Is noise the only thing we can hear? Notes from the first conference of Sonic Acts Academy

Wednesday 4 March 12:46

Intersectionality. From T.J. Demos' talk at Sonic Acts Academy 2020.
by Maisa Imamović How to pay attention within the midst of the hype, and once the attention is there: where do we throw it? This question has been tested on this year’s Sonic Acts Academy, which contemplated the future worth living through various examples and practices of magical thinking. The examples following from the first day of the conference in this article are personal picks which gave an uplifting outlook of the coming unknown. The slightly jetlagged writer, T.J. Demos, and the first speaker of the conference, goes straight to pondering explicitly on what needs to be done with current forms of collective nihilism and despair. He apologetically kicks off with a quote by Franco Bifo Berardi:
''Capitalism is a corpse, and we are trapped in it: in this trap everything is rotting: invention, progress, friendship, and love. They told us that there is no alternative to capitalism: in this case we must prepare for war, for environmental apocalypse, and for the extinction of the human race, which gets more probable every day.'' - Franco Bifo Berardi
The bankruptcy of our modern world is: one world dominating others. This means that our daily world, our living conditions are shaped by algorithmic oppression, surveillance, and apocalyptic populism deriving from the dominating world. According to Franco Bifo Berardi, this is called Nazi-liberalism: the world which is destroying itself. T.J. Demos claims the root of the issue to be the fact that we are surrounded by the end-of-the world narratives in the culture. Ok yes, if there is no alternative, a better question would then be: how can we actively bring about the end of the world (contribute to this end by showcasing its injustice) and then create a just transition to a better world? He presents examples of black radical transition in the U.S. (Martin Luther King’s mission), and anti-colonial resistance of Zapatistas as good examples to remember. However, the context of the knowledge economy in which we are currently found is a challenging one to arouse actions for a similar change. T.J. finds it slightly absurd to speak inside the frames of art storytelling and other cute things, but at the same time, he believes that creative imagination is the only way towards change. If insistence is present beyond all odds, another world IS possible. Other good examples of radical futurism he mentions are BAK (Trainings for the Not-Yet), an exhibition which envisions how to be together otherwise and TFTF (Training for the Future), a utopian training camp which actively opposes the dystopia as a new norm. Looking at the illustration of intersectionality, T.J. proposes that, if we want to create forms of solidarity, we need to think across each other’s differences. One identity doesn’t come without the other. The concluding question now is: How to negotiate different worlds (especially by looking at people who have suffered the worst suppressions)? Next on stage is an artist called Terike Haapoja, who continues the trajectory of a similar thought, with examples coming from her personal artistic practice. She starts by thanking T.J. for the uplifting presentation, because ‘’not giving up on the future is quite hard’’. Haapoja presents the idea of a experiencing loss of love and care, through her personal loss - that of a mother. The grief resulting from sinking into nothingness pushed her into thinking about the ethics of living and dying together, and later applying them to the institutions. The application naturally leads to the notion of animality. Haapoja gives a concrete example from her practice to reflect on. Through her work called Entropy, she shows us an image of a horse’s body cooling down after its death. She argues that the image is not meant to be an illustration of loss, but rather a connotation to living with it and the common vulnerability. While the horse represents this vulnerability, what remains of it poses the question of otherness: some deaths are made grievable, and some are not. Through other exemplary projects, such as Community, Museum of Non-Humanity, and Waiting Room, Haapoja ponders on a community without exclusion, violent histories of distinction between humanity and non-humanity, concepts of terror and terrorism, and cages. She asks herself and us: what do they (the others who are not included in the community) need, and what shall we do for them? Especially they, who are never able to join our community… “Fuck cages, seriously” – she says. I particularly liked the last part of her presentation in which she reflects back on life; life which embraces art and politics (as not necessarily separated) elements. To live means to be vulnerable and to live ethically means to acknowledge the importance of all lives, the human and the non-human. If we look at art traditionally, we can say that it comes down to doing and making, and that seems dismissive. Haapoja believes that art is also a way of being, that openness towards the world which shapes one’s practice. Vulnerability is the ability to be moved by the encounter of letting the world touch one’s intimacy. As an artist, she is not so much of what she does and makes, but rather in an active relationship, like one is with a friend or a lover. Artwork in this case, is a shelter which protects the practice of vulnerability. *UNPRODUCTIVE VULNERABLE EXISTING IS THE MOST RADICAL WAY OF BEING* To be open to the world is rather difficult and requires a special expertise (especially if we consider the degree to which the places we come from are protected). So many people have no possibility to be vulnerable, which should further lead us to question whose privilege is vulnerability. Later, Anja Kanngieser, political geographer and sound artist, shows us what listening can say about who we are (especially as white Europeans) and how might we come to be otherwise. Anja listened to ecocide on an island of Nauru, where they travelled in 2018 in order to document the mining impact on the island. Of course, they had a privileged access to the sites, most of which are pressured by deep political and ecological tension. Top site is the exemplary one, unbearably hot humid and inhospitable. To gain more insight into the island’s land, they play audio recordings of people they were in conversation. I find this direct source of information quite crucial to bring onto the stage. General remarks were that Nauru hosts secondary mining – a choice made not by people, but by economy. At the same time, population is blooming in the outskirts, leaving no space for families to live in. On top of that, there are no precautions taken or warnings given about the waves rushing into the houses, and people are generally unaware of the effects caused by climate change. As Anja’s role was to spend their days/months with people who live life on Nauru and to attentively listen to that, they came across a phenomena of atunement. To them, atunement means listening to what you don’t know and listening to what you (maybe) don’t have to know. It’s thinking about places you inhabit and being aware that there are protocols which ask to identify oneself in relation to the surroundings. Each body has consequences, which we need to be aware of. Anja has a note to all the white Europeans: Because we don’t know how to move without territorializing, we should ask for a permission to come, say thanks, and leave. Listening to ecocide is a painful experience, and what listening requires from us is to attend to our histories and mistakes of destruction. That was a lot of stuff brought on the table, but what I found the most calming about it is that when we ask the question of future, slowing down and listening seems to be the main suggestion. We cannot produce more in order to solve what’s already been produced, but we can rather try to digest together (through listening) what we’ve produced so far and what were the consequences (be it others’ oppression or climate change). Although these three speaker were the highlights for me, there were other crucial questions posed by other speakers, which I’d like to share: In terms of practice, how does one offer speculative imaginaries without presenting them as solutions? Which stories do I get to be told? How else can a story of Earth be told? How do we get to know other worlds? And for whom, by whom, with whom? Let’s let that information sink in and say goodbye, with this recollection of a beautiful Kistvaen performance during Progress Bar at Paradiso.

Mary-Anne Roberts (Bragod) @ Sonic Acts 2020 from Maisa Imamović on Vimeo.

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