Going back and looking at an early photo I took of Sean Connaughty’s work I now begin to realize that the scaling up of his work has changed the way I have come to intellectualize its greater meaning. His smaller-scaler work fits into an aquarium that would look right in your living room or in a small pond in the backyard. One can easily spin the orb in the water using one hand with a twist. It’s enjoyable to watch this miniature world inside spiral around, as though it were a tiny planet in an aqueous universe. That these small biospheres are self-sustainable also means you can look through their looking glass lenses and not feel threatened by or responsible for the nature that is unfolding inside that world. Plants die back and then regain their stature. The miniature world is contained and the plants go about their business without huge catastrophe. I do not intend to make quaint the life-forms which manifest inside the terrarium world. There is a whole other plane of existence on which plants operate that is unseen by us, their sentience namely.
Now, when Connaughty’s work begins to reflect a space (or place) that is more habitable by humans, the more co-mingling this territory necessitates. In the same way that a scientist cannot completely detach from his experiment by observational impact, the Ark of the Anthropocene will be linked to its makers (artist plus collaborators) in an equally unseen way. This is what makes Connaughty’s newest work so strong: that it proposes a process of integrating community that is inclusive to the living and the non-living, a seed for example. The living and dead are connected. Ideas and actions are connected. Technology and Nature are connected. This process of art-making is infectious because it diverts the drive and asserts the idea of the transmissive potential of art through continual re-creation. And this point compels to peer outside our common vision, the one we traverse in our daily lives bombarded by media, information, rules, our own hang-ups and human-centered responsibilities. Transmission means to move across, to send beyond. The Ark of the Anthropocene sends out what it receives, like a forest that emits signals underground, in the canopy, and into the air we breathe. In The Three Ecologies, Felix Guattari proposes a new eco-logic, or ecological practice, in which
“creative expression as such will take precedence over collective goals. This new logic – and I wish to stress this point – has affinities with that of the artist, who may be induced to refashion an entire piece of work after the intrusion of some accidental detail, a petty incident which suddenly deflects the project from its initial trajectory, diverting it from what may well have been a clearly formulated vision of its eventual shape.”
Accidents change the course of humanity… and we will likely need to adjust to a future “scenario that is both terrifying and fascinating” [Guattari]. Confronting the accidents will lead to a very different understanding of our relationship to the cosmos. When our common vision becomes disrupted, a shift in consciousness is possible. When the force behind that interruption is artistic and infused with an ethics of openness, an ecology following the Eros principle, there is possibility for real revolution. Creativity can expand our relationships beyond symbol and free us from our psychosis to control all the variables. Here one of the transmissions* from the data which will be sealed inside the Ark of the Anthropocene laments: “Unexpected things happen / Even when you plan.” When the signal is sent we can have no knowledge for what response will return or what will transpire. The main point here is the attempt to relate, to go across, which is the hidden value in the ecology of the universe.
A second transmission sings:
I got me a stinger as long as my right arm / I pierced the hide of the Earth / And it’s infected
The earth has hide, but it also has skin, which is in constant state of renewal. As curator of the data, I have come to appreciate the full range of the possible in regards to the artistic undertaking, from skin to hide so to speak. The way forward is survival, a monumental task to be sure. Ultimately, this new world [Guattari, again] “demands… that we face up to the logic of the ambivalence of desire (I’ambivalence desirante) wherever it is found (in culture, everyday life, work, sport, etc.); that we re-evaluate the ultimate goal of work and human activities in terms of criteria other than those of profit and productivity; that we acknowledge the need to mobilize individuals and social segments in ways that are always diverse and different;” For instance: Technology grafted onto art launched into a harbor; Art storing sacred things that speak to the creative energies of the enduring universe; Art that is discovered with diving suit on or by paddling a boat; Art which seeks the contribution of its community, which is ever-expanding thanks to technology. These inclusions embrace time-space as a unifying pattern by a process of enrichment. And finally, when closing his essay, Guattari quotes Walter Benjamin, which tells of an artist who inhabits his art through the oldest art-form there is: “Story-telling … does not aim to convey the pure essence of a thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the story-teller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the story-teller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel.” This is the transformation I see when the work of an artist elevates his art and has the courage to drop it into one of the greatest lakes, Lake Superior, with full knowledge that he has woven a story that will float on into new and expansive territories.
* The transmissions are from an experimental group of work created by Sean Connaughty and close collaborators featuring sound and visual improvisations — a video installation of atmospheric space odyssey-like sound experimentation in a sub-zero igloo in Duluth
Go to Connaughty’s Kickstarter to learn more about the nuts and bolts of his project, and help fund the transport of Ark of The Anthropocene to Duluth’s harbor.
This is part of Connaughty’s solo exhibit at the Duluth Art Institute on September 11th. There will also be an exhibit opening curated by Connaughty at Prøve Gallery on September 12th.