Anne Duk Hee Jordan
Let’s Rewild KIOSK!
ER: Making Kin, the title of your exhibition at KIOSK, is a term coined by Donna J. Haraway, scientist, philosopher, feminist, and activist, in her book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. While each of these words in Haraway’s book title deserves an explanation, I am particularly interested in the expression “making kin.” Haraway speaks about it in this way: “Kin is a wild category that all sorts of people do their best to domesticate. Making kin as oddkin rather than, or at least in addition to, godkin and genealogical and biogenetic family troubles important matters, like to whom one is actually responsible. Who lives and who dies, and how, in this kinship rather than that one? What shape is this kinship, where and whom do its lines connect and disconnect, and so what? What must be cut and what must be tied if multispecies flourishing on earth, including human and other-than-human beings in kinship, are to have a chance?” In the frame of this exhibition, what does making kin mean to you?
ADHJ: I am particularly interested in symbioses. Kinship could also mean symbioses in the wider sense of embracing other nonhuman collaborators. We are deeply connected with everything around us, and to fully understand ecology we need to think in circles without interruption. We should not stand above others but acknowledge that we are equal to all kind of living organisms. Without them we would not exist. Symbioses is the key. If we understand what it is to be in symbioses with a worm, we would understand how to treat land and soil. We would probably stop doing all these silly things like erasing weeds because they disturb our eyes. We would probably treat the acre with more diversity instead of just planting one crop and killing the soil with it. We would have a moist skin and move without eyes and limbs.
In many other situations we could become more aware of how kinship can work: 4-7-8 is the pranayama yogi breathing to calm down your body when you are anxious. The world is full of it and it seems Gaia can’t catch a breath anymore. This is what my installation Atmospheres of Breathing (2020) is about: the only certainty is that we live and breathe in continuous change, as we are subjected to a state of constant flux. What will happen a hundred years from now cannot be known. Since the video documenting the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police in 2020 went viral, no one can deny that the right to breathe is a sociopolitical phenomenon. Living with anxieties affects the ways one breathes and living with dusty lung syndromes transforms the lungs as an organ. People living in poverty are far more exposed to toxic contaminated air and have far less access to medical care then privileged people with higher social ranks. Breath is a vital force that challenges conventional boundaries and opens up possibilities of reimagining what it means to be an embodied post-humanist subject.
ER: That is interesting, what you say about Gaia not being able to breath any longer and in this way being in symbioses with us, people and species living on earth, forming Gaia, not being able to breath. Now that you mention symbioses, I think of scientist and philosopher Lynn Margulis who first used the term ‘holobiont’ in relation to the human being. She stated that an organism is never exactly an individual, but connected in a sphere of many different species and that we should try to see the world in this way, that we should try to move beyond the individual. Margulis also states that seeing the world as networks of symbioses, instead of reading it in Darwinist terms of survival of the fittest, can have huge consequences for society, for the way we form ideas about politics, economics, and so on. In the field of art is there space to develop and experiment with this theory of networks and symbioses?
ADHJ: Yes I am pretty sure there is, but if we also look towards the sea we can have a closer look at the siphonophores, including the Portuguese man ó war, a species that looks like jellyfish and is found mainly in the Pacific Ocean. They are colonial hydrozoans and can only exist because their parts depend on each other. They are colonial organisms made up of smaller living units. The units feed and reproduce together, and cannot live without each other. I think this is an example. And I think it’s amazing but not rare, networks and symbiosis do exist.
ER: The sea and the ocean are recurring topics in your work. Where does this fascination come from?
ADHJ: From an early age I was fascinated by the sea and its inhabitants. It’s an alienated world so close to ours but it has a completely different ecosystem. Everything works very differently than here, and some underwater creatures have amazing powers. Some are even just eternal. I started to dive when I was young, and I understood that the body suddenly becomes three-dimensional, no longer flat as when we wander on earth. What I mean by this is that on land we have only two-dimensional bodily perception (but three-dimensional vision), while underwater we feel the pressure on the organs and we are weightless at the same time. It is a different world and a different perception. In addition, everything seems larger and quieter.
ER: How did you start to transport these emotions and ideas into your artwork?
ADHJ: This came very naturally because everything — including my work, feelings, and thoughts — are deeply interconnected. There is a network of symbiosis in my thoughts.
ER: Can you tell us something about the works you will be showing in KIOSK?
ADHJ: It’s a combination of my works Atmospheres of Breathing and Making Kin. It’s all about symbioses and kinship. The robots and the breathing system belong to the artificial stupidity series I started many years ago.
I will also show one drawing at KIOSK, printed on plastic. My drawings are always embedded in storytelling. Before my installations exist, I always draw my thoughts and ideas. The drawing becomes a storytelling of my research. The one I am showing at KIOSK is related to the book Wizard of the Crow, by Nigerian writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. It’s an allegory of African postcolonial history. It’s a remarkable book and he is a remarkable writer.
ER: As a Kenyan he wrote his books, plays, and stories in Gikuyu, a native language of Kenya. And because of his critique of Kenyan society in the 1970s, he was imprisoned for a year. Wizard of the Crow is a book built on oral traditions of storytelling and creates a narrative that is not linear but spirals through different stories told by different persons. It’s a fantastic setting also, a hallucinatory satire on dictatorship.
ADHJ: Yes, it’s a colossal book, more than 700 pages. It was recently adapted for theater and I made the set design for the play. The director is Angolan. It was an amazing experience, and I experienced so much freedom in working. Stage design allows you to really do anything you want. Wizard of the Crow tells of the exploits of a ruler of a fictitious postcolonial African country. I used the two last chapters of the book as inspiration for the two drawings shown at KIOSK. The drawings are carried by three black balloons which symbolize the ruler’s self-induced expansion: in the book the ruler swells like a balloon and rises up to the skies.
ER: If I am correct, two of the works on show at KIOSK, Atmospheres of Breathing and Making Kin, were made during the pandemic. How did you experience those months of isolation, and what is sometimes referred to as the revenge of nature? For a group show in Sonsbeek you worked with plants, and for a project in Berlin during the early days of the pandemic you worked on the balconies of Berlin apartments. Gardens, weeds, and herbs played a major role.
ADHJ: Atmospheres of Breathing is about who has the right to breathe, who is privileged enough to have that right. The work was shaped during the pandemic but also by time in which the murder of George Floyd happened. So I thought a lot about breathing, as we discussed. And in 2005 when I was diving in Thailand, I rescued a bunch of people while out at sea by knowing how to survive a moment of disaster. This understanding of essential correlations between survival, living ecosystems, and control of breathing inspired me to make Atmospheres of Breathing. I wondered at the human capacity for calm in calamity and what new, different creatures we might become when the world stops breathing.
Making Kin was made during the pandemic, that´s correct. But Making Kin started a few years ago, with interruptions. I had to redo the robot many times because it didn’t work the way how it was supposed to work. The work I made this Spring for Sonsbeek, The Living Plant Archive, took a long breath and a lot of changes. It was energy-consuming but eventually became very beautiful. Having seen the parking lot of the art institution De Groene in Arnhem before I started sowing, seeing it now completely wild makes me very happy.
ER: One last question: ecology is central to your work, and I assume sustainability is also something you care about a lot. How can we at KIOSK contribute to sustainability?
ADHJ: I think we should rewild the urban space. That so important. Let’s rewild KIOSK :)
1° Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, 2016.
2° More on Lynn Margulis (1938–2011) in the documentary film by John Feldman: Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis Rocked the Boat and Started a Scientific Revolution, Bullfrog Films, 2019.
3° A holobiont is an assemblage of a host and the many other species living in or around it, which together form a discrete ecological unit.
4° Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Wizard of the Crow (Kenya: Harvill Seckel, 2006).
5° The play is called Herr der Krähen, it was directed by Carlos Manuel in Berlin in 2020 and performed by the jtw spandau ensemble, see https://dukhee.de/projects/2020_Herr.
6° Die Balkone: Life, art, pandemic, and proximity curated by Övül Ö. Durmusoglu and Joanna Warsza, Berlin, April 2020.
7° Sonsbeek 20-24. Force Times Distance, On Labour and Its Sonic Ecology, 2 July until 30 August 2021, Park Sonsbeek Arnhem.