The Political Animal event presents work by members of The Political Animal reading group and its extended network. This was a day-long event comprised of new writing, screenings, sculptural and video commissions, and live performances that reflect upon the conditions of interspecies relationships today. Drawing from studies on animal theory, biology, ethology, philosophy, anthropology and literature, each participant presents their own take on locating the human and other animals within worlds that we have come to call ‘nature’ and ‘culture’.
“The future is but the obsolete in reverse”, Heraclitus once said. I quote him later on, in a voice-over for this film we’ve yet to make.
When we arrive in Breiddalsvik George Walker is filed into boxes in the basement of the primary school. We scan labels and lists and choose portions of him to get into. His footage arrives from Reykjavik unwatched in a small black brick: we set down with it, knowing we’re looking for golden moments and knowing that if we try to talk about what these are we’ll start to fight. It’s two o’clock and the sun is setting. A folder of diagrams is open on the table, something to do with non-Newtonian fluids. I mention that I’m still trying to figure out what the viscous shape is. C replies that it might be easier to figure out what it is not.
We watch for a long time until redundancy slides from endless landforms shot from above onto the surface of the film itself. Beneath a vibrating patina of scratches and dust, blasts of pyroclastic tephra settle on our macbook screen. “He’s close” I say, “It’s hot ash hitting the lens”. “Or” (Curtis) “a record of the number of times it’s been looked at?” Neither of us is wrong, and the geologist’s eye and our eyes seem stuck to this segment of footage in particular.
“One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion” wrote Robert Smithson, in an essay for Artforum in the year Walker travelled to document the eruption of Mt Etna.
“…mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries …The most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusion…”
Amidst Walker’s rubble there’s a larger box in the archive labelled simply, “the book”. Christa tells us it’s a manuscript that he wrote and never published: the first page is labelled “Chp.1, Viscosity”
For fifteen years in the 1970s and ‘80s GPL Walker worked as Chair of the Volcanology Department at the University of Hawaii, where he intimately studied and photographed the pahoehoe and a’a lava flows incessantly overtaking the local roads and coral reefs of Maui. Our second short film resulting from the work at Breiddalssetur Geology Center in East Iceland features a 16mm time lapse taken by Walker of one such flow destroying an inhabited area known as “Royal Gardens” over the course of an entire day. The almost invisible movements of the molten rock and lava are rendered lifelike and viscous in his time-condensed footage.
We intercut an animation created from thousands of diagrams and drawings produced by George for an unfinished manuscript, a project he was unable to complete before his death in 2005. Known only as “The Book”, these writings feature ten chapters rigorously describing different types of flow which emanate from volcanic action, from tephra clouds, falling deposits, and underwater landslides, to a’a rubble and pahoehoe lava rivers. Our work pulls from Walker’s text to appropriate the flow-dynamics of lava itself as a “sorting mechanism” and filmic treatment of the archival material.
Produced by Breidalssetur Geology Center (Christa and Martin Feucht) Original Music by Hermione Spriggs & Curtis Tamm Animation by HS Sound Design & Editing by CT
This short film is featured as part of The Viscous Shape, an ongoing research and film project by HS & CT which seeks to warm up the textual and visual archives of George PL Walker.
Made with generous support from the Arts Council England International Development Fund & Skaftfell Center for Visual Art. Special thanks to the Walker Family and GPL Walker Archives.
“The verb “to dart” is not a notion I easily associate with slugs and snails. “Love”, however, maybe. I once witnessed a slug, centrally placed on a gravel path in a London park, lustfully entwining itself with a smoothly eroded piece of flint that resembled it uncannily in size and shape. I love the poorly focused 35mm snap that I took to remember the day. And in retrospect I love the overwhelming intimacy of this small-scale event, an interspecies Pygmalion, set within the everyday banality of a human city passing it by. It was only when we crouched to better observe the slug-flint chimera that walkers-in-the-park got curious and started to gather – and even then they seemed perturbed to find ‘nothing there’ on the ground where we were staring – just a slug, or a stone, or two of one, or neither.
But for me the slug’s tactile and idolatry exploration of a form that echoed its own became a place-marker, a sort of totem event if you like, that I always go back to when I play one of my favourite thought games. This consists of quizzing myself with a philosophical conundrum: “what would it take to make art for other species of animal? Do they make art for themselves?”
In Greek myth Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with one of the statues he had carved. He loved the figure so much that he wished he could meet its human likeness in the living world – until, one evening on returning home, he kissed the statue on the lips and found that they were warm. I can only imagine that for the ‘dusky slug’ (Arion subfuscus) the piece of flint it was kissing felt somehow protective, not warm to the ‘touch’ if slugs can be said to touch on our terms, but seductively smooth and large and solid, given its placement in the midst of a monotonous field of prickly pebbles and heavy mammalian footfall. A sculpture, or readymade, or cairn… how else would a slug view the image of its likeness other than slithering, like a long muscular tongue, over the flavours of its surface? Continue reading “A SLUG OR A STONE”
“The ‘request’ for data creates the law that, ultimately, gives rise to the data. The observer creates his or her local reality” (Roy Frieden, 1998)
Participant Obviation (anthropology):
“Studying ways of getting things wrong” (Morten Pedersen, 2017)… the productive failure to interpret productive failures… The anthropology of anthropology.
“We were the Guinea pigs. The neutrinos. The Higgs bosons. We were theorised upon, modelled, desired. We were called forth into existence. We were experimented into the world…” (Alberto Corsin Jimenez)
On the bus home after our meeting, unfurled and exhausted, I met an ex-commercial fisherman—
“to know something you have to fight it…
…To fish for albacore tuna, you stand with a rod braced against your chest and facing the sea. When a fish bites the hook it is flying through the water at 50mph using its own momentum. A practiced fisherman uses an albacore’s existing flight path (trajectory, energy source), to cajole the fish into leaping out of the sea, and into his boat with the flick of a rod. He learns this through repeated swings of his stake in the wrong direction: a fight with a 4-foot albacore is bloody and exhausting. They have sharp teeth.”
To know a fish you have to fight it, but to catch a fish you have to flywith the fish.
I’m thinking of a category of works of art that probably don’t exist, formally at least, until now – at least this is the first time I’ve mentioned them. These things have started stubbornly entering my workspace and consciousness, demanding to be considered, and I’m calling them sparagmos. The idea that sparagmos are ‘works’ needs to be reconsidered too since these are things that work in the sense that they do work on the artist/maker/(re)searcher, but they cannot be said to be work made by that individual(s) in any simple sense. Nor are they ‘readymades’ (which are always selected by somebody). Sparagmos is not. Sparagmos self-selects. Etymologically it arrives from a Dionysian rite, and from the ancient Greek meaning “to tear, to rend, to pull to pieces”. As object or noun it occupies the verb-form.
by definition Sparagmos
a) are always concrete, material things
b) cohere though an ongoing project/ obsession/ sacrifice (are never experienced as random or meaningless)
c) arrive from an unexpected and uncontrollable source
d) tend towards the perverse, paradoxical and / or funny
These are things or bits of things that find me (you) through a back door, like fish leaping onboard a fishing-boat. They could perhaps be defined as artifacts of an (onomatopoeic) unconscious, or paradoxical objects, or shrapnel. They seem to be what happens when you take a process seriously to the nth degree, so much so that it overtakes you like a leapfrog and gains its own momentum, it’s own agency, and a creative capacity that cannot be claimed as authorship in any simple sense. Sparagmos signify the liveliness of a given line of flight, and in my experience they are signs of being on the right track. They balance on the pivot between exhaustion and exuberance and arise out of the flash of coherence that arrives when ineffable, ungraspable things (objects, concepts, actors) line up for a fleeting moment to make more sense of themselves than thought could ever make of them. The energy behind these things is something like a Moire pattern.
Sparagmos are also contingent on the artist/finder/receiver being open to the thing that is at stake: the project, the work, the fish (being open, or equally being able to open, to undo, to ‘gut‘) without fixed expectations for a pre-defined outcome. Sparagmos are the product of a recursive approach to making, so much so that it is let loose and begins to take lead and can make its own difference. ‘It’ bites back. The bite is good. You cannot force it, you can’t foresee it, but you can try to catch it.