Of all the images William Blake produced, the strangest and most appealing to me is The Ghost of a Flea (1820). It’s on display at Tate Britain: a small, dark, oddly menacing object, tempera and gold on wood. As this short Atlas Obscura article recalls, Blake claimed the ‘ghost’ itself came to him in one of his visions and “posed for him as he sketched it. He was able to ‘communicate’ with the monstrous being, who revealed that all fleas were inhabited by the souls of men who were ‘by nature bloodthirsty to excess.'”Continue reading “msb ~079 The ghost of a flea?”
A conversation today reminded me of a workshop I joined last year, where we created audio art from climate data. Climate Symphony Lab tapped into public interest in, but confusion with, science to make new ways to internalise what environmental change ‘looks’ (or sounds) like. Climate data: climate art. Actually being in on debates on what to include and exclude, which available technologies to use (instruments, laptops, voices, feet, breath, tearing paper?) was unusual, enlivening and unsettling. It brought a direct, participative responsibility to what can be seen as quite distant, individualist artistic practices — and even more distant, communal practices of science.Continue reading “msb ~076 Climate data: climate art”
“They say that travelling opens doors, gives people new perspectives. This is only partially true. People carry their doors with them: perspectives seldom truly change.” I’m setting one foot into Terra, The Dark Mountain Project’s new book, and this image is from one of its earlier essays, by Nick Hunt. Every journey, the next village, the next continent: a portal into that new perspective, new dimensions. Nick is recounting his travels in Ethiopia: the cultural and natural experiences that bring new things into visibility, push others into invisibility; and the “preconceptions [that] can be destroyed” with each one although, as he suggests, we carry so many with us without noticing the load on us or on the land.Continue reading “msb ~068 One foot through the door”
When I was looking into boundaries between ‘experts’ and ‘public’ on local coastal change, I explored ways to classify expertise. One typology, proposed by Michael Carolan, suggests that most of us can usually contribute abstract (e.g. scientific) or practical (e.g. local) knowledge. He described this as ‘contributory expertise’, but also identified an additional category: ‘interactional expertise’. Individuals use this to help bring together those with different forms of knowledge: essential when the issues are contentious and the debate can be confrontational.Continue reading “msb ~067 Expertise”
An unexpected pleasure to encounter my favourite philosopher on BBC’s Museum of Curiosity! Sadly, Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t a donation to the museum but Lord Butler, author of the (in)famous Butler Inquiry into Britain’s dodgy intelligence case for the Iraq War was a contributor, so Rumsfeld’s famous 2002 ducking of the absence of Iraq’s WMD or terrorist links got an airing. “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know … It is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”Continue reading “msb ~065 On unknown knowns”
This old but excellent Discard Studies post demonstrates how, in transforming choices for greater sustainability, our focus should be on infrastructures that produce waste etc or lock in unsustainable consumer choices further down the line. In contrast, our usual focus on making individuals ‘aware’ – despite its merits – depends on many steps, reaches a limited number of people and has to battle against those same infrastructures. “Focusing on these systems for change actually scales up to the scale of the problem.” Continue reading “msb ~063 The problem with awareness”
I’ve mentioned the book Anticipatory history and how I keep returning to it. The term also describes a loose collection of approaches that extend beyond the book’s collection of texts, each a means to open up conversations about change in places we feel deep attachment to, now facing uncertain futures.
To help us bring in new perspectives when we try to make sense of change, ‘anticipatory history’ approaches might include:
Looking imaginatively at past changes and at the contingencies which underlined (and could have undermined) the events and actions that shaped what it is now. Examples are reverse chronologies, timelines, oral histories and artistic representations.
Taking a fresh look at the language we use to talk about the natural and cultural processes at play. The book itself provides one way into this, as a form of glossary arising from a dialogue between specialisms.
Imagining and naming unfamiliar or new ways of living with change that might be adopted in this place.
Louisa Thomsen Brits’ Path narrates place and personhood through poems that make ‘a short story about reciprocity’. This small book treads lightly through wide scapes of spirit and land; beginning with a quote from Robert Macfarlane: “paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being.” Perhaps all beings (human/non-human) are also paths: expressions of particularity and process; routes and roots to our essential connections.
I am footfall and track, trail and trace, thread of passage and possibility.
Trodden-through with a region-specific ‘word hoard’, Path is both intensely local to those paths Brit walks and universally translatable to our own natural geographies, histories, biographies.