“Feed me, so that I may feed the horses”. My Kone Foundation application in a nutshell. The text is in Finnish and available trough this link. I think this is the last time I’ll apply funding for the Trans-Horse initiative in a research framework. This marks the fifth year I’m approaching art and research funders in Finland with the same core idea. The idea is simple: To ask a horse what we should do next. If this application returns as a dud, I have to move on before the zombie-proposal consumes me. I will also have to seriously reconsider if I can continue in the PhD program at Aalto. The university has been generous by offering a few teaching gigs and I’ve also inspected two master’s thesis but there isn’t enough paid academic work to sustain active participation and involvement with the faculty. I don’t have the means to commit. The odd-jobs and gigs I manage to secure require dedication which make reading and writing difficult. If the Kone and Finnish Cultural Foundation applications fail, I’ll try to source money for a small independent publication which will summarize the work I’ve done teaching art with-and-in relation to horses. I don’t believe not having a degree is a hindrance for the work I do and I don’t think it has a severe impact on my opportunities to be employed by universities because my asset lie in engagement rather then research.
The Non-Sitting-Stuff-Not-About-Horses-vol0 publication is based on a collective online study-journal which was written during the spring of 2021 by participants of the Horse & Built Environment course for Aalto University (UWAS-C0071). Group members met weekly at the Kaarelan ratsutalli stables, discussed horse & animal matters and observed horses while executing various stable chores. During a six week period the group succeeded in tiling a floor in the main stable, demolishing an old storage, planting grass and performing a plethora of other maintenance tasks. The group’s activity intertwined with the daily routines of the stable and was periodically interrupted with horse handling exercises, lectures and discussions.
The publication is co-authored. It is inspired by early 1990’s horse hobbyists zines (see Ihahaa mag. in useful links). Group members have used the online document for collecting observations and to discuss different inputs & articles. Texts could be written anonymously and authors were tasked to create guidelines for managing the document. The text is wild: It was presented as a Pasture where group members could wander seeking nourishment and as a Compost which shows how different inputs and shared moments have been processed and digested. The publication is a snapshot to the thinking which the groups activities and engagement stirred up. It is raw –in the best sense of the word– including creative writing, diary entries, article reviews and links to inspiring media.
We hope you will enjoy this decay.
Dormalen, Gaudé, Harouny, Jalasaho, Keil, Kiviaho, Kolehmainen, Pietari Kylmälä (lecturer, editor), Lecerf, Moberg, Nimetön Nyan Cat, Nurmi, Polkinghorne, Rosina, Visuri, Eero Yli-Vakkuri (lecturer, editor) & Zhao
74. Testikuvan historiaa [History of the Test Screen] (2017) Raimo Lähteenmäki. A perfect grey-literature & media archaeological introduction to the test screen used in Finnish TV broadcasting. A good companion to the Radion väliaikamerkki [Radio intermission sound] (2008) Jukka Lindfors, which offers detailed history of the intermission sound used in national radios (revealed to be a folk song). Is it ambient music thou? An undated (1960?) AT&T Bell Labs 1 ESS is a perfectly soothing view to electronics and labour.
Mediating Animal-Infrastructure Relations (2019) Lisa Parks. The author introduces three cases where animals interfere with infrastructure, in an effort investigate the agency animals are designated by designs: Infrastructures “mediate” animals to us. Park also offers a good introduction to intra-actions. Animals become trough the seams of the infrastructure we habit (they become infrastructural) and “animal bodies and energies can be harnessed and reorganized as support systems for human-attention economies or motivate the design of products that reinforce past investments in the built environment and sustain species hierarchies.”
Big week: We will publish a video & booklet on tasting, I’ll work on streaming-stuff and our Horse & Built Environment course for Aalto Uni. comes to a conclusion.
Interpreting animals in spaces of cohabitance (2019) Nora Schuurman and Alex Franklin. An inspiring article exploring manifestations of animal agency at horse stables (livery yards to be specific). The article builds a model for horse agency from an array of interviews in which yard managers explain or “narrate” the animals’ behaviour. The approach feels supportive to my own research plans. Yard managers are a convenient source for information because they are responsible for the daily well being of the animals and have to communicate the animals current state to their owners, who possibly only meet their beasts on weekends (as I’ve witnessed at Kylmälänkylä). In short they have to speak for and in behalf of the animals. I think it’s particularly interesting that their expertise is constantly open for questioning as the observed behaviour of the animal can challenge their narration. Also ownership in itself affords an authority in decision making processes.
Referencing Michael Polanyi (1983 ) the authors emphasize tacit knowledge as a key element of the animal interpretation processes: “[T]acit knowledge refers to a personal knowledge or skill that is used in action, but is difficult to explain verbally.” I’m familiar with the claim that tacit it is “difficult to explain”. But I want to underline that there are many reasons for the struggle for verbalizing stuff: Trade secrets, efforts to maintain the aura of the trade, hangover and fatigue. My cynical view is that the struggle is a performance: A performance of professionalism, to be specific. I find this to be a big part of crafts culture. I believe that everything is “difficult to explain” and that every explanation is a crude approximation. From this angle all knowledge (Ikea furniture building guides, academic paper) depends on a tacit-sity (or tactic perhaps?). Also, some aspects of some trades are very easily communicated by sharing choreographies and this makes them more accessible then spoken or written accounts. This would portray academic knowledge as more tacit than craft knowledges. The authors also emphasize that tacit knowledge is an complicated framework, referencing Auli Toom (2006).
Citing Rebecca Cassidy (2002) they bring forths that “[t]acit knowledge is also highly contextual, often tied to working environments and social practices such as the care and training of horses and working with them.” to which I full heartedly agree with to and would like to emphasize on in my reseach. The arrangement and placement of tools (pitchforks, shovels, wheelbarrows) at a stable manifest an intellect (which we can discover by mapping items). The distances of tools and how they are in relation to each other, reveal the choreographies of labour and companionship. This design is informed by both human and animal desires. For example the directions and angles stable doors open to are choreographic apparatuses, they guide the movement of horse handlers and animals so that both will feel safe in manoeuvring in tight spaces (they afford safety). Gates, the complicated process of passing trough gates (which I think horse handling is borderline centred on) and trust issues are discussed relation to Vinciane Desprets writing (2004).
For me it feels like, that in this text tacit is used as a leeway for developing intuitive approaches to caregiving (opposed to a medical approaches etc.). Citing Schuurman (2017) they detail that “tacit knowledge about horses has adapted to the new environments and practices of contemporary horse keeping. Today, it carries information on horse management and care, including the task of communicating with horses and interpreting them as animals in different ways.” This approach works great for me and notes on care is something we could map-out during the upcoming Horse & Build Environment course for Aalto University. But I want to underline that an exploration of the tacit knowledge we develop through horse-human relations may reveal challenging to how care and compassion are currently understood. For example, what how should we approach physical violence from the horses point of view?
To be able to enroll all horses in the process of caring for and being cared for themselves, the yard manager has to specifically identify and manage different subgroups of horses. The size and mix of horses placed in any one field, for example, is significant in maintaining optimum conditions for selfcare. The less conflict there is in the relationships between the horses, the more they can be relied upon to take care of each other. In the case of the livery yards, field groups are commonly kept relatively small or single-sex for this very reason.
The article describes the complexity of social skills (“horse reading”) which maintaining a healthy herds depend on. It’s great that social skills animal management depend on are brought forwards. A regular performance where heard organizations and human activity interplay can be witnessed, is when a singular horse is pulled away from the pasture for work. I would like to add that not all intents for “horse reading“ are benign. For example mounted police officers use their heard and horse reading skills to drive the animal into violent situations and it can also be that the horses are partly driven by this opportunity. Also, horse handlers pick personal favourites and work to advance their position in the herd-organization. I also believe and have witnessed that horse handlers work against the perceived enemies of their favourites.
The type of “narrative analysis” they are developing feels linked to literary or discourse analysis but their approach feels more open for creative interpretations. It also has an archival quality:
The situations in which narration is invoked are multiple. It is used as a technique to communicate interpretations of animal agency within both mundane and eventful human–horse interactions as they take place. It is also drawn upon as a tool to communicate these interactions to others at a later occasion. […] Narrative analysis thus becomes an extremely malleable, flexible, and largely effective method for understanding embodied communication and tacit knowledge within human–animal interaction.
The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (1979) James J. Gibson feels like a solid leeway towards performance-architecture and animal-built-enviroment-queries (the document I have is messy and I think it suits the theme well). He includes the non-living world as a key factor in the relations of the living, channelling proto-new-material views and I think a particular asset of the text is that it gives a lot of agency to non-humans. “In making life easier for himself, of course, [man] has made life harder for most of the other animals.” he writes and I agree. Sustainable designs would benefit from approaches which teach us how to deal with discomfort and suffering.
If a terrestrial surface is nearly horizontal (instead of slanted), nearly flat (instead of convex or concave), and sufficiently extended (relative to the size of the animal) and if its substance is rigid (relative to the weight of the animal), then the surface affords support. It is a surface of support, and we call it a substratum, ground, or floor. It is stand-on-able, permitting an upright posture for quadrupeds and bipeds. It is therefore walk-on-able and run-over-able. It is not sink-into-able like a surface of water or a swamp, that is, not for heavy terrestrial animals. Support for water bugs is different.
Some parts read like an alchemical liturgy and need a serious uphauling. I begun reading Gibsons introduction to affordances as it were linked to behavioural sciences because the way he talks about animals and terrains makes me think about survival. I was provoked by his writing because I don’t believe in survival: People and animals may prefer colours and textures (instead of comfort) and are open for adjusting their bodies in favour of interesting designs (even if it kills them). But a closer reading revealed that he is reaching for something else entirely: A development of a “naïve realism” which he describes in a lecture from 1974.
As an affordance of support for a species of animal, however, they have to be measured relative to the animal. […] an affordance cannot be measured as we measure in physics.
An important fact about the affordances of the environment is that they are in a sense objective, real, and physical, unlike values and meanings, which are often supposed to be subjective, phenomenal, and mental. But, actually, an affordance is neither an objective property nor a subjective property; or it is both if you like. An affordance cuts across the dichotomy of subjective-objective and helps us to understand its inadequacy. It is equally a fact of the environment and a fact of behavior. It is both physical and psychical, yet neither. An affordance points both ways, to the environment and to the observer.
Naïve realism is a nice basis for a theory for visual perception. It underlines visual as a multisensory experience and acknowledge perception as a relationship. Perception is aided by movement which enables us to read ambient light which reflects from surrounding surfaces from different angles. We determine the quality of our environment from an array of “information” this process provides us. Gibson believes that ambient light contains information (and not merely data which our intellect makes sense of) because the reflecting ambient light is a result of a surfaces physical attributes and effects the world. This process is not dependent on us. I understand this as: Stuff performs. If we like we can naïvely take this information exchange as being real. He argues that we are sharing and perceiving a real world!
By focusing on ambient light and by underlining that we see only surfaces, he criticizes the theory of optics (which he calls a 17th century fluke). Gibson argues that the optical structure of the eye, which produces the “outside world” to the inside of human body (similar to a camera obscura) should not be understood as evidence that we merely see and interpret images. He argues that we are not seeing objects, things or other beings, we in motion and forming relations to different surfaces. Because visual perception is not merely an image formed by the eye, he speculates that we can see behind walls (in the 1974 lecture). As relationships are presented as the foundation of experiences, we must acknowledge that there is a world outside of our bodies – Which is how his approach to affordances becomes a critique of dualism. In short: Our perception of others is not a distinction (between us and them) but a realization of a relationship. #ॐ
I became interested in Gibson trough Parikka who refers to him in a 2015 article on Mutating Media Ecologies in an effort to “deterritorialize a notion of media outside that of the human body, and look at non-human things as part of an embodied meshwork of agencies”. I’m currently midway a The Ecological Approach to Perception & Action (2013) Harry Heft which seems like a good resource for a broader view on what Gibson stood for.
Tim Ingold refers to Gibson in The Perception of the Environment (2010) saying “I cannot think of any other work that has exerted a greater influence on my thinking over the last ten years or so.”. The book has a chapter on ecological phycology.
Perception, Gibson argued, is not the achievement of a mind in a body, but of the organism as a whole in its environment, and is tantamount to the organism’s own exploratory movement through the world. If mind is anywhere, then, it is not ‘inside the head’ rather than ‘out there’ in the world. To the contrary, it is immanent in the network of sensory pathways that are set up by virtue of the perceiver’s immersion in his or her environment.
Living In A Reversed World – Erismann & Kohler (1954) narrated by Gibson is a great companion for the text.