Mapping the Affective Landscape
Book 2 from July 9th to August 6th 2018
Movement without Doubt
Chapter 4: Between Landings and Groundings
A family of emergences1 seeking a world
On living with a Wal-Mart over the mountain, anthropologist Kathleen Stewart writes,
‘It was then that I begun to think, along with others, that nameable clarities like family or friendship or love or collapse or laughing or telling stories or violence or place are all bloom spaces. They are all forms of attending to what is happening, sensing out, accreting attachment and detachments, differences and indifferences, losses and proliferating possibilities.’ (Stewart. K; 2010; 344).
Like Stewart, we too live with a Wal-Mart over the mountain.
On this day, at the beginning of the second week of our residency, the glacier made its first appearance since our arrival.
Like Wal-Mart, it hovers behind a mountain.
Framed by the above, we ask once again: ‘How can questions that emerge from our encounter with the location participate in emergent realities?’ And ‘What niche of the artistic imagination, that cannot flourish anywhere else, can flourish here?’
But who are ‘we’, who address these questions?
On July 9th a new group of artists convened to consider the topic of ‘Mapping the Affective Landscape’ during weekly study sessions. With our arrival begins also a new chapter in the residency program. Not only do each of us perceive the landscape differently, coming as we do with clearly distinguishable sets of skills, sensitivities and memory spaces, but also the landscape presents itself to each group of artists differently.
In July the first crop of peaches is being harvested; the size of maize, gourd plants and sunflowers makes it impossible now to traverse field paths without causing some damage and water levels have risen, so that the improvised passages across man-made channels - made up of slats of wood and bags of concrete - have become flooded.
Aided by our host family, Xuemei, Erge, Jiyu, Amma and LaoHe, we, who are attuning our rhythms, our thinking, our visceral and sentient bodies, are
Hanne van Dyck: fine artist
Stephanie DeBoers: poet & media critic/ theorist
He Jixing: filmmaker
46dfb919c3085 // (Password: HJX5991xjh)
Li Lisha: artist
Jay Brown: founder of Lijiang Studio
Quanquan: 3-year old girl
Petra Johnson- artist
Utsa Hazarika, an artist/anthropologist from India/US as well as family members and in-laws from Kumming, neighbours and friends, who played important roles in the formation of the studio, join us for some of the time during the festive season of Tabbu, which began on Friday, the 13th July: the first day of the sixth lunar month. Jixing tells me the festivities will last for fifteen days. The village has become a busy place. The roadside by the entrance to most farmhouses is lined with cars. I encounter a form of movement, I have not noted before in this location: ambling. This ‘walking without purpose’ in groups brings with it imaginary spaces of the sentient body: the puzzling space of homecoming after long absences and, for the in-laws, the semi-magic space of encountering the childhood environs of a loved one. Back in the 70s, Mueggler notes, pestilence came with the sixth lunar month. ‘With no pesticides in use until the late 1970s, insects feasted in clusters on the rice stalks. Women spent their days in the fields sweeping long, plaited bamboo scoops over the rice plants, trapping the pests, and packing them into tightly woven carrying baskets to burn.’ (Mueggler. 2001; 151).
In 2018, men organise the social space for encounters including visits to other families and prepare the meat whilst women spend their days preparing meals. Every one of them is a feast for us humans, notwithstanding such everyday hiccups, as a broken phone, a cooker that refuses to work and a dog bleeding profusely from escaping a trap.
Forms of attending
In the time of landing, it is the breakfast for one, the movements of LaoHe for another that help stabilise one’s presence during the first week. Jixing, who lives here, is repeatedly becoming part of new configurations from the inside and thus experiences the time of landing in inverse order. Telling stories: He has been dreaming of a nine-headed snake. Once he realised the heads were human, he lost all fear. The heads lined up one after the other with just their backs visible. There had been nine artists before we came. I wonder what configuration we will acquire in his dreams once we are gone.
We touch upon references, films, texts: ‘The Century of Self’ by Adam Curtis; ‘The Art of not being governed’ by James C. Scott. A new question, ‘Are Avery Gordon (in Ghostly Matters) and Kathleen Stewart trying to connect the epistemological (what might be known and how it can be known) with the social?’ For once a definite answer: a resounding ‘Yes’.
The route from Landing to Grounding leads into the long, never-ending process of reading and understanding. Landings, by contrast, happen in a short span of time and cannot be repeated. Telling stories: Jay tells us about the role of the village chief, about his being caught between the local government and the villagers; how upon ending the reign of a corrupt village chief, the women demanded to replace his position with a women’s committee; how, in spite of being ignored by the local government, the women held this role for one and a half years alongside a new village chief installed by the government. Right now the only task the current village chief - of whom the villagers approve - has to take care of, is the resurfacing of roads. He is grateful, that no other demands are made on him. Here in the valley, everything is more legible and thus easier to put in the ledger. In the mountains it is more difficult to control people and their actions but that invisibility might come with other forms of constraints, like giving up schools.
How can we work with the ‘Location as Curator’? How to inhabit the disturbance of being cured (as in to prepare or alter), of feeling coerced into having to give things away; of feeling it is easier to start from oneself rather than a place; of feeling unfocussed?
How to allow questions that can only be asked here, to emerge?
For Steph, this entails letting go of the imaginary for action, she came with: of not writing poetry. She is writing lists of nouns and verbs/actions.
How to be here?
Here, where you have time and space to create whatever you want. How to negotiate the effort to come out?
How to maintain the alertness to every difference ‘making’ a difference?
What aids come to our assistance?
Living in a family home ‘makes’ us aware of connectivity.
Living in a space of generosity ‘makes’ a difference, both the fertility of the land and the generosity of Xuemei, Erge, Jiyu, Jixing, Amma and LaoHe are for many of us unprecedented.
Our encounter with the location spans the extremes of beginnings: Jixing was born here; for Steph and Mari the day, when the glacier becomes visible, is the eighth day of their stay. In between those anchor points, Jay, Li Lisha, Petra and Hanne have had encounters of varying lengths with the location, beginning in 2005.
Re-Telling Stories wrongly from memory
Jixing joins in during Steph’s daily conversations with her husband, who is in the US. Jixing: ‘Why is he on the couch?’
Steph: ‘It’s Friday.’
Jixing: ‘Today is not Friday and he is on the couch.’
Steph: ‘The couch is his place when he talks to me.’
Forms of attending
In Butoh, Bu means dance and to (sometimes toh) means step. The dancer uncovers the dance already in the body. The starting point is the place of one’s handicap.2
Mari tells us that Butoh returns the dancer to the body of the farmer, that all movements are related to the earth and gravity. Butoh has gone underground again in Japan whilst it enjoys immense popularity in the West. Mari walks and cycles everyday, studies gestures, flows with the locality.
Steph reads a quote from Stewart:
All the world is a bloom space now. A promissory note. An allure and a threat that shows up in ordinary sensibilities of not knowing what compels, not being able to sit still, being exhausted, being left behind or being ahead of the curve, being in history, being in a predicament, being ready for something—anything—to happen, or orienting yourself to the sole goal of making sure that nothing (more) will happen. A bloom space can whisper from a half-lived sensibility that nevertheless marks whether or not you’re in it. It demands collective attunement and a more adequate description of how things make sense, fall apart, become something else, and leave their marks, scoring refrains on bodies of all kinds—atmospheres, landscapes, expectations, institutions, states of acclimation or endurance or pleasure or being stuck or moving on. Affect matters in a world that is always promising and threatening to amount to something. Fractally3 complex, there is no telling what will come of it or where it will take persons attuned. (2010; 340)
A brother who used to smell like a wet dog ....’even worse’... is evoked in our imagination.
Petra reads a quote from Lauren Berlant
’Affect affects worlds and is impacted by them; the disjunction between affect, the event of its worlding (when it seeks a world), and anything like consciousness makes possible different encounters with oneself and one’s objects. Moving differently with affect is therefore not the same as pretending that a drama of decision changes things permanently or fundamentally. It involves discovering and inhabiting disturbances in the relation between one’s affects and one’s imaginaries for action. That discovery is the site of potentially recontextualizing creativity.’ (2014;89)
Steph recalls the Japanese word kuuki o yomu: To read the air in a social context
Seven days of Landing
Lisha has lived here for three years between 2006 and 2009. She returned in 2017. On this, her second return, she first cleaned the studio as she had done on leaving last summer.
Lisha comes with an imaginary for action:
to experience life here in her physicality;
to experience many things she has not experienced before.
During this first week she has been washing dishes and discovered a way to wash the dishes so the fields do not get polluted;
She is learning to prepare Jiatsu, a natural fertiliser;
she begun building a compost structure: she and Jixing went and got mud from the river, a crane there helped loading up their little truck;
she got pig shit and discovered it is not that dirty;
she finished the compost structure and experienced happiness that night;
she prepared a small piece of land to farm organically;
she met people who explore the relationship between one’s inner life and the land; people who shared their experience with her;
she discovered one should use a fork to break the earth rather than a spade which compresses as it divides
she was told to put oneself very low in order to face nature.
’Every one of these moments felt like a landing’, she says.
Lisha is thinking of making a mural of a grandmother, daughter and granddaughter fighting; a semi- playful incident she observed on the train coming here. She plans to place it between the large, bright red characters that announce a new government slogan ’people’s war’ on the wall of the old primary school in the village.
We return to the Wal-Mart over the Mountain
So far we have not needed to go there, have not missed anything except, maybe, a smidgeon of sugar.
Musing about the word affect, Utsa observes that ’If you don’t feel the lack of it, you don’t need the word.’
Quanquan joins the discussion with a refrain: Dengzi
(Stool, Chair, Stool, Chair......) A list of nouns.
A naming into being.
Spoken by a three-year old, each word gives birth to a liminal space harbouring the emergence of new thoughts seeking a world.
1 emergence occurs when "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," meaning the whole has properties its parts do not have. Wikipedia
2 “Start from the place of your handicap,” Hijikata’s female counterpart Ashikawa Yoko liked to say (Fraleigh, p.3; 2006)
3 Word Origin and History for fractal
1975, from French fractal, from Latin fractus "interrupted, irregular," literally "broken," past participle of frangere "to break" (see fraction). Coined by French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in "Les Objets Fractals."
Many important spatial patterns of Nature are either irregular or fragmented to such an extreme degree that ... classical geometry ... is hardly of any help in describing their form. ... I hope to show that it is possible in many cases to remedy this absence of geometric representation by using a family of shapes I propose to call fractals -- or fractal sets. [Mandelbrot, "Fractals," 1977] available on http://www.dictionary.com/browse/fractal
Berlant L. et al (2014) // Sex or the Unbearable// Duke University Press, US
Fraleigh, S. et al (2006) // HIJIKATA TATSUMI AND OHNO KAZUO // Routledge, London
Gregg, M. et al (2010) // The Affect Theory Reader Duke University Press, US
Mueggler, E (2001) // The Age of Wild Ghosts University of California Press