Hydrofeminist METitations a listening series brought to you by Ensayos as a part of the digital residency at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
Episode 3: the Americas — in Chile and in New York
In this episode we think with wetlands. We squish through them — in real life and in our imaginations. Preserving turberas, or peat bogs, in Tierra del Fuego, is a major concern of the Wildlife Conservation Society. We are collaborating with them on that mission.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is a New York-based NGO that manages a huge expanse of land on Tierra del Fuego. Contributors to this episode live in Santiago, Valdivia and Papudo, Chile, and in Amenia, New York. We work across North and South America–or from an Indigenous perspective, Turtle Island and Abya Yala. This requires time, translation and patience. We delight in the gaps, failures and excesses of this process. We experiment with lending each other our ears and our voices to create a chorus — many forms of naming the things that we love and care for.
Act One: Turba Tol / Heart of Peat
Hema’ny Molina is a Selk’nam writer, poet, craftswoman and grandmother.
She is the president of the Selk’nam Corporation Chile, which was formed five years ago. The Selk’nam people are one of four communities Indigenous to Tierra del Fuego. Her grandfather’s generation were the last Selk’nam people to live freely and practice their culture on the archipelago. He was removed from Tierra del Fuego as a young child, in the final chapter of a long cultural genocide.
The corporation Hema’ny directs gathers Selk’nam descendants who have maintained ancestral knowledge over the generations. They aim to dislodge the community from the stigma of “extinction.” The community celebrated a major success this past June. The Chilean House of Representatives approved the first step of the process that will legally recognize the Selk’nam as a living indigenous community.Hema’ny collaborates with Ensayos and the Wildlife Conservation Society to influence policies that protect her homeland. Let’s hear her heart-felt manifesto.
Act Two: My House Is a Ship Turned Upside-Down
Christy Gast is an artist who works in textiles, sculpture and performance. She is one of the founding members of Ensayos.
The Wildlife Conservation Society invited her to join their 7th Marine Expedition to the Admiralty Sound as an artist in residence a few years ago. She traveled with marine biologists and park rangers. The boat was their home and laboratory for 10 days. It was an intimate, sensorial research experience–typical of Ensayos.
In this piece, Christy wonders how field-based research can happen at home in the time of COVID? Throughout the piece you’ll hear echoes of “Onde va la lancha?” a folk song Christy learned from a sailor that asks, “Where is the boat going?” Let’s find out.
Act Three: What is a peat bog?
There are a lot of turberas, or peat bogs, in Karukinka Natural Park, in Tierra del Fuego. Dr. Bárbara Saavedra is the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Chile, which directs the Park. She is a biologist who specializes in ecology and conservation, and is a founding member of Ensayos. Dr. Saavedra advocates for peatland conservation, and has created a road map for how Chile should do this.
Christy Gast interviewed her to find out how it’s going.
Act Four: A Flavour for Peat
Can you imagine losing your sense of smell? That is one of the symptoms of COVID-19. Ensayos has explored the sense of smell in order to communicate with beavers in Tierra del Fuego. That’s right, we want to communicate with BEAVERS, using scent. Beavers are in danger in Tierra del Fuego. They flood forests and dig channels through peat bogs to make their homes. Beavers were brought to Tierra del Fuego by people, but now we say they don’t belong. The governments of Chile and Argentina believe that eradicating beavers will protect the ecosystem. Ensayos wondered what beavers had to say about that, so we followed their lead and developed a series of scents for an olfactory experiment. Did it work? The results were inconclusive. That’s ok…we are against utility.
Anyway, back to your nose. Camila Marambio, who founded Ensayos, will take us on a guided tour of the olfactory system. I encourage you to close your eyes and follow her voice–sniff your way into the inner wetlands of your body.
Act Five: “Onde va la lancha”
We sing songs. Folk songs, sea chanties, kids’ ditties, pop hits–anything to keep conservation questions flowing in the world. Remember ‘Onde va la lancha? Camila invited a family of talented musicians from her hometown, a fishing village on the coast of Chile, to record our version of this Chilote classic.
Get on board, this boat’s heading to the turbera!!
About Hydrofeminist METitations
Gender studies scholar Astrida Neimanis coined the term “hydrofeminism” to bring together feminist, queer, and ecological sensibilities.* In her words, hydrofeminism begins “one’s ethics and politics from the realization that we are mostly made of water…refusing a separation between nature and culture, between an environment ‘out there’ and a human subject ‘in here.’”
When Ensayos collaborated with Neimanis in 2017, Camila Marambio formulated “METitation” to emphasize Ensayos’ material-somatic research that considers molecular and global relationships in the physical world.** MET is an acronym for Mechanical Electrical Transduction, a sensory mechanism through which cells convert mechanical stimuli into electro-chemical activity. MET accounts for senses of hearing, balance, and touch; hair cells in the inner ear convert the stimuli of drum vibrations, water dropping in the sink, a crashing wave, and voice into electro-chemical signals received by the brain. This transformation is the sense of hearing.
*Astrida Neimanis, “Hydrofeminism: or on Becoming a Body of Water,” in Undutiful Daughters: New Directions in Feminist Thought and Practice, ed. Henriette Dr. Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni, and Fanny Dr. Soderback (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
**“Hydrofeminist METitaions” was first used by Ensayos to describe a live sounding experiment performed by Neimanis, Marambio, Sarita Gálvez, and Karolin Tampere and presented as part of the Liquid Architecture program, “Negative Volumes: Body Languages” held at West Space, Naarm/Melbourne, on October 14th, 2017.
Episode 3 was created by Christy Gast, Camila Marambio, Hema’ny Molina and Bárbara Saavedra, with Elisita Balbontin, Ariel Bustamante, Fuente Papudo, Pablo Thiermann, Nico Torres, Red Submarine Recording Studio, Karolin Tampere, Caitlin Franzmann and Catalina Jaramillo. Special thanks to Elena Betros-Lopez, Wildlife Conservation Society Chile, Karukinka Natural Park, the Amenia Conservation Advisory Council, Sharon Jewell and Carla Macchiavello who contributed to the Australia Podcast and were not named in those credits, Manuela Baldovino for her translations, Dr. Max Lake for his book “Scents and Sensuality” and Emily Mello from the New Museum. Music is by Vera Dvale and “We are all bodies of Water” are the wise words of Astrida Neimanis.