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How might we harness creative science and science-based creativity to enhance connections to ecological processes, boosting nature:culture and human:non-human relationships?
How might we couple the virtual world to the physical and help make science intimate, sensual, intuitive?
How might we position materiality as central to the aesthetics of data translation and environmental understanding?
These are some of the questions that underpin the collaborative experimental project that is Aliveness Machines. NOVA's experimental project can be seen as an attempt to connect in new ways with the vitality and state-of-health of hidden ecosystems. Through collaborative ecological art-science approaches, the aim is the translation and presentation of environmental data via exhibition of immersive kinetic/sonic sculptural installations. These form interfaces between: environmental sustainability; scientific-digital data; hidden ecological realms; hacked/retro technologies; experimental sculptural assemblages; immersive installation spaces and education/learning settings. The imagination of artistic research and the rigour of science are brought together in a poetic fusion.
A key aspect is the slow, long-duration ‘tuning-in’ and creative listening to a landscape setting, enabling a process of distillation through a myriad of conversations and encounters. The evolving research platform has emerged from collaborative working between Antony Lyons and Jon Pigott, on the Shadows and Undercurrents project in the North Devon Biosphere Reserve in 2012.
Following this, Lyons and Pigott published a paper in Ubiquity: Journal of Pervasive Media and presented the concept at the Data Ecologies symposium at Plymouth University in December 2012. Overall, the work suggests an alternative to the prevailing tendency towards the primacy of the screen in the realm of data-based and data-activated art activity. Materiality is central to the aesthetics and production, as are concepts of re-enchantment; re-connection to ecosystems and revelation of nature-culture relationships. In Shadows and Undercurrents we were encountering bodies-in-flight (bats) and bodies-of-water (river pollution); these bio-indicators have the potential to be points of connection, or portals, into wider understandings and reframings of ecosystem vitality and lifeworlds.
Ecologies of Place, Media and Data
From its earliest uses, the word ecology has connections to science, art, humanism, and politics. Within the range of current expanded meanings, we find terms such as ecologies of place as popularised by geographer Nigel Thrift and others; and Jussi Parikka’s media ecologies and archaeologies. These two themes have been central to our evolving project, bringing together our interest in geopoetic deep mapping of place and landscapes with a materialist sensibility directed at the technological assemblages of our contemporary media and communication worlds. By embracing multi-faceted and technologically enabled approaches, we are dealing with complex relationships between the various ecologies. This mesh can provide a medium of connectivity to the more-than-human spheres, or lifeworlds, and an imaginative approach to monitoring life processes.
Other Voices in the Mesh
“[Ecology] is about the recognition of the immense complexity involved for any entity – human or nonhuman – to have a voice, to take a stand, to be counted, to be represented, to be connected with others.” Latour and Weibel, 2005
“So the place of humans in the web of life is as embodied participants, ‘living as part of the whole’. From this perspective we can begin to articulate a participative worldview to re-enchant our world and find new ways of education and inquiry...Living as part of the whole requires of necessity an action science. This means that we integrate all forms of knowing - immediate acquaintance, aesthetic expression, informative statements, practical competence - in our inquiry and education process” Reason, 2009
“The dilemma of an ecological era is that the era is at once the product of massively increased knowledge, but also that this knowledge is itself a product of a planetary-scale imagination that has already profoundly damaged the earth" Morton, 2012
“An inscription device may be, but is not necessarily, a technology or instrument…It is a set of arrangements for converting relations from non-trace-like to trace-like form. It is a set of practices for shifting material modalities.” Law, 2004
“Aparatuses are not pre existing or fixed entities; they are themselves constituted through particular practices that are perpetually open to rearrangements, re-articulations and other re-workings. This is part of the creativity and difficultly of doing science.” ; “The piezo electric transducer is a prosthetic device for making and remaking boundaries (including those between nature and culture, human and non human, living and non living, visible and invisible.” Barad, 2007
The plan is to move Aliveness Machines from the prototype/concept stage to full-blown manifestations as discrete site-specific exhibition pieces and - more expansively - as data-augmented immersive installation spaces in other landscapes. Thirdly, there are possibilities for cinematic performative live-art events, involving collaborating artists, musicians and others. A central objective for the installation/exhibition works is to engage diverse audiences and initiate conversations about the vitalities within our surroundings. Our backgrounds are such that we recognise the limitations of much scientific communication and engagement. From our early audience explorations, it is clear that the Aliveness Machines concept has traction across many disciplines.