition. The point where one thing becomes another. It is what makes you, the city, the world, what they are. And that is the theme that I’m interested in. The zone where the disparate become the whole. The hybrid zone.” China Miéville, Perdido Street Station
“Insofar as the animal knows neither being nor nonbeing, neither open nor closed, it is outside of being; it is outside in an intimacy more internal than any closedness. To let the animal be would then mean: to let it be outside of being.” Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal
I saw, or thought I saw, or have convinced myself I saw a vastness that dwarfed the desert sky. A yawning gap of Leviathan proportions… Spread across the emptiness, streaming away from us with cavernous perspective in all directions and dimensions, encompassing lifetimes and hugeness with each intricate knot of metaphysical substance, was a web. It’s substance was known to me. The crawling infinity of colors, the chaos of textures that went into each strand of that eternally complex tapestry…each one resonated under the step of the dancing mad god, vibrating and sending echoes of bravery, or hunger, or architecture, or argument, or cabbage or murder or concrete across the aether. The weft of a starlings’ motivations connected to the thick, sticky strand of a young thief’s laugh… The plait disappeared into the enormity of possible spaces. (1)
A transcendental spider with many, tiny, human hands haunts the pages of China Mieville’s book, Perdido Street Station. Humans call this beast “The Weaver,” other species “The Mad Dancing God.” It is unpredictable, and makes few appearances in the book; its speech is barely rational. In one instance, however, it picks up a group of protagonists, pulls them behind their material world (a world largely in step with any of our contemporary cities) through a portal, and into an entirely other dimension. Our protagonists marvel at the discovery at this space — it defies comprehension and can later be relayed only as a dream, or feeling of vastness. This new dimension contains the prior, familiar, urban one, while simultaneously containing countless others. It is like a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the score of Life. Befitting a spider, it evidently looks like a web.
While Miéville’s account takes place on a fantastic scale within the pages of science fiction, it has resonances in our, relatively, banal world as well. Consider, for instance, the work of Jacob von Uexküll, who devised schematic diagrams of world views according to various species. Every creature has an “umwelt” — “the environment-world that is constituted by a more or less broad series of elements that he calls ‘carriers of significance’” or “the only things that interest the animal.”  This umwelt is the epicenter of any creature’s experience; it defines the way that creature filters and engages its environment. The umwelt is defined by a creature’s sensory abilities — what kind of light does it see, for instance? — its biological needs — what does it eat and where does its food typically reside — and anatomical constraints — can this creature fly, for instance, and how does that automatically limit or expand its desires? These countless conditions, drives, capacities filter that creature’s sense of the world to such an extent that whatever lies beyond it’s grasp may as well not exist. In a chapter of Agamben’s The Open, for instance, some of Uexküll’s study on a tick is recounted: a tick given no opportunity to fulfill itself and attempt to feed on warm blood lays dormant in a laboratories for 18 years.
…(for the tick), the Umwelt is reduced to only three carriers of significance (1) The odor of butyric acid, which emanates from the sebaceous follicles of all mammals, (2) The temperature of 37 degrees (corresponding to the blood of all mammals), (3) The (hairy typology of mammals)… It would therefore be impossible for any single creature to get beyond its own umwelt in order to see the “bigger picture.” I like the Miéville’s passage because we get a first-hand, albeit fictional, account of what stepping outside an umwelt might look like. The narrator expresses confusion, fascination, deep feeling and recognition for the strange landscape before his eyes. “It’s substance was known to me,” he says. But it is so far outside his experience, he cannot absorb, process, and remember what he sees. The Weaver’s “web” defies his semiotic capacity.
Morton champions species fluidity. In The Ecological Thought (University of Harvard Press, 2010), he refers to animals as “strange strangers” and addresses the way we characterize our relationship to the world, describing its origins and shortcomings within Darwinian philosophy. For Morton, the primary affect created by our encounter with non-human life is a sense of the uncanny. A creature returns our gaze, breathes and reacts; it appears to possess familiar feelings. Yet it is also irretrievably Other: we face the near impossibility of forming a cognitive relationship with it. According to Morton, the more we examine our environment, the more this feeling of the uncanny persists, particularly as we try to trace out a narrative of progress wherein one species leads to the next. “All organisms are monsters insofar as they arechimeras, made from pieces of other creatures.” Perhaps as a way to temper that feeling of unnerving estrangement, and in an effort to comprehend (and codify) our environment, we have historically developed intricate systems of classification, parsing this plant from that animal. This system is so convincing, so absorbing in its complexity, rarely do we experience the bounds of our own umwelt. Still, those systems are unstable and largely arbitrary. Rather than living in a neat system of one species versus another, the borders between species are porous and constantly shifting. In fact, we are so aware of the interconnected nature of things (different species, habitats, climates, etc.) that the background and foreground become murky. Morton likens this to an ever changing “mesh” of which all creatures are a part. “The mesh isn’t a background against which the strange stranger appears. It is the entanglement of all strangers.” In that mesh we see the image of Nature, not as an over-yonder place, outside of humanity, but rather a realm that humankind occupies and shares with all species; this myriad tempest of life, “the mesh” of which we are a part, is comprised by ever changing, inescapable, messy borders. read more