Forgetting and Remembering the Air – Constellation Week 1

We live in a more-than-human world (Abram, 1996)
‘The Importance of Dust: A source of Beauty and Essential to Life’ Wallace, A.R. (1898) 

How we are blinded by our human-full everyday world and fail to recognise the fullness of air, saturation of life.

Missing the first session due to 2 days Ceramic trip, I’m recapping through the presentation available on Moodle, and taking out Abram’s book ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’, as it’s such an essential and beautifully though ideas and provocations.

“We live in a more-than-human world (Abram, 1996); a world of animals, the Earth, the Atmosphere Plants and Insects. We, however, are perceptually attuned to our human world of technology, communication and culture. How can we better sense the more-than-human world that we always inhabit? How can re re-orientate our perception and language to include the more-than-human voices that surround us? How does this perceptual re-attunement change how we think, talk and write about our practices?”

The selected first reading from Abram’s book is prompting us to remember how full the invisible air that surrounds us all actually is.
Looking at the eye-catching screens, media and stimuli around us we automatically recognise the space between us and the visual input as empty space, without obstructions.
We see the empty space as the place occupied only by telecommunications/wifi visible through our gadgets, and even get annoyed if a wall that we also forgot about is making the signal weaker.

When our machines and industries produce gasses released into the empty space, we recognise them as disappearing into the empty space, that can’t be ever filled.
Abram is arguing that this viewpoint is distorted with our human-centric life.

As even the vacuum is not technically really empty, nothing can be, how can we accept that the air we live in, and breath in every second to oxygenate our bodies, is empty?

Vacuum fluctuations that are the bases for our existence are not the only things present in our empty space. With oxygen and other gasses, water moisture and dust; pollen, spores and microorganisms, the space surrounding us is actually very full.

Us releasing burning exhaustions and byproducts do effect the overall systems, and over time, in the present evermore increasingly evident, these will effect the human world to that extend that the air will become visible to us again.

In practical terms, what should these observations teach us relating to our practice? How can we design objects that are not predominantly human-centric, but encompassing the more-than-human worlds? Or when designing for humans, how can we think about, and incorporate all the aspects of ecosystems that create our world.

In our second reading by Hippocrates on ‘Breaths’ we go on exploration of the wind; as a third main element that nourishes bodies of humans and animals, alongside solid food and drink.
He describes wind, thus air or breath, as a powerful force, tearing trees’ roots and lifting the seas into waves; the force is “invisible to sight, though visible to reason” (Klingan, 2015, p. 32).
Yet again, we are presented with the air as being invisible, but it’s actually very full, from “between earth and heaven”.
Hippocrates is realising the importance of wind, as the cause for summer and winter, the movement of stars and moon, cause of fevers, it even enables the existence of water creatures, or fires, nevertheless our own existence.

Scientifically sound or not, the philosophical reflection on air is trying to attune our attention to the invisible more-than-human worlds. As it has such a profound impact on our existence, and the existence of many phenomenas visible to us, our actions, and thus our practice as artists or designer, can have an impact on this invisible world of breaths.

Through the third final reading we explore another feature of the air that surrounds us and the importance, of dust. Wallace is showing us that the small matters constantly present in our atmosphere is the cause to many natural beauties of the many colours of sky, or form of seasons. Our perception of world would change, with it our design of society, buildings or products.

As a maker, this points out how a seemingly small and unimportant aspects of our always-present surrounding is impacting our design of the world; and however small a presence in our environment can have a profound shaping power of our world.

Abram, D, (1996) The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in the More than Human World. London: Vintage
Hippocrates, ‘Breath’. In Klingan K. (2015) Textures of the Anthropocene: Vapor, Grain, Ray. Chicago, London: The MIT Press
Wallace, A.R. (1898) ‘The Importance of Dust: A source of Beauty and Essential to Life’. In Klingan K. (2015) Textures of the Anthropocene: Vapor, Grain, Ray. Chicago, London: The MIT Press


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Marek Liska

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