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“Constellations for Futures”
Stories of Ecology, Community and Science

“Constellations for Futures”
“Constellations for Futures” | Illustration (detail): © Antoine Begon and Boy Vereecken

In December 2021 the Goethe-Institut Brussels in association with their partner La Loge presented the three-day programme “Constellations for Futures ”, featuring scientific talks, film screenings and art performances at the intersection of ecology, community and science. This constituted the climax and conclusion of the module Science and Research of the project “Lockdown Lessons”.

By Anne Kurr

The multidisciplinary programme of Constellations for Futures brachte brought scholars and artists together for a period of intensive exchange. Links were made between research findings and artistic positions, while both challenged the other’s perspectives. This exciting dialogue opened up new ways of seeing current social and ecological crises and furthered the process of reflection instigated by the Lockdown Lessons. The Goethe-Institut aims to use the Lockdown Lessons project to aid the process of learning from these critical times during the pandemic, identifying challenges faced by society and developing ideas for the future.

Rethinking Relationships Between Humans and Non-Humans

Camille & Ulysse – a film by Diana Toucedo sees the philosophers Donna Haraway and Vinciane Despret recount their so-called fabulations, The Camille Stories and Autobiographie d’un poulpe. At the same time, the film itself is a visual tale about the two philosophers and brings us closer to their lines of thought. Haraway and Despret belong to the most important thinkers of our time, who want to change our relationship to nature and animals. Particularly in the context of ecological crises and the global COVID-19 pandemic, their work constitutes an important contribution to the theory of a co-existence between species and provides an intellectual framework for the programme Constellations for Futures.

Narratives About Earth

Narratives about Earth was a day on the programme, which saw critical reflection on the dominance and the limits of the Anthropocene. The science-fiction films by Ben Rivers (Urth, 2016) as well as Ursula Biemann and Mo Diener (21 Prozent, 2016) question the concept of human and technological control over nature. The film Urth by London-based filmmaker Ben Rivers provides an impressive insight into the limits of humankind’s technological dominance of over nature. Urth was filmed in the Biosphere 2 in Arizona. The ambitious experiment Biosphere 2 began in the 1980s and was developed as a prototype for environmental research. It was an attempt to construct a natural environment. The voice of the female protagonist tells the dystopian story of the project’s failure.

When considering the climate crisis, a different relationship to the Earth also seems necessary. The participating scientists Adam Searle, Jonathon Turnbull and Jennifer Gabrys discussed the ways, in which new relationships between humans and nature can develop and the extent, to which current ecological and social developments can aid in this process. Beginning with a theoretical examination of reports of a resurgence of nature in closed cities during lockdown, they investigate the role of digital technologies in the changing of relationships between humans and nature.

Caring is/in the future

Relationships between humans and nature, as well as between humans and communities, can take the most varied of forms and care practices play a particularly important role in the dynamics of these relationships. By examining care work, it becomes clear which healing practices are considered acceptable and which inequalities and asymmetric power structures continue to exist between genders, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. The works of art, talks and performances on the third day of Constellations for Futures provided an opportunity to expand and decolonise ideas of co-existence and to try out other participatory forms of communal living. The programme  of Caring is/in the future revolved around the questions of what “care” means, who cares for whom and who is excluded or exploited? These questions were addressed in particular from historical, decolonial, ecological and queer-feminist positions.

The research of Chanelle Adams, a historian working in the field of political ecology, covers healing plants and practices in Madagascar from the time of French colonisation to today. She illustrates decolonial perspectives regarding what knowledge and which care practices have been repressed and eliminated, as well as those adopted and exploited by European colonial powers. Scientific studies such as Malcom Ferdinand’s A Decolonial Ecology and the short stories by Sophia Al-Maria Sad Sack: Collected Writing form the basis of the sound performance Sensing Satellite (2021) by Fallon Mayanja. On a sensory level, this piece provides access to decolonial-emancipatory and ecological ways of seeing.

Various dimensions of current inequality within the care system are presented by the fictional care revolution in Caring for/from the Future (2021) by Swoosh Lieu. The queer-feminist collective broach the issue of acute social and economic shortcomings within the field of care work, which have been partly exacerbated by the pandemic. In order to overcome current crisis, there is a need for increased awareness and sensitivity surrounding these issues. Thusly, the participatory workshops provided by artist and mediator Mira Hirtz act as an invitation to experiment with gestures of care and observation. In the moment that one concentrates on the resources which the sentient body provides, then our perception of ourselves, others and non-human entities changes.

Participating Artists and Scholars

Chanelle Adams — Ursula Biemann —  Jennifer Gabrys
Mira Hirtz — Katharina Hoppe — Fallon Mayanja
Ben Rivers — Adam Searle & Jonathon Turnbull
Swoosh Lieu — Diana Toucedo