Friday, November 12
12:20pm-14:20pm HKT (GMT+8)
This panel centres on the recent traffic between contemporary art, local ecologies, and indigeneity within a geopolitical framework. In particular, it calls together voices from East Asia where the contested notion of “indigeneity” is emerging through the creative initiatives, ethnographic endeavours, and theoretical provocations that strive to illuminate regional Indigenous experiences. Highlighting the role of art in this process, artists, practitioners, as well as writers of art history and criticism on this panel will share their working methods and ongoing projects not easily contained by single-disciplinary scholarship.
Register to join the panel here.
On Aggregation: Indigenous Mounds as Technological Thought in Coastal China and North America
Mounds are aggregations: gatherings of materials that exteriorise a culture working through its conception of time and structuring of the universe. Settler states founded on the displacement of indigenous populations compulsively perform the effacement of aggregations, either by demolition or by transformation into accumulations for surplus value.
This paper, performed as a lecture recital, explores aggregation as a technique, distinct from collecting and archiving for its spatial sensibility and from architecture for its relation to landscape. The accompanying sound-experiment sonifies aggregate data from geological studies of an iconic earthwork using microsounds from field recordings of its insects; the data also spatialises the resulting sound.
As philosopher Yuk Hui explains, in his studies of technics, Heidegger identified the essence of modern technology (techne) as “a transformation of the relation between man and the world such that every being is reduced to the status of ‘standing-reserve’ (…) something that can be measured, calculated and exploited.” For Heidegger, modern technology demanded new forms of thinking; Hui agrees but questions the “ground” of Heidegger’s assertion—the idea that technology is an anthropological universal.
In the transformation of aggregation into accumulation, things not only lose the form they take over time and spaces they bring forth; they lose what Hui calls, “cosmotechnics,” the particular cosmic and moral order that gave rise to the technological thought they express. This lecture recital considers the way mounds manifest technological thought of the immeasurable, incalculable and unexploitable in different ways.
The prehistoric Jingtoushan shell mound in Zhejiang Province is one of the largest and oldest in China, important for studying environmental change in coastal areas and for its connection to the Hemudu Culture’s development of the first architectural joint systems. Like the Hemudu findings of 1973, the Jingtoushan discovery has been subsumed by narratives seeking the “origins of Chinese civilization.” The mound is destroyed for its constituent parts: walnuts, mollusk shells and a prized wood fragment, possibly part of an architectural joint.
The Great Serpent Mound in Ohio has been effaced by preservation. The indigenous Shawnee are its traditional “protectors,” however, in 1830, they were forcibly removed from Ohio and resettled in Oklahoma. Attributed to both the Fort Ancient and Adena Cultures, the effigy mound in the shape of a snake, is landscaped by the Ohio Historical Society for aerial view. Visitors look at it from a 19th century tower built by settlers who made the mound a tourist site. Contemporary researchers employ non-intrusive geophysical methods like LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity to study it, yet these technologies perpetuate the logic of accumulation, repeating effacement.
Mound building persists in indigenous cultures at various scales and in different forms. Moreover, advanced technologies create virtual mounds of data but without cosmological consciousness. The aim of crossing cases from cultures in Zhejiang Province and Ohio is not to universalise mounds, but to take their effacement seriously, considering the aesthetic and epistemological challenge that aggregation presents to curation and the question of technology.
Link for a sample of the sound-experiment: https://soundcloud.com/andras-blazsek/serpent-mound/s-Xb8E0CAI2mc
András Blazsek is a research-based mixed-media artist who works in sound, sculpture, installation and media archaeology focusing on visualization, sonification and modes of translating sound into architectural environments. He is a founding member of the Hungarian-Slovak collective BA– Unrated, recently exhibited at the Ludwig Museum (Budapest) in collaboration with ZKM (Karlsruhe). His work has been presented by LACE (Los Angeles), Futura (Prague) and Residency Unlimited (New York) among others. He received the Baker-Tilly Award 2020 for his site-responsive installation at Kunst Im Tunnel (Dusseldorf). Since 2019, he has worked as a part-time lecturer at the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Creative Media and at the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University. He lives and works in Hong Kong.
Emily Verla Bovino is a researcher, writer and artist. As an art historian with training in urban ethnography, she studies the social history of architecture through art and visual culture, and explores the new questions that can be posed to art historiography through artistic research. As an artist, she works with trans-media storytelling, landscape studies and scenographic object-based environments, and has presented work with Fieldwork:Marfa (Texas), SOMA (Mexico), Futura (Czech Republic) and Viafarini (Milan) among others. She was awarded the M+/Design Trust Research Fellowship (Hong Kong) in 2021 and is a Research Grants Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Creative Media of The City University of Hong Kong. She is currently working on her first monograph on the concept ‘plastic’ in art and aesthetics.
Ainu Hunter, Mon-chan
My presentation will aim to raise an awareness of our sensory and felt knowledge that is ephemeral, changeable, and intangible among the more-than-human world. An idea of the world, that isn’t centered around only humans. I’m interested in exploring ideas that support equality among all living species in the world through region specific ways. Traditional Ainu culture is considered to be ecological and inclusive. They developed a world view without a written language and extensive ways of using spoken language in very skillful ways – by oral communication like story-telling or remembering history through reciting the names of ancestors. By contrast, Japanese west-centric modernity gave the power to written language and thrived through capitalist values. How can we, who have been brought up in, and are conditioned by, a culture which depends on the written word, come to truly understand the world-view of indigenous people like the Ainu?
I will present my approach of spending a lot of time with Mon-chan. He took me to the mountain where he hunts and I tried to understand what he was doing experientially. As a result, I made a video work of my own experience to show my attempt to unlearn my social norm and a process of embodying Mon-chan's values.
1. Felt Knowledge of More-Than-Human-World
Brief introduction of the Ainu culture and history.
How can we rethink our social and cultural issues kindly and radically from more-than-human values?
2. Introduction of the video work ‘Ainu Hunter, Mon-chan’.
How can people of the society who are educated through written language understand the culture of indigenous people?
3. Aesthetic of Intangible World
How do artists respond to intangible aspects of the world and express them?
Thinking and learning through doing.
Societal and political issues are personal.
Ainu Hunter, Mon-chan (2020) is available for online viewing at TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, during COP26 (October 31-November 12) at: https://youtu.be/kXTQQwwfCkY
Eiko Soga lives and works in England and is currently reading for her DPhil at The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Through ethnography-led art practices, she explores the interrelationships between emotional and natural landscapes and how art can embody felt knowledge of the more-than-the-human world. Her research uses storytelling as a way to observe and document how ephemeral and sensory aspects of everyday processes can lead to larger phenomena such as collectivity and the development of culture.
Cosmological Fabrics of Relations: Vecik from within to beyond the Tjavadran World
When art meets with the contemporary Indigenous experience of imbricated socioecological catastrophes, it urges art history and criticism to address how artists voice Indigenous methodological and aesthetic inheritance to confront disasters. In August 2009, Typhoon Morakot swept across Taiwan and trashed the few remaining Indigenous mountainous tribes that had resisted rounds of governmental relocation schemes for more than eighty years. Irrevocable displacement ensued, with resettlement and drastic transformation of the harried communities. In the years that followed, Indigenous artists in Taiwan frequently speak of the disaster and its ongoing aftermath as a turning point of their practices. Among them, Etan Pavavaljung from the Paiwan tribe Tjavadran has been developing the method vecik to convey the sentiment of landscape loss. Taking Etan’s work as a case study, this presentation traces the working of vecik as a tentacular mediator among various players in the more-than-human Paiwan cosmos and examines its transformation through contemporary art-making.
According to Etan, the Paiwan term vecik designates patterns on living beings and environmental entities as well as marks made by humans through writing, drawing, embroidering, and carving. While numerous studies of traditional Paiwan visual culture have analyzed the denotative and social functions of specific embodiments of vecik in grouped artefacts, the artist's rendition of the term as an ontological category hints at a broadened conception of vecik beyond semiotics. Vecik in the ontological sense suggests a series of coalescence: seeing with making and that which is out there in the environment with that which is mapped onto the cosmological landscape.
Furthering the above conception, this presentation moves from a segregated to a relational reading of vecik by rerouting it through anthropological and ethnographic materials. It accordingly proposes to understand vecik as a thread that weaves together animated objects, sentient species, creation beings, tribal communities, and ancestral presence in a network of more-than-human kinship, led by skilled vision and mark-making practice that essentializes these players. Vecik loses its perceptual plane when the tribe loses its territory. Facing serial calamities, Etan’s practice can be interpreted as a tenacious grip of vecik, the vitality of which is integral to Indigenous survivance in the post-disaster landscape.
Liu Mankun is a writer of contemporary art history and criticism based in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Her PhD research at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, centres on contemporary art that engages with local ecologies and the multiple genealogies of Indigeneity in East Asia. The study looks into the diverging geopolitics of Indigenous identities, cosmologies, and lifeways within the region, their co-constitution with local ecologies, and how contemporary art voices these variances politically or aesthetically. Currently, the research highlights the worlds of relations woven by Indigenous perceptions, practices, and languages, as mediated through art.
Liu holds a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and an MPhil in Visual Arts from Hong Kong Baptist University. Her art reviews are published on multiple print and online media in China.
Towards Multispecies Indigeneity: Learning from Plant-Human Interactions in Orchid Conservation
Most of the living organisms on this planet are currently encountering climate change and environmental crisis. One can argue that humans have governed nature and other species in an artificial way. If nature is the host plant, then humans have acted like parasitic plants that conquer and destroy the host. Mancuso emphasises that ‘symbiotic relationships are fundamental for all forms of life on the planet’ (2015, 141). For the past 2 years I have used Mancuso’s statement as a guiding principle. I observed and visualised various multispecies epiphytic orchid species that are native to Hong Kong. By scientific definition, an epiphyte is a non-parasitic plant that takes its roots on the body of another plant while an orchid shapes a unique interspecies relationship with other organisms. Epiphytic orchids combine those attributes to organise profound interaction networks and distinctive bio-social communities with neighbouring species. Through investigation of these networks and communities I propose that there is a way for human species to learn from this indigenous plant community in order to connect with other species and ‘live together’.
I have observed the ecologists and horticulturists of the orchid nursery and micropropagation laboratory at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) to learn the general working process of orchid conservation. The purpose of conserving these orchids is not about controlling a species, but about comprehending the ecosystem of the species. Conserving a specific orchid species inevitably involves collaborating with surrounding environments. In this process, human scientists interacted with orchids while becoming engaged in the orchids’ multispecies relationships also as a companion species. From an orchid’s perspective, these humans are not ‘scientists’ but a non-plant species that are providing essential care and nourishment. In this sense, the staff at the conservation centre are members of the orchid's multispecies community who experience everything that happens in the orchid’s lifecycle. It reminds me of indegenious wisdom, which is obtained and descended by experience. Under human colonisation in the anthropocene, more-than-human beings have shaped and descended their indigenous ecology. If the manner in which KFBG conservation staff works with orchids can be regarded as an alternative form of multispecies indigeneity, then it is highly applicable to present times in which humans need to urgently adapt a new way to co-inhabit the planet with other species. This approach can also inform how to best engage within the orchids' community.
Based on my observations of the KFBG orchid-human multispecies relationship, I argue that adapting an alternative indigeneity can be a way to symbiotically live with other species through artistic practices. More specifically, it is possible to acknowledge scientists as the orchids’ companions by visualising and representing orchid-human interactions. Through art, I witness and document the process of human participation in the ecosystem, which in turn produces an alternative indigenous knowledge as well as human participation in the ecosystem.
Online viewing of (Welcome to the) Planet of Orchids (2021-ongoing)
Part 1: https://youtu.be/humhTbRUGaM
Part 2 (Trailer): https://youtu.be/hfLdQfPz1B8
Park Ji Yun is an artist, curator, and researcher. She is currently in her third-year PhD research at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong. She is using various visual media such as photography, illustration, animation, and eco-cinema to investigate multispecies relations of epiphytic plants. In Particular, she is working with epiphytic orchids and trying to visualise their ecosystem from a plant-centred viewpoint. She believes that she can engage with the more-than-human entities through her artistic practices. Her work-in-progress works were recently exhibited at JCCAC, Hong Kong. Her research interests include plant sociality, multispecies, urban ecology, eco-feminism. As a multimedia artist, she combines craft, installation, and drawings with experimental films.
Park Ji Yun holds an MFA from the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong and a BA from the School of Film, TV & Multimedia, Korea National University of Arts. Her works have been exhibited in Seoul, Hong Kong, Zurich and exhibited online as well. As a fellow of ArtEngine, she organises monthly online forum series on practice-based research in creative arts and technology across the Asia Pacific.