Conceptual Cluster 3: Ecologies of Practice

by bradyburroughs

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman, “History Portrait Series”, 1989-90

Boy’s guide to new existential territories?

In “Three Ecologies”, Felix Guattari “bequeaths” us with a toolbox to initiate a new process of subjectification, as opposed to the construction/assumption of static and naturalised subjectivities formed by the capitalist machine (IWC- Integrated World Capitalism). These come in the form of social, environmental and mental ecologies in what he calls a new ecosophy. Nicolas Bourriaud deciphers and connects some of the ideas in Felix Guattari’s work more directly to the world of art and aesthetics, in “Relational Aesthetics”, propagating for an “artistic, ecosophic practice”, where art is defined as “a construction of concepts with the help of percepts and affects, aimed at a knowledge of the world…” and “the only acceptable end purpose of human activities is the production of a subjectivity that is  forever self-enriching its relationship with the world”, where art is instrumental in this activity.

I am left wondering, however, why these men continue to write about other men and the world men live in, and how men are yet again going to save “women, children and ‘others’” through their internal intellectual private conversations… If I’m not invited into the conversation, how can I be expected to take it seriously? Creating new subjectivities? Great! Fighting against capitalism and injustice? Fantastic! But let’s start by looking at ourselves and how and what we write, shall we? What privileges do I have in the position I occupy and am writing from? What references do I cite? What examples do I give? What audience do I assume? Which groups do I sacrifice (and belittle- i.e.“the usual archaizers and folklorists” or “a small nature-loving minority”) in the name of my own ‘professionalism’ and authority? What assumptions do I make about ‘others’ who I assume are not like me, yet I perhaps know very little about? Is there not a single female thinker for Guattari to learn from? Are there no female artists for Bourriaud to use in his examples? Come on, enough is enough!

Isabelle Stengers hands us another tool for thinking about practices, an ecology of practices, in an attempt at a more politically and ethically responsible practice, as a reaction to her experience within the world of physicists where she noted a clinging to power through a claim of rational universality. Stengers reminds us that ”a tool is never neutral” and that “the tool co-produces the thinker”. Well, if the tool is a philosophical text and that tool is gender blind, then what does that say about the thinker? She eventually lands in the idea of empowerment, a discovery made among feminists and non-violent activists that base their practice on the rituals and “magic” of neo-pagan witches. In light of the discussion above, regarding the texts of Guattari and Bourriaud, it is then perhaps no surprise that Isabelle Stengers (although she also primarily refers to the work of male philosophers… Was she aware of Susanne K. Langer’s book Philosophy In A New Key (1942) and just didn’t cite it? Or was her proposal of an ecology of practices in a “minor key” just a cooincidence?) ends her article with the statement “Maybe this is why I had to go back to this very beginning, since as a daughter, not a son, I could not belong without thinking in presence of women, not weak or unfairly excluded women but women whose power philosophers may have been afraid of.”

3 links to start with of female/gender bender thinkers, artists and activists who problematise and initiate new practices that simultaneously activate and construct new environmental, social and subjective relations:

Indian activist, feminist thinker AND physicist Dr. Vandana Shiva (http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/8/vandana_shiva_on_intl_womens_day)

Artist and alternative rock icon, Amanda Palmer (http://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking.html)

Photographer and LGBT activist, iO Tillett Wright (http://www.ted.com/talks/io_tillett_wright_fifty_shades_of_gay.html)