[-empyre-] Lichen mentors and slime mold oracles

Ellie Irons ellieirons at gmail.com
Sat Oct 21 13:25:43 AEDT 2017

Hi Margaretha- I didn’t know about the Natasha Myers or the Plant Studies Collaboratory <https://plantstudies.wordpress.com/>- so good to have on my radar, thank you! 

At the EPA we talk about the weeds we live among as mentors and guides, which I agree, is slightly different than collaborators. Regardless of our co-evolutionary status with urban weeds, learning from them, allowing ourselves to be “tutored” (in revenge or otherwise!) is distinct from expecting them to reciprocate as collaborators in ways beyond sharing air, cycling nutrients etc. 

I’m also interested in what happens when we give up a bit of our subjectivity, our (seemingly) autonomous drive, in an attempt to connect with the non-human, especially those whose lived experiences seem so distinct. On Thursday Chris, Lissette and I participated in a “friends for the end of the world” gathering organized around the theme of decolonizing the Anthropocene. Among much else, we ended the day by walking out into the mild (too mild) October evening in search of mushrooms and lichen in the middle of Manhattan. Wow does it change how you process and interact with the street, when you start “scanning” the landscape, as Chris described it, looking for wet, dark and decaying things -looking for the conditions that fungi need to survive, which are fundamentally at odds with a real estate booming cityscape. Within yards of leaving the building we found a dying isolated street tree set off from away from everything in the middle of an immaculate cement plaza that had recently been redone in international High Line style. We looked closer, stopped and stared and stooped, and found pin-prick sized bits of lichen starting to spread in the parched & cracked bark of the tree. We never made it to Washington Square Park, where we expected to have a better chance of finding fruiting bodies, because our path was so waylaid by the bits of life we found once we started scanning the seemingly sterile asphalt, glass, and steel of the West Village. 

This question of allowing the attempt at a more-than-human lens to redirect our paths through life reminds me of an article <https://www.interaliamag.org/articles/oliver-kellhammer-becoming-non-humandesigning-non-human/> I read recently by fellow weedy species aficionado Oliver Kellhammer <http://www.oliverk.org/> (are you out there Oliver?). He writes about the playful and profound ways in which he’s been living with (and handing over some agency to) an unlikely companion species, Physarum polycephalum (the slime mold well known for solving the “shortest path problem” without using anything we humans might recognize as a brain). There are many gems here (including an exploration of our own multiplicity & boundlessness), but with regard to this conversation, I appreciate how he frames the “why try to become with other species” question:

"We humans are blessed with a cognitive ability that allows us each to imagine the world from another’s point of view, the so-called theory of mind. Though eminently useful in maintaining our social cohesion, we could emulate Von Uexküll and use theory of mind to check into the realms of non-human subjectivity more often.
What is the point?

Is this just some crazy mental exercise?”

….more here:

Becoming Non-human/Designing Non-Human <https://www.interaliamag.org/articles/oliver-kellhammer-becoming-non-humandesigning-non-human/>

Happy Friday!


> On Oct 19, 2017, at 9:19 PM, margaretha haughwout <margaretha.anne.haughwout at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Glad that Adam and Johannes have brought up the question of shared
> knowing between plants and humans, and I love how Christopher and
> Ellie have suggested exercises in listening and observation, to
> experience for ourselves how communication, shared meanings, might
> occur.
> In part, this was what I was getting at last week in my (clunky)
> question of mediated natures and theories of information and
> communication. I would propose that we are limited in how we know that
> we know plants, and how we know that plants know us, because of
> current theories largely brought to us by early cybernetics, maybe
> even the Enlightenment more generally.... Natasha Myers
> (https://natashamyers.wordpress.com) has many things to say about
> plant communication -- the most compelling arguments of hers, in my
> opinion, address how much of the early studies on plant sensing
> reflect practices of colonization, and demonstrations of plant pain.
> I love what Elaine had to say in Week 2 about other species, and
> larger ecologies, as being media for one another. I agree!
> I think Ellie and Adam were getting at some of this with earlier posts
> about enrichment. Wellness (a result of enrichment?) is observable
> through the 5 senses. Humans can be well, and pissed off and ready to
> fight.... Can we assume this is true for nonhumans? Is this the
> condition of The Immortal Stranger? All kinds of questions about care,
> as well as Randall's term "enlivenment" from Week 1 can be brought to
> bear here. What do we need to know/ observe with plants to consider
> them collaborators, or is there another term, such as "revenge tutors"
> that is better than "collaborators"?
> Thank you to our participants so far this week. I have many scores to
> enact as the weekend descends!
> Warmly,
> -M
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20171020/f7ee0e18/attachment.html>

More information about the empyre mailing list