Archeopteryx lithographica

The smooth, bright bones, with their warm tawny hue, stand out boldly from the yellowish-grey limestone, which constitutes a natural foil. In some places the bones have a metallic tint, and the light reflects itself beautifully in the most prominent parts. Add to this the impression of feathers, more or less distinct, investing the whole thing with a singular beauty, and we cannot but feel, so to speak, the pulsations of life from an infinite past.

Archeopteryx lithographica

Citatet er fra Gerhard Heilmanns glimrende bog The Origins of Birds fra 1928. Heilmann var dansk kunstner, fugleentusiast og illustrator, der bevægede sig kompetent fra ornitologi over i palæontologien. The Origins of Birds er skrevet på engelsk for at udvide og udbrede hans ideer om hvordan fuglenes afstamning hang sammen med dinosaurerne. Bogen er virkelig velskrevet, fyldt med forfatterens egne illustrationer af både fossiler, fugleskeletter og forestillede scenarier fra forhistorien. I KB’s eksemplar er der to tavler i farve. Den ene er hans maleri af Archaeopteryx – den berømte lille dinosaurs forstenet så yndefuldt udstrakt og med hele sin fjerdragt så godt som intakt. Netop det dyr og de to berømte fossiler af det, er helt centrale i bogen. Maleriet er for tiden med i Statens Naturhistoriske Museums udstilling Det Dyrebare. Bogen med Heilmanns velillustrerede argument blev indflydelsesrig og accepteret som valid teori.

Sammenfaldet af kunstneren, der bliver palæontolog og så klart og illustrativt formår at formidle sit central og fascinerende emne har virkelig fanget min fantasi. Og så beskrev Heilmann et for mig fantastisk billedskabende sammenfald: Det tyske eksemplar af den lille dinosaurus med fjer kaldes Archaeopteryx lithographica; lithographica fordi den er fundet i det på tidspunktet eneste kalkbrud, der brød den særligt fintkornede pladekalk, der kunne bruges i den litografisk trykproces.

Jeg kan tydeligt huske fra da jeg var lille, hvordan fossiler i den gulgrå pladekalk ser ud og hvordan kalkstenen føles mellem fingrene. Før jeg læste Heilmanns bog anede jeg bare ikke at det var den samme – præcis den samme – kalk, som man laver litografiske tryksten af.

— historie

I 1875 blev det berlinske eksemplar af Archaeopteryx (MB.Av.101) fundet i pladekalken brudt i kalkbruddet ved Solnhofen. 14 år før og 15 km derfra var London-eksemplaret (BMNH 37001) blevet fundet nær byen Langenaltheim i de samme finkornede sedimentære lag af kalk. Det tyske eksemplar kan stadig ses i deres offentlige udstilling. Jeg tilslutter mig helt Heilmanns betragtninger om yndefuldheden af den lille forstenede fugl/dinosaurus.

Kalkbruddet ved Solnhofen havde været aktivt siden starten af århundredet og siden opfindelsen af den litografiske trykketeknik havde Solnhofen-kalken været den eneste kilde til litografiske tryksten. Pladekalken ved Solnhofen er exceptionelt ensartet i sin tekstur af meget små sfæriske kalkpartikler. Stenen er bygget op af lag på lag af sediment aflejret i Yngre Jura. Store laguner var blevet for 155 mio år siden afsnøret fra havet og sedimenterede et fint, blødt kalkmudder på bunden. Lagene af mudder har kunne holde på aftryk af selv meget skrøbelige biologiske former – vandmænd, søstjerner og selvfølgelige fjerene på Archeopteryx.

Betegnelsen ‘litografisk tekstur’  brugtes langt op mod i dag som geologisk term for pladekalk med en kornstørrelse på under 1/250 mm. (wikipedia fact)

Detaljen om at den litografisk kalksten, der er matrix for det berømte – det allermest berømte – fossil, fik figur og grund til at bytte plads i mit hoved. Både for litografier og for fossilerne. Baggrunden trådte frem med en vis agens, med en kraftfuld historie bundet i geologisk dyb tid. Og forsteningen af Archeopteryx fremstod pludselig som billede.

Archeopteryx lithographica

En af de typer fossiler, som Solenhofenkalken er særligt berømt for, er aftryksfossiler, hvor det bløde væv (selv fra vandmænd) er fastholdt netop som aftryk. Tryk.

Archeopteryx lithographica eksemplarene er forsteninger dannet ved permineralisering. Mineralaflejringer i dyrets celler og porrer. Vandet fra lagunen er sivet ind i vævets porrer og har henover årtusinder udfældet krystaller, som har skabt indvendig afstøbning af porrer, celler og cellevægge. Fossilet er en krystallinsk afstøbning eksakt ned på celleplan. Min søn knækkede engang ved et uheld en forstenet mossasaurtand – man kunne se emaljelaget og tandens kerne så tydeligt, som var det den faktiske tand man sad med.

Fossilerne – både aftryksfossilerne og forsteningerne – er aftryk. Repræsentationer. Billeder i en forstand. Og det kom til at klinge sammen med det litografisk.

Når en kunstner som Gerhard Heilmann (eller Alexander Tovborg i den nærmere fortid) laver litografiske tryk af dinosaurer, så tegner de billedet på et medie, der har en samtidighed – en dyb-tids-samtidighed – med deres motiv. Måske ligger dyrets faktiske aftryk som billede kun millimeter under trykstenens glatslebne overflade.

Archeopteryx lithographica

‘Følelsen af et pulserende liv fra en infinit fortid’.

Mark Leckey – On Pleasure Bent

Bogen Mark Leckey – On Pleasure Bent er stærkt anbefalelsesværdig. Leckey er aktuel med ikke mindre end tre udstillinger og et undervisningsprogram (As If på Haus der Kunst, Lending Enchantment to Vulgar Materials på Weils, UniAddDumThs på Kunsthalle Basel og program på Museo Madre) og i den anledning har institutionerne sammen udgivet den virkeligt gode monografi om Leckey, som samler op på en stribe af de mest centrale projekter fra Fioruicci Made Me Hardcore fra 1999 og frem.

Bogen er udgivet på Walther König – her. Leckey er på YouTube her.

Hvad er det, jeg vil med den her post. Måske bare pege på bogen og Leckey, som en kilde til enorm fascination for mig. Hans take på postinternet rammer mig klokkeklart. Specielt hans The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things med trailer/teaser-værket Proposal for a Show, der var et Hayward Touring show og opfølgeren UniAddDumThs på Kunsthalle Basel er fascinerende. Måske er der en parallel mellem, hvad jeg vil med den her post, og det Leckey vil med sine 3D skanninger af objekterne fra Universal Addressability of Dumb Things: Gribe dem, besidde dem digitalt. Leckeys forsøg på at nå en forståelse af, hvad internettet har gjort ved vores livsverden, forkommer mig et af de mest præcise.

Der er mange af Leckeys værker eller værkkomplekser, som er værd at dykke ned i og folde ud. Men lige nu, er det for mig det skred i hans værk, som blev sat i gang med performancelecturen In the Long Tail, som Leckey har lagt på tuben i fuld længde. On Pleasure Bent-bogen har en komplet transskription. Der er en objektforståelse der, som også har givet bogen (lige som kataloget til Universal Addressability of Dumb Things) et helt særligt feel. Noget nær en bog med et digitalt mindset. Det er virkelig imponerende at han har lykkedes med at oversætte den diskurs til bogformat. FOS’ nye udgivelse med titlen One Language Traveler fra forlaget In Other Words kan noget af det samme, med uden det strengt digitale.

Hvis bloggen skal overleve, må jeg se i øjnene, at det må blive kortere mere pegende indlæg som dette, der bliver plads til – selv om det mere er de lange postes, der prøver rent faktisk at sige noget som jeg selv får noget ud af. De fungerer til at samle tankerne. Måske kommer de tilbage.

Lige et af mine yndlingsværker af Leckeys, som samtidig var en trailer for Serpentine-udstillingen SEE, WE ASSEMBLE i 2011:

Leckeys Soundsystems kunne godt få en separat post. Og BigBoxStatueActions. Her er en fra Serpentine i 2011. Jeg sidder på gulvet og lytter.

Visualisering af Higgs bossonet – indirekte – sandsynligvis

Jeg har før lagt billeder fra CERN her på bloggen. De er simpelthen nogle af de mest fascinerende tekniske billeder, jeg kender. Hvordan de er fremstillet, er mig komplet uforståeligt, men det er en del af tiltrækningen. Især i forhold til Heisenbergs usikkerhedsprincip kan jeg ikke forstå, hvordan det principielt er muligt at detektere den type atomarehændelser – og så i den detaljegrad! – uden at interferere og spolere hændelsen. Men det er det åbenbart. Måske Heisenberg bare er håbløst umoderne og ikke værd at høre på mere.

Her er det en af de hændelser, der fremlægges som en del af bevisførelsen for sandsynliggørelsen af at Higgs bossonet er påvist. Enorme datamængder fra absurd komplekse maskiner skruet ned i en visualisering, der er relativt let forståelig – men dog ikke helt let at aflæse i detaljer. Givet.

Beskrivelse:

Real CMS events in which two muons (light purple lines) and two electrons (dark orange lines and yellow towers) are observed in proton-proton collisions at a centre-of-mass energy of 8 TeV. The event shows characteristics expected from the decay of a Higgs boson but is also consistent with background Standard Model physics processes.

Visualiseringen må være lavet at Hans Drevermann og hans hold, der har arbejdet med visualisering af de enorme datamængder, der produceres i CERNs eksperimenter i mere end et årti. Så vidt jeg kan forstå er Drevermann en del af en bevægelse, der anser visualisering som nødvendigt redskab i arbejdet med så komplekse emner som fx elementarpartikeldetektion. I artiklen “Is there a Future for Event Display?” fremlægger Drevermann mf. de grundlæggende visualiseringsgreb de anvender og fremlægger deres sag for, at det trods alt en gangbar vej frem i arbejdet med de kæmpe datamængder.

Diskussionen om visualisering som videnskabelig gangbar praksis er enormt spændende. Peter Galison har skrevet en fremragende – og kort – artikel om det og bl.a. også det billedforbud som kvantemekanikken ved Bohr på et tidspunkt fik indført: “Images Scatter into Data, Data Gather into Images” i Iconoclash redigeret af Peter Weibel og Bruno Latour. Galison og  Lorraine Dastons fremragende bog Objectivity handler også mere eller mindre direkte om visualiseringens status som videnskabeligt redskab op gennem de sidste 300 års videnskab. Det er alt sammen anbefalinger.

Kongernes Kunst – en materiel historie om Statens Museum for Kunsts samlinger

kongernes_kunst_li-4

Jeg er umådelig stolt over at have spillet en lille rolle i skabelsen af Kongernes Kunst – en lydmontage om SMKs historie. Eller rettere SMKs samlingers historie, for den er længere end museets historie. Tim Hinman har skrevet og produceret montagen. Jeg har hjulpet med researchen.

Den oprindelige ide – og som det også blev – var at fortælle historien om, hvor al kunsten kommer fra. Om kongernes samlinger. Det er en af mine kæpheste: At værkerne på SMKs vægge fremstår relativt historieløse. Givet, de indgår i en kunsthistorie. Men det, der er ofret for at fortælle kunsthistorien er kulturhistorien, provenienshistorien og ja historien i al almindelighed. Hvorfor det er sådan, er en lang historie og hænger sammen med SMKs formidlingshistorie. Den håber jeg at kunne fortælle en dag, men det er nærmere et ph.d.-projekt end en blogpost.
Men nu ville vi altså gerne gøre noget andet. Og det var Tim helt med på.

Vinklen er materiel så at sige. At se på værkerne ikke som kunstværker først, men som objekter. Objekter, der har en historie og som er knyttet til deres tid. Både den tid de er skabt i, men sandelig også den tid, de har set komme og gå. De har fået skader og tilskrivninger og deres materialer har forandret sig. At fortælle historien gennem tingene.

Værkerne som en art vidner eller hovedpersoner i historien.

Jeg er så imponeret over, hvor godt det er lykkedes Tim at realisere den idé. Det blev en fortælling  om forgængelighed. Om slotte, der brænder, sorte huller og sæbebobler. Titaner og guldfisk. Og kunsten er i midten af det hele.

Download lydmontagen her.

KMSsp561_li

Karel Dujardin, Dreng, der blæser sæbebobler. Allegori på forgængeligheden, 1663. 116×96,5 cm

KMS1

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562-1638), Titanernes fald, 1588-90. 239×307 cm

Naturen findes

Jorden set fra Apollo 17, 1972

Tænk, at det ikke var sønnen for tre Ã¥r siden, men en have, der nær skulle tage livet af min blog. Men det er altsÃ¥ den, der er grunden til at bloggen har ligget stille i et halvt Ã¥r. Men nu er haven godt i gang, drivhuset, havehuset, terrasse – endda et insekthotel er bygget og grøntsagerne er ved at være høstet.

Samtidig med vi gik i gang med haven, prøvede jeg uden held at fÃ¥ den franske sociolog, videnskabshistoriker og filosof Bruno Latour til landet. Jeg havde fÃ¥et grønt lys fra SMK og lavet aftaler med Golden Days, ambassaden, universitet, kunstakademiet, ITU – alle var mere end interesserede i at Latour herop at tale. Det lykkedes bare ikke. Han takkede nej med henvisning til at have for travlt og det er uden tvivl rigtigt. Han har i øjeblikket gang i et massivt og nærmest altfavnende projekt: AIME eller Modes of existence. Den engelske version af bogen, der hører til projektet An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence (pÃ¥ fransk Enquête sur les modes d’existence. Une anthropologie des Modernes er lige udkommet.

I min research fandt jeg Latours seks Gifford lectures, som han holdt i februar i Ã¥r. The University of Edinburgh har lagt de seks foredrag pÃ¥ Youtube. Og Latour har lagt manuskriptet pÃ¥ sin egen hjemmeside. De er stærkt anbefalelsesværdige. Jeg bekender mig uden forbehold til Latours natursyn, og i foredrag nr. tre The puzzling face of a secular Gaia kommer han med en formfuldendt redegørelse for dette. Foredragene virker som en syntese at al hans tidligere arbejde – det jeg kender til i hvert tilfælde, og jeg gætter pÃ¥, at det ogsÃ¥ er det AIME handler om. Jeg venter pÃ¥, at bogen kommer med posten.

Siden vi fik haven, har jeg haft Latours geostory (en af hans neologismer) og hans udlægning af James Lovelocks Gaia-teori i hovedet. Som sagt: Jeg bekender mig Ã¥bent som Gaia-troende – i Latour-version vel at mærke.

Nedenfor et et langt citat fra slutningen af det tredje foredrag, hvor Latour gennemgår Lovelocks argument.

Det korte af det lange er, at Latour ser en parallel i Lovelocks tanker om Gaia til sin egne aktørnetværkteori. Gaia – Jorden – er imidlertid ikke at forstÃ¥ som en stor organisme, det er en senere misforstÃ¥else. Jorden – Gaia er nærmere en osteklokke. Det springende punkt i  Lovelocks argument er, at han tilskriver agency til alle typer livsformer – selv de mindste blip vira. Alle gør, hvad de kan, for at ændre deres omgivelser til at passe dem selv. Dermed er der ikke – og har aldrig været – en ligevægt i naturen. En naturtilstand. Der hersker nærmere en terrorballance, hvor alles forsøg pÃ¥ at gøre deres nærmiljø gavnligt for dem selv resulterer i en kaotisk og uforudsigelig fortløbende situation. “As soon as you extend Darwinism to what every agent does to all the others on which it depends, the calculation of optimization is simply impossible. What you get instead are occasions, chances, noise and, yes, history.” Natur som tilstand, som baggrund, som scene synes dermed at forsvinde. Bogstaveligt talt alt – al materie er en del af denne kæmpeproces, kampplads, kaos: Geostory.

So far nothing is really out of the ordinary. Things get more interesting when this argument is used to extract the notion of cybernetic feedback out of its technological repertoire. Every evolutionist admits that humans have adjusted their environment to suit their needs. It is just that Lovelock extends this technical ingenuity to every single agent, no matter how small. This is not only the case for beavers, birds and termites, but for trees, mushrooms, algae, bacteria and viruses as well. To be sure, this is somewhat anthropomorphic but, as we have seen earlier, what begs for an explanation is not the extension of intentionality to non-humans but rather how it is that some humans have withdrawn intentionality from the living world imagining that they were playing on the planks of an inanimate stage. The enigma is not that there are people still believe in animism, but the persistance of belief in inanimism. Being alive means not only adapting to but also modifying one’s surroundings, or, to use Julius Von Uexküll’s famous expression, there exists no general Umwelt (a term to which we will have to return) that could encompass the Umwelt of each organism.

The point however is not about whether to grant intentionality or not, but about what happens to such an intention once every agent has been endowed with one. Paradoxically, such an extension quickly erases all traces of anthropomorphism and introduces at every scale the possibility of unintentional feedbacks. The reason is that we are not asked to believe in one Providence, but in as many providences as there are organisms on Earth. The sheer result of such a generous distribution of final causes is not the emergence of one overall Final Cause, but a mess, since, by definition, what is true for each actor is also true of all its neighbours. If A modifies B, C, D and X to suit its survival, it is also the case that B, C, D and X modify A in return. It seems that moralists have never looked very seriously at the consequences of the Golden Rule: if ‘everyone does to others what they would like others to do to them,’ the result is neither cooperation nor selfishness, but the chaotic history we are used to, since we live in it. What could be the meaning of a final cause if it is no longer ‘final’ but interrupted at every point by the interposition of other organisms’ intentions? You can follow the ripples of one stone on a pond but not the waves made by hundreds of cormorants diving at once in order to catch fish. By generalizing providence to every agent, Lovelock insures that the providential plans of every actor will be thwarted by many other plans. The more you generalize the notion of intentionality to all actors, the less you will detect intentionality in the whole, even though you might observe more and more negative or positive feedbacks.

(…)

So far, Lovelock’s argument is completely compatible with Darwinian narratives since every agent is working for itself without being asked to stop following its own interest ‘for the sake of some superior good,’ which would be the case if there were any dispatcher. But where it adds something to them is in the definition of what it really means for any agent to be ‘for itself.’ For Lovelock and Margulis, taking things literally, there is no environment any more. Since all living agents follow their intentions all the way by modifying their own neighbours as much as possible, it is quite impossible to tell apart what is the environment to which an organism adapts and what is the point where action starts. As Timothy Lenton writes in one of his review articles:
‘Gaia theory aims to be consistent with evolutionary biology and views the evolution of organisms and their material environment as so closely coupled that they form a single, indivisible, process. Organisms possess environment altering traits because the benefit that these traits confer (to the fitness of the organism) outweigh the cost in energy to the individual.’ P440
Such is the origin of the peculiar beauty of reading Lovelock’s or Lynn Margulis’ prose. The inside and outside of all boundaries are subverted. Not because everything is connected in a ‘great chain of being’; not because there exists somewhere an overall plan ordering the whole concatenation of agents; but because this coupling of one neighbour actively manipulating its neighbours and being manipulated by all the others defines waves of action that do not respect any traditional borderlines and, more importantly, that are not happening at a fixed scale. Those waves — Tarde would call them overlapping ‘monads’ — are the real actors which should be followed all the way, wherever they lead, without sticking to the internal boundary of an isolated agent considered as an individual inside an environment. Those waves are, if I may say so, the real brush strokes with which Lovelock hopes to paint Gaia’s face.

Such dissolution of the environment has several important consequences: first it purges Darwinism of its remnant of Providence; but more importantly, it modifies the scale at which evolution occurs; and finally, it redefines deeply what we could mean by natural history. Let me end this lecture with a brief look at those three features.
In the early days of Gaia theory — before the introduction of the Daisy model — , evolutionists complained that it could not be Darwinian because there is no population of planets competing for survival. But such a criticism revealed a telling limit in the way these biologists understood adaptation — a limit deriving from the economic theory they employed to model their biology. In this theory, you have to choose either the self-interested individual or the integrated system — a quandary biologists borrowed from the social sciences. But what is totally implausible in the idea of ‘selfish gene’ is not that genes are selfish — every actor pursues its interest all the way to the bitter end — , but that you could calculate its ‘fit’ by externalizing all the other actors into what would constitute, for a given actor, its ‘environment.’ This does not mean that you have to wheel in a super-organism to which the actors will be requested to sacrifice their goals. It simply means that life is much messier than economists and neo-darwinians want it to be, and that any selfish goal will be swamped by the selfish goals of all the others, making the calculation of an optimum simply impossible. The reason why Darwin’s secular intuition has been so often degraded in a barely disguised version of Providence, is because neo-Darwinians had forgotten that if such a calculation works in human economics it is because of the continuous imposition of calculating devices in order to operate, to enforce, the technical term is to perform the distinction between what a given agent should count and what he should decide not to count. Without those devices, profit would be impossible to calculate and even more to extract from the so-called ‘environment.’ As soon as you extend Darwinism to what every agent does to all the others on which it depends, the calculation of optimization is simply impossible. What you get instead are occasions, chances, noise and, yes, history. What uses to be the environment of an individual actor vanishes.

But the main mistake of evolutionists in their critique of Gaia theory was the wrong idea of how it was supposed to act ‘as’ a whole. We recognize here the same alternation between actors and system that renders human as well as biological societies impossible to grasp. As soon as you abandon the boundaries between the inside and the outside of an agent, you begin to modify the scale of the phenomena you consider. It is not that you shift levels and suddenly move from the individual to ‘the system,’ it is that you abandon both points of view as being equally implausible. This is what happens, as Lovelock and Margulis have shown, when you follow waves of action beyond the boundaries of the cell walls.
One example of such a wave has taken an iconic character in Lovelock’s saga: the sudden appearance of oxygen at the end of the Archean. In this opera, oxygen is a relative newcomer, an event that has destroyed masses of earlier living forms feeding on methane, a massive case of pollution that has been seized by new forms of life as a golden opportunity.
‘Oxygen is poisonous, it is mutagenic and probably carcinogenic, and it thus sets a limit to lifespan. But its presence also opens abundant new opportunities for organisms. At the end of the Archean, the appearance of a little free oxygen would have worked wonders for those early ecosystems. (…) Oxygen would have changed the environmental chemistry. The oxidation of atmospheric nitrogen to nitrates would have increased, as would the weathering of many rocks, particularly on land surfaces. This would have made available nutrients that were previously scarce, and so allowed an increase in the abundance of life’. p. 114
If we now live in an oxygen-dominated atmosphere, it is not because there is a preordained feedback loop. It is because organisms that have turned this deadly poison into a formidable accelerator of their metabolisms have spread. Oxygen is not there simply as part of the environment but as the extended consequence of an event continued to this day by the proliferation of organisms. In the same way, it is only since the invention of photosynthesis that the Sun has been brought to bear on the development of life. Both are consequences of historical events that will last no longer than the creatures sustaining them. And as the citation shows, each event creates for other creatures, later on, novel opportunities.
The crucial point here, it seems to me, is that scale does not intervene because we would have suddenly shifted to a higher point of view. If oxygen had not spread, it would have remained a dangerous pollutant in the vicinity of archeo-bacteria. Scale is what has been generated by the success of living forms. If there is a climate for life, it’s not because there exists a res extensa inside which all creatures would passively reside. Climate is the historical result of reciprocal, mutually interfering connections among all growing creatures. It expands, it diminishes or it dies with them. The Nature of old en days had levels, layers and a well ordered zoom; Gaia subverts levels. There is nothing inert, nothing benevolent, nothing external in it. If climate and life have evolved together, space is not a frame, nor even a context: space is time’s child. This is what makes Lovelock’s Gaia so totally secular: all effects of scale are the result of the expansion of one particular opportunist agent seizing occasions to develop on the fly. If it is an opera, it is one that is constantly improvised and has no end, no rehearsal and no score. This is the polar opposite of James Hutton’s view when he famously said at the end of his Theory of the Earth:
‘We have the satisfaction to find that in nature there is wisdom, system and consistency. (…) The result, therefore, of our present inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, — no prospect of an end.’
No prospect of an end, really? For the rocky Earth maybe, for Gaia this is doubtful, for some of its participants, it is far from sure.

If there is no frame, no goal, no direction, we have to take Gaia as the name of the process by which varying contingent occasions have been offered a chance to render later events more probable. Gaia is neither a creature of chance nor of necessity. Which means that it looks a lot like what we have come to take as history itself. Such is the last trait I wish to emphasize.
When we say that Gaia is a ‘historical figure’ we offer the same ambiguity as when we say, for instance, that the Act of Union or Pasteur’s discoveries of microbes are ‘historical.’ The adjective designates simultaneously the event and the narrative of the event. It is well known that historians have a complex relation with the objectivity of their findings that the word ‘narrative’ could either weaken — ‘We are just telling stories’ — or strengthen — ‘We are branching narratives onto what is in itself also a narrative.’ I use the word ‘narrative’ to designate the specific ontology of events that might have unfolded otherwise, events that had no plan, that are not lead by any Providence, journeys that succeed or fail depending on constant retelling and continual  re-evaluation that modifies, once again, their contingent meaning. With this definition, we see how we could move from a narrative of Pasteur’s discovery of microbes — he has a history, they don’t — , to the history of microbes — they have a history too. This is why, when Stephen Jay Gould took such pains to tell the story of the Burgess Shale fossils so as to avoid any teleology — even the one coming from their neo – Darwinist version — , he alluded to Frank Capra’s film with his book title Wonderful Life to suggest how things could have been different for so many lives along the way. You need fiction to tell a somewhat realistic story of what live forms have to pass through. Similarly, if Gaia is to be told through narratives, it is because it is also, in its very fabric, a narrative.
In a piece of work that, by its sheer size, bursts the limit of a scholarly book, Martin Rudwick has shown that when geohistory began to ‘Burst the limits of time’ it was not to escape from the narrow prison of the Church’s teachings. It was, on the contrary, because it began to merge the tools of exegesis and hermeneutics, with the newly developed disciplines of archaeology, digs, historiographical archives and expeditions.
“This book has traced how this novel geohistorical approach has derived from transposition from the human world into the natural both from the profoundly historical perspective of Judeo – Christian religion and from its secular counterpart in erudite human history an antiquarian research. The former, far from being an obstacle to the perception of the immense timescale of geohistory, facilitated the extension of historicity back into the vastness of deep time. And the latter provided the new practice of geohistory with its crucial conceptual metaphors of nature”
As Rudwick shows beautifully, the revolution — and it was a revolution — came once geologists convinced themselves that the planet was notthe result of the eternal laws of nature (their i deal vision of Newton’s achievements) but of highly specific places and dates — something that they could begin to realize by digging, for instance, through the older layers of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption, but that they could also read about in the gospel. To be able to read cosmic events out of minuscule disruptions in the orderly layers of life was something common to the emerging science of geohistory as well as to the deciphering of Incarnation and its complex web of textual emendations. Once intentionality and interpretation are granted to all living creatures, we may understand in a very different manner how ‘the lily could sing the Glory of God’ in more ways than one.‘Nature Two and Religion Two might not be that far apart. ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ (Jn-1-46).
Is it possible at last to imagine a secularized science talking about secularized phenomena? How to name this new form of narration? Of course, we could use ‘natural history’ and ‘natural philosophy’ in their old 19th century meaning, but it is hard to extract from the adjective ‘natural’ the poison that Nature — capital N — has injected in it. Feminists have punned on the venerable term of history to create ‘herstory,’ so as to insist on the hitherto unrecognized presence of women’s role in male history. If it is very true that the distribution of agency by male historians about male historical figures ignored most of the feminine actors, it is also true that there has been a great inequality in the distribution of active forces when having human — males and females — strutting on a stage made of what had no history. If we don’t want to use ‘Gaiastory,’ we could use the word ‘geostory’ — better than geohistory — to capture what ‘geostorians’ such as Lovelock are talking about, that is, a form of narration inside which all the former props and passive agents have become active without, for that, being part of a giant plot written by some overseeing entity.

Have we finally drawn the face of Gaia? No, obviously not. At least, I hope I have said enough to convince you that finding the ‘place of Man in Nature’ — to use an old expression — is not at all the same thing as to narrate the geostory of the planet. By bringing into the foreground everything that used to remain in the background, we don’t expect to live at last in ‘harmony with nature.’ There is no harmony in this contingent cascade of unforeseen events and there is no nature either — at least not in this sublunary realm of ours. But to learn how to situate human action into this geostory is not — such is the crucial lesson — to ‘naturalise’ humans either. No unity, no universality, no indisputability, no indefeasibility is to be invoked when humans are thrown in the turmoil of geostory. You could say, of course, that this rendering is much too anthropomorphic. I hope it is and fortunately so, but not in the old sense of imputing human values to an inert world of mute objects, but, on the contrary in the sense of giving humans — yes morphing them into — a more realistic shape. Anyway, what a strange thing it would be to complain about the pitfalls of anthropomorphism at the time of the anthropocene!

Der er ikke noget naturligt over naturen. Alle agenter omskaber deres ‘miljø’ til deres egen fordel. Der er ikke noget miljø – kun andre agenters forsøg pÃ¥ at ændre deres omgivelser til deres fordel – det er miljøet. Det er naturen. Økologien og historien pÃ¥ en gang.

NÃ¥r jeg har det i baghovedet,  forekommer det mig faktisk meget centralt for det unægtelig komplicerede eller oxymorone i at dyrke en af Amager Fælleds Økohaver pÃ¥ Lossepladsvej (det hedder det bare desværre ikke mere – nu hedder det bare Artillerivej, selv om det grænser til historieforfalskning). Det er ét stor projekt om at omskabe et nærmiljø til vores egne fordele – pÃ¥ mange niveauer. Lige fra lugning og drivhuse – til landskabsarbejdet med at forsegle en losseplads og gøre den til dyrkbar jord – til valget af økologi frem for ‘konventionelle’ dyrkningsmetoder og helt til symbolbetingede livsstilsvalg. Det virker ekstremt kunstigt – men det er mÃ¥ske netop det, der er det naturlige.

Selv helt banale småting, som når jeg står og fylder vandkander og vandtrykket pludseligt falder fordi en af de andre haveejere åbner for en anden vandhane, får hele kæden af miljømodifikationer til at ringe i hovedet på mig. Som et emblem på osteklokke Gaia, hvor vi alle hypper vores egne kartofler og skaber vores natur.

Danh Vo, Chung ga opla

Danh Vo Chung ga opla @ Académie de France à Rome - Villa Medici

Académie de France à Rome – Villa Medici
Chung ga opla | Danh Vo
When: From 11 January to 10 february 2013
Where: Exhibition | Grandes galeries

Press Release

Time – He flexes like a whore
Time
, David Bowie

I would not end here without once again warning you against the enthusiasm or the jealousy my “luck” inspires in you, specifically the opportunity to loll in a city whose memory doubtless haunts you, despite your roots in our evaporated country. This city, which I would exchange for no other in the world, is for that very reason the source of my misfortunes. All that is not Paris being equal in my eyes, I often regret that wars have spared it, that it has not perished like so many others. Destroyed, it would have rid me of the happiness of living here, I could have spent my days elsewhere, at the ends of the earth. I shall never forgive Paris for having bound me to space, for making me from somewhere. Mind you, I am not forgetting for a moment that four-fifths of its inhabitants, as Chamfort has already noted, “die of grief.” I should add further, for your edification, that the remaining fifth, the privileged few of whom I am one, are no different in their feelings, and that they even envy that majority its advantage of knowing of what to die.
Letter to a Faraway Friend, in History and Utopia,
Emil Cioran

…born out of a uterus I had nothing to do with…
Antonin Artaud interpretato da Nancy Spero

The solo exhibition of Danh Vo – Chung ga opla at Villa Medici from 11 January to 10 February 2013 – is the second in a series of exhibitions focusing on the theme of Academia curated by Alessandro Rabottini.

Born in 1975 in Saigon, Danh Vo has affirmed himself in only a few years as one of the most original voices in the International artistic panorama, thanks to the variety of idioms with which he treats the great themes of history – colonialism, economic and cultural imperialism, the relations between East and West and war – from a personal point of view.

His work combines autobiography with the narration of great events, thus disintegrating the great division between History and personal history, between the dimension of individual experience and the horizon of world events.
At the age of four, Danh Vo and his family escaped from Vietnam to find refuge in Denmark, following the historical events involving his native country as well as his own family. War, the subdivision of ex-Indochina, the French conquest and conversion to Catholicism… these and other collective traumas are omnipresent in Danh Vo’s work: a constant fusion between past and present, violence and poetry, destruction and transformation.
In his installations of objets trouvés and manipulated objects, the artist develops a formal idiom with references to post-minimalist art and Arte Povera, ethnographic and archaeological museology, commercial display and theatrical space.

On the occasion of his exhibition at Villa Medici, Danh Vo created a series of installations in collaboration with members of his family.

The first hall is organized in a layering of images and texts that create a temporal short- circuit. In this exhibition space, the artist has left to his own nephews and nieces, a group of eight children and teenagers, the freedom of drawing pictures on the walls. This extremely liberal gesture is counterpointed by the insertion of certain quotations which design a mental horizon where language spans space, time and generations: a passage from Letter to a Faraway Friend, the introduction to History and Utopia, published in French in 1960 by Rumanian writer Emile Cioran (1911-1995), who abandoned his native country to live most of his life in Paris; a line from David Bowie’s Time (1972) and a quotation from Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) taken up, in turn, by the American artist Nancy Spero (1926-2009) in one of her works. In all of these sources we can recognize a sense of distance and detachment, of not belonging, refusal and nostalgia. Although a significant part of Danh Vo’s work has to do with the lives of members of his family belonging to past generations, this is the first time that the artist includes the existence of future generations in his work, thus enhancing his reflections on time and history, in their inner and individual as well as their collective dimensions.
This action on space – where freedom and violence, innocence and a sense of the end coexist – serves as a background for a series of works expressing the themes of language and translation, movement in time and space, journey and desertion.
One of these works is 2.2.1861, a version realized in Rome in an unlimited edition: the artist had asked his father to copy by hand the last letter that catholic missionary Théophane Vénard – later canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1968 – had written to his father from prison shortly before being sentenced to death in Vietnam in 1861. At the time, proselytism was outlawed. This letter – a farewell from a son to his father in the form a floral metaphor of human existence – was written in French and copied by Danh Vo’s father who did not understand the words. This oscillation between language and sense is further strengthened by the fact that Vietnam was the only Asian country during the French colonial period to convert its lexicon to the Latin alphabet. Both in this work as well as in the murals, the handwriting becomes a visual space within which lie the history and time of the individual lives, regardless of their comprehension or participation. The letter is accompanied by the work byebye, an appropriate photo of Théophane Vénard together with four other missionaries about to leave for Asia. The themes of travel, separation, leaving home and extraneousness echo throughout the hall: in the words of Emil Cioran and Antonin Artaud, in the image of the missionaries and the reproduction of the artist’s first passport photo. These are the same themes evoked in the great new work dominating the wall: on a series of busts from the Museum Store of the Statue of Liberty in New York laminated in gold leaf, the father of the artist drew the words Sweet Oblivion, title of a work by artist Marin Wong (1946-1999), whose paintings are a vibrant representation of life on the Lower East Side. The entire hall is conceived as a bizarre crowded family self-portrait, in which the stories and existence of the artist’s relatives cohabit with the artistic and intellectual experiences that have inspired him over the years.

The intimacy of this situation contrasts with the monumentality of the context that plays host to the exhibition: a fusion of everyday life with the official character amplified by the title. Chung ga opla, is the phonetic translation of the Vietnamese expression indicating « sunny side up» eggs (in French « œufs au plat »). It evokes the image of morning food- sharing as a ritual celebrating unity.

In the Grand Salon on the first floor, Danh Vo has installed a series of works which, once again associate Villa Medici with the themes of movement and transformation of things: at the foot of the sumptuous tapestries which decorate the Salon we find a series of cardboard boxes for the transportation of Evian water which the artist had gathered in the streets and subsequently modified through gold-leaf lamination. These consumer waste products – which preserve a profound recollection of Robert Rauschenberg’s Cardboards realized at the beginning of the 1970s – have thus become precious while still maintaining their fragility and a shabby aspect in strong contrast with the monumentality of the host context. The tapestries realized in Eighteen century upon drawings by Albert Eckhout illustrate the exploration and discovery of exotic lands and an image of nature seen as a realm of struggle among different species, governed by the law of implacable force. The magnificence of these representations contrasts the scanty bouquets realized by Danh Vo with branches taken from the various trees present in the gardens of the Villa.

The exhibition Danh Vo – Chung ga opla is part of a cycle of three personal exhibitions that constitute an extension of the Teatro delle Esposizioni #3, which took place at Villa Medici in June and October of 2012. This cycle investigates the concept of Academy as a symbolic space where the idea of the presumed neutrality of art is superimposed on the concept of National identity and within which the dimensions of history, tradition, politics and culture come together.

The three artists involved in the project – each with his personal idiom – investigate the History of Art conceived as an area crossed by multiple forces: political ideologies, economic events, dominant historical narrations repressed by collective consciousness.

The exhibition Danh Vo – Chung ga opla follows Patrizio Di Massimo’s project THE LUSTFUL TURK (23 November – 16 December) and anticipates the solo show of Victor Man planned for the end of June 2013. This cycle of exhibitions explores the concept of Accademia in its multiple meanings interlacing historical, aesthetical and political reflections.

Indeed, in recent years the international artistic debate has concentrated on a series of themes related to the processes of education and transmission of knowledge, the survival of ideologies of the past in the world of today and the possibility that visual art can work as an area where progress and anachronism can melt together. Thus the concept of Accademia becomes a prism in which it is possible to manifest the opportunities and contradictions of our times in relation to tradition. The figure of the Academy can, therefore, be explored as a physical, cultural and metaphoric site where the transmission of specific artistic knowledge bears a more complex history, consisting of a world vision which evokes, more or less explicitly, the traumas of history and the repression of ideology.

Danh Võ: 2004-2012

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KUNSTHAUS BREGENZ

Danh Võ: 2004-2012
Edited and with introduction by Yilmaz Dziewior. Text by Julie Ault, Doryun Chong, Oscar Faria.

In the installations of Danh Vo, comprising arrangements of objects, photographs, documents, craft objects, and souvenirs, the private meets the public, his own biography meets political history, and the original meets the copy. This two-volume publication encompasses Danh Vo’s compelling work in all its entirety for the first time.

The first volume provides a carefully compiled résumé based on the chronology of his projects and exhibitions will be complemented by numerous installations views as well as texts by Julie Ault, Yilmaz Dziewior, Doryun Chong, and Oscar Faria, who will be engaging with Vo’s work by considering issues of biography and history, readymades and appropriation, poetry and politics, while placing it within an art historical context.

The second volume pays homage to Danh Vo’s father Phung Vo and his contribution to his son’s projects as an independent work complex. Numerous reproductions duplicated by hand by Phung Vo of a letter originating from 19th Century France, which Théophane Vénard, who was later canonized by the Catholic Church as a martyr, wrote shortly before his decapitation to his father, are shown.

Title
Danh Võ: 2004-2012

Authors and contributors
Edited by Yilmaz Dziewior, Text by Doryun Chong, Text by Julie Ault, Illustrated by Danh Vo

Physical properties
Format: Hardback, 18 x 23 cm
Number of pages: 224, illustrated throughout.

Audience
General/trade

Language
English

ISBN
ISBN 13: 9783863351656
ISBN 10: 3863351657

Classifications
BISAC category code: ART019000
LC classification: N
BISAC category code: ART016030
Nielsen BookScan Product Class: T1.2
BICMainSubject: ACBP

Publisher
Kunsthaus Bregenz

Imprint name
Kunsthaus Bregenz

Publication date
31 March 2013

Danh Vo catalogue
11. jan. 2013 15.37

Dear Magnus Kaslov,

to our regret, we have to announce that we suspended the production of the planned KUB catalogue with works by Danh Vo. The catalogue won’t be published.

Thank you for your understanding,
with kind regards
Claudia Voit

Mag. Claudia Voit
Assistentin Publikationen / publications

Kunsthaus Bregenz
Karl Tizian Platz
A-6900 Bregenz
+43 5574 485 94-416
Fax: +43 5574 485 94-408
c.voit@kunsthaus-bregenz.at
www.kunsthaus-bregenz.at