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48h WASTE LAND

IN CONVERSATION WITH WITH BRUNO LATOUR


AND GRAHAM HARMAN

ABOUT WASTE, DUST AND MATTER IN THE ANTHROPOCENE


By Daniel Fetzner and Martin Dornberg

http://waste.metaspace.de
Amongst Things all kinds of interactions with other objects but
a muscle reduces everything to a contraction.
pretty wholesome. The gentleman just told me that they are
recycling this and sending it to China. So there is a real globa-
lid, physical thing that can be moved around without alterati-
on. They often think it means something durable, something
And so in a way, life has a kind of stupidity that lization dimension to this. China is going to end up with a pile inanimate. For me, »object« simply means something that is
reduces many excitations to one result. As for of plastic. So it comes from China, and it ends there. not fully reduceable in either direction either downwards to
what makes humans different from animals. its basis or upwards to its effects. It can not be »duo-mined«,
Graham Harman about OOO But then, from re-reading Freud again recently What is the anthropocenery dimension of this place? as the terminology is. It can not be undermined, it can not be

in the Garbage City in Cairo I'm wondering if repression is not what cha-
racterizes humans the most. The difference Well, I assume most of this material could not have existed un-
overmined.

between unconscious, preconscious, and con- til less than 100 years ago. This immense amount of garbage, But it has a certain reality that resists in both directions, its
Talk with Daniel Fetzner about Speculative Realism scious characterized by their various relations of plastic plates, cheap plastic containers of this sort are a fair- composition and its effect. And so all kinds of things can count
in May 2016 – shortly before Graham leaves Cairo to repression is something you probably don't ly recent invention. I'm glad it is going to China instead of the as objects, including imaginary things, including humans.
after living here for 13 years. find so much of in the animal kingdom. Pacific Ocean garbage patch, where otherwise it might have And even a religion because a religion can withstand certain
ended up. pressures applied to it. A religion can surprise us, by showing
The idea is to talk here in the middle of this sorting process I read on Wikipedia that you have a background as a I have this idea about the Anthropocene that the climate has new aspects we had not realized before.
about your Object Oriented Ontology (OOO). You develo- sports reporter. So I assume you are good in observing become Anthropocene, and whenever they say it started, that
ped that concept mainly in Cairo. There is a highly complex and in reporting. Would you mind reporting for five mi- is still not resolved. It could have been the industrial revoluti- Regarding matter, would you regard data as matter as well?
density of processes happening synchronous with an im- nutes what's going on, some say it was a shift in agriculture, some say it was the
plicit agency not only by people but also by all the things.
Did that environment make you think different?
on here?
All kinds of composite entities can atomic bomb, that's still an argument. Certainly, as long as it is not reduceable in one of its two direc-
tions. And I say that it is not.

Object Oriented Philosophy is something that


We're in the
be objects. That includes the uni- But many objects have been anthropocenic all along, for ex- Data can also surprise us, even though it seems like an obvi-
garbage city in ample arts. I think art is Anthropocene because I don't think ous, revisible mathematical fact. It has some impenetrable as-
I began to develop in Chicago in the late 1990s
while working on my doctoral thesis. Cairo
Cairo and ama-
fication of the individual with our you would have art if all humans were exterminated. I think pects. You can data-mine. People data-mine, which means not
zingly, after all humans are dependent on art in that sense, even though I do everything is evident at first. So it is an object.
has been very useful in helping to develop it.
Primarily because it is good to be away from
my years in Cai-
associative microbial community. think there is a depth to the artwork that is not penetrable to
ro, I have never the human gaze, that is not penetrable to the whole world. The workers here sort all the matter with their plain hands. They don't wear
the centers of Western discourse because the been in here. I've any gloves for protection. And they say, »We need our hands. We need to
dominant doctorands of the preceding genera- heard about this place many times. It's been And now the climate has gotten to that point, the climate has touch the material, we think and sort with our hands.«
tion are still at work there. It's good in some in the news, there's been some controversies become Anthropocene. Human society has always been An- When I was mentioning the bacteria they replied »No problem! The bacteria
way to be separated from that. Just as they say about the slaughter of pigs and other issues thropocene, in a sense that human society without humans is inside our body.« And its true, if we are embedded in a certain environment
evolution happens more easily on islands in does not exist. Yet society is still deeper than the sociologists' we become part of it through our metabolism. How does that fit into your
biology. This is also true in an intellectual sen- knowledge of it. There is a duality and we are getting to that thinking?
se. point now with climate. There is no climate apart from the hu-
man interaction with it. It fits just fine. There is often a misunderstanding that object
You said your wife is a biologist. Of course here are innu- Does the term »Hyperobject« by Timothy Morton help to deal with this? oriented philosophy only wants to deal with solid things and
merable microbes all over the place that we cannot percei- that we are not interested in multiplicities that are inside of a
ve as living entities without our scientific tools. But they I found it very inspiring. And yes, the Anthropocene is a great thing but that is not the case. There is no final level of objects
are there. Is there a categorial difference between living example of a hyperobject. Something that we are dissipated to us. All kinds of composite entities can be objects. And that
entities and non-living objects, as we have it around here? in causing, that is completely beyond our capacity to visualize. includes, for example, the unification of the individual with
I am reminded of a contest some years ago, a design competiti- our associative microbial community. And I understand the-
I would say there's a difference, but I don't think on. They asked people to design illustrations for nuclear was- re is a new theory of evolution from within the last 10 years
that's ever to be the starting point of philoso- te sites. And the final panel was Munch's »The Scream«. So I that says that is the unit of natural selection, not the indivi-
phy the way it is for many moderns. Many mo- guess they think that »The Scream« is going to be intelligible dual. The individual plus the microbial community inside the
derns will say you have human thoughts, and thousands of years from now to anybody, even to a more primi- individual's body is the unit of natural selection. So you can
then you have absolute inanimate matter. De- tive form of human that might exist then. So maybe Munch's be a robust individual in your own right, but if something is
scartes being the most extreme version of this, painting is a hyperobject of sorts that is able to coexist along wrong with your microbes you are not going to survive.
where animals don't even have feelings. I sim- with the radiation so that any human can interpret the radia-
ply don't think that should be the first step. The tion with the aid of Munch's painting. They are your first line of defense. The other evidence in favor
first step should treat everything equally as an and now I am here, finally, and I see where all of this theory is that we can not all adopt fast enough to deal
object. As something that withdraws from its my garbage has been coming through the last All over the place at Garbage City you find religious icons. I assume this place with changing environments, but our microbes can. That is
actions, unlike actor network theory where a 16 years. It is all a lot cleaner than I would have would not work without religious objects. Would you consider religion itself why we need them as a first line of defense. If you kill them off,
thing is defined by its actions. How you do that expected. This is plastic, much of it has been as an object and could you describe its impact on the situation? you are abandoning that aspect of your body.
is an interesting question. From reading Uex- eaten off of. There is a fairly limited number
küll recently again, I was reminded by one of of flies, considering we are in a garbage dump First, I can say something about what »objects« mean in object Can you bring that together with the concept of Uexküll describing the life
his ideas which is that life is characterized by city. They seem to have pre-cleaned it some- oriented ontology. A lot of people come to us, already having cycle of the tick? How is this process described in Uexküll's thinking ? How
its stupidity in the sense that a stone can enter where, there is not a lot of food residue, it looks prejudices about what objects mean. They think it means a so- would Whitehead describe the life circle of the tick?

2 48h WASTE LAND http://waste.metaspace.de Talk with Graham Harman in the Garbage City in Cairo 3
Whitehead would tend to see the tick as consti- Merleau-Ponty's implicit claim to be a very fu- cluding that all objects have about five or six
tuted by its relations and is making a creative turistic thinker. I think there is a lot of old- symbioses before they begin to rise and then
advance because of these relations. I am very fashioned idealism in him. He says »The world decline.
skeptical of this, because I don't think you can looks at me just as I look at it.« But why do parts
do everything in terms of relations. And what I of the world not look at each other? It seems too It is a permanent process that we perceive on a long time
like about Uexküll is that there is a certain non- focused on the subject! level. When does a thing turn to waste? When does an
relation that characterizes the animal.The en- object turn to waste?
vironment is relational, but the surroundings, In terms of intercorporeality here obviously the-
the Umgebung, is itself not relational. The Um- re is an entwining of humans and objects here. I suppose it turns to waste when it detaches its-
welt is the one we can communicate with, but And at least on a causal level, there is an ent- elf from its use value or detaches itself from its
the Umgebung surrounds the Umwelt. That is wining of different physical objects here. Since surroundings. Which is interesting, because
something we can not have access to. Because we are dealing with artificial objects here, our
every animal is stuck in its own Umwelt within attention is naturally drawn to the human re-
the Umgebung. lation to these things.
I suppose the way to look for the non-human as-
The Umgebung is simply the largest surrounding, pects of these things would be to look for its sur-
in which everybody is. So we and the flies are prising effect. Here is one possibility: in this
all in the same Umgebung, but we live in very specific garba-
different Umwelten because we don't have the or-
gans a fly does, and vice versa. We are all inside
ge patch I think
An object can only be defined by its
the speculation
our different Umwelt, like in a bubble. has been raised
symbioses because not all of its
that maybe
What I worry about in Uexküll's account is that
he does not account for our ability to get out of
this specific
actions are equally important.
garbage patch
that bubble which we can sometimes. This is will turn out to
a problem I also see in Luhmann and in Matu- be an incubator for whole new types of bacteria.
rana and Varela. There is too much emphasis
on closure and I don't think evolution, for one In our artistic research we are also very inspired by the
thing, would be possible if there wasn't some concept of the parasite by Michel Serres. In our cells there
openness to what is beyond the usual construc- is a part which has been a parasite before, the Mitochon-
tion of the organism. There has to be a possible drion and then it got integrated and now we can use it to
openness to what is outside in order for an ani- improve our immune system.
mal to evolve.
And certainly in the human case, in order for I am quite familiar with Lynn Margulis' take
humans to learn we have to be able to get out- on it. She has the idea of the Endosymbiosis-
side of what we currently know. theory which is that the cells in the human
body do in fact symbiosis with more primitive
We dealt with the phenomena of »intercorporeality« by constituents some of which are viruses or bac-
Merleau-Ponty in our artistic research: the intercorpo- teria which began as parasites feasting on our
reality between subjects, but also between subjects and nutrients. And her hypothesis in the 60s was
objects. Where do you perceive »intercorporeality« right that, if we could test the DNA in the cell nuc-
now? leus we are going to find that a lot of the parts
of the cell are not coded for because they are not
I should begin by saying that in my view of Mer- supposed to be there, they are parasites.
leau-Ponty he has ‘self in world’, ‘self in self’,
but he does not do ‘world in world’. And this is In fact, in my recent book »Immaterialism« for me, an object is precisely what it is when The entire talk can be seen in 360° at http://waste.metaspace.de
difficult for most of the post-Kantian philoso- (2016) I use symbiosis as a principal of histori- it detaches itself from its surroundings. So in
phers because for them, the self-world relation cal analysis. There I said the »Dutch East India a sense, objects and waste are two sides of the
has primacy above all the others. So if I am tal- Company« can not be defined by its actions the same coin. There is a non-relational aspect to
king about the relation of fire and cottonball. way ›Actor Network Theory‹ wants to do. It can both of them. I guess in the case of waste it is
It's either: I am talking about that, and there- only be defined by its symbioses because not all still connected to its surroundings in a nega-
fore it is actually a human relation. But I think of its actions are equally important. Just as all tive sense since it hinders those surroundings
you have to be able to talk about the object-ob- actions of a cell are not equally important. The and needs to be cleared.
ject relation just as we talk about the subject- important ones are the ones where symbioses
object or the subject-subject relation. with some other happens. It is the same with
And this is why I am somewhat skeptical of historical objects, I argue. And I ended up con-

4 48h WASTE LAND http://waste.metaspace.de Talk with Graham Harman in the Garbage City in Cairo 5
6 48h WASTE LAND http://waste.metaspace.de 7
Thought Experiment Weibel and we try to mix procedures which will be »argumen-
ted« in naturam within the exhibition medium. We are going
a fiction, but it´s not any freedom of movement. No one could
image to do realistically a RESET Modernity. That is completely
to know something about the reactions of the visitors and the
processes induced hopefully through the exhibition.
to test today if that works or not – no idea! If you have been to absurd as a reality, but as a »thought experiment« it has a lot
exhibitions or if you are artists you know how difficult that is. of meaning. And there is another leading question: the relation/triangle
Procedure, the metaphor is more mechanical, it is a metaphor between land, globe and earth. We know nearly nothing about
Bruno Latour about how to exhibit thin- for RESET. Things that you do with an instrument. We want to Where does it work out best? the shape of the earth. You (MD) are a medical doctor and know

king and how to think through exhibiting initiate procedures of a RESET.


Where the medium of the exhibiton is actually the most unpre-
how little we know about what it is really the body, beside or
‘through’ all the physical or physiological data. This is also a
You formulated a difference between argument and exhibition. But if we read dictable and powerful as art form. There is one point when you political question!
With Daniel Fetzner and Martin Dornberg in April 2016 at ZKM your books you have the metaphor of this pedestrian who walks along. This is see the gigantic »Museum of Oil« (Territorial Agency 2016) Instal-
Karlsruhe on the occassion of the opening of the exhibition RESET a metaphor for thinking and writing. Is that gap so big between argumenta- lation in our exhibition, you realize that Gaia is arriving there In our projects we often deal with the question of animals, of small animals,
MODERNITY! tion, transforming and participation? in some sort of sense. The first idea we had for the show by the bacteria and parasites. In the exhibition there is only one art peace dealing
way was a very naive idea about keeping the visitors impressi- directly with animals (Pierre Huyghe, Nympheas Transplant, 2014). Would
How do you translate your thoughts into an exhibition? Why are you inte- The interesting difference is between abstraction and theory. on, that they were under not up, but that they were landing you, as a son of a wine farmer, think that agriculture, plants and animals are
rested in exhibiting, in materializing, in designing and spatializing your What most people take as theory is in fact abstraction, which somewhere which is the earth, which is very different from a of a specific interest for our society today?
thoughts into the experience of a viewer or participant?? is not the same thing. William James is a theorist of enormous globe speculative argument. That the glove and the earth are
power nothing what he writes is abstract. So if you want the total different things. And here you have an element in the Look at Sylvain Gouraud (Shaping Sharing Agriculture, 2014-2016) in
For me writing is exactly as temporalizing, spataializing and difference between abstraction and exhibition it’s immense, show because of the way it is spaced and designed, which is the exhibition! Agriculture becomes, when you investigate
dramatizing. It is just a different medium. So I change the me- but the difference between theory or speculation and exhibi- very powerful for me, same thing with a series that Jean-Mi- earth, one of the most crucial things: soil, animals in the soil
dium from writing to a play or help people to stimulate a dis- tion should be very small, because the medium is different of chel Frodon did with religion and political assemblages. The- – as also in your new project. The »symbiogenesis perspective«
cussion like we did in Paris last year for the summit of climate course but as you say the explorative pedestrian step by step is re is no other medium where you can do that because you are (Lyn Margulis) is very important. There is really something
change or to create this exhibition. I don´t really see the diffe- very explicit at the exhibition and easy to understand. in the film and it gives you a very powerful food for thought. missing in the mainstream »deanimated« scientific world
rences, all the media are resonating with one another. But be- The tilting of the huge photography by 15° that John Palmesi- view! There is a coherence between the cyclic life knowledge-
cause of the form of each medium you can accentuate or inten- In your writings you have a lot of everyday observations, so it is also a kind of no and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog (Co-founders of Territorial Agency, DF/ forms of animals and agriculture and the sciences of climate
sify certain elements. You can intensify an argument how to materialized thinking. MD) did is something that works only in the exhibition, its a for example. With the resurrection of the notion of the com-
deal with the world when you are a scientist or a draughtsman very deep formal idea and it works beautifully. mon and of sharing. Look to the interest of many artists for
in a way which could not be done by any other medium. It´s not materialized, its material (laughing). It does not have to soil.
be materialized because it is an exploration of the concreteness Concerning your Project and the 3D and 360 filmings, I don´t
I find an exhibition very powerful, but a lot of things can´t be of experience. It is called pragmatism for good reason. One im- think any formal trick in itself has its sole efficiency, but the The »Hyperobjects« of Timothy Morton go also in that direction?
done there like with arguments. When you write in a mixture portant feature of the exhibition is the movement of the visitor way how it is combined and embedded. In the show we just
of a philosophical and an anthropological style which is my instead of a space proposition. And the other one is because of contrast the Eames film of the »Powers of Ten« with the ori- Yes, it's one of the many contemporary attempts of »domesti-
medium there are a lot of things that you can not do either. In the speed at which visitors go through the space you have to gin, which is a drawing and which is very different. With the cation the beast«, but this is also another (perhaps mislea-
the last 10 years what I realized is, that every medium intensi- enormously intensify the »point of view«. So I see it more like a Eames film something is lost which is the discontinuity and ding) metaphor. We have to use all sorts of shapes and twists
fies the other. I started with this argument about Gaia with a laser: you have to concentrate the point of attention. Because if there is a very powerful example for discontinuity in the comic to understand the world. We are all learning what the world
dancer. First, long before it was an argument, it was a move- not, things become immediately fuzzy and ununderstandable. strip (Kees Boeke, Cosmic view: the Universe in 40 jumps, 1957). is made of. We try to survive as humans and human; but at
ment. This is why I don´t translate, I layer. But many of the exhibition’s parts is not my personal making So no technique in itself is the whole thing. It works only in an the present moment to reach this, our instruments have to be
because I am not able to do it. assemblage as you try to do it in your projects also. reset in a way.
One layer is amplifying the other?
Reset Modernity can be considered as a political exhibition. It is about the In German the term »Gedankenausstellung« is singular and plural. »Gedan-
Sometimes it does not amplify, it depends. You can also loo- big questions of Gaia. Thereby it has a didactic component; you have a mes- ken« means one thought and many thoughts. If there is one main thought in
se things. In the first exhibition I did here at the ZKM, which sage that you want to tell. On the other hand it is an art exhibition. How do the exhibition, could you name it?
was »Iconoclash«, I realized that it is not a question of trans- you balance the things?
lating whatsoever, for the good reason that every intellectual A formal one? Yes, it is: can
or academic argument we tried in the show did not work as a It is a dogmatic exhibition in the sense that it is proposing a we use the exibition setting All the media are resonating with
show. So you have to shift gear to get into something comple- RESET. So if you want to reset something you have to follow a really to share the experi-
tely different, which is the way to discover, what is specific to procedure - that is the dogmatic part. So if your computer fails, ment of the »Gedankenaus- one another. But because of the
the medium. The choreography of an exhibtion, is such a spe- you have to do also a reset. We started with the idea to do an stellung« with the visitors?
cific medium: people who move organize architectures so to exhibtion about the »Modes of Existence« (the last book of Bru- With some elements we ad- form of each medium you can accen-
speak, and that they are the one by their sort of termite move- no Latour, DF/MD) book but this would have been a complete ded to the parcour - or with
ment, who make the show active each in their own perspective absurd materialisation of an abstract argument. So we aban- the help of some students tuate or intensify certain elements.
which is also true of reading of course. When people read, they doned that immediately and started from scratch. of my university, that faci-
are supposed to be step by step following. litate some sort of feedback. Normally you get to know nothing
Now in this exhibition, what is complicated that we have a We offer an experience. If you do that, you have to be as open about the reaction of the visitors – perhaps some sentences in
step-by-step-procedure. We take seriously the subject/method and as undogmatic as possible. You have to think very odd, to some sort of ›golden book‹ at the end of the exhibition, whe-
of a »Gedankenaustellung« that we have developed with Peter take a piece of paper and begin to imagine yourself there, it´s re they say »we like the exibition or not«. But we want really

8 48h WASTE LAND http://waste.metaspace.de Talk with Bruno Latour at ZKM Karlsruhe 9
48h WASTE LAND
ARTISTIC RESEARCH ABOUT WASTE, DUST AND MATTER IN THE ANTHROPOCENE

Daniel Fetzner (*1966), Professor for Artistic Research in Media and Head of the Media Ecology Lab http://
mediaecology.de at Offenburg University. 2002-14 Professor for Digital Media at Furtwangen University.
2007 Visiting Professor at San Francisco State University and Guest Artist at ZKM Karlsruhe. 2009-2011
Head of the Media Design Department at the German University in Cairo. 2012 Visiting Professor at Srishti
School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore. Founder of the artistic research group mbody, member
and lecturer at the Institute of Media Cultural Studies at Freiburg University.
http://fetz.metaspace.de
 
Martin Dornberg (*1959) is psycho-somatic researcher and philosopher. He is lecturer for philosophy and
interdisciplinary anthropology at Freiburg University. Dornberg is member of the Center for Anthropology
and Gender Studies and member of the Institute of Media Cultural Studies at Freiburg University. Head of
the Center for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotheraphy at St. Joseph Hospital Freiburg. 2008 Founda-
tion of the artistic research group mbody.

http://waste.metaspace.de

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künstlerische forschung in medien,
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