Mapping the Affective Landscape
Book 2 from July 9th to August 6th 2018
Movement without Doubt
Chapter 5: Founding(s)
In 2005, signs in the town of Lijiang explained to the visitor, that the local culture1 had ‘unconsciously’ maintained an environmentally responsible way of life.
I was struck how a way of living that was ecologically wide awake, could be presented as backward by a dominant culture2, that had only just woken up to the notion of environmental awareness.
In 2018, during my fourth stay in the area, I am struck by another observation, only this time the view shaped by the dominant culture encounters a self-reflective source.
In his book ‘Songs for Dead Parents’, anthropologist Erik Mueggler shares his deeply engaging and intimate journey of apprehending what is a living body and what is a dead body. The latter, the ‘material effects of processes that actualize prior virtual forms’ (Mueggler. 2017.8) is contrasted with a living body, a body of unlived futures and thus a virtual body. His understanding develops during extended encounters with locals (1993-2012) who acquaint him with funeral rites through various means, from reciting, to enumerating to sharing their pride in ‘this extraordinary body of inherited knowledge’ (2017.9) that makes tangible ‘the relations of labor and suffering’ through sacrifices of animals and rice. Telling stories about world formations: This body of knowledge draws from the story of genesis, in which the earth itself is a body, actualised through the sacrifice3 and butchering of an ox. A deaf-mute makes the earth from the breath, the saliva, the blood, the skin, etc. of the animal. Likewise the site of a funeral makes explicit histories of relations that composed the body of the deceased.
Mueggler shares the difficulty of accepting that one’s instinctual approaches can be an obstacle to understanding and shows how this friction filled correspondence can be generative.
Telling stories about world formations: The Greek god, Zeus, doing woman’s work, wove a marital veil, for his daughter Kore (Persephone), the goddess of the underworld and the dead, who ‘touches that which is’ (Plato in Cratylus). Into the veil, Zeus wove the divisions of the earth, the ocean and the houses of the ocean. By casting the woven cloth over her head, the world became visible. (Leatherbarrow. 1999; 174).
At this point I want to return to Erge’s toast (see Chapter 3, Epilogue), ‘the earth belongs to us’ and my continued struggle to juggle the conflicting histories of relation this moment revealed to me. During the time of Founding the memory of some recent encounters helps this process along:
A short-term visitor to the residency, anthropologist and artist Utza Hazarika, shared her paper, ‘The Earth cannot let go of us’, in which she introduces the words ‚earth-beings’ and ‚earth-practices’ coined by ethnographer Marisol de la Cadena. Words which‚ disavow the separation of Nature and Humanity’(2016.11). These ‚earth beings’ are protagonists defending their survival in the face of threats posed by a politics that subscribes to the division of nature and culture. By contrast, the curatorial role given to the personhood that is the location during the current residency program4, invites the ‚earth being’ to challenge us to encounters with the unthought, to wrestle with limits, to struggle to give rise to new concepts, to dissolve that which relentlessly creates the binary.
A film shown during the week of grounding, "Smoke Signals From The Border" (2011) by Na Yingyu is running adjacent to "Smoke Signals From The Border" (1957) by Lin Nong. The given and the made, the construed and the constructed challenge the dominant discourse through techniques of reversal.
Telling stories: What if all of us were human once, and some of us decided to turn into animals, minerals, things and plants?
Locating the place of one’s handicap5
On the first day of the week of Findings - a day when the glacier is visible - we have an evening of conflicts. A moment, where pasts and futures are at stake; a moment when stories begin to dissect lives; a moment that draws to an end with a revelry.
At the close of the week of Findings, XiaoLi gives birth to ten puppies.
Touching one’s handicap
Telling stories: stories can play truant and run away with themselves; can find themselves at the edge of an abyss. Sometimes stories slip and loose their footing; hands begin to tremble.
Continuing her quest to experience the many things on the farm, she has not experienced before, Lisha -tells a story of findings:
Whilst cutting stencils for the mural, she begun to miss physically challenging work. Watching grandma taking care of the pig, she decides to help her feed it. The floor of the pigsty is dirty and she needs to clean it first. Grandma is the only one who can go inside, who is fearless of the huge pig, who will hit it with a shovel on the nose if need be. Quan Quan points out the blueness of the door leading to the pigsty, asking why it is that colour. Lisha thinks, ‘What the fuck does it matter, this blueness. Art is very distant when shovelling pigshit.’ The hard physical work – ‘to contribute one’s strength’ - gives answers that dissolve problems.
They fill two buckets, the distance between the pigsty and the compost at the entrance of the farm is roughly one hundred steps, the buckets are heavy, Lisha is thinking of asking for help, she decides to take two half- filled buckets instead. Once the work is done, that good feeling encountered when making a place for compost, emerges again. Carrying the pigshit helps Lisha to understand Grandma better. The smell of pigshit does not wash off. Instead it evokes a memory of cleaning the intestines of a butchered pig some years ago with Erge, ‘Intestines are very delicious and they should not be washed too thoroughly.’
Telling stories about histories of relations: We are researching an ancestral technique of reading the Qi of the earth in the kitchen of Ming Zhu’s and Wang Mei’s house. I learn that up until the early part of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), farmers knew how to read the Qi of the earth. There is a question mark: ‘Did the European astronomical predictions introduced by the Jesuits impact top down approaches to the agricultural calendar?’
Mapping the Affective Landscape during the week of Founding (July 31st – August 6th)
Forms of attending
During the week of founding, Ernesto sets up a Chinese takeaway in war-torn Nicaragua.
During the week of founding, the one and only cosmos plant in our compound - rescued at the close of Tabbu from a pile of weeds cast aside and re-planted - lifted its leaves again.
During the week of founding, tentative thoughts are being shared for an in depth project: a practical poetics that explores the points where agriculture and art converge.
During the week of founding seeds are laid for a co-operation with Lijiang Library around the theme of ‘A Geography of Waiting’.
The last day of the week of Founding falls on the 8th day of the 8th lunar month. Driving back in the dark to the studio from the opposite side of the lake, we pass vertical piles of wood set by the roadside. Their tops are alight. It is Huabajie, a three day Yi festival. This ghost festival is celebrated with homemade, man-size torches. On arriving home, we discover first four, then three, then one and then another dead puppy, some with their heads bitten off. Nine out of the litter of ten, Xiaoli gave birth to just a week ago.
During the week of founding, Jixing presents a new short film improvisation with guitar.
Available on https://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMzc3MDMzMzcxNg==.html?x&sharef rom=android&sharekey=643f5d49d95f849f4ae15e424f8c86f71 // Password: hjx5991xjh
Telling stories: What gives credence to stories? Turned into speech too soon, stories cannot grow. All we have to do now is wait for Jixing’s dream.
Once a question has been asked, answers will emerge. Jay’s prompt, ‘What questions are better asked from here than elsewhere?’ draws out the following answer from me: The experience of the sentient body here is that subjectivities are outside, are everywhere and, like deities6, in motion. Reflecting on the work I did after my first two visits to Lijiang Studio in 2005/6, it was this apprehension rather than any understanding that made it possible for me to think about creating work that allowed modes of subjectivities to emerge. Modes that are not based on the industrialised, globalised production of subjectivity but nevertheless in correspondence with them: Recompositions7 of the given and the made, the construed and the constructed.
Does the question: ‘Is it possible to conceive of an organised society to create modes of subjectivity on such other bases; bases of and for contemporary times?’ follow and what would such a pursuit entail?
1 I use the word local culture to describe the community within which we spend our daily life. Jixiang Village is a Naxi Village situated South of Lashihai. We are cocooned in the daily life cycle and emotional intelligence of the family He.
2 I use the term dominant culture to describe the discourse on development, rather than political or national stances.
3 Sacrifice is only possible once sky and earth relate to each other. Sacrifice can be used to bring features of the earth into being. (Mueggler. 2017. 195)
4 The residency opens with the questions: •How does being here, how does the village, landscape, the everyday inform/affect our work? And •What processes does it cure, as in .....solidify, gel, alter with reference to the paper by Lepecki (2017) Decolonising the curatorial.
5 See reference to Butoh in ‘Between Landings and Groundings’.
6 On deities in motion see Hazarika; 2016; 5
7 Guattari in Assemblages (2010, 1:01:38) on the generative friction between the Global North and the Global South
Utsa Hazariki (2016) // The Earth cannot let go of us’ // Ethnos Journal of Anthropology, Routledge UK
Kagis McEwan, I. (1993) // Socrates’ Ancestors // MIT, US
Leatherbarrow in Corner, J. (1999) // Recovering Landscape // Princeton Architectural Press
Andre Lepecki (2017) // Decolonising the curatorial // Duke University Press, US
Melitopoulus, A. et al (2010) // Assemblages // Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp
Plato // Cratylus //
Available online at