I am an artist and researcher currently pursuing a PhD at USC in media arts and practices. I have worked primarily with sound for the last several years. I am currently in northern Idaho, in the panhandle, sitting in my mother's greenhouse.
First I want to create a high level flyby of all the entangled concepts and references that has brought us together for the context of this exhibition called Plant Based. When you first approached me and I was asking about the scope of the exhibition you mentioned everything from Braiding Sweetgrass and aboriginal ways of communing with plants to shamanic practices, the esoteric work of Terrence McKenna, and the internalization or integration of a plant sentience into the human mind. This might also be considered an externalization or projection of a human sentience onto other beings, or things, and evokes the age-old conversation about animism and panpsychism. To be clear, by sentience I mean to refer to self-awareness, reflexivity, a self consciousness that leads to the formation of a collective conscience.
People expressing their opinions online with their money? Is that what it is? How do you trust someone that you’ve never known IRL when you don’t know if they’re using their real name, or if anything that they tell you is trustworthy, or if they are even human? I imagine that hard and soft used in this way comes from the cultures of science and technology, right? Thinking about religion, what comes to mind is Moses descending from Mount Sinai carrying stone tablets, the Word of God written as codified commandments… Was that Moses? God’s voice is the creation and destruction of the universe, so how did Moses even hear the creator in the first place? Could there be a more humble or self-deprecating way of proceeding — in a Wittgensteinian sense — where the code remains law while we exercise humility before the fallacious or tragic reliance upon that code, to recognize the imperfection and act in accordance to an understanding of the imperfection of the code?
Last time we realized that we needed to identify possible access points for how to enter into the content of the Web3-DAO community that we’ve been ruminating on for the last few months. How can the questions we have generated be put to use? Where would the most interesting results be generated? Does it require interacting with the system in certain ways? If so, how would we identify those ways? What kind of virus would we plant, or what kind of intervention might we perform? What kind of language might we craft to interface with the latent ideologies? How might we shift or modify the direction of the conversation? If we could summon the power to change things, how would we go about it? Where would we go about it? Where is the entry point for us to begin a perspectival shift, or an ontological pivot? How can we use the means at our disposal to contemplate an alternative design language? What part would we change?
Let’s begin with an introduction of what we perceive to be the goals of our talk today. We recognize, each in our own way, the need to design better questions to continue to uncover the most pertinent and prescient problems. I’m not sure where this will lead us, but as always, I am supremely confident that we will end up somewhere interesting.
Shamans and mystics and people that are spiritually developed have known for a very long time that we’re connected to the whole. We’re not separate; never have been, never will be, it’s impossible. There’s a field of energy behind everything manifested in matter. This is one of the really difficult ideas that physicists discovered about reality. Quantum mechanics extends some of the most rigorously tested, researched, and validated ideas that have come along through the history of civilization. That field is just crammed with knowledge about everything you could possibly imagine. Shamans and spiritually developed persons can go into their heart to interface with that information and come to know things. There are still lots of scientists that don’t want to face the uncertainty about the nature of reality.
In the last installment, Anon and I attempted to uncover and articulate power dynamics within governance modalities in relation to privacy and sovereignty. I found myself caught up in considering the power dynamics of this project and it has given me pause. I’m still reverberating in the aftermath of that conversation and I’m a little disoriented in how to proceed from here. This morning, when I was thinking about what you and I might talk about today in relation to all the other DeathGuild conversations, I thought we might approach confusion and disorientation as a tactic — or a therapy — for preparing ourselves to think differently. This can be painful, or at least uncomfortable. It requires a certain maturity to be humble enough to recognize that even though it might seem at moments so essential to take great risks, because great risks offer great potential for radical change, there are also consequences.
Maybe there’s some way we could relate this back to Arturo Escobar and Viveiros de Castro. Wielding these concepts can provide us with access to conceptual instrumentation that is very well calibrated, because it includes thousands of years of astute thinkers that have dedicated themselves to reason and logic, but on the other hand, this is the same instrument that is wielded by the Eurocentric colonial epistemology that wreaks havoc upon the equilibrium of other sensitive dispositions, steamrolling difference of perspective. I want to craft this project and these conversations into a design for potential openings, to challenge my own perspective and my own biases and to provoke you, as well, to the extent that it’s deemed productive and beneficial for your own projects, but never to the extent of becoming destructive or imposing an ontological violence.
Do you have any sense of how people are responding so far?
The DeathGuild crew is loving these conversations. I hope that you would say the same, but it seems like everybody I’m talking to is having a real good time. I’m definitely having a good time. I curated this project because I think these people are all super interesting, you included.
How are you? Has your head been full of wonderful delicious dreams of universal basic income algorithms and geothermal heat dissipation solutions for decentralized world finance computers, or have you been occupied with even more exciting things like building libraries of self-reliance literature and contemplating the waste that is grotesquely flowing out of all of our human systems?
Seven point elk and young bucks munching berries outside the window. It’s been very smoky here. We’ve had a lot of rain and the wind was horrendous. That part wasn’t too fun, but I have spent time working on a couple of articles. I was working on one in particular that I was going to try to send you soon on the issue of how do we know, knowing versus facts, how we use information for decision making and where its vulnerabilities are. If you touch something hot enough to burn, you’re not likely to repeat the experience in your life if you can avoid it. That’s knowing. Everything in nature knows how it works, how it needs to work. It’s only humans that can believe and act on stuff that’s different than that.
It’s interesting that the two women contributors of this project are both choosing to remain anonymous, but maybe it makes sense in relation to the sensitive content we have been discussing. There’s some really nice food for thought in our first conversation about the importance of maintaining the flow of resources and how the Myanmar government is exerting control over people through these flows. You only briefly mentioned the music compilation project and there was no mention of the coordination efforts that are in place to distribute those funds through a global network of people that are cooperating based on trust. You described it as “you trust someone with your life” kind of trust, with money changing hands through many strangers to get it where it needs to be. Maybe you can tell me a little bit more about your compilation and how that evolved as an idea. I want to hear as much as you’re willing to reveal about the creative side of that, who the artists are and how you curated them and how that’s going. I’m also hoping that you can describe the network of people that are coordinating with you to distribute the funds, where it’s going and who it’s going to and what they’re using it for. You’re leveraging your creative productions to resistance value, mobilizing a creative human network to get essential supplies — like oxygen — through government firewalls.
Perhaps you want to talk about the content of your thesis. You said you’re in the last 1000 words of the document and that you’re in the process of connecting a few difficult points. I would also love to hear you provide an overview of your orchestration of the indigenous University and to talk a bit about your process with your performances and your exhibitions, to your artistic practice, and how they create a bridge between the modern art world and the local indigenous communities. We might emphasize the coordination of these groups of people and the curation of exhibitions as a coordination effort between many different kinds of people. I remember that one of your exhibitions concerns the coca plant, which has a notorious reputation as a controlled narcotic substance while also being a sacred plant for indigenous people. Maybe this would tie in to a conversation about resource flows and resource management.
I’m hoping you can tell me a story. In my mind, the story begins with the group of you meeting at Kaospilots, starting Heima, building the house, inviting the first residents, and having the vision of the house change through these processes while also negotiating the financial aspects of a loan, the repayments, and the for-profit artist residency business model. This has created a foundation for engaging with the local economy of Seyðisfjörður with strong ties maintained with Denmark and a global cast of artistic characters. This created the impetus for the LungA School. I understand these are two different entities — the school and the residency — but they are also very entangled culturally, financially, and with the local inhabitants of Seyðisfjörður. There’s been lots of cultural and social exchange, the revitalization of the cultural house, and through an opportunity to build a house for yourself and the negotiations that occurred there. I understand that this might be a little bit weird to talk about, because I don’t want you to reveal any sensitive information.
It’s not sensitive at all. I love talking about money.
When I read over the earlier DeathGuild documents my mind returns to [Walter Benjamin’s writing on violence](https://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/10/11/notes-thought-walter-benjamin-critique-violence/#:\~:text=The%20Critique%20of%20Violence%20is,by%20what%20means%E2%80%9D%20(p.) and how the state maintains a monopoly over violence. That’s kind of how power works, right? Who has the authority to wield violence, who has the authority to sanction violence; we can use the word violence in a lot of different ways. Benjamin was writing in post-WW II Europe and has a very particular character of violence in mind. I was thinking about violence in terms of humans wielding power over the rest of the earth’s life forms and the presumed hierarchy that is instated to (supposedly) ensure our survival as a species. The human project has been endowed with a higher importance from Enlightenment Humanist thinking and we use that as a logical structure to justify our violent behaviors.
The tyranny of logic becomes terror when it’s being leveraged as justification for upholding human values — not simply at the expense of other beings’ values, but to deny them the status of beings at all.
You began by asking me, “Who is the audience? Who is it that we want to influence? Who is the general reader?” We might seek to answer by calling attention to reductionism as symptomatic of studying things in their parts. Studying only the parts of anything will never reveal the function of the purpose of any system that they are a part of. Everything is systems within systems that can be sharded fractally at all scales. The purpose of a system is a property that manifests or emerges when the right parts are present in correct relationship, when the information, energy, and matter flows are right.
That’s one thing I wanted to ask you about: what is the rightness that you’re referring to? You’re saying it’s an unavoidable and undesirable outcome that we separate our subjects and develop specialized languages to describe and talk about them, about what we are actively discovering. One problem is that issues of status, identity and ego become involved. You direct my attention towards the fact that specialists’ jargon ostracizes the general reader. In order to be understood to a general reader, we need to communicate in a way that is free of jargon. This is a very complex idea that I really want to explore with you.
Goodiepal is a Faroese sound artist. He has been around for many years, performing for a long time as a solo artist in all sorts of genres, but definitely within computer music. He was part of the founding of the Danish Institute for Electronic Music. He has always been — in a very artistic way — an activist in his works and within the art field in a very avant garde manner. This group came about some years ago called Goodiepal and Pals, which is him and a bunch of other people. It has changed a little bit who’s involved, but Goodiepal and a few others have been there from the beginning. They are a hybrid form of social collective, both a techno-folk music group and a refugee organization. They’ve been in Serbia helping refugees at the European borders. I think they do really amazing work on many different levels, both artistically and in addressing a lot of important social questions. They hold the ethics of all these questions in a very beautiful way and place their bodies in relation to these questions in very interesting ways.
Long story short, a friend of theirs wrote me and asked if I wanted to set up a concert with them very close to where we live and we said, “yeah sure, that’d be great.” So we did that the last couple of days; just practical stuff like finding a drum kit and a mixer and some speakers and inviting people. The concert was yesterday and it was really, really good. They performed a score that consisted of 21 breaks. The notation is the breaks. All the breaks have been notated in the sense that it has been described in each break what each break consists of. In between the breaks they had their repertoire of texts, lyrics and melodies. There was one melody that was repeated over and over again in between these 21 breaks, so it felt like one song. The performance was a little over an hour and it worked really well. I enjoyed it so much.
We could begin with the question that I wrote down for our conversation last week, which is why research? Why call it research? Where does that come from? Tell me about that decision. Is that yours? Or is that slotting of the work into a category already created by the granting body, MolochDAO? I think the question of why research connects to questions of genre and style.
I don’t know if I understand the open-endedness of the question. Why research, as opposed to another word that might carry a different set of cultural connotations or imply another level of rigor or causality or casualness? Why call it research and not a conversation?
There’s an interesting conversation that emerges when we contrast Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics with Boaventura de Sousa Santos Epistemologies of the South and Arturo Escobar’s Designs for the Pluriverse that points out where we might resolve the potency of Viveiros de Castro’s study of the ontological turn. Escobar openly criticizes the ontological turn as a possible resolution in the Latin American context and opens up the possibility to rethink the relationship between ancestral communities and the formation of our conceptual apparatus by putting anthropology itself into question. Escobar points out that the resolution of this intention is still constructed from the European philosophical tradition in the hands of Viveiros de Castro and presents his ontological turn as a fashionable approach that neglects the real problems of the communities in South America. Escobar constructs (we could say) a more humble position by listening and giving voice to South American epistemologies, integrating them with the Western academic structure; the voices from communities that are giving their life for their cause, rather than contributing to the deformations of the Euro-centralized apparatus that comprise the ontological turn.
Let’s begin with your description of the political situation in Myanmar and your role in that context. You are an American artist interfacing with an artist-organized, decentralized network in Myanmar with music serving as the driving force for generating and distributing value while also increasing cultural awareness and reciprocal connections between the two cultures. There’s something here that we might touch upon concerning resource management as well, although management might not be the best word in this context. Let’s start with you illustrating the situation as you see it, for an audience that might know very little about it.
In order to understand the current situation in Myanmar we must try to understand the history of the country. It was a British colony in the early 1900s and in 1946 a man named General Aung San led the People’s Army — what would later become the military of Myanmar — to push the British out so that Myanmar could be a self-actualized nation state of its own and no longer a colony of the English. He was elected to be their first Prime Minister and was assassinated within the first year of being elected by members of his own military. It was a coup. He had a daughter who became a widely recognized figure, named Aung San Suu Kyi, known as the mother of democracy in Myanmar. She has become very iconic. There was even a movie made about her in 2011 shortly after she was released from house arrest called The Lady that is quite good.
I’m restraining myself to say what it is that we’re precisely doing here. Did you have a look at the book? Yes, I’ve been reading it. It’s great. There’s some powerful ideas in there that are highly relevant to the realms I’ve been spelunking through.
There are certainly ontological and epistemic roots to the problems that we are facing these days. One must take such a statement with a sense of humor as it’s almost incomprehensible to say such a thing to most people and even when someone does understand what you mean by an ontological or epistemic disorder or deficiency it becomes a problem that boggles the mind and strains the imagination due purely to the scale, which is almost beyond scale, certainly beyond the boundaries of polite conversation. This book nicely addresses a few key points concerning how our civilization has organized itself around certain power dynamics and how those dynamics are of a patriarchal descent inflecting a gradual dissociation from each other and with the land itself. This nicely contextualizes the ecological crisis of the moment that I’m always struggling to articulate and how it relates to industry that I have always felt very antagonistic towards. Of course, that’s also an unspeakable thing, to say that you’re opposed to colonialism or opposed to industry. It’s akin to saying I am against humanity or I am against the way that the world works.
Everybody has different levels of technical aptitude, different technical vocabularies and preferences, so that coordination is always tricky when it comes to the tooling that we use to coordinate with. Something that is definitely very relevant for the DeathGuild project is how communication is mediated by these particular tools. I have a lot of meetings these days and everybody seems to prefer a different service and a different tool, which has been tricky for me living out here off-grid.
I’ve been working on behalf of ReallyBoringGuild and MolochDAO to draft a presentation that proposes an upgrade to the DAO’s framework, which is a technical bag of jargon we may or may not want to get into. In this DAO community, “the code is law.” MolochDAO is still operating on the first version of the framework… Oh, just to be clear there’s a DAO called Moloch, but then there’s the protocol, the smart contract governance framework that the DAO is built on, that is also called Moloch. There are many different DAOs operating on the Moloch framework, but there’s only one MolochDAO, confusingly enough.
We’re going from version one to version two. The significance for our purposes might be in contemplating how the new protocol offers different features and functionality. The technical aspects of the upgrade are facilitating new human interactions under this umbrella concept that the code is law. There’s so much conversation in this community about soft governance, by which they mean human beings figuring out how to coordinate between themselves, which is really just governance as far as the historical perspective is concerned. Hard governance is negotiating or coordinating through the code.