Hiking without Nature: Mobile Media Happenings and the Performance of Everyday Wilderness

Symposium:


Presentation Title:

  • Hiking without Nature: Mobile Media Happenings and the Performance of Everyday Wilderness

Presenter(s):



Abstract:

  • Indeterminate Hikes +
    What is a waterfall? A cascade of water tumbling over boulders, brilliant in the sun, beckoning backpackers with sturdy leather boots to climb into remote, magical valleys? Or inspiring tourists to follow road signs to popular, sublime spectacles, such as Niagara Falls. Or the path taken by droplets of moisture falling to the sidewalk from an air conditioner hanging out of the window of an eleventh-floor apartment in NYC. In 2011, our ecology, art, and technology collaborative launched a mobile phone app called Indeterminate Hikes + (IH+) that re-imagines ecological awareness. Ecoarttech’s post-disciplinary work fuses theory with creative practice to deconstruct traditional environmental categories, showing the limits of preoccupations with wilderness, nature, and the rural and exploring the sort of ethics that might arise from cities, suburbs, the cultural commons, and even the “virtual” environments created by new media technologies. A significant part of our practice is the effort to rethink the remoteness and inaccessibility so often applied to “nature” or “wilderness” in contemporary critical theory. This separation of the social from the natural has silenced public, democratic discourse about environmental issues, according to Bruno Latour, and for Timothy Morton, modern thinking has turned “Nature” into “a reified thing in the distance, ‘over yonder,’ under the sidewalk, on the other side where the grass is always greener… in the wild,” preventing “access to the full scope of [ecological] interconnectedness” (Latour 75). When we co-founded ecoarttech five years earlier, our aim was to create eco-art “without nature”—to borrow a new phrase from Morton’s book, Ecology without Nature—and to examine what it means to be an ecological being in the context of convergent networked environments, biological, digital, social, and cultural, from biological systems and industrial grids to media networks and the world wide web. Indeterminate Hikes +, enters into dialogue with theories like those posited by Latour, Morton, and others by bringing nature out from its “reified”, faraway realm and into daily life. However, Indeterminate Hikes holds onto the concept of wilderness—not as a synonym for an originary Nature, which is ethically and intellectually immobilizing concept, as Latour and Morton point out; but rather as otherness, the unimaginable, that is both part of and beyond the self, wilderness can call on us to see un-wild environments in bewildering ways. In the IH+ smart phone app, the discourse of sublime wilderness is imported into everyday locales, transforming chance encounters on the street into public performances of bio-cultural diversity and wild “happenings.” Inspired by the way Fluxus in particular, and early- to mid-twentieth-century avant-garde art movements in general, reinvigorated the way we see mundane life rituals, IH+’s artistic gesture refracts this ethical impulse into the contemporary concern of about the environment.

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