Friday, October 4, 2013

Tiny Ecologies & Excavating Colonies (Part 3)

"And the scholar finds more to their similarity 
than their commitment to their separate arts."
Animal Encounters, Susan Crane

The Tiny Ecology project is focused on intense ecological attentiveness of a particular place. Frequent visits to the site will be made between late August and early December. Critical attention will be paid to human influence and neglect, nonhuman forces (weather, sunlight, microclimates, pollution, decay, gentrification), and the surfacings of particular histories. This project arises from an engagement with the Ecologies of Conquest / Contact Ecologies seminar being taught by Prof. Jeffrey J Cohen at the G.W.U.



And then I found out I was not alone in the dirt. Upon a recent visit to the Strip, I knelt down to continue to explore the earth of my tiny ecology as a developing labor of love, only to come into contact with unexpected co-workers. To put it in the terms of the French philosopher Bruno Latour, we are slightly surprised not only by our own actions (see: Pandora's Hope) but form a network of actors, whose thought forms the basis of what is appropriately called for this study ANT (Actor Network Theory).

Not a foot away from the hole I had been excavating, a colony of ants had their own digging-site. Two entrance/exit ways opened up into an unseen world beneath the surface. Air, heat and water could not pass down into the earth, this world-below, through intricately formed passages; structuring the earth alongside the roots we explored previously. The earth breathes, it drinks, it is eaten and reformed by the ant-network that run through it like blood through veins. And as it bleeds out and contacts me, I come to better appreciate how alive it is.

Lines of workers passed in and out of these openings, moving materials around the ecology as they build a world oriented to them and their needs. Side by side we had been collaborating, perhaps even competing, as we got down and dirty for our shared love of this earth. This desire connects, surprises & creates a kind of erotic network in which we share & which shares in us.


It was our desire and our need for the same environment that brought us together. But this did not require that we would desire contact with each other. Personally I did mind my space, in part to try to avoid squishing a stray ant out on patron and in part because I did not feel comfortable with them climbing on my skin.

Furthermore, what would I do with my excavation now? Would I keep on digging, possibly crossing and damaging the ant's colony? Would my work somehow be useful to them as it loosened up parts of the soil which perhaps could only be done with metal tools and muscles of human scale?

Moving forward, I would keep on digging and occupying this shared environment (I would not be moved out these ants), but I would try to be on the look out for them and adjust the trajectory of my intervention into the space. The fact was that despite my desire for the earth, they needed it more. Regardless of how they may chose to respond to my presence, I will retain some power to walk away. And yet the results of all our actions (and inactions) will follow us and carry forward. In the spirit of Latour's Hope: we are always surprised by (the worlds) we create.



In the end, we are both colonizers. We possess and reshape the space according to ourselves and our sense of world. What other collaborators and cohabitants are we displacing together or separately? Perhaps as colonizers we share a similar insight as well as blindness.

The result of our reworking of the space will have material effects on the environment by the end of the study. I will do my best to document our mutual progress, but not so closely as to freely break down the walls the ants were building. They are not my ants and we need not share every ounce of space or story.

And yet we keep chatting. Exchanging our little messages and actions, as we assemble worlds within worlds. Returning to Latour, we remember that together we collectively form an ANT assemblage, that "ANT sees none existing without a rather large retinue of group makers, group talkers, and group holders" (Reassembling the Social, 32). Thus shall we forever be surprised and even colonized by our work.

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