(by Dale Gorfinkel)
At customs, on arrival back in Australia, I took the ‘Nothing to Declare’ queue because it seemed to be moving faster. People generally like things to move faster, right? Customs checks traveller’s bags for items containing wood, plant and skin or animal materials. This is to protect local agriculture. Meanwhile, petroleum based products, coal and other minerals may cross borders without consideration for the long term affects on the environment, including agricultural environments, as well as the ecosystems to which non-humans rely.
During IBP, I made the Lotek Exercise Machine an instrument which is powered by human feet. These feet obviously derive their energy from the planet’s supply of air, water and light (via other organisms). On one hand/foot the exercise machine may appear to have vague ‘green’ intentions as electronic/synth-esque sound worlds are made without electricity. On the other foot, the work seems to celebrate petroleum based products with plastic tubing, taps and funnels featured in joyous colours. Clearly I’m confused (and naive) about how my work sits with my environmental concerns. But I don’t feel alone in this confusion.
The exercise machine took on a particular significance in Yogya. As Peter observed one day, the only locals who we saw walking were the kids who weren’t old enough to ride a motorbike. When I walked 300m to have lunch at a restaurant with Rully, Wukir and Stufvani, they all exclaimed: ‘You walked?!! Why didn’t you get someone to bring you on the motorbike?!’ They looked at me like I was from a different planet when I said that I actually ran and enjoyed it.
However, despite different attitudes towards walking, many of the IBP artists’ work reflected an interest in the not-only-human world and alternative energy sources eg Peter’s solar panels and explorations in electromagnetism, Tintin’s pedal-powered odongodong, Caitlin’s birdsong, the fan with pigeon whistles, Wukir’s windmill and watermill, and the ecology gong complete with fish. (I wondered how the fish enjoyed the vibration of the gong in the water…I’m sure that they felt it as a full body Javanese-style massage, rather than sonic trauma.)
We also had the opportunity to visit Wildlife Rescue Centre at Kulonprogo where Senyawa performed for participants of an environmental activism workshop called 350indonesia, organised by Nova Ruth. http://350indonesia.org/ This organization helps to build a network of artists involved in environmental activism (artivism), and develop education around issues of deforestation, fossil fuels, and alternative energy resources. This was also a chance to visit animals that are in the process of being rehabilitated including orangutans (orang = people, utan=forest). It seemed that the amplified sounds of Senyawa wildly excited the local furry residents who imitated Rully from their cages.
As it turned out, cages became a bit of a theme for me.
Caitlin’s work at Kunci featured the sounds of a canary in the well. This alludes to the fact that singing canaries were once used in coal mines, exploited as a sonic warning system in atmospheres potentially dangerous for humans. Toxic gases would kill the bird before affecting the miners. Interestingly in this instance human survival relies on listening out for silence. This will make some people think of John Cage.
Now I’m thinking of Gong Cage, my work with hanging bronze bars, gongs and bells inside a birdcage. Here extracted metals from the earth are brought up into domestication. Cages are made to contain and control nature and in this work with simple automation, the desires of human control are met by natural aleatoric (chaotic?) mechanisms – gravity and electrical energy.
The cage could symbolise our domestication of the planet. It could also symbolize the limitations of our own perceptions and habits, and our inability to act upon our behaviours which we know require change (especially in regards to anthropocentric attitudes to ecology). Through the process of domestication the confines of the cage may become normalized and comforting. Even if the bigger picture is not forgotten, perhaps the inability to affect change encourages resignation and complacency.
On the positive side, the cage is also a safe place to play and where one can learn new behaviors in relation to the external environment. So in confronting my confusion, the Lotek Exercise Machine is also about encouraging play (not just with words). Having an awareness of complexities sometimes makes it difficult to navigate social, cultural and environmental relationships. Knowledge can be empowering but also disabling. This is why I feel that a commitment to ‘play’ is important, so that these relationships can be explored, risks taken, and challenges confronted.
In a project like IBP funded by government, one goal is presumably to promote cultural exchange and international diplomacy. But perhaps land and the trade of its embedded finite resources is an unspoken condition for cultural diplomacy, as well as a cause for cultural violence in some places. Whilst exploitation of petroleum, gas, coal, minerals are currently helping to profit some economies and lifestyles, there may also a continual reduction in long-term perspectives. The Lotek Exercise Machine could be a reminder to get off our arses, workout priorities, and develop the strength to correct funnel vision. Yay! …Or at least help convince a few people that legs are made for walking : )
Once again, many thanks to everyone involved in IBP. It’s been a very inspiring time.