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Ecologies of Thought  2022
Research Project
Multimedia Anthropology Lab. (UCL)

Matheus Montanari

Raffaella Fryer-Moreira

Fabiana Assis Fernandes

Patrick White

Supported By The Ucl Global Engagement Fund

This project aims to establish an international partnership between artists, anthropologists, indigenous communities, sound designers and botanists, in an interrogation of the role of sound in ecological knowledge and archival practice. Establishing a creative dialogue between the divergent approaches to ecological knowledge articulated by G&K indigenous communities and botanists at the Escola de Botanica in São Paulo. In light of the urgent need to revise and rethink human-ecology relationships on a global scale, while acknowledging the new epistemic possibilities of data capture technologies, we propose to collaborate with G&K community members to explore the different kinds of data these devices afford, and the ecological knowledge they make possible. Using Photogrammetry, Arduino microcontrollers and diverse sensors, we explore the epistemic possibilities each equipment offers to community members and botanists, encouraging a process of collaborative interrogation of other knowledges, and opening possibilities for reconceptualising divisions between technical and ecological knowledge.

When we started the Guarani and Kaiowá V.R Museum, we had weekly sessions where the elders would tell us what 3D models we should make, then they would review them, ask for changes, and instruct us where and how to place them. As the process went on for a while, interesting discussions about the agency of this 3D models started to arise. Culminating with the first presentation of the museum to the community with the V.R headsets, when two elders saw spirits inside the museum. From that moment on, we realised that the cosmological presence in the virtual world was much more complex that we thought. To investigate that, we started another project, focused in these aspects.

The ecologies of thought project established an international and multidisciplinary partnership through UCL’s global engagement fund, to investigate with the Guarani and Kaiowá ecological thought based on the relationships between sound and plants. The project stablished dialogues between different types and conceptions of technology, from traditional chanting and cultivation to the use of microcontrollers and data analysis.

We developed two experimental strategies. The first focused on the creation of virtual reality worlds that, using generative art processes, explored the Guarani and Kaiowá cosmology from its cosmotechnical aspect. Using sounds and traditional elements, such as the Chiru, the sacred staff that supports the world, and white corn, we sought to investigate fundamental elements of the cosmology through an experience rather than a narrative representation.

Generative art can be defined in different degrees of complexity, it is associated with a system that has some degree of autonomy, where the artist and the system exert a series of operations that result in the final work. Seeking ways to engage with the Guarani and Kaiowá mythologies and respect their characteristics, generative art methodologies seemed to not only fit with the ontological qualities of the Guarani and Kaiowá cosmology, but also to privilege an investigation and audiovisual production that could maintain a cosmotechnical fidelity. As both, the Guarni and Kaiowá cosmology and generative art are nonlinear emergent processes with repetitive elements that are in constant transformation.

The second strategy was to use microcontrollers to transform plants from the Guarani and Kaiowá food culture into touch sensors, so that when activated they would play a sound. In this experiment we used corn, potato, and manioc with the sounds of traditional instruments, the mimby (whistle), the taquapu (bamboo), and the mbaraka (rattle). Through this we were able to draw lines between plants and sounds, deepening conversations about these extra-human ecological relationships, and better understanding how we can engage with and present this kind of knowledge.

Thus, we were able to bring together poetic and technical processes to propose a mixture of knowledges, that beyond an explanation or representation of one form of knowledge into another, develops an experience of its own. This allows us to escape from an idealized naturalistic representation of indigenous culture, which fails to understand indigenous thought and technologies as valid ways to build and think a cosmotechnic for our time.

More broadly, this project seeks to review the notion of romantic and colonial preservation that does not conceive of the indigenous presence as a digital presence, acting and thinking about its processes since its conception. This means, beyond an illustrative representation of what is believed to be the material and immaterial cultural heritage of the community, to collaboratively build an indigenous-digital territory, a digital Guarani and Kaiowá tekoha where a new technological ontology is established in which the very conception of contemporary technology is affected by indigenous cosmotechnics.

In conclusion, the epistemic research proposed and developed during the project revealed to us the potentials that this collaborative methodology possesses to go beyond epistemological investigations, to revisit ontological questions of technology. Collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and the investigation of creative processes - rather than the proposition of representations - allows us to arrive at questions related to the level of existence so that, in the anthropocenic era of the absence of futures, we can compose a cosmotechnic for a viable, virtual and actual reality, based on a poetics of care and more-than-human relations.

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