MiceSpace: Beijing 2012, Chicago 2015

I’ve found it curious, wonderful and at points destabilising to travel with much of the MiceSpace visual material within such different but overlapping circles as the Knowledge/Value symposium in Beijing in 2012 and the AAG Meeting in Chicago in 2015… how much overlapping, and in what ways, are still questions I’m wondering about.

In 2012 I went with Gail to present some of the visual material here at a symposium organized by the Department of Anthropology of the  University of Chicago, on the theme ‘Knowledge / Value’ at the University’s centre in Beijing.  Under the broader rubric of ‘exploring historical and emergent relationships between epistemology and social value’, this gathering focused on the theme ‘Information, Databases and Archives’. Then in April 2015 I attended the Annual Meeting of the AAG in Chicago to present a similar set of visual images entitled ‘Experiments in Mice Space’.

It can be odd being a visual artist amongst academics; the modes of apprehension may be so different but the conversations can be so rich – it’s as though visual work has the potential to open up more reaches of thought. When, and if, it works.

The more recent experience at the Chicago AAG was in 2015 and the material was contextualised firmly within the ecological, the multispecies world. The different papers comprised together a set of diverse reflections from different delegates under the heading ‘Ethnographic Tactics for Multispecies’, addressing through various approaches some of the ways in which human beings are always embedded in larger ecologies of biological life, in constant reaction with other non-human lives, whether between humans and the organism Balanophyllia elegans as in Eva Simone Hayward’s Poeisis of Fingeryeyes, or between pigs and humans as in Clemens Dreissen’s Playing with Bored Pigs: Prerequisites for Symmetrical Interspecies Game Design, or Jamie Lorimer’s Reworming: a Tactical Rewilding Experiment. The uniting theme was a concern that we do well to understand ourselves as creatures deeply enmeshed with other kinds of creatures, other kinds of living organisms.

Looking back, Beijing in 2012 seems to belong in a rather different register, evoking the co-existence in the world of very different kinds of knowledge-production, different understandings of what the word ‘knowledge’ might imply, and hence of some meanings which can never close because they are always open to mutation according to their contexts. In the words of the convenor Kaushik Sunder Rajan, the concerns were with ‘some of what a multi-sited account might look like, how one narrativizes different stakes while still engaging in projects of critique and conceptualization, how one can write an account for people with radically different investments in what one is writing.’  Kaushik here writes of writing: the question for me was, what could a visual artist bring to this? I always liked Kaushik’s phrase, multi-sited, and perhaps that was the key for me. This is because in some roundabout way I found in it a validation of my already existing, though often troubled and difficult, attempts to work in multiple visual modes as a way of seeking to ‘hold’ complexities, not unifying them away, not simplifying them out, but somehow trying to make simultaneous spaces for many ways of seeing.

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