A postscript on Hydro-Feminist METitations
presented as part of the Liquid Architecture program Negative Volumes: Body Languages
held at West Space, Melbourne
on October 14th, 2017
Welcome to Country by Uncle Bill Nicholson.
Uncle Bill started by acknowledging the local language, Woiwurrung, and greeting us all in language. He acknowledged his ancestors, especially his grandmother. He called our attention to the Yarra River, Birrarrung, spoke of the tradition of Welcome to Country, Wominjeka, and mentioned how aboriginal law asks us all to respect the land and its peoples.
Once welcomed, the sounds of a guitar and Sarita’s voice began to call people towards the next gallery. Lured by the sound of the strings everyone migrated to the long, rectangular, empty white-walled room where they found Sarita sitting on the window sill singing in Spanish, a song by Violeta Parra “De cuerpo entero.” This song is part of Violeta’s last compositions and could be translated as “Wholeheartedly” or “With the whole body.” It is a critique of Cartesian dualisms.
To Parra the body is not solid but “a river with beautiful waves.” This song of the fluidity of the living body set the tone for the next 25 minutes to come.
Camila takes over from Sarita’s singing and tells the story of Ensayos, its beginnings in Tierra del Fuego (Karukinka) and how Ensayos has grown into a feminist research collective scattered across the globe, tuning in, listening to different places, then coming together once a year to share their concerns. Asking: How do we deal collectively but differently with political and environmental situation(s) today? How do we grasp, handle, and take care of each one’s own emotions within this climate of change? Camila’s last questions were posed to Sarita: “How do we keep balanced if we should keep balanced at all?” As a response, Camila tells us that Sarita took her to the Melbourne State Library and there they began to study the inner ear, the organ of balance.
Camila asks everyone to follow her into a METitation (Mechanical Electrical Transduction) of the Vestibular System:
“In concert with finding our stability through our feet, muscles, and joints, and detecting our gravitational position through our eyes, it is deep within the ear, just under the brain, that lies the vestibular system: the system in charge of sending electrical currents to the brain’s movement control center, the cerebellum.
So, the inner ear is both where we find our hearing organ (the cochlea) and our balance organ (the vestibular system). Isn’t it amazing that these two organs float side by side?
Each vestibular system, yes, there is one of either side of our head, is made up of three semi-circular canals, and two pockets called the saccule and the utricle (otolith organs). Together these three canals and the otolith organs provide constant feedback to the cerebellum about head movement. CONSTANT, so right now all of these organs are acting in your inner ears.
The awe-inspiring complexity of the vestibular labyrinth involves each of the three canals having a different orientation to detect a variety of movements (anterior, lateral, and posterior). Movement of fluid inside the canals caused by the movement of fluids outside the canals stimulate or excite the tiny ciliated (hairy) cells inside the labyrinth and so, mechanically activate electrical impulses that are sent through the vestibular nerve to the cerebellum.
(Nodding and rotating)
The posterior canal responds to the angular acceleration that occurs when the head moves toward the shoulder.
And the lateral canal senses when the head moves side to side in a no motion.
The anterior canal responds to the movement of nodding. The head forward and down towards the chest.
Most notable to me is that this intricate balance and hearing system, known as the inner ear, is suspended in fluid. A fluid called the perilymph. Perilymph composition is similar to that of the cerebrospinal fluid and similar to many extracellular fluids in the body, interstitial liquids. But the vestibular labyrinth is not only floating but is also full of fluid, an electrical liquid substance known as the endolymph. The endolymph is a unique fluid, rich in potassium (K+ ) and positively charged. So when the perilymph is moved it moves the endolymph which penetrates the semi-permeable walls of the ciliated (hairy cells) within the labyrinth and charges them positively, because these cells rest in negativity at -50 microVolts. This transduction that I’m explaining is therefore electro-mechanical.
Have I been clear? Were you able to follow my descriptions? We’ll put all of this into action and call on our embodied wisdom to make its appearance, but I just want to point to the fact that it is the difference between a highly positive endolymph and inner negativity of cells that allows this potential of action, this excitement into electrical action.
WALK around the gallery. Rise and Fall. Take the elevator, climb the stairs, return to gallery. LIE DOWN. Lift and rest the head. Close the eyes shut.
Now we are going to explore the otolith organs, the utricle and saccule, which function slightly differently, their main relationship is to gravity and linear acceleration. They send messages to the brain about movement in a straight line (backward and forwards, upwards/downwards) and about where the head is in relation to gravity (tilting, leaning or lying down).
Within the utricle and the saccule, there are also ciliated (harry) cells and these are embedded in a gelatinous matrix, on top of which rest the otoconia, tiny crystals of calcium +, that are resting, until displaced with up/down or straight and backward movements. When mechanically moved they stimulate the hairs which transmit their electrical messages to the cerebellum. Otolith is Greek for ‘stones in the ears’.
The utricle is sensitive to change in horizontal movements (walking).
The saccule is sensitive to change in vertical movement as when going in a lift or lying down.
I am going to ask you to get up, but before you do I want you to consider that this awakening of the ciliated cells is the awakening of all the threads within our body, the nerves, through which a symphony of fluid electric currents run.
The body is electrified by its relationship with the elements as part of a gravitational atmosphere.
Current waves in the perilymph awaken electric current waves in the endolymph.
Potassium is crossing boundaries, penetrating tissues, carrying a message to action.
It is difference that awakes the cells.
Endolymph will travel from the membranous labyrinth to the spiral cochlea, from the saccule to the utricle. The potassium is recycled in a complex economy within the membranous system.
From intracellular fluid back to extracellular fluid whose composition is that of intracellular fluid but it is outside.
This next movement of yours is an inside~outside dance.
A dance of repetition and recycling of fluids.
Pay special attention to the story that your vestibular system will tell you. It is one of electrical complexity, of depolarizing excitability within a gravitational atmosphere that moves us.
Your cilial cells are going to be moved, electrified by encounters-with light as you open your eyes, air and water currents as you rise and so I ask that you remember these encounters because we will repeat and observe them closer. Slowly, very slowly, rise, giving yourself endless time to rise in whichever way action leads.
NOW standing, follow my thinking.
How do we revitalize the relationship to electrifying elements when our culture deprives us of vital energies?
Our body is a crossroads, site of translations: mechanical, electrical transduction into potential action. As the vestibular system teaches us about our intimate connection with atmosphere, we are part of the world in its ongoing differentiation, I want to return to the question of: how do we keep our balance in this climate of change?
Maybe we don’t. Balance is continual electromechinal flux, so let’s drop the question and acknowledge that flesh is fluid and electric, that our rational/logical responses are precarious, that as bipeds our position is always insecure, unstable. Let’s instead get excited by the embodied knowledge that we have inherited from our fish and lizard ancestors, the organismic ability to feel our way through space as if we continued to be held by the water that we emerged from.
In this age of massive extinction (anthropocene, capitalocene, chthulucene), of over-pollution, overpopulation, and over indulgence let’s not worry about balance, but about how balance depends of fluids! On the ionic composition of fluids and its agency to electrify, vivify!”
The floor which had been covered with bodies laying down listening to the storytelling of Camila, was now attentively listening to her end her tale and when she did:
“My father never used an overall, abstract concept for nature; for him, nature was definite and material; it was fish, weather, currents, and birds. I never heard him talk about nature.”
Aaron, Camille and Isaiah (Victoria College of Arts Secondary High School students) read out loud from the book The Wild Living Marine Resources Belong to Society as a Whole.
“Perhaps there are some microorganisms that contain the riddle of life, something that appears as a miracle to us”
Whilst reading, the three performers began to guide the public through one space, and into another, a slow spiral like passage. Arriving at «the inner ear» where Astrida Neimanis waited, the three helpers stood with their backs towards each other reading out the last excerpt:
“We are actually a species of animal, and then we pollute; is this pollution that we produce a part of our animal species?”
Astrida´s text Thinking With Water continued on topics related to water, our liquid bodies, the flow of currents through lactating bodies, tap water, mammals and human reproduction. Ending with:
“Not only does water connect us, gestate us, sustain us—more than this, water disturbs the very categories that ground the domains of social, political, philosophical, and environmental thought, and those of feminist theory and practice as well. Thinking about our selves and our broader communities as watery can thus unmoor us in productive (albeit sometimes risky) ways. We are set adrift in the space-time between our certainties, between the various outcrops we cling to for security. It is here, in the borderzones of what is comfortable, of what is perhaps even livable, that we can open to alterity—to other bodies, other ways of being and acting in the world—in the simultaneous recognition that this alterity also flows through us.” (Hydrofeminism, Or, On Becoming a Body of Water, p 111)
Aaron, Camille and Isaiah slowly slithered over the public and back into the big open gallery space were it had all begun. Accompanied by Karolin´s sounds of crackling ice and waves, squeaking sounds of ancient air leaving its glacial ice core container, leaving the state of memory medium, the audience laid once again on the floor. As the room filled up with bodies on the floor, engine drones faded into heavy synthesised drones and our 30-minute performance choreography closed with Water Kondor, spoken word performance by Cecilia Vicuña played back from her vinyl Kuntur Ko. As a greeting to her and a greeting from the Andes reminding us of the connectedness that our bodies and oceans are manifested in liquid spaces both inside and outside our bodies.