A university is imaginative or it is nothing – at least nothing useful. -Alfred North Whitehead, 1929, p. 4
States and Territories is an artistic and philosophical inquiry which aims to collectively re-imagine university learning environments for the Anthropocene epoch. The Anthropocene describes the current era of the earth’s geologic history in which natural and cultural phenomena have become irrevocably entangled (Steffen et al, 2015; Steffen, Crutzen & McNeill, 2007; Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000). The project involves a participatory, multisensory and eth(n)ological mapping of university learning environments as more-than-human ecologies of practice. The project also aims to prototype posthumanist learning environments and curricula through relational compositions of interactive public art, speculative philosophy, and locative media architectures.
States and Territories began as a series of walking arts events which were conducted at Southern Cross University in 2013. Networks of photographic cubes were temporarily installed across the university’s three campuses, with each cube mapping the ecological and aesthetic dimensions of the surrounding learning environment. Students and staff were given maps showing the cube locations, and invited to respond to each installation through poetry, drawing, mapping and photography. A series of walks were also developed for visiting high school students, using the cubes as touchstones for ecological thinking, speculative discussion and creative activities specific to each site. These early prototypes led to the permanent installation of interactive public artworks across the campus in 2015. The artworks consists of twelve cubes distributed across diverse learning environments associated with the arts, humanities, sciences, engineering, education, law and Indigenous studies. Each cube is constructed from sheets of toughened glass which have been direct-printed with images taken from the precise location of each installation. Site-specific propositions and archives have been assembled for each installation based on data generated through participatory research across disciplines.
This involves an ongoing process of de- and reterritorialisation, by which habitual academic patterns are disrupted in order to produce new compositions of movement, sensation and thought (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 133). Here the work of art serves as a pedagogical crux or pivot point for deterritorialised, affective and transitional learning experiences which are activated by mobile engagements with public space (Ellsworth, 2005). This can be broadly attributed to the ways that contemporary public artworks effect a spatial distribution and curatorial framing of aesthetic experience in relation to everyday practices and environments (Ranciere, 2007). In this study, the relational space or envelope produced by a work of public art holds forth certain possibility conditions for re-imagining the university in response to social and environmental changes associated with the Anthropocene epoch.
In States and Territories, ‘states’ refers to the diverse modes of being, dwelling, thinking and making as they are experienced within learning environments as ecologies of practice. ‘Territories’ refer to material, social and conceptual compositions of landscape + milieu as they are articulated through relational practices associated with contemporary art, education and research. As such, States and Territories puts the philosophical concepts of Deleuze and Guattari (1987; 1994) and Whitehead (1978) to work in university learning environments, along with contemporary strands of speculative realism (Morton, 2013; Shaviro, 2013; Latour, 2013); new materialism (Braidotti, 2013; Bennett, 2010; Barad, 2007); and speculative pragmatism (Massumi, 2011; Ellsworth, 2005; Stengers, 2005). These streams of posthumanist philosophy are brought into consequential relationship within a theoretical framework of eco-aesthetic pedagogy, which underpins the creative, empirical and applied work undertaken over the course of the project.
A methodology of immersive cartography has also been specifically developed for this project as a transdisciplinary, participatory and non-representational approach to creative research. Immersive cartography involves the production of experiential maps as 'cartographic networks' which others can actually walk into, modify and extend in any direction (Rousell, 2015). It is through the direct participation of multiple others that the cartographic network is actualised and extended into new experiential territories. This necessarily entails a speculative and diffractive approach to fieldwork which accounts for multiple experiences and encounters within emergent, coeval spaces of intra-action (Barad, 2007). Immersive cartography is thus oriented towards the production of experience which opens up spaces of possibility, rather than the capture of experience which reflects or represents the ‘inner lives’ of the self or others. This methodology involves an ongoing emphasis on making as a key component of artistic, educational and philosophical practice, inasmuch as the artist ‘thinks through making’, and the theorist ‘makes through thinking’ (Ingold, 2013, p. 6). It is therefore not a question of representing learning environments as they currently exist, but rather a practice of mapping/thinking/making learning environments as they may yet become (Stengers, 2005).
There are three pragmatic research questions which guide the enactment of States and Territories as an immersive cartography.
1. How can academic learning environments be re-imagined in response to the onset of the Anthropocene?
In States and Territories, the learning environment is approached as an ecology of practices which are enacted through heterogenous collectives of human and more than human beings (Latour, 2013). In taking this posthumanist approach, the unitary human subject is decentered from the learning environment to make way for collective and transversal forms of subjectivity to emerge (Braidotti, 2013). Re-imagining is a conceptual and aesthetic process through which the learning environment can operate more like a work of art (Guattari, 1995, p. 133). This process aims to enable the university to re-imagine itself through its learning environments as a creative and ecological institution (Barnett, 2013). In this respect, the artist/teacher/researcher is never a sole agent of change, but rather the co-creator of shared possibility spaces in which changes might occur- even beyond the scope of the project itself. The core aim of this research is therefore to use public art to open up transdisciplinary spaces in the university for collaboration, aesthetic engagement, speculation and imagination, all of which are associated with the sustainability of the university in the Anthropocene (Braidotti, 2013).
2. How do the ecological and aesthetic dimensions of learning environments differ across academic disciplines?
States and Territories approaches the university learning environment through the theoretical lenses of ecology, aesthetics and pedagogy, which are brought together to form a theoretical framework of eco-aesthetic pedagogy. Eco-aesthetics is used to analyse the 'differings' produced within and between learning environments, and also map the site-specific pedagogies which emerge from these formations. The ecological dimension of the learning environment refers to its relational field of emergence: the people, places, things and ideas it connects and the relations that emerge between them (Massumi, 2011). The aesthetic dimension describes the qualitative patterns of contrast and expression through which the learning environment becomes sensible: the textures, sensations and affective tonalities that emerge within the field of engagement (Massumi, 2002). The ecological (relational) and aesthetic (qualitative) dimensions of a learning environment are coeval, in the sense that they always become present to experience at the same time. The eco-aesthetic differings between learning environments are felt pedagogically: they register in the body as movements, transitions and intensities of the collective learning experience (Ellsworth, 2005). Much like a work of art, an eco-aesthetic pedagogy is particular to the time and place of the learning experience: it is a singular occasion which emerges within a relational-qualitative field of co-composition (Massumi & Manning, 2014).
3. How can cartography be used to generate new forms of pedagogy within a regional university?
States and Territories uses art installations, speculative philosophy and hypermedia to prototype posthumanist learning environments through a methodology of immersive cartography. The artworks take the form of twelve glass cubes which are permanently installed in a topological network across the Lismore campus. The cubes also contain physical and digital archives associated with twelve different academic disciplines: visual arts, cultural studies, geography, legal studies, environmental science, chemistry, engineering, education, human sciences, and media studies. The archives take the form of multi-sensory cartographies assembled through participatory research undertaken in each of these disciplines. The network generated between the cubes and the digital archives is being used to prototype interdisciplinary streams of curriculum and pedagogy, and also form the material and conceptual infrastructure for further research. Public audiences are also invited to engage with the project as an ecological network of walks, artworks and mobile learning experiences.
This web application is a working prototype for States and Territories as an interactive thesis. It is designed to function as a provisional and immersive mapping of the project's interconnected surfaces, with multiple entrypoints and exits which open onto new territorial formations. Each page of the site provides a different surface which puts the concepts and practices of States and Territories into motion, while also inviting creative and performative responses from those who encounter them. The surfaces are intended to be textured as haptic interfaces, like a braille text that can be read with the touch of the fingers.
'The surface is here confingured as an architecture: a partition that can be shared... as a site of mediation and projection. This is why I prefer to speak of surfaces rather than images: to experience how the visual manifests itself materially on the surface of things, where time becomes material space' (Bruno, 2014, p. 3).
A theoretical and methodological introduction to the STATES + TERRITORIES project can be viewed in the video presentation below, which is based on a paper given at the New Materialisms conference IV, Melbourne, 2015.