images + videos
// An essayist report, November 2017
“A performative understanding of scientific practices, for example, takes account of the fact that knowing does not come from standing at a distance and representing but rather from a direct material engagement with the world.”
At the beginning of 2017 I was invited by Art Laboratory Berlin to develop a workshop for their curated series on the topic of ‘Non-Human Agencies’. For this I designed a program called "The forestal Psyche" consisting of a lecture and an excursion into the forest. It seemed to me conclusive and almost necessary to visit the forest as the natural habitat of the organisms I work with in my art. Slime molds live on the forest floor in shady and moist areas. Certain fungi are both recyclers of dead organic matter as well as communication facilitators through their massive subterranean mycorrhizal network, which in symbiosis with plant roots, can connect entire forests. Aside from a science-based approach, forests have always been places of myths, legends and fantasies. I wanted to see how imagination and biotechnology would work together in an artistic workshop. Is it possible to demystify hard science by interpreting it creatively? Following Barad’s reading of performance as a scientific practice I understood myself as part of the investigation in an interconnected world.
The excursion was a five-hour hike on 26 August 2017 through a forest in the north of Berlin. An introduction to the cultural history of the forest and the special importance in Germany, as well as scientific studies and creative experiments offered various access points to the forest as a metaphor, object of investigation and living being. With a material-discursive approach the use of field microscopes enabled a first analysis of collected specimens directly on site. Furthermore, we tried to make a contribution to Haraway's call for "kinship" with a performative approach and to connect with different forms of life in a non-verbal way.
Through the practice of a performative forest excursion, we (the participants) contributed to nature and the environment and brought about a difference, a change of the previous state. This manifested clearly in the collected objects, which were then no longer there, but our performance also created hidden or uncertain traces. For example, some participants reported on the lasting impact of the excursion and positive effects in their everyday lives in the following weeks. But also the forest was in a changed state. Our presence, our footsteps and vibrations were transmitted through the communication system between mushroom hyphae and tree roots in the forest. Whether the attempt to communicate with trees, fungi, lichens, and mosses in a non-verbal way has had an effect on it, we will probably never be able to determine. However, it was a moment of agential connection with unclear development in such a multispecies assemblage.
Nevertheless, we all know how easy it is to step into the human-centered trap. Seriously taking a different perspective, as currently demanded by many sides in the humanities, requires the letting go of habits and the acceptance of the unplanned and spontaneous – submitting oneself to the environment (in the sense of the Cagean "being") – and a certain amount of imagination for sensory impressions beyond the human senses. All of these requirements are difficult for urban, technical, goal-oriented and rational people.
 Karen Barad, Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Durham 2007, p. 49
 Donna J. Haraway: Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham 2016, p. 58
Artists: Theresa Schubert
Exhibition setup assistance: Tea Dezman
Workshop commissioned by: ArtLaboratory Berlin