In utter darkness, a nonhuman voice enters with a slow spinning hum. Nasally registered, the incessant and spiraling signal develops several overtones, forming a chorus of one and many that disregards the question of singularity. In the background, a low stream of white noise comes in and out again, undulating as if phrased by a slow tide of night wind. There are still no images, but up ahead something creaks, it is straining to break, stretching to its limit until we hear the first crack, followed by a landslide of collapsing structures breaking all at once and falling into an incomprehensible mesh of reverberating echoes.
We do not know for sure what has collapsed, but judging from the texture, pitch and density of sound, it may very well be an avalanche of breaking bones, a complete shattering of the body; or it can be a frozen tree branch burdened by snow, breaking off from its tree trunk at the dawn of spring. Regardless of its true source, the sound suggests a dark vitality inherent to the process of destruction, a last howl as life before the body relinquishes itself to death.
In a world with no light, our ears see one and many things all at once. The material world, suggested by vibrations, contracts and expands beyond the question of objective truth. The act of seeing through hearing (with one’s ears and body) is a letting go of optical precision and a trusting of ambiguous sensations that invites one into a space of introspection.
With the sound of the gong, two full moons rise
Urging spirits to wander under their soft, diffused glow
Sharing confessions of melancholia
Between plant and human
In a dense field of sonic communion
With deep reverberations
I was struck by awe when I first witnessed the anima of a plant in a science lab. The plant was pulsing acute electromagnetic signals in response to being touched, cut, or threatened with fire. The pulsing data was like a digital interpretation of primitive vitality, artificial yet organic at the same time. As a natural life form, plants react to certain external stimuli in principle, yet its lyrical and varying response easily suggests signs of a feeling organism.
The passions of nature have long inspired admiration and fear from human beings. During my 2016 residency on Jeju Island, the magnificence of nature inspired many questions about the essence of its life forms and our relationship to it. The Jeju people negotiate with unpredictable strong winds, frequent typhoons, and changing moon tides that shape all aspects of living, providing both nourishment and dangers to life. To co-exist so directly with the forces of nature inspires much philosophizing, and despite our appreciation of animist narratives and modernist ideas of mind, body, soul, may we also reconsider natural life as first and foremost a material phenomena. From a materialist point of view, perhaps anima can be sensed in the pulsing of electromagnetic data, in the pumping of a heartbeat, in the howling of the wind--any form of movement that results from an innate striving for life.
Ask a human <-> Ask a plant
What are the forces that drive natural life?
What motivates us to grow, to blossom, to be passionate about our own existence?