Contribution to Roundtable Discussion- Counterpoint Event:
“Bio-Cultural Diversity and Hegemonic Power”
My name is Sophia Löwe and before I begin I would like to thank Counterpoint for asking me to contribute to this to me, highly interesting and important discussion. I am looking forward to engaging with all of you in a contemplative dialogue.
First and foremost I would like to position myself towards the subject matter. I have been asked to participate here today because of my position as both a scholar of Religious Studies and an artist in practice and life.
However, in regards to the topic of our discussion today, thinking around and about bio-cultural diversity and the criticism of a hegemonic character (where hegemony is opposed diversity), I would like to position myself in the form of an octopus.
Octopus are our (even in scientific measures) extremely intelligent co-critters dwelling in the depth of the beautiful oceans this earth has provided for us. Their movement is seamless and liquid - a perfect synchronistic moment between individual body parts. They glide through the waters, adapting color according to the context they move in. I want to invite you all to try to think along these questions we ask ourselves today in an octopus-like fashion. Let us all be tentacles, with nerve cells equally divided into each one of us, with no central nervous system to hold us stuck within the confined binary thinking of our rigid human bones.
I have personally found a connection to octopus through a streak of daydreams that began a few years ago. I was invited to a land called “Leela-Land” by some very peculiar and very silent figures - The Venus Warriors. Back then I was picking my brains to think myself a way out of a thinking pattern dedicated to polarities, hierarchies and linearity.
What a sisyphus task, naively trying to think myself out of thinking…
What was I thinking?
But at the time, I was biting my teeth out on trying to conceptualize a language in my mind in which time and space would not be so dependant on a linearity that was defined by two polar endings. Our language and with that the language in my mind, was (and is) just so strongly build around these principles. Becoming rather frustrated with myself in an attempt to defy my own hegemonic thinking structures, whenever my mind would doze off, I was transported into the silent curry fields of “Leela-Land”, where only atmospheric sounds exist and creatures communicated via antennas attached to their hearts or foreheads, in the direct sharing of an emotiono-visual landscape that appeared to be in a constant and continuous loop of communal creative imagination. The actions of the Venus Warriors were always relational, like multidirectional flows of chain reactions - they were all responsible for the creation of their immediate “future” - as everything was happening today and tomorrow and yesterday, always at all times. The only creatures in this reality that bore any resemblance to anything I had seen before were Octopus and Ravens.
Before this meeting dr. Babette Hellemans asked us in an email:
How does your research/work/actions contribute to a criticism of the hegemonic character of knowledge? How can we set up an agenda that would honour the idea of a bio-cultural diversity (>do you share this view?) and have you any particular thoughts about your work in relation to the future of the Humanities?
Although I had already composed a talk for today, I found her email so extremely thought provoking, that I decided to use her questions as a guiding theme.
For me there is a clear fluidity between my practices as a human, artist, scholar, astrologist in training, fan of science fiction, hip hop feminist and critical and constructive learner, thinker and exchanger. This fluidity is something that I often find disturbed by the necessity to categorize myself within a scheme of bureaucratic squareness. I call this ‘squareness’ for I have found squares to be exemplary in shape for the anti-organic statistics based pursuit to shape humankind away from bio-cultural diversity. Squares appear everywhere were buildings replace trees, where mental horizons meet the end of their reach and where the box to think out of becomes a fractioned glass (or green) house that has apparently led humankind to face environmental, as well as social, crises that have reached an almost satirical tragic valence and violence.
In the next section, I introduce briefly two human creatures that manage to make a circle out of the squareness they are faced with. What connects them for me is their respective interaction with the bio-diverse fluidity of being within their own life and practice and their equal engagement with their bio-diverse environment, that despite surrounding us all, is too often overlooked as background scenery to our hero stories.
In her book “Staying with the trouble” biologist, animal activist, feminist, humanities scholar and SF-ambassador Donna Haraway writes:
“It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”
It was this book that pulled me out of my winter depression last year. I locked myself in my room for a week, painted and listened to Donna Haraway’s symbiotic science fiction scholarship. Her constant, friendly reminder to “stay with the trouble” continues to be an inspiration for me every day. I found a new manner of painting that week. Layers and layers of different materials, overlapping in some, crossing and diverting in others. The painting is always in the now, never finished and always in process. It is becoming and growing with the fabric of the book and my life, knotting knots and tying ties.
What I learned from Donna Haraway in her book, besides her call for “tentacular”-thinking, is a notion of “thinking and becoming with”.
In made me think that my work as a scholar and artist can contribute to a criticism of hegemonic ‘square’ categorization, not by defying them, but by dancing over and around its constructions in circles.
In my last years of high school our art teacher Irja Quack introduced us to Joseph Beuys. I was puzzled. Fed rubbed in the corner of a room, public discussions about direct democracies, the planting of 1000 oaks. No part of me had any idea what this was supposed to mean and although my initial self did not visually ‘like’ what she saw, she certainly was intrigued by what she felt.
Over the years Joseph Beuys has become a sort of ever-present spirit within my work. Both artistic and scholarly. His capacity to connect symbols, materials, ideas and practices fascinates me to this day. It appears as everything he does, the constant ‘becoming with’ that he exposes himself, his mind and body to manage(d) to break through the squared pursuit of pinning him down. An artist, shaman, teacher, political activist, writer, speaker, you always see him smile cheekily when confronted with criticism of all forms. Certain of himself and open to hear from the others.
That is what he defined as artistry, When exclaiming that “everybody is an artist”, he did not teach me that also I could paint. He taught me that also I could use my intuition, my gut, my imagination to create, color, shape and research the world around me in constant exchange with it and other fellow humans.
What I have learned from Beuys is to always be an artists and so to answer you, Babette:
I don’t think it is about setting up an agenda for to honour the idea of bio-cultural diversity. I think it is TO BE bio-culturally diverse and EMBODY bio-cultural diversity in everything we do.
Critical thought and communication are extremely valuable skills in all parts of life. It is my believe that it is us, scholars of humanities, humans, artists, who should reach out their tentacles/feelers and try to engage with the world around us, becoming artists of critical scholarship. I, for one, want to be better at being the audience I want to interact with, I want to give impulses by taste, smell, action and feeling. I want to shapeshift like an octopus and I want to embody what I stand for and use my humanities super kit to help me understand others. May they be octopus, human or venus warrior.
This can mean anything you want it to mean.
For me this means, being with and through octopus and venus warriors.
Being an artist and being a scholar.
Being a friend and a critique.
Being a twin and an single and also being everyone I meet.
My idea is to start with remembering everyday that “everyone is an artist”, and that I am and you are too.
It is in my humble opinion that I think:
We should carry out that creative ability into the world, to spark new thoughts and build new chains, so that we can actively become and create with a thinking and living culture that we want to be a part of and not feel overwhelmed by.
The last thing I can say is:
Dare to be creative, dare to be an octopus!