Art and research can walk hand in hand, intertwine, dialogue and explore the same questions. The sensory history of Europe and our transforming relations with the environment require both art and science approaches. The sensobiographic method walks with both1.
Art work can bring research data to experiential contexts that afford new horizons for reflection andpersonal attunements, and for possibilities of noticing things that tend to remain in the shadows. SENSOTRA’s approaching conference ”Urban-related Sensoria” will publish new art work founded on dialogues and thought & sound experiments between a researcher and two artists: Inkeri Aula from SENSOTRA in cooperation with prominent young sound and media artists Mark Niskanen and Jani-Matti Salo.
Ghost Light is a video installation that has been documented on an empty theater stage. It explores the metaphorical notion of ghosts2 of the environment: past lives, fossils, radiation, extinct species and their interconnections – namely, ghosts of the past – that remain with us. Traces of more-than-human past entangle with both our present and our imagination of the future. The art work participates in grasping the complexity of atmospheres and social and material mediations present in SENSOTRA’s transgenerational walking data by relying on fragments of the walking accounts. Yet it becomes something beyond, as a work of its own. Awareness of “ghosts” questions the notion of human exceptionality in relation to other beings and organisms, revealing our interconnectedness. Ghost Light calls for a time for the human species to coalesce around stories of the more-than-human.
Ghost Light can be watched and listened to online related to the conference, Urban-related Sensoria, 10.6. 2020. https://www.niskanensalo.com/ghost-light
Inkeri Aula, Early Stage Researcher, SENSOTRA-project
1Järviluoma 2019; The Art and Science of Sensory Memory Walking (see Publications on this blog). Moreover, half of our interviews in three countries have been conducted with artists of different fields and ages, who have their own special attunements to sensing the urban environment.
2Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. (Eds. Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan, Nils Bubandt. 2017.)
ENCOUNTERS FROM THE COAST TO THE MOUNTAINS IN JULY 2018
by Inkeri Aula
São Gonçalo de Bação, Itabirito
In Brazil as elsewhere the pollution and disappearance of sweet waters and aquifers is a growing problem. In the surroundings on metropolitan Belo Horizonte I visited São Gonçalo de Bação, located in Itabirito. The village lays between mountains rich in iron and other minerals, eucalyptus plantations of the region providing wood for iron smelts. The village is rich in fountains and mineral sweet water sources, that are now severely threatened by advancing iron industry.
I conducted an open sensobiographic interview with a local geographer Icaro Brito, who introduced a plan for revitalization of antique water points, chafarizes, that have provided the population with fresh spring water since the beginning of the 20thcentury. Six of these are still functioning in São Gonçalo. As the habit is, we drove around by car, stopping once in a while to greet family, friends and neighbors through the window. The video shows bits of the interview and presents the sensobiographic method in Portuguese. (Publication permission granted by the participants.)
Urban cartographies in Belo Horizonte
How can a city be mapped sensorially? Professor Regina Helena Alves da Silva from the Centre for researching the convergence of new media (Centro de convergência de novas mídias) in UFMG has some answers for this question. We had the pleasure of hosting her in our fieldwork in Turku in June, where she got familiarized with our method, walking with local people in their city with us. Regina Helena has conducted urban sensory mapping workshops with different groupd of people around Brazil. Participants have learnt to map their urban surroundings by writing, filming, recording and sketching. The stories and perceptions produced bring out both imaginaries and a lived environment so often excluded from the master narratives that municipal planning is used to listening to. Besides discussing our common interests and the significance and impact of digital media technologies in contemporary lives, Regina Helena took me to sense the Central market of Belo Horizonte, a colourful fair of world famous artesanal cheese, local food, handicraft and spices: a kind of sensorium of Minas Gerais.
Radio Autêntica Favela is a channel for the marginalized, predominantly black and poor population residing in favelas. The radio station is placed on top of the hill of Serra, a conjunction of different favela slums with tens of thousands of inhabitants. The founder Misael Avelino and his crew have kept the radio on the air already for 40 years, despite police persecution, especially during the military dictatorship, and financial difficulties. The radio brings out the voice of the local population and their problems that remains unspoken by other channels.
In the picture, a breezy winter night in Favela da Serra glows in moonlight. Amazing views over the city combine with precarious living conditions for most inhabitants in a neighborhood where main routes are marked by the constant presence of drug dealers.
Santa Luzia – sensobiographic walk with three generations
In the town of Santa Luzia in metropolitan Belo Horizonte, I conducted a sensobiographic walk with a family of friends of three generations. The walk was led by dona Izabel, 77, one of the first inhabitants of the newly built habitational area Cristina in 1981, with her family of six. She agreed to walk shortly around the nearby street, supported by myself, her older daughter, and one of the three grandchildren accompanying the walk, of whom the oldest, 17, was holding the camera. A striking feature of the walk for me was familiar from the many times during past decades of walking in the area with members of the family: the stories. Histories of local people, the often dramatic twists in their lives, or just the simple perceptions of who lived where and what had happened to them, their houses, their trees. A central sensorium of living becomes defined by the inhabitants and neighbor relations, adequate to a habitational area that had acquired intimate history during the decades of living.
The International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences IUAES organizes a big conference every five years. SENSOTRA participated on an intense conference week 2018 hosted by the Federal University of Santa Catarina, UFSC, in Florianópolis, Brazil.
The conference counted with ca. 2000 participants from different continents taking part in 200 open panels, in addition to keynote lectures, plenaries, closed panels, book launches, workshops, exhibitions and excursions (”anthropological experiences”) to different destinations.
SENSOTRA was officially presented in two panels. In an open panel, “Circulation of body techniques and cultural and artistic performances in a context of human mobility”, I presented how I’ve developed my previous research about the Afro-Brazilian fight-game-art of capoeira with the theoretical elaborations of a nonrepresentational approach to the concept of mediation in SENSOTRA, under the title “Sensory mediation of ancestrality”. It was truly a privilege to join a panel of senior researchers who know the same field thoroughly.
Open panel no 156, ”Sensorial ethnography and digital worlds: music practices in real and virtual spaces” was convened by SENSOTRA. The panel had around 25 spectators who engaged in active discussion on, among other things, the situationality of sensory perception, embodiment of memories and multisensory methods. With the dictatorial powers of the only convenor present, I took the first presentation slot to myself for presenting the project, our theoretical approaches and the sensobiographic methodology. After questions from the audience, Dr. Ikbal Hamzaoui from the Institut Supérieur de Musique de Tunis, led us to a world of sound affinities shared by Mexican and Tunisian musicians: artists from continents apart expressed sensing an intense similarity (or as our researcher Sonja Pöllänen would call it, ’likeness’) with each others music. Last, Dr. Mihai Leaha presented his novel research at the University of São Paulo, with similar key approaches as those embraced by SENSOTRA, on how multisensory interactions situationally form embodied experiences of local participation. In this case, the context was a multisensory ethnography in both actual and virtual environments of a Do-it-Yourself music and club scene.
Some other panels also related to our themes, such as “Sensing Difference: urban ethnographies os familiarity and estrangement”. During all the week, encounters with different scholars of cultural research once again demonstrated the wide relevance of studying sensory transformations in the contemporary relationships with the environment. Many intriguing discussions on the human body and movement, sound of language, endangered sustainability of livelihoods, and urban histories.
RESEARCH COOPERATION AND SENSORY MEMORIES: ARRIVING IN BELO HORIZONTE (MINAS GERAIS)
Memory has a curious relationship with place. When you return to a place that has been significant to you years before, past moods and experiences, entangled with the environment, suddenly become active in the present moment. This is a key reason for Helmi Järviluoma’s method of sensobiographic walks, that brings interviewees to walk routes of their youth. I travelled to Belo Horizonte for cooperating with local researchers in the UFMG university and to introduce the sensobiographic walking method in Brazil, but it was also a journey to personal memories. I lived in Belo Horizonte as a student in 1995-96, and since have returned there twice. It is a city of 2,5 million inhabitants amidst the mountains full of minerals and gems, in the state named consequently Minas Gerais, ‘general mines’. The landscape I had not seen for eight years looked and felt powerfully like home, although it is as different as can be from the flat archipelago of Turku.
Received by the director of the department of Information Sciences, Terezinha Carvalho de Souza, I began to learn about Brazilian research in the federal university of UFMG. Otherwise the university staff was still on winter holiday, and the political situation continues very difficult for all social research following the coup d’etat by a non-elected government introducing severe cuts in all levels of education. The excursions that I had planned for introducing the sensobiographic walking ethnography in rural communities affected by mining industries around the city had be cancelled, as the receiving project in media studies had ran out of funds to do anything at all. In the beginning of August was given a new decision on cutting down completely the funding system for post-graduate studies in the country, threatening the very existence of the majority of ongoing research project and doctoral programs. This is very alarming in a country, where the most popular candidate for October’s presidential elections is in prison for contested charges, his main rivals praises military dictatorship, and already underfunded education has suffered severe cuts.
The transformations of lived environment affect local people’s memory everywhere. In 2015 the fifth major river of South America, the sweet Rio Doce was devastated by a mining dam collapse, killing people and all life in the river, and destroying livelihoods of a number of communities, including the indigenous Krenak people. I learned that the population of the destroyed village Bento Rodrigues have themselves initiated monthly “sensory memory walks” to the site. They ring the alarm that was not ringing when the poisonous flood came down on the town, and having lost all their material belongings, tell stories to each other to remember their past drowned by the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history.
Places that guard their natural beauty also require attention. In the beautiful mountains full of rock crystals in the Serra do Cipó I got acquainted with not only local village life but also collective endeavours of reclaiming what was called “mystical cartographies”: the mapping of sacred walking paths between waterfalls and other marveillous sites in the national reserve.
In cooperation with a research network NEPPAMCS – Núcleo de Estudos Sobre Performance, Patrimônio e Mediações Culturais da UFMG I organized a Sensory walk workshop in a public park near to the state’s federal university. The Lagoa do Nado has a history as a private colonial estate that became a recreational area, defended by a local population’s movement against municipal plans of constructing condominiums. The movement was victorious and today the park is a breathing hole amidst busy roads, with 4 km of walking paths, a little lake, a cultural center and sports areas.
With a small group of students and researchers we walked a route I had previously chosen in the park. We met first in the second floor on a cultural center, functioning as an exhibition space, and returned there after the walk. The park was full of kids engaged in “holiday school” activities on a Friday afternoon. In the following compilation you can get a glimpse of the colorful atmosphere we encountered in the park. I was holding the camera in my hand and the fisheye effect distorts the image, but it also allows you to see better around. The instruction was not to talk or take photographs, but simply to concentrate on sensory perceptions of the environment.
After the walk the experience was discussed in a talking circle. The environment was so busy that many of us had a hard time in concentrating on the sensory observation. We discussed relationship with places, nature, urban green areas and sensory memories. Prof. Rubens Alves da Silva shared many insights on the diverse levels and interaction between observation, participation, relating with the locality and performing a group activity as an anthropologist. A student participant told us that she had never taken a step on the forest path before, as she had always been taught there’s dangerous. The workshop, thus, literally opened new paths of experience.