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The Party of Others (Helsinki 2011)

The Party of Others (Helsinki 2011)

The Party of Others
Launch of a political initiative and exhibition
Gallery Kalhama & Piippo Contemporary
Helsinki 2011

The Party of Others is structured around interviews of leading local thinkers from the fields of animal rights, environmentalism, law theory, art and politics. The interviews focus on two key questions: what would a society that would not be based on exclusion be like? What would the structure of governance be in a society that would include everybody that was present, the nonhuman world included? The interviewees are asked to replace the words “animal” or “nature” with a species neutral term “them”. The resulting recording reveals how the discourse on rights of nature is in many ways identical to any rights discourse in the past, and also how even in that discourse, access to propositional language forms the ultimate boundary of a political community.

In the first exhibit of the project (Helsinki 2011) the edited and musically composed interviews were audible each from their individual speaker that together formed a choir of chatter around the questions of “what to do with them” and “what would they want”. A large scale 3-channel video projection showed in text animation how certain themes and initiatives from the interviews formed patterns of consensus and disagreement: the subjective, uncertain chatters of the interviews transform gradually into political facts and ideological programs.

Further, the project reached out to the world, developing into an initiative for a real political party that would reflect the ideas presented in the interviews. The party platform of the utopian Party of Others, based on the interviews, shows an attempt to fit the radical, utopian ideas of a truly open society, which would not be based on exclusion, into a traditional political party strategy. In the impossibility to do so, the limits of our anthropocentric representational democracy becomes tangible.

The resulting agenda includes detailed notions of community, law, language, imagination, education, representational structures and altruism. It is radical in the sense that it calls for a fundamental change in the society on all levels, from culture to power structures. But the agenda is also realistic, as there are many proposals for improving the status of the excluded that could be realized already inside the existing political structure.

In order for an association to establish itself as an official political party in Finland it needs to collect 5000 signed support forms from voters. After the registration, the new political party has two years’ time to run for seats in the parliament, after which it drops out of the official register.

The project was launched with a campaign for registering the party into the official party register. The Party of Others project received great amount of interest and a lot of media coverage, though not enough supporters to register the party. Since 2011 The Party of Others exists as an extra-parliamentary initiative that can be used for raising discussion on the voice of the voiceless and on the margins of our democracy.

Working group for the exhibition
Video assistant: Ewa Gorzyna
Sound assistant: Joe Candido
Programming: Gregoire Rousseau
Producer: Piritta Puhto

Interviews, Helsinki 2011
Elisa Aaltola, philosopher, Yrjö Haila, professor of environmental politics, Tampere University, Kristo Muurimaa, activist, Aleksi Neuvonen, philosopher, researcher, Antti Nylèn, author, essayist, Markku Oksanen, academy researcher, Turku University, Leo Stranius, head of Luonto-liitto, Joonia Streng, lawyer, Jarkko Tontti, poet, lawyer, Salla Tuomivaara, sosiologist, head of Animalia, Leena Vilkka, Phd environmental philosophy, Birgitta Wahlberg, researcher, Åbo Academi

Selected quotes from interviews (translated from Finnish by TH)

Birgitta Walhberg
Researcher, Åbo Academi University
Phd on Legislation and Supervision of the Welfare of Farm and Slaughter Animals.

“I think it’s interesting that when we talk about their juridical rights, it’s mostly humanists and philosophers who take part in that conversation, not so much legal scholars. Legal scholars tend to comment only, in a top down manner, on why it is not possible that they could have rights. And the legal scholar’s opinions are often based on certain logic of existing legal theory, while they don’t tend to take part in the conversation about how we could change that theory, or whether it’s needed or important from their (nonhumans) perspective to change laws.”

“What I see as problematic in the current legislation is that they are seen merely as objects of protection. They are seen as objects with no inherent value. And this notion of them as objects is what underlies our interpretations of law and how it’s applied – objects, that we protect and whose wellbeing we try to improve. If it was possible to include a notion of their intrinsic value in our legislation, that they would have intrinsic value as individuals….to expand the current notion of protection of the individual to include a notion of the individual’s intrinsic value. That would turn the whole approach of law and it’s interpretation and the way it’s applied toward acknowledging their needs.”

“Historically, when the question of women’s rights emerged, one counter argument was that we women’s rights aren’t compatible with the language and concepts of law. Now we are facing similar arguments about whether they could have rights and how that would fit our legal concepts and the apparatus of law in general. To acknowledge their legal rights would definitely require a completely different set of concepts and a radical reorganization of legal systems in order to be able to process them in courts and official proceedings.”

“In a way I see the claim that they should have rights also as a possessive gesture from our part. Who are we to say or define what their rights are. Just by demanding rights for them we are subjecting them to our world and it’s rules. But if we talk about intrinsic value instead, then it’s possible to have a conversation about them having their value, us having ours, and that we should respect them because they are in a weaker position in the world than us.”

Leena Vilkka
author of The Intrinsic value of Nature

“I personally have a strong belief in that it is the environment that defines what the community is – that the environment comes first. The environment gives us the framework and the conditions that determine what we, humans and all the other species, become. In a way we don’t have any other option than to adjust to the conditions that are given by our environment. It determines everything in our lives. Gives all the possibilities and options. And the widest notion of an environment is of course the earth, that is actually a really miraculous place: we look to the sky and see all the stars, the suns, planets that are lifeless, so it’s really a miracle that we are living as part of this planet of life.”

“If you think of the origins of rights, in the Greek philosophy 2000 years ago it was only white men who had rights, while women, children, the enslaved were all those “others” that were outside rights. One could say that we’ve lived through an expansion of the field of rights. In the end of the 19th century women, workers, the enslaved started to demand rights – or actually not even these groups themselves, but progressive white men who started to demand rights for these groups. And it is telling that the demand for women’s rights was countered by ridicule, that if we give in to these claims, soon they’ll start demanding rights for beasts too. And one can say that in a way this fear, this prediction, is reality today”.

“The one right that they lack is the most fundamental right, the mother of all rights, which is the right to life. So we can say that if we don’t have a right to life, then do we have anything really. And this right is lacking from everyone else than humans. One could say that its just three small words: right to life. And when this claim is made to include animals, plants, trees, it becomes a very strong political, societal claim. It is a strong claim to really expand and change the whole foundation of the western society.”

“[in order to have a political community in which they would be heard] We should have more sensitive ears to hear them. One can say that at this very moment only a small group of people are heard in decision making processes, that most of us are voiceless or have a very limited or quiet voice, or who in practice have very limited access to decisions that regard them, besides maybe their own everyday life issues. So we are talking about power really. And few have it, and then it becomes a question of how those who have power use it and who do they hear. Do those in power hear or take into account the rights and well being of nonhuman beings or ecosystems. “

“They could have their own legal representatives that would represent them, the same way that we have lawyers. We could have nature-animal lawyers, whose job was to advance their rights and bring their cases forward in the legal system, if there were situations where their rights were injured.”

“I don’t think that lack of knowledge is the first and foremost problem, but mostly lack of will and whether they are acknowledged or left out. I think it can be said that we do know what they want, that’s not the question. They need to be left alone, they need space to flourish, they need the sun, they need nourishment, space to move. We have enough knowledge about what makes them happy. The question is whether we grant them the right to exist”.

“Our whole political system is anthropocentric. It is built around talking about human affairs. We talk about other people’s issues, of issues regarding different groups of humans, or children or elderly people. It would require a big change in the political climate that we’d talk more about the future in general, the needs of future generations. That we’d scale down the anthropocentrism of political thought and then expand it so that it could include first those nonhumans that live close to us and are sentient, conscious beings. To take their needs into account, expand our thinking to a zoocentric thinking, where their needs are on the same level of importance as ours. And then of course the next step would be to expand the ethical field toward zoe-centric approach, where humans aren’t the center point and focus of everything, but on the same level with everything else.

“My utopian society would consists of ecological cities, ecological rural areas, greenlands. It would be based on a view of a future in which there was no meat eating, that food production was based solely on ecological farming, ecological organic farming, so food was mostly plant based. Maybe in a land of a million lakes like Finland it could be partly fish too. It would be based on local farming, local energy production, sustainability – all which is very far from the world that we live in at the moment.”

“We are going towards ecological catastrophies, environmental crises, the earth simply doesn’t tolerate the actions of humans and then we arrive on the fundamental issue of population growth: theres simply too many of us on the planet. That’s surely one of the taboos of our times, that isn’t really talked about. But I think it will be a critical question. That there’s simply too many people at this moment. (…) I see women’s rights deeply connected to this issue: it is well known that the more educated women are, the later they give birth and have less children. That’s why I don’t see a big conflict between women’s rights and rights of nature. Our world has traditionally been dominated by the power of one gender, that has then defined both women’s role in the society and the rights of nonhumans.”

“I think we should look at indigenous people’s cultures, that have traditionally had a strong relationship with the nonhuman world. We can communicate with the nonhuman world if we desire to. Many indigenous people have had an organic connection to the environment and acknowledgement of the fact that not all valuable knowledge is not produced by human minds. One can ask advice from nonhumans of weather, other natural phenomenon, the future. The nonhumans can be advisors. For example in Sámi culture there are shamans that have the ability to communicate with the nonhuman world, to ask an eagle or wolf or bear. To seek knowledge from these animals, because it’s been acknowledged that human knowledge is limited and they know more. In our world the starting point tends to be that all human knowledge is important and precious and nonhumans could not possibly possess any kind of knowledge that is valuable. In that I think we need a new kind of ecological sensitivity in order to start listening to what the nonhuman world has to tell us. In fact they are speaking to us all the time, but their speech reaches us as these peaks, eco-catastrophies, in the form of storms and destruction and climate change, because we haven’t heard their more subtle speech. We are getting feedback from the environment all the time. We get it as polluted food or toxic, unlivable land and that speech we hear. But we haven’t heard them telling us how we could live in this world in collaboration, in a community, before these crises that we’ve created come to us.

Leo Stranius
City Council member (Green Party)
long time environmental activist

“At this moment the problem is exactly in that they have no basic rights at all. They don’t have a voice in decision making nor there is any article in the current legislation on how the voice of the silent would be heard. And by the silent or voiceless I mean animals and the environment but also future generations. Perhaps our decision making processes should be built around the benefit for the weakest and least capable in the society. And if we think who is, in the current society, in the weakest position, they are usually those who’re voice is not at all heard.”

“We’d probably need both direct means of communication with those of them, with whom we can access into dialogue, and then there are for sure some groups that would need a representative. I don’t think there’s anything mystic about us being able to communicate with them directly, because we are doing it all the time when we are making decisions. Let’s say that the Ministry of Agriculture grants hunting permits, that is the most direct communication with the wolves, with those who are not able to participate in the process that regards them.“

“ I find myself to be always an optimist – I believe that this will happen bit by bit. Just like we’ve seen that the ethical sphere has widened to include more and more groups of people, and gradually to nonhumans, the environment, future generations. This is how it expands: in the previous centuries it was beyond imagining that you couldn’t use slave labor, and today hardly anyone is saying out loud that we loose our market value if we can’t use child- or slave labor. So we are able to take for instance the interests of children into account even if they are not voters in the current system. So it is absolutely possible to expand the ethical field and I think this will happen too.”

“For them to have basic rights would lead to dramatic changes in our society on the long run. Probably this wouldn’t happen through a major revolution or dramatic event, but through small steps of advancing our understanding and acknowledgement of different interests. But as a practical result this could for example lead to reducing carbon emissions to close to zero, stop overconsumption of natural resources, which would stop the loss of biodiversity. We would adjust our ways of life to the context where natural resources are limited and other species are not exploited and in general our well being was not dependent on oppressing and exploiting them.

“One good criteria could be that it was necessary to talk on behalf of the other as a basic rule of decision making. So in a way everybody would represent different approaches, but the only criteria was that you are not allowed to represent your own interests. If you would do that you would be dismissed. But of course if we represent their interests, we also represent the interests of ourselves at the same time. Another principle to consider could be the notion of the last person, where we would take the least powerful in the community as the starting point and made sure that our decisions and actions would specifically improve the situation of that individual or being. Also others, but them first and foremost, because the team is only as good as it’s weakest link. And in this case the weakest link is obviously not the last human but the last of them, the last animal, the last forest.”

“It’s not so much about giving up things than it is about receiving. How could a Party of Others bring this question up in the light that this is not about giving up things or withdrawing, but that the more we give to the others and withdraw and divest from something we don’t really even need, we are getting something so much better in return. It’s also about the fact that we’re living with a limited capacity. The more we can give well being to others, the more we can receive it ourselves.”


Oct 22, 2022
Symposium: Visitations: Art, Agency and Belonging
Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland

Sep 22, 2022 – Jan 31, 2023
Exhibition: Synthetic Ecology
BATB, Beijing Art and Technology Biennale, Beijing

14.9. 2022 Helsinki
Studia Generalia Lecture series

Sep 7-11. 2022
Venice Climate Camp
Art for Radical Ecologies workshop

Sep 10. 2022 – 14.1. 2023
Exhibition: And I Trust You
Miettinen Collection, Berlin

May 2. 2022
University of Oregon

March 30 – Sep 9. 2022
Gustafsson&Haapoja: Museum of the History of Cattle
Exhibition: Visual Natures
MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon

Oct 3 – Nov 30. 2021
Gustafsson&Haapoja: Becoming
Bucharest Biennale

Sept 29. 2021  – Jan 8. 2022
SOLO EXHIBITION / Gustafsson&Haapoja
Seinäjoki Kunsthalle

Sept 24. 2021 – Jan 9. 2022
Gustafsson&Haapoja: Becoming
Exhibition: The World as We Don’t Know It
Droog Gallery, Amsterdam

Sept 2 – Oct 17 2021
Gustafsson&Haapoja: Becoming
SOLO EXHIBITION / Display Gallery
Fotograf Festival, Prague

Sept 2 – Oct 10 2021
Exhibition: Living Matter
The New Tretyakov Gallery, Moscov

Sept 16 – Oct 3. 2021
Exhibition: From Seeing to Acting

Sept 1 – Oct 17 2021
Exhibition: Intensive Places at Tallinn Photomonth

Aug 31 – Dec 3 2021
Exhibition: Earthly Observatory
SAIC gallery, Chicago

Jun 12 – Nov 28. 2021
Exhibition: Science Friction – Living Amongst Companion Species
CCCB, Barcelona

Aug 20 – Sept 5. 2021
Exhibition: Aistit – Senses | Coming to Our Senses
Helsinki Kunsthalle
Aisit – Senses

May 22 – June 8. 2021
Exhibition: Aistit – Senses | Resonant Bodies
Kindl, Berlin
Aistit – Senses 

May 22 – Aug 1. 2021
Exhibition: Aistit – Senses | When Our Eyes Touch
Maison Louis Carré, Paris
Aistit – Senses 

Feb 6 – May 9. 2021
SOLO EXHIBITION / Gustafsson&Haapoja: The Museum of the History of Cattle
Kalmar konstmuseum

Jan 30 – Mar 21. 2021
SOLO EXHIBITION / Gustafsson&Haapoja: Becoming
Kyoto University Arts Gallery @KCUA

Nov 1. – Dec 6. 2020
SOLO EXHIBITION / Muse – Dialogues on Love and Art
Gallery Forum Box, Helsinki

June 2. 2020 – Jan 17. 2021
SOLO EXHIBITION / Gustafsson&Haapoja: Museum of Becoming
HAM Helsinki Art Museum / Helsinki Biennial

Oct 10-Dec 16. 2019
SOLO EXHIBITION / Between Thingness and Being
Gallery@calitz, UC San Diego

Oct 5 – Dec 5. 2019
EXHIBITION/ Research: Nature/Life
The European Center for Art Upper Bavaria

Sept 8- Nov 15. 2019
EXHIBITION / Waiting Room / Gustafsson&Haapoja
Exhibition of a new commission by Zone2Source, Amsterdam
Gallery Zone2Source

Aug 25-Sept 30. 2019
EXHIBITION / The Archive of Nonhumanity / Gustafsson&Haapoja
Sixty-Eight Art InstituteCopenhagen, Denmark

Aug 15 -Sep 15. 2019
EXHIBITION / Embrace Your Empathy / Gustafsson&Haapoja
Wäinö Aaltosen Museo, Turku

June 15-2019
Eco-VisionariesMatadero, Madrid

April 26. 2019 – March 1.2020
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki

Feb 5. 2019
GIDEST Seminar
The New School, New York

March 18. 2019
School of the Art Institute of Chicago SAIC

Feb 21. 2019
The 8th Floor, New York
Organised by Leonore Malen

Feb 12. 2019
Ecology as Intrasectionality– Radicalising Arts of Climate Justice
NYU Barney Bld, Einstein Auditorium, New York 7pm

Feb 2-24. 2019
Earth Rights
Kunsthalle Turku

Nov 17. 2018 – March 10. 2019
EXHIBITON / Museum of Nonhumanity / Gustafsson&Haapoja
Taipei Biennale
Museum of Nonhumanity

Oct 24. 2018
Kenyon College, Ohio

Aug 30 – Nov 11. 2018
Eco-Visionaries – New Media and Ecology After the Anthropocene
House of Electronic Arts Basel

Aug 25 – Nov 25. 2018
EXHIBITION / Gustafsson&Haapoja
And Tomorrow And
Index Gallery, Stockholm

Aug 16. 2018
Turner Contemporary, UK

Jul 14 – Sept 1. 2018
You Are Just a Piece of Action – Works from the Miettinen Collection
Salon Dalhman, Berlin

Jun 26 – Aug 17. 2018
The Shores of the World (communality and interlingual politics)
Display gallery, Prague

Jun 18. 2018
InSEA Congress, Aalto University, Helsinki

May 25 – Sep 30. 2018
EXHIBITION / The Archive of Nonhumanity / Gustafsson&Haapoja
Animals and Us
Turner Contemporary, UK

April 27. 2018
Why Do Animal Studies Now
Conference, Chicago

April 20.2018
Queens College, Social Practice Queens, New York

Feb 11. 2018
Unlearning Dystopias – Ecotopia
Art in General, New York

Jan 27. 2018
Beyond Binaries – Towards New Constructs of Personhood and Gender
ISCP New York

Nov 11.2017
SLSA Conference Out of Time
Arizona Stte University, Phoenix

Sept 22-23. 2017
ANTI-Festival, Kuopio

Sept 11- Dec 23. 2017
Salon Dalhman, Berlin

Jun 16- Jul 10. 2017
Museum of Nonhumanity
Santarcangelo Festival, Italy

Jun 16 – Oct 1. 2017
Museum of Nonhumanity
Momentum Biennale, Norway

Jun 3 – Sept 3. 2017EXHIBITION
Closed Circuit – Open Duration
Chronus Art Center, Shanghai

Jun 3. 2017
Chronus Art Center, Shanghai

Mar 6. 2017
Next Helsinki – Public Alternatives to Guggeheim’s Model of Culture Driven Development
Institute for Public Knowledge, NYU, New York

Nov 2. 2016 – Jan 27. 2017
Animal Mirror
ISCP New York

Oct 14 – 16. 2016
Creative Time Summitt DC

Sept 1-30. 2016
Museum of Nonhumanity

In the Studio: Terike Haapoja
Collectors Agenda, 2020
Text Rasmus Kyllönen

‘Art as a practice of vulnerability’
– A Conversation with Terike Haapoja of the artist duo Gustafsson & Haapoja

Metropolis M, 27.01.2021. Text Alice Smits

Interspecies Politics, Animality and Silence
Terike Haapoja and Pablo José Ramírez in conversation
In: Infrasonica, April 2020

Witnessing Mortality
– On Duration, Being-With and the Anthropocene 
Heather Davis in conversation with Terike Haapoja 
In: Vulnerability, Animality, Community (Garret, 2020)

HD: How did you come to work on these subjects and themes, of animals and natureculture and mortality? 

TH: I grew up in the countryside where I was completely immersed in a natural environment that was inhabited by all kinds of species. When I started to work with art I always had an issue with visual representations as two dimensional images, because I felt that a kind of spatial material connect- edness to my surroundings was far more accurate a reflection of how I actually experienced reality. At some point I then discovered imaging technologies such as the infrared camera, and that was the first media that I somehow got, because it reveals its quality as a mediator. You can’t look through it; instead you face a very material surface that’s translating the reality outside your senses. So the question of how we know the world through these sensory interfaces was already there. Entropy was the first video work I made with this technology. I still feel it’s really important to me. 

A more personal path to that work is that there was a death in my family at the time and I felt an urgency to deal with the experience. Through this work I tried to understand this process of someone being a subject and transforming into being an object, without anything visible changing, a process that is almost incomprehensible to us, and to make it tangible. 

I think these two approaches, the formal and the personal opened a door to a lot of things that then followed, that had to do with how to interpret external reality and how to engage with the world beyond our experiences or beyond our understanding through these technologies, but also with how our connection to the world is deeply human in that it is emotional and personal, too. 

HD: I was looking back through your work and reading this beautiful book, which is actually a long conversation between Donna Haraway and Thyrza Nichols Goodeve. In it Donna Haraway says: “From my point of view the affirmation of dying seems absolutely fundamental. Affirmation not in the sense of glorifying death, but in the sense – to put it bluntly – that without mortality we’re nothing. In other words the fantasy of transcend- ing death is opposed to everything I care about.”1 And I think that this really resonates with your work, especially with your earlier work includ- ing Entropy, The Present, Community and Inhale – Exhale as well as the fetus images in Mind Over Matter Over Mind. 

There is something really interesting about the ways in which you are taking up the processes of mortality. You require the viewer to actually sit and be with the creature who is losing heat, who is going through this process of death. I was really intrigued when I noticed that both Entropy and In and Out of Time are long: In and Out of Time is four and an half hours and Entropy is 25 minutes. Even 25 minutes is fairly long for a gallery piece. It’s a long amount of time for an audience member to sit and be with the work. But I think there’s something really important about that length of time. It forces this kind of witnessing and asks of the viewer to be in a temporal space that’s more akin to the reality of death, even though both of those pieces are still really sped up. There’s something about the fact of the works’ duration that I think is really important in terms of witnessing mortality. 

TH: The shooting of those pieces have always been like wakes beside the bodies I’m with. It was important for me to repeat that process in the work. I think that a very core function of art is to provide interfaces through which we can be in relation to that which we cannot understand. In that sense it has to do with spirituality. I’m not religious, but I think these metaphors or these symbolic spaces allow us to form a relation to something we cannot ever rationally or cognitively understand – things such as the disappearance of subjectivity, which we can never really experience. 

HD: It is hard not to see these works without thinking of the ongoing massive extinctions of plants, animals and human entangled ways of life. The extinction of a species is often visualized not as the death of a particular individual, but as the disappearance of a mass, a genus. And what I like about your approach to this topic is the way you’re asking the viewer to be witness to the death of a particular creature. I realize that some of the infrared works aren’t necessarily directly related to the theme of extinction, but Community, which is kind of an amalgamation of much of the infrared works, is. When you’re asking the viewer to witness the transformation of a creature from subjectivity to a community of bacteria and other creatures that start taking hold of a body after it’s no longer its own… there is some- thing about being with an individual that I think implicates the viewer in a different way than witnessing something en mass. 

TH: I think forming emotional connection is necessary – I don’t know if you can say it’s necessary in order to evoke action. It’s not action that I try to evoke with my work directly, especially not with these works, but rather some kind of emotional connection that’s related to one’s own body and one’s own life experience as a being. It’s not anthropomorphization, it’s more a realization of the fact that we are bodily and that is what we share. 

HD: The way that you approach these questions of mortality and the limits of knowledge, and the cyclical nature of time are infused with a lot of ethics, and Emmanuel Levinas’ thinking in particular. You even cite him when you say, in relation to The Presence: “The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas describes the inner sense of time as a foundation of an ethical encounter. The other is not merely an object in my time, she or he also has a past and a future that are not accessible to me.” The passage from life to death in a lot of ways is the passage from being in time to no longer being in time, to not being bound by the passage of time. I think that there’s also a way in which you ask the viewer to just be in this durational moment with another creature. Despite the fact that Levinas never extends his ethics to other creatures I think there’s something about the ways in which he conceptualizes ethics that seems to inform so much of your work. 

TH: His ideas have been important, especially exactly those parts of his think- ing about time. Another book that affected me a lot back when I started my studies was Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. It’s kind of an art school cliché. But it contains the kind of analysis of a medium that is about our existential being in the world that I felt I could relate to as an artist. He doesn’t just provide a semiotic theory, but opens up this space where it becomes visible how meanings are bound to our emotional, human exis- tence in the world. Through my early experiences of nature I’ve gained a very strong sense that this kind of being in the world is something that exists for all life forms, not just for humans. 

HD: In “Involutionary Momentum” scholars Natasha Myers and Carla Hustak talk about orchids and Darwin, and the ways in which Darwin had to embody the movements of an insect in order to get the orchids to react. There’s a communicational system that is real amongst all kinds of non-human crea- tures, including plants, where they can warn other plants about the infesta- tion of particular insects and alter their bodily chemistry in order to get rid of insects that might be feeding on them. There’s such an amazing respon- siveness and a kind of knowledge about the world in them that it’s hard to think that the ways in which we use language are exceptional. 

TH: The exhibition Closed Circuit – Open Duration was really a manifestation of the idea that when beings are born into time they are also born into mean- ings and meaningfulness. There was one work that was not really an inde- pendent piece but it was still very important for me to include in the exhibi- tion. The work consists of a video animation of a quote from the book Writing by Marguerite Duras. In that particular chapter she is trying to describe witnessing the death of a fly. It’s as if she’s trying to access that experience through language, and even if it’s impossible it is still a trial to bring meanings into a shareable form. I wanted to address this aspect of existence also, and not just our material connectedness. Natural sciences work so much on a reductionist basis where everything you can measure is pulled into the cumulative system of knowledge. And I feel that’s also one reason why, even though there is a danger of anthropomorphization, it is still very important to address the subjective and the particular, too. 

HD: Bruno Latour has talked a lot throughout his career about the liveliness of the ways in which scientists describe the creatures that they’re work- ing with. Despite the fact that there is this tendency, within a Western scientific epistomology, to say that this or that is just an automatic response, in the writing of the scientific documents there are moments where the liveliness of the world betrays the impulse to scientific objectivism. For Latour there’s always a tension in scientific work between those two modalities. I think a lot of scientists, especially biologists or ethologists study what they do because of the fact that they are deeply attached to these creatures or plants. 

Philosopher of science Vinciane Despret describes the ways in which the creatures that scientists are working with have meaning systems and have their own schematics of interpretation. Lab rats, for example, are actually interpreting what you are doing to them, and have their own meaning systems around what the experiments are. But they can get bored and start to be uncooperative, so coming up with better scientific results is about develop- ing a relationship with an animal. In the case of Darwin and his orchids, he’s developing a relationship with an orchid while trying to figure out what an orchid will respond to and what an orchid won’t respond to. It actually requires that kind of deep engagement that I think necessarily has to also be emotional, even if in the scientific literature that part often gets taken out. 

Could you describe what it was like to put together the Closed Circuit – Open Duration show and your collaboration with the scientists? 

TH: I had been working with infrared and ultrasound imaging technologies in the works that dealt with disappearance and death and that which is beyond life. Then I started to think that I want to use these scientific media as interfaces between organic processes that you usually see as somehow inert or dead – which of course they are not – and to allow for a real-time ethical relationship with the work and the viewer to take place. I started to work on this exhibition in 2007, and at that time there was not that much discourse around these issues. I first exhibited this show in 2008, and updated the work for the Venice Biennale in 2013. 

During the initial research I found these incredible people from Helsinki University, such as ecologist Eija Juurola and engineer Toivo Pohja, who has been hand-building measuring devices for Helsinki University’s Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station for decades. It was fascinating to see how, for exam- ple, research on the carbon cycle is conducted through these small scale experiments where they measure the fixing of carbon from a single branch of a tree, and then make this huge generalization of that data. Science is so much about making generalizations. In that sense, the particular tree func- tions merely as a foundation from which that general knowledge is then extracted. I, in contrast, was interested in the particular experience of a particular tree, because our common sense experience of trees is that they are individuals like us. 

The same is true with the work Inhale – Exhale. I ran into this concept of soil respiration that is used in forestry research for describing the process of decomposing, and how in that process carbon is released back into the atmosphere. I found that notion extremely poetic. I started to think of carbon flow and of the fact that we are stardust, as Joni Mitchell puts it. I am part of the carbon cycle and my mortality is a by-product of that cycle. But what my mortality means to me is not something scientific, but very personal. So I created this sculpture that would offer a way of internalizing what the carbon flow means for us as humans, that would include the sceintific reading as well. 

HD: There’s something that I have be interested in lately, which is that our imaginations are increasingly framed by the figure of the molecular. We think about gender in relation to how much estrogen or testosterone we have in our body, we think about the climate through how much carbon or methane is there. I think one of the reasons there is a lack of action around things like climate change is that when you say carbon and methane, or talk through the figure of the molecule, it’s such an abstract thing. I think that what is really interesting about Inhale – Exhale and Dialogue is the ways in which you develop a personal relationship to a molecule. In doing that you actually show how it’s not just about this molecule, but that we’re connected through this cycle of decay. I find it a really potent image. It is anthropomorphizing to a certain degree, but I think that it has to be; we are human after all. There are limits to our understanding. 

The early 20th century biologist Jakob von Uexküll describes the way in which each species has its own world. In Uexküll’s thinking species’ worlds overlap, but they remain distinct. The idea of there being one world is thus false: there’s actually multiple worlds that co-exist side-by-side, intertwined and entangled. Humans live in a world that’s particular to us, because of the ways in which we are able to sense and perceive our environment. Each creature has its own world, and it’s important to recognize that we are not going to be able to move out of our own sensoriums completely. However, I often think of trying to see or feel through other creature’s sensations is a kind of active empathy. This is what a lot of our technologies allow us to do – to extend our sensorium. I also think that that is what your work asks us to do, to make connections with plants and animals on an emotional scale that are enabled through the apparatus of technology and art. I realize that there is a danger in this move, a danger of subsuming the other into the self, but it’s also about trying to find a connection, a shared meaning or commu- nication. And it’s clear, from anyone who has ever paid attention, that it is quite possible to communicate across species. 

HD: There seems to be a difference between some of your earlier work, like the Closed Circuit – Open Duration exhibition, and all the earlier infrared works, and the newer works which are more directly political, like the work by Gustafsson&Haapoja and also The Party of Others. What sparked you to make that kind of turn in your work, or do you see a continuity? 

TH: It’s kind of continuous. After working on the Closed Circuit – Open Duration exhibition I started to feel, again, frustrated by the limits of working in the white cube and making these prototypes of theory. The whole exhibition was a manifestation of my world view in a way, a manifestation of what I thought of as an intertwined, more ethical relationship with the non-human world and our own mortality. I do think that the kind of poetics that these works hopefully can put into play is affecting people and has a political effect. 

But if you think about what actually defines our relationship with the non-hu- man world, it is the law and the way in which the non-human world is actually represented in our decision making processes. And then you can easily see that notions of nature-cultures or hybridity are absent from those structures that in practice define our possibilities to interact with the non-human world. It made sense to look to legislation and parliamentary decision-making processes as sites where nature is really created as “the other”. Because that’s how it is: everything in nature is still considered to be a legal object, whereas almost everything human-made is considered to be a legal person. So I started to look into what it would look like if we brought these radical thoughts into the realm of decision-making. In that sense The Party of Others is a continuation of that line of thought. It’s a utopian project and a platform for thinking of what could be an utopian model of governance where everybody would be represented equally. Of course it’s a way of showing the limitations of representational democracy: a way of demonstrating how the core structures of our society are based on exclusion and how the idea of inclusion is not compatible with the basic idea which is essentially premised on the division between humans and nonhumans. It was a way of looking at how these theories actually radical- ize our whole notion of the state and the nation state, and the way we govern our reality at the moment. 

HD: When you staged the participatory performance The Trial, what were the arguments that were given and how did the jury members react? 

TH: The Trial was a play. We had actors who performed the parts and a script, 

the rights of nature into our legal apparatus. I do think that law is a kind of ultimate reality-creating interface. Art is always somehow distanced from reality and everything you do in art becomes a representation. The only place where you can actually make reality is if you make laws. Because that’s where reality is somehow affected directly or created. The Trial was an attempt trial to show how, if you actually have a different kind of a matrix, a different kind of vocabulary through which you have to make the verdicts, how it actually would change our practical reality. I’m continuing this line of thought through a new project called the Transmodern-Modern Dictio- nary, which is a spin off from The Party of Others project and aims at introducing more ecocentric concepts to Western legislation through collaboration with Indigenous language groups. I do feel that I approach law exactly the same way as I approach an infrared camera: it’s a very material medium that somehow allows us to be in a relationship with the outside world. 

HD: I was just reading about the Transmodern-Modern Dictionary. The new concepts that are used in workshops to rewrite selected passages of relevant local legislation in order to demonstrate how ideas really change political reality is a really brilliant intervention. It highlights the way in which the law itself is a representative medium and how people – judges and lawyers and legislators – are interpreting it constantly. So there’s always this process of representation and interpretation which is happening. The idea of changing the language to demonstrate how that would force a shift in policy is such an interesting idea, because it really ties in with notions of performativity of language itself and how that performativity is so mate- rial. 

TH: We’ve worked very closely with the local community and have tried to be conscious about not just going somewhere and extracting some kind of artistic content from the local people. It’s more of a platform than an art work, though there is this poetic element of translation that I’m really interested in: How to translate thoughts between languages and between cultures, from non-human realities to this very human construct of law. I feel that my expertise is in tweaking that part, which is something that the activists or the legal scholars won’t be focusing on. 

TH: Back when I started to work on these issues over ten years ago, the scene was very marginal. The mainstream art world really didn’t talk about these issues: definitely not about animals, but not even about the Anthropocene or climate crises. All of that was introduced later, in 2006 or 2007. How do you see the whole discourse around the Anthropocene and the booming of all these themes in the arts in recent years? 

HD: I feel that it’s so present in art and contemporary theory simply because we can no longer ignore it. It’s not that in the early 2000s things were sig- nificantly better, but I think that there’s just a growing realization of the situation of ecological crisis. We are now seeing the immediate effects of climate change in a very real way, and are living through the sixth mass extinction event. So ecology becomes an important thing even to people who might not be drawn to these themes otherwise. Philosopher Isabelle Stengers talks about the ways in which “Gaia intrudes,” and I think that this is precisely what’s happening. Gaia is intruding on our imaginaries and our world – on the climatical world, environmental world, social world, on our political worlds. For me, the fact that artists are taking this up is a really good thing. 

Even if it’s incredibly important for there to be political action, I also think it’s important for us to grapple emotionally and psychically with what is happening. Art is one of the best places to do that, because it holds a space where you can have what media theorist and curator Joanna Zylisnka has called an “a-moral response”. She doesn’t mean it in a sense of immoral, but in the sense of a space that can be held together in contradiction, a space of contested realities. I think that in order for us to really begin to imagine the world that is going to be confronting us, we need to have a plurality of vision. For me art is one of the best places to do that. 

TH: It took, depending on how you count it, 400 or 2000 or 10 000 years (laughs) for us to get into this mess. It’s going to take a while for the paradigm to actually change. It’s not going to be over in the next 50 years. Collective thinking is slow. In that sense I feel that I can try to be rigorous in this tiny little space I have. It can effect change only so far, but we can still think that we are part of a bigger wave and that maybe in 100 years or 150 years it will have achieved something. For me this is a good way of not becoming desperate, but also of not freeing me from responsibility. It gives me a place of relief, personally, where I still can be satisfied with doing what I do, and feel that if I can just do the tasks at hand well, that’s enough. 

HD: There’s something good in thinking about these kinds of time scales, and 

in the long duration and being-with quality of your work–of certain videos, like Entropy, but also in terms of projects like The Party of Others and Transmodern – Modern Dictionary. They are taking that long view. Under- standing oneself as just a small part of a much larger system is helpful in terms of orienting ourselves to a much longer term politics. There is a necessity in thinking about political action as sustainable, sustaining over a long period of time. 

TH: I do think it’s important. I was just talking with my father, who is a sculptor. My childhood home is in the woods, and that surrounding has affected both of us very deeply. He said that that presence of that forest is so important to him because it constantly reminds him of eternity, in that silent indifferent way that nature does. And that for him art is a way of managing his relation to that eternity. It’s a very beautiful way of putting it and I can relate to that. 

HD: I love the expression “the silent indifference of nature.” I think that’s something that’s important to keep in mind, when dealing with all these other questions. 

TH: I think that’s a good place to stop. 

Heather Davis is an assistant professor of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College, The New School. As an interdisciplinary scholar working in environmental humanities, media studies, and visual culture, she is interested in how the saturation of fossil fuels has shaped contemporary culture. Her recent book, Plastic Matter (Duke 2022), argues that plastic is the emblematic material of life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, showing how intimately oil has coated nearly every fabric of being, how the synthetic cannot be disentangled from the natural, and how a generalized toxicity is producing queer realities. She is a member of the Synthetic Collective, an interdisciplinary team of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists, who investigate and make visible plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. She is the co-editor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (Open Humanities Press, 2015) and editor of Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (MAWA and McGill Queen’s UP, 2017).