Tigress Kali Score

Abstract

Using oral storytelling and sound, a narrative sets the coordinates of a game-world, navigating the contradictions in the interrelations of ‘nature’ and ‘technology.’ It employs the ultrasonic spectrum used in wildlife telemetry as a mythopoeic time and space, wherein the human hearing range and a shapeshifting being are the centre of the work.

The narrative reframes the differences worlded through mapping, being mapped, and how we live with ambivalence. The work is conceived as a game-world reading, wherein the disappearance of a tigress from mapping devices meets the mangrove as an archive. The archive is a repository of sounds, stories and encounters, evoking the mangrove’s sonic scope. A soundscape is enclosed in mangrove forests, coastal tropical trees that contain their own ecosystem of land and water animals, from crabs and fish to different kinds of birds and crocodiles, at times inviting a visit by a lone tigress from the nearby jungle. She disappears into the ultrasonic again.

The story about the disappearance of the tigress Kali and her subsequent search is based on wildlife conservationists’ fieldwork. It is a story that was told to Gayatri Kodikal by Navya Ramesh, a conservation specialist in big cats, who researches human big cat conflict zones at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, in India. The echoing sounds of a rare species of crustaceans forecast new futures for human and non-human cohabitation, where the density and hyperactivity of the city and the mangroves sync in unheard dimensions. Here, the ultrasonic—the high-frequency audio spectrum beyond the human hearing range—marks a starting point for radical, queer relationships of future ecology.

This is part of her long-term artistic research work exploring ‘shapeshifting’ as a narrative trope and political strategy for our uncertain world. The script ‘Tigress Kali Score’ 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 on display until January 31, 2021, at the Matadero Madrid as part of the installation Queering the City: A Sono-Orientation, which was part of the exhibition Twelve Cautionary Urban Tales.


This text is conceived as a game-world reading, performed by Jugni, a mysterious poetic creature and an oral storyteller. 

The oral storyteller, wearing a mask that resembles the face of a moth, sits on the floor, centre stage, with a table lamp. The audience sits on the floor in front of Jugni. The light falls on the mask and crouching body, creating a looming shadow in the background. The Jugni is both male and female who wanders between worlds, appearing and disappearing, collecting, preserving and narrating stories through sonic ways.

AUDIO of MANGROVES at night plays in the background.

The sound was collected on a field trip to the islands of Goa, on the Mandovi River. The field trip had lasted seven days after many failed attempts made to capture the unique sound of a rare species of crustaceans that inhabit this island. The mangroves, neither land nor water, emerge and disappear with the tides. The best time to record the sounds was at 1:00 A.M., when the human activity and noise pollution was the least and the tide was low enough to expose the crustaceans. I had to travel by a local fisherman’s boat to the middle of the mangroves in the dark, dense night. These mangroves were part of the Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. The rare species of crustaceans are called the snapping shrimp.

Jugni:

‘Did you catch that wave?’ asked the moth to the people.

Within the interior of the mangrove archives, entwined beneath stories that form the understories, lies the traces of a disappearance. The tide is low and the full moon is out. The water recedes into the stream, leaving behind a thick, sludgy mud. Here, there, it is not yet land and not fully water. It’s a shape-shifting thing. It’s almost 1:00 A.M., and the musical crustaceans begin their popping song:

‘The light split into shards of grass,

flickering in the slight breeze.

A patch of baked mud in the sun

between the shrubs and thick trees

seemed like a perfect spot to rest.

The surrounding forest seemed to swallow it whole,

safely hidden from the view of humans

who walked down the nearby dirt road towards their village.

A few coloured hairs lay on the ground, a couple of yards away,

the paw mark is fresh and prominent.

Kali has been here, her presence still felt in her absence.

The cold metal necklace around her neck carries a chip.

Her movements, monitored from many kilometres away on a computer screen.

The stripes on her back will be analysed and her identity configured.

The geolocation tracking will reveal significant details about her secretive life:

her hunting ground, her resting places, and her proximity to nearby villages,

so as to predict future conflict zones.

Surveillance, which reduces the being into so much manageable matter.’

Even though the humans worship her image, she has learned to avoid their path,

but it has become increasingly hard as her habitat shrinks due to large-scale iron ore mining nearby.

A week after tagging her, the conservationist notices that her GPS location (global positioning system) has disappeared off the grid. The only way to track her is through old school VHF telemetry. VHF is very high frequency waves. By holding up an antenna connected to a receiver, the conservationist must move through the habitat on foot, searching for a signal.

A beep. The ineffable beep.

How do stories become data and data become stories?

What does it mean to be inside a map? Mapping and to be mapped?

What is outside of language, the linguistic device? And can it exist?

Many months have passed, but there is no signal from Kali. What is collected is just a few traces: hair, scat, some kill that may have been hers. She can walk up to 40 kilometres a day. She could be anywhere. She could have disappeared somewhere into the dimension of the Ultrasonic Spectrum.

A faint beep is heard. Or did the conservationist imagine it? Another one. This time, even the forest guard felt as if he had heard it. But it is too faint to take into data collection. Where is Kali? From a labyrinth beyond our sense of time and space, she seeks her way out into a clearing. We must take off into the dimension of the Ultrasonic Spectrum to trace her disappearance.

Five … The disappearance into the invisible is a transcendental gap.

Four … This beep sound becomes a sort of recording of a future disappearance of an ecology.

Three … Making the turn, the dance move, that looks forward at extinction.

Two … When there cannot be an archive.

One … The shapeshifter, you know, moves between worlds.

(The take off into the Ultrasonic Spectrum.)

A low rumbling sound begins, vibrating the floor. The frequency increases, and the sound pitch gets higher and higher until it is unbearable to hear. The pressure and materiality of the sonic overwhelms the ears and blasts silently into the ultrasonic, which is beyond the range of human hearing. The silence is calming.

The Jugni moves along the floor, dancing, and changing form into another being as it penetrates into the dimension of the Ultrasonic. They then come back into the previous form and settle back onto the centre of the stage.

Jugni:

‘Did you catch that wave?’ asked the moth to the people.

She is not alone in the ultrasonic spectrum. The jewel beetles, gypsy moths and brown bats have already sensed the after image, after her disappearance.

She is multiplying, spawning many like herself. The multiplication is microscopic. No one can say how many. The moth detects this by its hairs, hearing the ultrasonic bursts.

The snapping shrimps that were recorded on the mangrove islands of Goa will eventually disappear in a few years. It took seven days to track them, only by moving into the interior of the mangroves after a fisherman agreed to take his boat. He was afraid of the saltwater crocodiles, which are also on the list of disappearing species. The list mapped out through sophisticated technologies.

Whose world is actually getting extinct?

Is it that world that wants to save itself the way it is?

The world that wants to protect the consumption of its own image?

The world that does not yet know how to deal with the unstable identity of the present?

There is an exhaustion of archiving, of mapping and being mapped.

There is an exhaustion that decorates the body as a prosthesis. Trying to extend a way of sensing, perceiving and reacting to things by appropriating other things and objects or stuff.

The technique of tracing the tigress mirrors the mimesis of the jewel beetle or gypsy moth.

The world that produces this way of interpreting others without being able to imagine the dimensions of their reality leads to a failure. The failure to reach the inter-subjectivity of being a subject with subjectivity, which cannot be sensed within cultures and signs of human society. The assumption and expectation for mutual communication and empathy are limited. We want the tigress to win, to refuse the Anthropos, because we want to keep the fantasy and fear of the unknown others. The mask is a gesture and strategy of camouflage to hide or conceal as a human being. It is a desire and hope to locate oneself with others.

We want the tigress to win because we also crave anonymity.

The anonymity is an act of playful masking. It is a strategy of affirmative presence, as a process of imagining otherwise, of making worlds, constantly opening the doors to unknown futures outside of algorithmic tracking wars and calculated settings. The question is how to reimagine anonymity not as an attainable categorical state, but as a way to recoup an energy of metamorphosis.

To think of giving form to a self as a sum of ever-changing relations. To include new forms of collective life, a collective anonymity, a multiple singularity. Mass surveillance is forever haunted by the unknown unknown, and will eventually collapse under its own exhaustion. And so we proceed into this disappearing act as a strategy. The leap into the unknown by masking ourselves, learning with the economy and psyche of the unthought.

From this position of the unthought is ambivalence.

Ambivalence is to feel and think multiplicities.

This is the symbol and the power of shapeshifting.

Jugni switches the lamp off. The audience stays in silence.

Gayatri Kodikal

Gayatri Kodikal studied Film and Video Communication at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and Psychology at Christ University, Bangalore. In 2020, she graduated from The Dutch Art Institute Roaming Academy. She is a self-taught game designer and has taught Creative Writing for Games at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology—all of which defines a distinctive creative artistic enquiry oriented towards the use of games in tackling historical perspectives and contemporary critical theory. Her creative strategy relies on the speculative historical, and oscillates between the imaginary and the documentary. The process of assembling and disassembling, arranging and rearranging, becomes a repetition akin to a ritual in the game world. Kodikal explores game as a vehicle for conceptual enquiry, opening up possibilities of intersectional research through poetics and participatory knowledge-making.