The major challenge of the Oleana project is to find a way to visually recreate the parts of the story that are buried deep in the past. Oleana was founded in 1852 at a time where photography was in its infancy and it was still quite rare to see photographs reproduced in newspapers. In addition to this, the colony lasted only a little over a year, which made it difficult to find some time to document it. This is why there is no photographic evidence of the existence of the colony.
In the early 1900s some photographs were taken of the ruins of what once was Ole Bull’s castle. The violinist’s home turned out to resemble more a log cabin than a royal abode. In my project I make use of old photographs found in archives and historical society to re-construct and provide a visual representation of what is lost in time.
“I guess I’m trying to subjectify the world, because look where objectifying it has gotten us.”
Ursula K Le Guin
What happens when we start experiencing the world as a living subject? Through centuries, we have fostered a belief system stating the opposite, an idea that came with Christianity where the world was given to us humans as something to satisfy our needs with, ours to control. With the development of modern science, the world turned into a machine where the mechanistic worldview pulled the veil off of nature, wanting to expose her secrets to man.
This mechanistic worldview has then turned forests into tree plantations, water streams to sewers, wildlife to cattle and mountains to mines. It has driven our culture to the brim of a environmental collapse on a global scale, a disruption of the conditions we need in order to live. Earlier this year the IPBES report came out, telling us that we are facing a tremendous loss of biodiversity with one million species threatened by extinction. While we are busy transforming nature to useless things we hardly need on the expense of countless ecosystems, we are losing the living world right before our eyes. It is a collapse with a magnitude hard to grasp.
How can this even be possible?
Around the world, a movement that is asking this same question is gaining momentum: the movement for rights of nature where countries, states and cities are granting legal personhood to ecosystems. As people have, for decades, tried to understand how to protect their natural surroundings and finding the frustrating realisations that the old way of going about simply does not work. Trying to defend the living world, the ecosystems, has proven to be very difficult through the legal system. Something is fundamentally wrong within the system itself.
“We need not only to talk about the environmental harm that is being done, we need to talk about the legal harm”
This is from Mari Margil, from the Community Environment Legal Defence Fund, when she visited Sweden in May 2019. She was invited to speak in a strategic meeting regarding the Swedish Lake Vättern. Margil has been a long time champion in the field of rights of nature, with merits such as being one of the advisors for the Ecuadorian government when rights of nature was written into the country’s constitution in 2008, the first in the world. She was also one of the writers behind the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, written in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba Bolivia in 2010. According to Margil, in order to get to the root cause of the problem of the environmental crisis we are facing today, we need to see that the system itself is at fault. The legal system itself is not about defending nature, it is about regulating the harm done to it. If we ought to not harm nature, we need acknowledge the inherent rights it has to exist in the first place.
In the system we live in today, nature is viewed upon solely as a property that belongs to us. Rights of nature is, on the contrary, a great shift of mentality in our relationship to nature, wherein nature is rather acknowledged as a living entity with its own inherent rights, and something we can have relationship with. There is a world of difference between these two perspectives.
The above mentioned Lake Vättern has, in recent years, received attention due to it being subject to many threats. As the largest sweet water source in Sweden, a country known for its strict environmental policies, it is a ghastly realization to see how the body of water is treated today. This lake, providing drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people daily and a home for countless species, is being shot at by the Swedish military, which releases large amounts of toxins and violently disturbs the ecosystem. In Norra Kärr, north of Gränna, the canadian company Tasman Metals is planning a day pit mine, just few kilometers from the lake that all likely would leak toxic waste water into the lake.
This has led to growing protest around the lake, with locals closest affected raising their voices and trying to protect the lake. And it has not been easy, or as easy as one thinks it should be when it comes to protecting something as fundamental as a source of water. The example with lake Vättern has led the rights of nature network in Sweden to take interest in it, as it exemplifies how a system is at fault when a lake of that importance does not have legal standing. The network has during 2019 addressed the rights of lake Vättern by writing the Lake Vättern Bill of Rights where the declaration was the basis for a tribunal during the Earth Rights Conference in Sigtuna May 2019.
With the project Jagjord Jagvatten, we are trying to get close to the idea of carrying this movement that is growing both internationally, and in Sweden particularly. Just this year, one of the key people in the Swedish rights of nature movement and of those who we have interviewed, Pella Thiel, was granted the prestigious price of Årets Miljöhjälte, the Environmental Hero of the Year, by WWF for her work with the matter. With the work, we aim at exploring the different levels of the idea itself, what it means in terms of activism, law, art, philosophy and politics. What does it mean when we live in a culture, or at least try to approach it, where the world is a living subject? Where does it take us?
Jagjord Jagvatten is a project run by Arci Pasanen and Phil Jamieson and the name of the project is a tribute to the Maori people, who after more than 100 years got the government in New Zealand to recognize the inherent rights of the Whanganui river. They have saying that goes “Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” translating to “I am the river, the river is me”.
Looking through a box from the NSU Archive, I found a marketing brochure about Turku: Turku Kesällä 1954. Åbo Sommaren 1954. Turku in Summer 1954). The 1954 summer session must have been in Turku. In the brochure is an advertisement for American Club cigarettes; it shows an enormous pack of cigarettes in front of a Manhattan skyline and the words: ‘today …tomorrow … always …’.
Setting aside the irony regarding what we know now (and probably did then) about cigarettes and longevity, I wondered why they sold cigarettes by appealing to a longing for immortality.
Immortality and origins are what we hope to find in archives. 1954 is the year I was born, this is why I was looking in that box, trying to find a way into the early history of NSU by linking my history with the organisation’s. My mother smoked Craven A, I wonder if she did so when she was pregnant with me. I’ve never thought about this before. Craven A was a woman’s kind of cigarette. Whenever we had to make something from clay at school, we’d make an ashtray. A tray for ash.
The Danish National Archive protects the NSU’s documents from physical degradation, theft and loss. Perhaps they even receive the same protection as major state documents; age affords a levelling. Each year we hold worried conversations about the future of NSU. We never know what will happen. But the past is taken care of.
Later, at home I randomly open Derrida’s Archive Fever (trans. Eric Prenowitz, 1996) and read on page 36 that the question of the archive is not a question of the past but is a question of the future: ‘the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow. The archive: if we want to know what that will have meant, we will only know in times to come. Perhaps. Not tomorrow but in times to come, later on or perhaps never.’
The flight, flight, to Oslo in July next year is booked.
Dining with NSU in the 1950’s. Today we have more women but fewer bow ties.
Who is @zu.thun_und.lassen? “In the upcoming 10 months, I will trace the h*story of the @Nordic Summer University audio-visually through the keynote lectures which most appeal to me, which I will reference in one way or the other in a series of video observations called LIGHTWEIGHT LUGGAGE FOR TRANSITIONING.
Before I get into the keynotes themselves, I asked long-term, returning and first-time attendees about their impressions and recollections of this self-made institution”
In the preface to the 1974 edition of Kvindesituation & kvindebevægelse under kapitalismen (GMT), the editors clearly communicate their thinking as a still unfinished, processual experience. Although this focus is not without influence from the Marxist rhetoric and historiography that structure their discussion, it still reflects an intellectual practice that is not yet established, one that is continually and carefully searching and checking whether the ice will hold its next step:
«Bearbeidelsen af vore erfaringer går gennem forsøget på at forstå hvordan vi selv og andre kvinder er placeret i det kapitalistiske samfunds samlede sammenhæng, hvad disse placeringer indebærer, hvilke muligheder for indsigt i den samlede sammenhæng, de giver – og hvilke indsigter, der er nødvendige for at komme videre i retning af målet: et samfund uden systematisk indbygget undertrykkelse af kvinder og (indeholdt heri) af mennesker i det hele taget. […] Det er afgørende at spørgsmålene stilles rigtigt, og de fleste af artiklerne befinder sig i den fase, hvor netop dette er problemet. For de allerfleste af bogens forfattere er arbeide i stil med disse artikler en slags ‘anden fase’ – eller snarere: overgangsfase efter en ‘første fase’ hvor den umiddelbare bevidstgørelse om vores egen situation var den altdominerende. I denne ‘første fase’ – der forløb over atskillige år – skærpede vi gennem snak i kvindebevægelsens sludregrupper, bo- og arbejdsfællesskaber, aktioner osv. vores sanser for den undertrykkelse, vi blev udsat for, for hvordan den havde præget os, og – snævert forbundet hermed – hvordan vi selv var med til at viderebringe og fastholde dens former. Den ‘overgangsfase’ som denne bog repræsenterer for os, er først og fremmest karakteristisk ved forsøgene på at nå bagom de sammenhænge, som vi umiddelbart kan opleve og forholde os til, – til at få dem – og dermed os selv – placeret i den rette samfundsmæssige sammenhæng; for at vi skal få mulighed for ikke bare at slå fra os, men også ramme rigtigt når vi slår.» (p. 5-6)
This temporary approach is also reflected in the allegedly large differences between the 1973 and 1974 versions of the publications. When outlining its own history, the preface of the latter states:
«Til trods for eventuelle ‘skovture’ afspejler bogen her en ret så kraftig teoretisk udvikling på kort tid. Den er en revision af en tidligere artikelsamling: ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen’, udgivet af Nordisk Sommeruniversitet i januar 1973, og revisionen afspejler denne udvikling: ikke ret mange af artiklerne er gengangere fra den tidligere artikelsamling. ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen’ var det første produkt af det samarbejde mellom kvinder fra kvindebevægelserne i alle de nordiske lande, som startede på NSUs sommersession i Finland 1971. Året efter blev det en studiekreds om kvindeproblemer i NSU-regi, indledt med et seminar i Tilsvildeleje, Danmark, hvortil teoretisk interesserede og -arbejdende kvinder fra de nordiske landes kvindebevægelser blev sammenkaldt. Oplæggene til seminaret blev samlet i ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke… osv.’, men de 1500 expl. som artikelsamlingen blev trykt i var udsolgt i løpet af 1/2 år. NSUs skriftseries redaktion gav os da i opgave at lave ny revideret udgave, men i løbet af arbejdet med revisionen måtte vi konstatere, at det allermeste av det, vi dengang havde tænkt, i mellemtiden var blevet udviklet til helt andre problemstillinger, selv om der faktisk kun er gået 1-1 1/2 år.» (ibid. s. 8)
The young feminist movements in Scandinavia share their processual approach with NSU as an institution. The parts of NSU’s archive that I got access to, did not contain many complete texts whatsoever. The material was dominated by a multitude of temporary and preliminary records: schedules, drafts, notes, newspaper cuttings, informal notes or minutes from lectures or discussions. This probably reflects NSU as an environment for developing new ideas, a description that in my own experience is still valid and valuable.
At the same time, it fascinates me how the strong processual consciousness and attention of the women behind the above publication initially produced a book whose 1500 copies sold out, and which, in a revised edition, advanced to a larger publishing house, a second edition and a more extensive distribution, proved by the fact that it is still available through secondhand bookshops.
When engaging with the written word, reading out loud is not the norm. Most reading happens in silence, external at least. The inner sound-world might be set ablaze by the inflow gathered by the scrolling eye, but the lips, more often than not, remain tightly sealed.
True, exceptions abound, some more fortunate than others. A political proclamation, any kind of speech anchored on a written text preparation, a roll call or a checklist relying on immediate response and acknowledgment, a story told, a letter passed on to the ears of the blind or illiterate, and many others.
I have become fascinated by the practice of reading out loud for crowds or groups of people engaged in a task. Like the tradition, stemming from the mid 1800s, of reading to the workers in Cuban cigar factories during their work shifts. I remember vividly the example given of the book being read as being Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But anything went, from Jane Eyre to Paris Match, from the Quran to Das Kapital. Everywhere where the busy, repetitive bodies were deemed opportunities for the literary colonization of the headspace. Happening again and again, in industrial, religious, or pedagogic settings. I might actually have dreamt once that Ballard’s Crash was being read to an operating team during a hip reconstruction surgery.
At the current phase of the Living Anthologies project, I am constantly balancing between reading silently or out loud. Through the constant doubtful path of text selection, trying out resonances is both a priority and a willy strategy. The ear is, after all, quicker than the eye*.
Reading out loud activates listening in context. In the context of the acoustics of the reader’s immediate surroundings, but also in a deeper sense. Rooted in the situation of loaning a voice to borrowed thoughts, one is invited to embrace a mixture of fusion and resistance through an intense co-created exchange. And as I have written before, books are mostly dead things crafted by dead people – so reading, and particularly reading out loud in a very literal sharing of living time, is a task of thaumaturgic, even necromantic, overtones. Books take from the body in time so they can add to the soul – as medieval thinkers might have framed it.
For this to happen authors do not need to be dead, though some indeed are. Every written text carries dead time, a carefully wrapped package of irretrievability, miraculous donated onto every reader. And unpacking is always a practice of archeology. Indiana Jones in every bookworm, “the pen is mightier than the sword” and other cinephile jokes aside – this is very true, I swear. And by swear I mean “I curse”. Loud and proud.
Eduardo Abrantes, Roskilde, October 9, 2019
*According to research (quoting for example Horowitz’s 2013 The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind), an average brain takes at least 0.25 seconds to process visual recognition. But sound? One can recognize a sound in 0.05 seconds.