Christina Della Giustina, a Swiss artist I was lucky enough to spend six months working alongside as part of a research ethnography, recently invited me to write a catalogue essay on her piece “You are Variations”. The sound installation and performance emerged from the?Swiss artists in labs?residency that she was a part of at WSL, Birmensdorf, Zurich ( the wonderfully named Institute for Forest, Landscape and Snow). I really enjoy writing catalogue essays, in this case the short format of several thousand words offered as a great chance to return to some of the ideas I had had around art and environmental encounter when i had originally worked with Christina as part of a project on?art-science collaborations. ?An extract of the essay is below, the whole thing is on Christina’s website?here, ?her exhibition opens on 10th ?March at the?Museum zu Allerheiligen, Scaffhausen, Ch. and runs until the 5th May, the essay in the exhibition is translated into German ( the latter a fact I am ridiculously excited by!)
?You Are Variations?: Questioning Environmental Encounter
How do we encounter the environment?
Under what conditions, and through what forms of knowledge do we experience the world around us?
What are the limitations of our normative ways of knowing, what forms of intimacy with the organic other do they suggest, enable, and disable?
Meet Anlus glutinosa, Carpinus betulus, Acer pseudoplatanus and Pinus sylvestris, four common tree species that populate our European landscapes. Christina Della Giustina?s you are variations invites you to encounter these trees, but also asks you to question the terms upon which you do so. For Della Giustina is an artist who calls us toward some pressing questions. She may have started out with the research problem: ?How do changes in climatic conditions modify water cycle and water variability in trees?? But, it is broader, epistemological questions, like those listed above, that are poetically posed by the multi- media installations and performances that constitute you are variations. These are queries with enormous relevance for contemporary regimes of scientific knowledge, especially those concerned with climate futures. For, this is in an age in which the responsibilities of Environmental Scientists have never been higher, as they are required not only to produce knowledge, but also scrutinize it, and convey it to us ? the general public ? in a compelling manner. Entangled then with Della Giustina?s epistemological probing ? what is knowledge? How do we understand? ? are further questions that speak to a common querying across the disciplines concerning our ways of ?being? in the world, examining what form environmentally sensitive ways of ?being? might take. The multisensory experience of the audio, video and light installations, performances and artists books that constitute you are variations, are importantly not just a presentation of environmental encounters, but a questioning of their terms. The explorations of trees that the installations and performances stage for our consumption are not just in-the- moment experiences, but rather set in motion the question of ?how is it that we encounter the environment?? Della Giustina?s work is less, however, about providing an answer to that question, about promoting one way of knowing and being in the environment ?scientific say? above another, and rather more about gently probing the meeting points and fault-lines of a whole series of different knowledge forms. The environmental encounters the Della Giustina stages for us do not easily settle out into
accepted ways of naming and knowing a tree: as knowledge forms ? scientific, aesthetic ? oscillate throughout the work, meeting and merging in performances and installations, before fracturing apart again. What is set in motion is a relationship between these knowledge forms that calls upon us to query their differences and similarities. This is not so much to undermine or critique these modes of exploration, but rather to interleave them, and in doing so to produce the possibilities of something maybe new, maybe different. In this short essay I want therefore to explore how you are variations draws together the aesthetic and the scientific, interweaving the two to explore the epistemological boarderlands of environmental science. The work pushes gently at the latters? visual economies, drawing on the resources of arts practices to suggest how inter-species intimacies might be formed that enable us to know otherwise, to encounter differently. I want, in short, to examine Della Giustina?s works as epistemological explorations, and as reflections on the forms of encounter with organisms that populate environmental science. Her process, as I shall explore was a performative one, a situated artistic occupation of, some might say intervention in, a laboratory environment. In the process of her situated explorations of the embodied practices and habitual discourses of scientific production she pressed at the limits of these ways of knowing, tested the firmness of boundaries between their practice and hers, seeking at times to dissolve them. Realizing, in the process, forms of encounter ? of embrace ? of both scientists, and of trees, that was undoubtedly challenging, but also brimming with possibility. I begin by exploring the situated production of you are variations, before focusing on its visual and sonic elements in turn, I will conclude by thinking through possibilities for environmental encounters that you are variations opens out….