Lab 5: First days
The unanticipated overlaps in research interests are strong among the members of my lab, even more than I could ever have hoped for. Even though our backgrounds are quite diverse, from forensic architecture to the built environment to bioremediation and performative witchcraft via technology, we seem to converge in practices that focus on embodiment, sensing and materiality in the construction of new place-based knowledges. Each of our approaches are different and yet they contain quite complementary skill sets.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me, however, was the way that suddenly, I found myself surrounded by other feminist witches and/or traditional knowledge practitioners, working in earth and body-based technologies, who actually continued to show up and join in the group throughout the two days. It resembled a slow convergence of kindred creators. Our group was also joined by two curators: David Familian, the Artistic Director and Curator of the Beall Center for Art + Technology at the University of California Irvine, and Jens Hauser, well-known curator of biomedia works who is based in Copenhagen and Paris. I know Jens, but it was my first time meeting David.
Our first day included a visit to the SIRTA atmospheric research instrumentation site. We were given a tour of the site and an introduction to the aesthetically underwhelming yet incredibly expensive scientific tools of measurement, each fitted with different types of sensors to collect data on different elements of the atmosphere, from fog to rain to airplane pollution. Part of our thinking throughout this week is around the tools and constructs that create scientific narratives and 'truths', and so we began here.
Later, I was delighted to learn that one of the co-hosts of the lab, Aniara Rodado, a PhD student at the École Polytechnique, is a practicing Ecuadorian bruja and choreographer, who specializes in plant biochemistry. By the second day, another brujo and curator, Research Associate, Pedro Soler, showed up, and later in the day were were joined by two more brujxs that were part of the same entourage. Between their brujeria and my witchcraft practice, as well as the interest in embodied practice by other members of the lab, we determined to begin our experiments using body-as-sensing-instrument, with a ritualized walk through the grounds of the École Polytechnique.
The École Polytechnique is overall a strange space to encounter, most of it restricted and much of its culture militaristic, industry-focused and capitalist. The main specialization is engineering. All students at the school have to do military training, and the motto of the school is (translation): "For country, science and glory." The history of the school is one steeped in military history, having been established by Napoleon Bonaparte (who gave it its motto), and still under the supervision of the French ministry of Defense.
Our movement around the institution is quite limited, facilitated by scarce electronic access cards that allow our hosts into only a few spaces. Yesterday, I found myself trapped on a narrow bridge between two locked doors, with no key card access, simply because I had walked through a door that locked behind me. The aesthetic of the school is fairly stark and the campus laid out like, as one of my lab-mates said to me, "a dog's breakfast." I would qualify the overall space - its buildings, construction zones and grounds - as fairly an-aesthetic.
Thus, the importance of beginning our work together with a ritualized, sensing walk. We aimed to transform the space in some way, to engage in a more sensual embodiment of these surroundings. In the end, it was a transformative experience for me. I felt that I noticed more greenery afterwards, more stubborn plant life, more glimpses of what lives there, other than students marching in uniforms.
Tomorrow we will be feted at the US embassy in Paris.