Staying with the Trouble: How to Tell Stories in the Time of Ecological Crisis?

In November 2019, the editorial advisory board of the APRIA platform at ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem, sent an open call entitled ‘Staying with the Trouble: How to Tell Stories in the Time of Ecological Crisis?’to the ArtEZ community and beyond. ´Staying with the Trouble´ refers to a Donna Haraway publication with the same title from 2016, which reads as a critique of the Anthropocene.[1] Haraway de-emphasises the role of humans as the most important beings on Earth, instead proposing a ‘multispecism.’ As such, we are all at stake to each other.[2] The open call questioned how to face responsibilities and consequences when we stay with this trouble, but also asked how to find ways of resistance through creation rather than despair. And it called specifically for new stories that do not take on the human perspective alone, opening up different ones, and acknowledging and contesting power structures of political and economic desires that shape our human and non-human practices in the naturecultures.[3]

As board member Agnieszka Wołodźko says: ‘When we were writing this call, we focussed mainly on the ecological precarity and environmental crisis as we knew it, on the necessity and urgency of asking intimate and uncomfortable questions that do not always fit into the given rhetoric and ideologies of progress and innovation. But the precarity and mess of the current situation (COVID-19, for example) proved these questions to be way more grounded and already late, even though not yet addressed. We do not know how to stay with the trouble, how to care rather than be numbed. Although the contributions in this call do not strictly address the contemporary heightened crisis, the problems of inequality, surveillance, precarity and anthropocentrism that rule what do we value as human and as those with privilege are as current as ever.’

Board member Tabea Nixdorff adds about the call’s urgency: ‘I believe that only when we are not ignorant towards what affects ourselves can we become less ignorant towards matters that don’t affect us directly.  Embracing embodied modes of researching and challenging the aspect of how (how to tell stories) is something we also try to address in the APRIA open call “Staying with the Trouble,” and the selected contributions range from an audio essay on participatory performance in relation to the climate crisis, to a written essay called “Fluid Syntaxis,” which uses material studies on water as a central reference.’

The advisory board of the APRIA platform selected various contributions from ArtEZ students, alumni, other creatives and researchers, and is proud to introduce stories by:

Jessica Renfro, M.A. Theatre Practices, ArtEZ:

Framed by the metaphor of a road trip, ‘Co-authoring the Future’ explores the use of participatory performance in building cultural discourse about decision-making during the climate crisis. An audio narration accompanies the written work, attempting to explore the theories discussed in the form of a correspondence between the author and her elusive self-awareness. (published on 10 September 2020)

Anna de Vriend, BEAR/Base for Experiment Artistic and Research ArtEZ (graduate 2020):

The essay ‘Blood Processing’ focusses on the industrial slaughterhouse as a case study for the bigger phenomenon of Anthropocentrism. Systems and constructions—such as an extreme focus on hygiene regulations inside the slaughterhouse—are used to keep the animal as Other as possible. To challenge this, ‘Blood Processing’ reimagines the industrial slaughterhouse from the perspective of the blood present in this space. Through this blood, a new narrative is created based on fluidity and visibility. (published on 24 September 2020)

Rebecca Stringer, London Communications College / Design for Art Direction AKI ArtEZ, Enschede (exchange student):

For Stringer’s research 00:21:16:32, she chose a performative intervention with herself and others because surveillance capitalism is essentially playing with life and she wanted to embody that system. What are the implications of enforced labour when no one involved knows how or what they are contributing to? The participants become unaware and unpaid labourers in a performance of their lives. (published on 8 October 2020)

Gayatri Kodikal, M.A. Dutch Art Institute (graduate 2020):

‘Tigress Kali Score’ is part of Gayatri Kodikal’s long-term artistic research work exploring ‘shapeshifting’ as a narrative trope and political strategy for our uncertain world. The script was first performed in Berlin at the Silent Green Kulturquartier as part of the Dutch Art Institute’s annual Kitchen presentations. It was adapted to a sound work that is currently on display until January 31, 2021, at the Matadero Madrid as part of the installation Queering the City: A Sono-orientation, which is part of the exhibition Twelve Cautionary Urban Tales. (published on 22 October 2020)

Melle Foortjes, Crossmedia Design AKI ArtEZ, Enschede (graduate 2020):

How to make visible the imperceptible? In particular, how to make visible the imperceptible language of the non-human within different environments? ‘Fluid Syntaxis’ is an exploration of a language beyond words, following the interaction between thought, physical investigation, artistic intuition and dynamic reflection. It is shaped not only in text but in print, paper studies and film. (published on 5 November 2020)

Rhian Morris, M.A. Scenography at Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Utrecht (graduate 2019):

‘Limits of the Self’ is a poetic exploration of our senses, written from the personal point-of-view of a scenographer. The text is inspired by the author’s artistic research into sensory scenography, exploring our human senses as the connection between our inner and outer realms, which can be attuned through awareness, criticality, and language. (published on 19 November 2020)

Lucie Ketelsen, designer and sustainability researcher based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: 

‘Response-ability in Times of Precarity: Surface Design as Embedded Critique’ considers a hybrid approach to making fashion by looking at the creation of Reu Jacket. The work drew inspiration from lichen as a model for adaptive resilience. The approach established an experimental, practice-based space to explore the undecided and emergent. In prototyping this approach, the work speculated on the value of growth through reconfiguration. (published on 3 December 2020)

APRIA Platform Advisory Board

Agnieszka Wołodźko, PhD,is a researcher and lecturer in the field of the philosophy of art, posthumanism, and art and science relation. She has established AKI biomatters, an artistic research programme that works with living matters at the AKI ArtEZ, where she investigates with students widely understood ecological implications and problems within bioart and biodesign practice.

Tabea Nixdorff is an alumnus of Werkplaats Typografie at ArtEZ in Arnhem. Research is an essential part of her artistic practice, and the very methodologies of approaching and utilising researched material merge with the work itself.  In lecture performances, audio installations, as well as book projects, she explores the possibilities and limits of language, voicing and highlighting absences, omissions and gendered marginalisation.

Hanka van der Voet works as a researcher, writer, publisher and educator in the field of fashion. Her main focus is fashion media and fashion language, and the power structures involved. Van der Voet is senior lecturer on the M.A. Fashion Strategy at ArtEZ University of the Arts, and a researcher at the ArtEZ Fashion Professorship. For her, the concept of ‘precarity’ in the fashion industry touches many bases: from the condition of many of the workers in garment industry to the polluting character of the industry.

Caroline Barmentlo is a writer and a lecturer at the Theatre in Education programme at ArtEZ in the field of research and writing. For her, theatre is the place where people can act and react to what is happening in the world right now. Theatre is the setting in which ideas can take shape within a couple of weeks, or days, or even hours. Every time we visit a performance, we are asked questions. Questions that are related to what it means to be human, to what we can know in this age of information, and to what we are obliged to do with what we know. And not in the least: to what we may hope concerning animals, environment and nature.

Cassandra Onck is a singer and songwriter with a background in music theatre. For the last three years, she has been part of the AeCT professorship at ArtEZ, where she worked on the Create Space Minor in collaboration with Radboud University. The open call questions not only what we share about the precarious times we live in but also how we share. For Onck, it’s important to explore ways of sharing in which different narrations become equally important and new perspectives can question the often-created separation between the concepts of ‘human’ and ‘nature.’ 

[1] The Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. The word combines the root ‘anthropo,’ meaning ‘human’ with the root ‘-cene,’ the standard suffix for ‘epoch’ in geologic time. The Anthropocene is distinguished as a new period either after or within the Holocene, the current epoch, which began approximately 10,000 years ago (about 8,000BC) with the end of the last glacial period. Erle Ellis, The Encyclopedia of Earth, s.v. ‘Anthropocene,’

[2] Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 312.

[3] ‘Natureculture’ is a synthesis of nature and culture that recognises their inseparability in ecological relationships that are both biophysically and socially formed. Agustín Fuentes, ‘Naturalcultural Encounters in Bali: Monkeys, Temples, Tourists, and Ethnoprimatology,’ Cultural Anthropology 25, DOI:10.1111/j.1548-1360.2010.01071.x; and Donna J. Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003).