Writing algae and other life

blake-newton-1795
William Blake, Newton, 1795.

William Blake was critical of the rigid, reductive influence of Newton’s ideas, of his insensibility to vision and ethical restraint. Describing Blake’s portrait, Alan Moore remarks that: ‘Newton sits in single-minded concentration, crouched above his calculations and immune to the more fractal charm of blue and orange lichens spattering the rocky backdrop, his chill bench has the distinct appearance of a bidet or commode. Enthroned, a god of knowledge showers his pearls of wisdom on the species through a process of mere peristalsis, heedless of the fact that mankind’s dream-life is thus rendered a materialist latrine.’

A few months ago I went to Iceland in search of the fractal charm of lichens and algae in the Future Fictions Summit. Researchers met at the Asbru Enterprise Park, Reykjavik – the former NATO naval and military base – to exchange ideas and generate narratives of future multispecies co-existence. The summit included a field trip to the slippery algae beach on Hafnir shore led by Eydís Mary Jónsdóttir.

collecting-algae-vicktorija-gediminas-eydis-henrik

The summit culminated at Reykjavik Art Museum with Jennifer Gabrys’s lecture on lichens, bioindication and environmental politics, discussing the lived effects of pollution as experienced by nonhuman organisms; a future fiction performance-lecture; and algae culinary exploration with Hinrik Carl Ellertsson from DILL Restaurant.

[Extract from a future fiction text on human-algae symbiosis research]

‘Obs.: Enhanced taste capacities in salty range; pigmentation shifts, thickening of skin which is demonstrating patches of heavily whorled textures….Stage 2. Subjects developed holdfast feet complexes. Under-skin vesicles developed, particularly clustered around collar-bone area. Arms have lengthened and are tending towards frond-like flagellata….Rhythmic shifts in verticality and horizontality observed i.e. Subjects are erect during sea immersions and layered horizontally in periods of air exposure….the mouth can function as a knowledge sensor….Nothing intelligible yet, however embodied sensory dialogue with algae appears increasingly likely….Subjects are able to taste impacts from chemical and other marine contaminants….Some subjects demonstrate adaptation to tidal and seasonal rhythms. Greatly enhanced consciousness of interscalar and trans-systemic relationships are being recorded. Prolonged rhythmic immersions are resulting in reflexive consciousness, a form of self-archaeology….Visions of new ecologies glimpsed. Confronting light is the darkness. The awe-ful rainbow.’

Text developed by Tracey Warr in collaboration with Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, Kristopas Sabolius, Nikola Bojić, Lucas Freeman, and other researchers at the Zooetics Future Fictions Summit, Iceland, October 2016.

algae2The Future Fictions Summit was the most recent instalment of Zooetics – a project exploring intersections between the human, non-human and poetic knowledge spheres. A full summary of the project and Jennifer Gabrys’s lecture are on the OH Project site. An interview with Jennifer Gabrys by Viktorija Šiaulytė will be published later this year. A collection of my zooetic fictions will be published later this year as part of Frontiers in Retreat.

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