QUEST IN PARDISE

KJERSTI VETTERSTAD at UKS, OSLO, Dec. 5 2014 – Jan. 18 2015

One of the most defining of human traits is that we are self-reflective, we are conscious of our own consciousness. We can think about ourselves thinking and about the origin of the universe, and we are able to discuss which ways of living are good or bad, we can imagine things and to all this we have invented complicated languages, so that we can move thoughts and ideas from one head to another.

Language is seen as uniquely human, it unites us together within cultures, but also makes us different from the rest of the world. The human condition arises out of being separated from nature by our own consciousness.This division is full of the ideas and projections which language has made. We are curious, isolated, creative, free and aware of our own death. From the Biblical story of Adam and Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge we know that knowledge can also be connected to sin, shame and guilt. On earth paradise was lost forever. Today when most of us live without religious belief, spiritual answers and salvation from death, there is an empty space between the existential questions and the physical world. In the past the human, of all beings, ranked closest to God and at times both the human and nature was seen as forming part of God’s consciousness.

So what is consciousness and matter? Panpsychism believes that all things have a conscious component; everything is physical outside and mental inside. The levels of consciousness can be very low, simply as a kind of potential, or very complex like our own. In this way consciousness may be part of the natural and material without being reduced to matter or to something predictable. But it is still not really known if our thoughts equal the physical processes in our brains or if they are something else as well. We know that new experiences and thoughts change patterns in the brain. The human subject thinks about his or herself, but the brain cannot sense itself directly even if the eye sees itself in the mirror. If dualism is right and the soul or the mind is different from the material brain and body, how do they coexist? How does consciousness arise? Can thoughts be created in the brain, and change its actual matter at the same time?

Words and signs can never fully summon forth what they themselves mean, they have to be defined through other words, from which they differ, and those again have to be defined by other words, so one ends up with an infinite chain of words and definitions. The gap between meaning and sign, things and words, makes language flexible, constructive, playful and poetic. In psychotherapy this is what makes the therapy happen, since the subject doesn’t fully know herself, and when her story is retold it changes. New stories are retold. We are also never fully like, or the same as, ourselves since the body and brain are constantly changing.

Derrida is mostly known for having said «there is no outside-text.» We can not perceive something without it being different from something else, and have created binary structures in language such as the concept of Nature versus Culture. Some of the post-structuralists think that the context, or what the thing differs from, then becomes an inseparable part of the thing or concept itself. Vicki Kirby is developing these perspectives further and says that nature is not something unreachable outside of language and culture, so instead of being a construction in our language, nature is what have thought us. It has written the human in its material and potential language. We are a living thinking thought within Nature`s expressions. In other words, we are part of nature`s self-expression. And this questions language as being something uniquely human, and if language can, at all, isolate us from nature. We can think of language as patterns in geology, biology, evolution, weather, and as changes in energies, in plants, humans and landscapes. The metamorphosis plays with legibility, and is the materializations of systems and potentials.

As the human longs to understand itself and nature, we have realized that consciousness arose because of evolution. Chemicals, errors in the copying of the DNA- code, natural radiation from rocks, or even from the cosmos, have led to mutations in our inherited material which has turned us into a conscious and intelligent species. We can share knowledge, and use of this knowledge has led to the population of human beings rising, especially since the industrial revolution. We have created a situation where our way of living is a threat to the environment and to ourselves.

The title of Kjersti Vetterstad`s video installation “Prophecies of The Oak” comes from Socrates first dialogue about text; “They used to say, my friend, that the words of the oak in the holy place of Zeus at Dodona were the first prophetic utterances.” We see a beetle in death cramps, a dog breathing and clouds passing by. Not one cloud is alike the other.

The sound piece in this room is made by Mirejam Shala and it contains both auditive illusions that only arise inside the head of the listener and frequencies that are found both in resting brains and the crust of the earth. Everything on earth always has this frequency near by and Buddhists use it to alter consciousness during mediations.

The work Spirit workers contains a group of plants of the species Datura Stramonium. It is like a laboratory, an ecosystem with plants, mites, earth, water, stones, minerals and probably more microorganisms than the plants have cells all together. Datura is an ornamental plant in Norway, but in South America it also grows in the wild. While portions of it are used by indigenous groups in the Americas to alter consciousness and come in contact with the gods, it is very poisonous and one seed can kill. The plant also has healing capabilities. So it can act as an instrument or a technology where the cells constantly work, communicate and change. In the end the piece is also part of nature`s expression, an expression of life and potency. In Kjersti`s film The Agronaut, where we see Montserrat Canudas Jorba`s engagement and close relationship with the land she lives in and from, it is the Datura that keeps the moles away from her field.

In the Bible the ten commandments are written into stone, and about the written words Socrates says: “... you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing.”
So the thoughts repeat the text, as in DNA-codes or cell division.

It is a bit unusual to experience thoughts as material, but in writing it is often expressed on something physical. This text moves from the paper in your hand into your head where it is given life again through your inner voice. The paper comes from a once vital and living tree. Wood and all other organic matter has carbon as a basis, so the paper, the hand and your brain has that in common. Carbon is created when a star dies and turns into a white dwarf, by three helium atoms joining each other. The DNA-structures inside us and within nature all have carbon as a backbone. As Montserrat says “carbon dioxide is very very good, for the whole world!”. Through photosynthesis carbon, water and sunlight create the source of all organic life. Plants extract carbon dioxide from the air and use it to produce energy and building material, and then release oxygen. We eat plants and other plant-eating animals, and breath in oxygen and out carbon dioxide. Our bodies do the opposite of photosynthesis. So in this very moment carbon dioxide with carbon from a star flows around in our blood vessels on its way into our lungs where it will be released, and possibly continue to a plant through the air. Carbon is also the basis of fossil fuels, every year we burn dead animals and plants, which have been sedimented under pressure and heat for a million years. And our emissions are too high for all of the carbon dioxide to be recycled through rain and air into plants, ocean, rocks and volcanos, so it stays in the atmosphere and heats the earth.

We know that our consumption of energy leads to climate change, pollution and in turn natural catastrophes. But for the individual it is hard to relate to the collective sins in the structures we live, so one often suppresses the disturbing information. And maybe there is a link here to us finding our connections to the physical world disturbing; that we are finite and will die as part of bigger circles in nature is both strange and obvious.

In The Enchantment of Modern Life Jane Bennet writes how the ideas about the material world as dull dead matter emptied of life and mysticism, and the secular society as rational, technological and dominated by capitalism, lead to human beings feeling alienated and part of some wrong doing, isolated from each other and their environment. Enchantment and wonder is seldom and undeserved, or seen as benumbing and therefore a hindrance for political engagement. But with a greater openness towards the lively and unknown in nature, technology, ourselves, matter and culture, enchantment and wonder might arise and create an ethics of generosity and more political engagement.

Just as there is nothing known outside of the universe and it expands into itself, the division between a physical outside and a conscious inside does not exclude a strong and fundamental connection. In quantum entanglements the past, now and the future are said to appear synchronically. One sees something similar in cells starting to receive the message before it is sent, even when the message is material in the form of a protein.
In this perspective there is no origin, no material before thought, no nature preceding culture.

Niels Bohr said that "the world is not only stranger than we thought; it is stranger than we could think".
We desire new knowledge, long for something different, seek meaning that is not yet discovered. There is both a wish for understanding and a wish that something remains ungraspable. Both nature and language have wondrous and fantastic qualities, and because of the very gaps between things different potentials can arise. The human condition is to belong in this flexible structure of nature, culture, mind and body, and therein is the potential for being more attentive, engaged and generous.
We can take Montserrat Canudas Jorba as an example, - “Holy shit! Incredible...”, she says when she sees a flower.

Randi Nygård 2014