A return to Nottingham please

I was in Nottingham twice last week.

Train rides through ecotones of urban, ruderal, rural, industrial, post-industrial and pre-post-industrial landscapes or, as I like to call them, landscapes.

Nottingham_rockOn Tuesday I was at Nottingham Contemporary for a talk by Isabelle Stengers. The talk consisted of a conversation between Stengers and critical geographer Sarah Whatmore followed by a fairly lengthy Q&A session by the end of which Stengers was clearly flagging. Current reading in CFAR’s Radical Matter sessions has centred on Michel Foucault’s Society Must Be Defended and there was much from the evening with Stengers that chimed with the writings of Foucault. And with Guattari’s Three Ecologies which I have also read a couple of times recently.

Much of this is about how we have had thought taken from us (in some cases wittingly in others not so) and had this replaced by law – perhaps juridical law but especially Scientistic law. The latter form is held in sacred reverence by our great masters at Westminster. With this removal of thought we have the subjugation of knowledge and associated homogenization of our lives and those of all around us (animals, plants, mountains, wind, fizzy pop bottles, buried treasure…so much buried treasure). Stengers urges us to ‘pay attention’ in order reclaim our capacity for thought. Urges us individually to pay attention, not the Scientists (note the capital ‘S’ for Stengers isn’t anti-science as many would like to believe but rather pro- ‘scientific achievements’ – see here for more on this).

Stengers calls for a slowing down, a removal of this obsession with ‘progress’. A hesitation. A stutter. A discussion of things in front of (with) those who may be(come) victims. The idea of reclaiming is used a lot by Stengers. It’s a strong idea in that it suggests that these knowledges which have been buried may be taken back and put to good use.

Thursday saw me back at Nottingham Contemporary for a look around the Rights of Nature: art and ecology in the Americas exhibition and the associated study session on Guattari’s Three Ecologies. I think I am tiring of contemporary gallery art and I found the exhibition in the main rather uninspiring. Rather lazily some simply jarred with my visual aesthetic. Some I thought poorly rendered. Some I found impenetrable – I know this isn’t an easy subject but… There were a couple of works that somehow, albeit slightly, hooked me.

The Otolith Group‘s ‘film essay’ had a meditative quality as it combined filmed footage and spoken word. It reminded me a little of some of Brian Eno’s recent projects where he has combined music and spoken word/poetry. The filming was thoughtful and the ‘score’ eased in and out of my awareness offering poetic couplings and insights into local lore in Southern California. The work really required more time than I had and I as victim of progress and fast-paced living had to move on. There was also something in the work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation‘s work. But it is also easy to lose their meaning in the camouflage of their movement.

From the gallery it was down to ‘The Studio’ for the study session on Guattari’s essay. I’m not sure what I had hoped for from this but I came away rather dispirited as things seemed to get stuck in a looping discussion on evolution, economics, capitalism and Marxism. The perceived lack of guidance in Guattari’s writing was seen by some as a major stumbling block as they asked ‘If it is a manifesto why doesn’t it tell us what to do?’. Tutorial with Isabelle Stengers required I think. For me the text calls for an utterly radical (that’s like the football manager’s 110%) re-thinking of how we as humans interact between ourselves and with the more-than-human world. This is going to require some tough decisions and when the only obvious approach seems to be off-grid living it feels like an immediate pass is given to those worshippers of Progress to take over just a little bit more of the world/universe/… . As I said dispiriting.