Alps Art Academy reflection 02-09-2022
To my own frustration my week of learning at the Alpine Art Academy started with sleep (the C struck me). Coming to the Alps, I hoped to learn about its cultural landscape and site-specific artworks, instead I found myself staring out of the window or the , limited to the image of the landscape from a distance. Beautiful, but distant, I found it hard to move beyond my own touristic gaze.
I arrived at the academy with the idea of developing an article with the tentative title “From the White Cube, past the Black Box, to the Green Site: Practices and Ethics of Curating Art in Nature.” But I found myself simply too tired to be productive in the way I had envisioned. Naps instead of writing an article that synthesizes the information.
My body dictated otherwise, I adapted my process of learning to the flow of the theory group, which started by reading a book suggested by Clareese Hill: Undrowned. Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, written by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. The book consists of poetic reflections and lessons that the author takes from scientific knowledge about the animals in the ocean.
What did I learn from marine mammals in this place 1643 meters above sea-level? I will read you a fragment that spoke to me from this book. It is a lesson about slowing down, taking rest and dreaming.
This lesson is learned from Amazon river dolphins, who, after being captured and moved to aquariums have barely been able to survive. Scientists have speculated that these boto dolphins become sleep deprived, because in a captivated environment they do not have riverbanks that allows them to rest. Gumbs draws parallels between the dophins and humans deprived of sleep, and rest as resistance.
Quote from p. 89
“So for decades, the Amazon river dolphins, have been subjected to captivity and torture. Mostly, they have not survived. What are the conditions of your sleep deprivation? What are the contours of your captivity? Does it offer something to your own torment to know you are not alone in your tiredness?
Could we, the restless, the overworked, the underslept, the one-eye-open wary sleepers, activate kinship through the dolphin adaptions we have already learned in order not to drown here? Could we imagine a world where we are all safe enough to sleep held in the arms of the river, in her mothering flow, supported by the boundaries we need to fully rest?
I want that for you. I want that for me. All this time that I have been half-awake, I have been dreaming of a world that could deserve you. They told me it was a hallucination. This waking dream I want for all of us, but now I know the truth. In a world where capitalism as usual makes us complicit in drowning the planet, we are the ones who are already dolphins, the psychics, the visionaries. We could trust ourselves. Our adaptable foreheads were not made to be caged, we deserve the restful freedom to evolve, to […] surrender to your dreams.”
Somehow, the idea that we too are the dolphins, sleep deprived in the net of capitalism, is an idea that enabled me to comfortably rest without guilt. When it comes to the ecological crises, I find a comparable comfort in the idea that the end of the world has already happened in many ways: since ancient deforestation, colonization and Industrial Revolution. It releases me of the need to prevent an apocalypse and exhaust myself in the process of doing so. It does not mean that I am indifferent to the world around me, quite the opposite: it creates mental possibility to adapt to the present, dedicate attention to care and carve out time for learning. But first things first, because if we are the dolphins, we should first allow ourself to rest, to be able to dream.
This brings me back to a larger question, how to move forward in life and art. As Fernando Garcia Dory of the Inland Institute brought up, we have reached a moment of saturation of information about the current issues. Representation and thinking in itself do not suffice. Other strategies are needed to cope in the first place and move forward from there. Without realizing it, the collaborative nature and learning environment of the theory group brought me to the praxis that allowed for the active creative engagement that comes after rest.
Vikram invited us to work on his maze and think along. Once there, I became focused on making. The process of making became a way to actively participate in world making and to me, representative of the way forward. When I was staring out of my window, I was contemplating how I could learn about a culture at large and became frustrated with the vistas of the mountain in its entirety. The engagement with a singular maze, that became entangles with the adjacent fence, made me see that I was already part of a culture coming into being. Even if I only worked on it for an hour or so, this feeling was very satisfying. I think exactly this, is what many artists already know: doing is thinking. Through tacit knowledge, in the form of gardening, recording, creating, resting with augentrost on your eyes, we learn how to adapt to a changing world, without feeling lost.
Gumbs inspired me to learn through poetic and metaphorical engagements with marine mammals. Being in Safiental, the art projects shifted my gaze towards my feet, to the land that holds me, the water and air that flows through me. If doing is thinking, and sleeping doing, then sleeping is thinking. Thus, it has been a productive week for me, as I hope it was for you.