Landscapes of Energy and Extraction: Mining the Animal

Friday 26 November 2021

The second symposium of this series, Mining the Animal involved two presentations by Dr Michail Mersinis and Dr Elizabeth A. Hodson, followed by a response to the symposium themes by artist-academic Jim Harold.

Mining the animal is concerned to address the relation between the non-human animal, landscape and people. Specifically, we explored how the voice of the animal reveals itself, whether through its absence or artistic intervention. Michael Mersinis’ presentation focused on the silk worm as both an agent and an interlocutor. Following a research project in the small village of Soufli in the north part of Greece, Michael examined the animal that was single handedly responsible for the rise and fall of a community that solely relied on its existence. People who worked in the factories of silk are brought forward to weave a complex narrative of economy and ecology in fringe societies. Following on from this, Elizabeth A. Hodson turned to the work of contemporary artists working in Scotland to explore the transformative and disruptive potential of vocal mimesis in art. Speaking as if animal sheds light on our relationship with the non-human; its symbolic function but also its gendered dynamics. From Butler (1990) to Irigaray (1985), mimesis has been theorized as a platform for subversion. But it can also be a route towards a potential symbiosis with the non-human. Contemporary art practice offers us paths through the climate change crisis in the era of the anthropocene by suggesting a reconfiguration between the human and the non-human animal, an realignment which hears the voice of the non-human animal as equal, autonomous and instructive.

Michail Mersinis

Michail Mersinis is an artist from Greece, whose work revolves around the utopian imaginary and the sense of place. By using photography’s elusive relationship with reality and its indexical qualities he makes work that superimpose the projected qualities of places with the real, working mainly through photography and sculpture. Relying on notions of land art, where the work of art and landscape are inextricably linked, the additional layers of history, storytelling and hearsay form the basic material from which contemporary hybrid notions of place emerge. By utilising the methods of travelling, picture-making and combining them with notions of a primary material as indicated by Presocratic philosophers, he makes works that exist between the document and the projection, which rely on the inherently photographic notion of latency. After the picture is made, and before the chemical development is finalised, both the real and the imaginary are states of equal importance and possibility in a state of existence which fluctuates from the scientific to the alchemical.

Recent projects include the travelling to all the seven alleged locations of the Homeric Ithaca and making a series of photographic and sculptural works that deal with the identification and documentation of the homeland of Odysseus. From mainlands and islands in Greece and Denmark to Scotland Mersinis travels and makes pictures about potentiality rather than fact. History and conflict are important considerations in his work. The investigation of the residue in cultural memory on the battlefield of Culloden Moor led to a body of work that negotiates the idea of battle and loss. Currently he continues to work on ‘The Old World Cycle’, a project that seeks to consolidate the cultural and geographical significance of place of the Mediterranean and spans from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Black Sea. He is now travelling to remote islands in search of earthquakes and residues of presence and history.

Elizabeth A. Hodson

Dr Elizabeth A. Hodson is a Lecturer in Fine Art Critical Studies and Postgraduate studies at Glasgow School of Art, UK. Her research and teaching is concerned with the interstices between art, anthropology and art history. Trained as a social anthropologist with a PhD from the University of Aberdeen, she has conducted ethnographic research on art in Iceland and Scotland, exploring a range of topics including drawing, interdisciplinarity, alterity, the imagination and materiality. Before taking up her current position at GSA she worked as a Research Fellow on the an ERC-funded project at the University of Aberdeen called ‘Knowing from the Inside: Anthropology, Art, Architecture and Design‘, led by Professor Tim Ingold. Based in anthropology the project was designed to speculate on and reconfigure the relationship between theoretical exposition in the academic human sciences with the often-neglected sensory, embodied nature of our relationship to the dwelt-in world. Elizabeth has published with the Journal of Material Culture, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, and Visual Studies, amongst others. She is also the co-editor of the Journal of Visual Culture in Britain. Alongside her written work she has also curated a number of interdisciplinarity exhibitions both here in the UK and abroad including: ‘Jaðarsýn’ (2010), at Kling og Bang Art Gallerí, Iceland; ‘Beyond Perception’ (2015), University of Aberdeen; ‘Drawing the Anthropological Imagination’ (2016), University of Durham.

Elizabeth’s most recent research project, which is funded by the Association For Art History, is concerned with art in rural communities in Scotland. Entitled ‘Imagining Landscape and Myth in Scottish Art’ it addresses how artists work with and in rural landscapes to articulate broader socio-political narratives (gender, sustainability and ecology for instance), through their engagement with coastlines, land boundaries and waterways. Central to this is how these new narratives interweave with the myths and stories attached to place. That is, how mythology is reimagined and reused in light of the anthropocenic crisis to speak to contemporary audiences and new concerns.

Jim Harold

Dr. Jim Harold is an artist based in Glasgow. He has lectured extensively in Fine Art within the UK and Europe, and has exhibited nationally and internationally. His work is held in public and private collections in UK, Australia and USA. His practice focuses on the way ‘value’, whether conceptual or aesthetic, shapes our readings of landscapes. In particular, those areas of border or marginal lands and terrain vague spaces that lie at the edge or limit between nations (often contested spaces) or those areas that have become isolated, neglected and under-valued. Recently, he has been working with members of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to consider interdisciplinarity links between art and archaeology: the nature of contemporary archaeology, the language of the archive and the alternative values of a ‘re-wilding’ or a ‘ferality’ of language in relation to landscape experience, description, artefacts and the archive.

He is a member of the international research group Creative Centre for Fluid Territories (CCFT), whose projects in Cyprus and Norway focus on perceptions of place with particular regard to locations with contested histories and/or ecologies.

References

Michael Mersinis Silk Town

Agamben, Giorgio (2002). The Open Man and Animal, Stanford University Press 

Berger, John (2009). Why Look at Animals in Berger, John (2009) About Looking, Bloomsbury

Derrida, Jacques (2008). The Animal That Therefore I Am, Foldham University Press 

Fox, Robin (2011). The Tribal Imagination, Harvard University Press

Frankopan, Peter (2015). The Silk Roads: A New History of the World Bloomsbury

Goody, John Rankine (1995). The Domestication of the Savage Mind, Cambridge University Press

Hansen, Valerie (2012). The Silk Road: A New History Oxford University Press

Ingold, Tim (1994). What is an Animal?, Routledge

Levi- Strauss, Claude (1966). The Savage Mind, Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Τράντα-Νίκολη Αλεξάνδρα (2008). Από το Κουκούλι στο Μετάξι: Σηροτροφία – Μεταξουργία, Πολιτιστικό Ίδρυμα Ομίλου Πειραιώς 

Η σηροτροφία στο Σουφλί (Πολιτιστικό Ίδρυμα Ομίλου Πειραιώς) 1993 9789602440261

E A. Hodson, From Mimesis to Symbiosis

Bennett, J. 2001. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press. 

Butler, J.  1990. Gender Trouble. London: Routledge. 

Irigaray, I. 1985. This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter. New York: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Jamie, K. 2018. ed. Antlers of Water. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Plumwood, V. 2018. ‘Ecofeminist Analysis and the Culture of Ecological Denial’, in eds. L. Stevens, P. Tait, D. Varney in Feminist Ecologies: Changing Enviroments in the Anthropocene. Palgrave MacMillan. Pp. 97-113. 

Jim Harold, ‘Mining the Animal’ and the ‘Strange Stranger’

Maurice Blanchot, (1995).  ‘The “Sacred” Speech of Hölderlin’ in: The Work of Fire, Stanford University Press.

Manuel DeLanda, (2000).  A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, Cambridge, Mass: Zone.

Timothy Morton (2008).  The Ecological Thought, (pp.38-58), Harvard University Press.

Ann Waldman (2009).  Manatee/Humanity, London: Penguin.

Diane di Prima (1978/1998).  Loba, London: Penguin.

Diane di Prima (January 2021).  Interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Top Image: Cocoons (2019), Michail Mersinis

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