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World That Awaits


The Earth Shall Sing Again

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I was plugged into a ritual. We all had curiously gathered today to participate in Sympoetry - a performance and a guided meditation by Graciela Gonzalez and FATIMA. As we sat down in a circle, Graciela swiftly began carving the mound of soil placed ahead of us into a water glyph – an indigenous symbol with an ellipse bisected by a straight line usually carved into a rock [1]. Synchronized like two arms of a clock moving in opposite directions, Graciela and FATIMA scooped hand full of soil from the mound and gracefully distributed it amongst the gathered ensemble.

Sympoetry, Performance by Graciela Gonzalez (left) and Meditation by FATIMA (right), MU Gallery, 2022    

My hands were anointed with dirt, sensuously traveling through it, while I poured my viscous attention into this material. Life was meeting life again! The porosity, textuality, and roughness of this material were ladened with organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and living organisms that sang the tunes of life. Its smell filled my nostrils with a breath of exteriority, paradoxical to the interiority of concrete walls of this art gallery. “Prosperity”, I hailed! And put a few drops of water in my mound and passed the bottle ahead.

My call for “prosperity” invoked our entangled ecologies – the invisible forces, queer causalities, microbial underworlds, multispecies kingdoms, orgasmic intra-activities, and the mutually co-constructive movements, enfolding within and without our bounded selves [2]. To look around rather than to look ahead – an ethos of bio-inclusivity [3] – a co-compositional score of making-with, surrounding-with, thinking-with, and being-with, i.e., Sympoetry. 
  Sympoetry, installation view (left) and poster (right), MU Gallery, 2022

This rhapsody of dirt and water intertwined with the thoughts of artists, creators, and participators, slowed us down and heightened our sense of self-awareness. It did not reduce our speed, but sowed a seed to become one with the world we are already tied with, the world we are ourselves, and the world we are of. Derived from age-old rituals of our ancestors, Sympoetry conducted a new-age baptism - an immersion into things of the Earth that filled our senses with grace, warmth, and affability.

“The times are urgent, let us slow down.” – Bayo Akomolafe

World That Awaits: Amay Kataria, poster and video gif, MU Gallery, 2022

World That Awaits

This became the axial theme of World That Awaits, a group show that ran from August 26th to September 17th, 2022 at MU Gallery in Chicago. The works of six interdisciplinary artists, Kayla Anderson, Fatima, Scott Kemp, Cody Norman, Jungwoo Lee, and Sofia Fernandez Diaz conspired a world that inspired us to slow down and stay with the trouble. Sympoetry became the framework behind pulling and weaving the aesthetic discourse of each artist to present a politics of cultivating response-ability, i.e., the collective ability to respond to a crisis.

Curation became a phenomenon of co-creation, which led to a complex nature-culture assemblage to understand that we don’t act alone. It provided the tools to become lost, so we can begin to find ourselves enmeshed within a world that is not just matter, but a fusion of mind-matter [2], a complex entanglement of the discursive with the material that is constantly emerging in its spatial and temporal essence.

World That Awaits: Amay Kataria, installation view, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Jack Pontarelli

Times of Trouble

Trouble is an interesting word – something precarious, something grotesque, something that requires fixing. The present is a thick veil of turbulent times and we, the Anthropos (the human species), have found ourselves in the middle of it [4]. The crescendo of this trouble is a deafening politics of climate change and other hyper-frameworks that polarize our society in a yay or a nay, ultimately leaving us in a state of despicable paralysis. Consequently, the narrative of exploitation versus preservation asserts its intellectual authority with scientific facts or religious propositions.

How do we meet the urgency of this situation? How do we find our way through this thick fog of climate crisis that our fundamental existence has dawned upon ourselves? Perhaps, we may address it by burgeoning a world that is very much an actor like us [5], where every human and non-human species is an actant as well as a reactant. This approach is more philosophical and open-ended, pronouncing a world that is both the "set and the contents of the set" [2]. Something that doesn't "add up but adds on". What does a world like this look like?

Arion Vulgaris by Kayla Anderson, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Dmitrii Gretchen

In her new video work called Arion Vulgaris, Kayla Anderson introduces us to a slug species that has been recently stirring up trouble in parts of Europe by colonizing the private gardens of its citizens. These slugs are deemed as invasive species and a “threat to biodiversity, human health, and economy by many countries” [6]. However, a recent collaborative study conducted with citizens and scientists in Austria confirmed that slug abundance correlated with the richer structure of plant diversity, which in turn led to an increase in slug activity, reproduction, and survival. Therefore, these human-designed gardens have emerged as critical sites for uncanny kinship between humans and other-than-human kinds, which Anderson presents with intimate footage collected in Austria and Lithuania.

For such troubled times, it may be tempting to clear the way with technological innovations dangling along the lines of abstract futurisms, which often lead to capitalist bureaucracies and mundane party politics [7]. However, these solutions are mostly compartmentalized, leading to unforeseen problems, which were inconsequential from the beginning itself. It appears that we are inhabiting a world that is congruently living and dying - one that is rich with beauty, diversity, and life along with grief, loss, and crisis. Therefore, rather than trying to escape the terrible trauma of our current ecological crisis, must we not simply stay with it? Timothy Morton calls this the "Dark Ecology" [5], which is a practice of operating from a standpoint of grief, so we can deliberately begin the process of healing.

“In order to find your way, you must become lost” – African Proverb

Response-Ability: A Collective Worldview

To find our place in this world, we must strive for being-with this world. When we lose our way, we don't stop acting. Rather we start conspiring with the world in a queer way [8]. We acknowledge the dead-end, face its meaninglessness, and accept our own monstrosity that blocks our way. So, we open our mind for the unknown that is about to come. The way forward becomes the way around us. It becomes an ethos for living as a damaged world, where we cultivate response-ability – a collective ecology of practices for knowing & doing, living & dying, creating & destroying, that dissolves our bounded perceptions and forces a collective worldview [4].

Ruga Ignis and Ruga Galcies by Cody Norman, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Jack Pontarelli (left) and Dmitrii Gretchen (right)

For example, the abandoned plastic becomes the matter behind Ruga ignis (fire) and Ruga glacies (ice) by Cody Norman. Most of the western society believes that their recycled plastic visits a countryside factory, where it’s churned up, reused, and circulated back into the economy. However, the US exports 1 million tons of plastic every year overseas, much of it to places that are virtually drowning in it [9]. Norman subverts this myth by mining recyclable plastic from local households, processing it through custom-built industrial apparatus, and finally sculpting his objects with it. The product is an aesthetic vessel emulating organic beauty, while obfuscating the hazardous trash, which is the material essence of his work.

Night Shift by Kayla Anderson, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Jack Pontarelli (left) and Dmitrii Gretchen (right)

Similarly, another work by Kayla Anderson was Night Shift, where she used glue (cellulose) and wire to recreate houseplants, which were tortured with fluorescent light in the lobby of a real estate company that she frequently walked by. “Just like people, plants need periods of darkness and rest,” she says. Rather than trying to rescue the original plants, Anderson approached the work with a queer and non-strategic methodology. By using glue, which is secreted from plants themselves, she materialized new houseplants that appeared charming and glass-like from the outside but were slowly discoloring and deteriorating from the inside. Thus, Anderson expressed her grief for the tortured plants with a subtle act of reversal, creating lifeless props that were lit with artificial lights.

We are conditioned to use nature as a resource to be utilized from a point of authority, rather than respecting it as an equal partner while co-inhabiting this world. Thus, nature becomes matter that we keep on a mantlepiece to self-soothe and self-justify our techno-deterministic solutions [5]. By employing a tentacular form of ecological practice through response-ability, we begin to shatter the distance between us and the idea of a monolithic nature.

Recentering Human Agency

Until recently, science had always colored a mechanistic view of nature – something that is predictable, stable, and immutable [10]. Once the scientific instrument pierces through the veil of nature, the mathematical formulas reduce its complexity into mere calculations and foretelling. The power of human thought, rendered by science and technology, has undoubtedly produced incessantly, and amplified the human agency. But what about the garden blooming by the roadside, and that flower emanating a fruitful scent that feeds a wasp with life-support? We often forget about these actants and their causalities that are producing the environment that we co-inhabit.

Am I A Flower by Jungwoo Lee, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Dmitrii Gretchen
Am I A Flower by Jungwoo Lee playfully identifies the agency of such objects by utilizing the symbol of a flower and augments it with technological finesse to bloom at specific locations on the floor. Lee beautifully crafted a swarm of these bloomers (blooming-movers), which were identical in their construction but unique in their character. The bloomers bump, fall, dance, and pose together, while the boundary around them enforces an interdependence, which entangles them in a symbiotic relationship with each other. The agency of these bloomers that makes them unique is baked into their computer brains powered by software algorithms. However, the spatial, temporal, and material forces acting within and without them conspire a narrative that unfolds in an unpredictable way for the audience.

Influent Body by Scott Kemp, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Dmitrii Gretchen
Perhaps on a macro level, the exterior and the interior are separated with visible boundaries. However, on the micro level, we are colonized by the bacterial underworld that does not respect or understand borders [11]. Scott Kemp presents a postcolonial ecology with Influent Body, which “looks at sites where aggregates of human microbial imprints are collected." When Kemp allowed these samples to grow and sustain, they began multiplying into a smatter of organic matter with a rhythm of their own tenacity. By making visible the aesthetics of this invisible material, Kemp questions the demarcating human boundaries and points us to a "collective bacterial multiracial constituency" [11], which makes up the mind-body organism.

Therefore, a significant part of the human agency is diffracted into its microbial constituents that make up the living fabric of our world. This unifies the interior and exterior representations of our personal worldview and transforms us from an apex authority into a mere thread in a web of life [10]. It forces us to explore an interconnected, intersubjective, and interdependent materiality that pervades the world around us.

        "Earthlings are never alone. That is the radical implication of Sympoesis." - Donna Haraway

Sympoetic Materialities

The dynamic complexity of our relationships with the constituents of the world enables us to observe matter and its materiality with humility. The material itself and the artistic engagement with it spins the politics that glues one's internal vision with an external expression in the world. Perhaps, our identities get infused with the materials as soon as we encounter them, colliding with their own history and socio-cultural politics. Therefore, Sympoetics becomes a form of methodological engagement with materials that conceives poetry as a co-compositional performance [12].

 Circulo No. 4 by Sofia Fernandez Diaz, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Dmitrii Gretchen

We see this in circulo no.4 by Sofia Fernandez Diaz, where the interconnected relationship between her materials comes to matter. For World That Awaits, Diaz constructed a site-specific installation made up of bees wax, glass, thread, and copper wire. The specific combination of these materials was a result of more than a decade long research, experimentation, and intimation with ancient and modern processes that she invokes in her practice. The installation appeared nonchalant when viewed from a distance but capriciously turned into a breathing ecosystem when observed closely. “The details, in relation to each other, amplifies a sensorial experience,” says Diaz. The organic form that resembles the opulent body of a slime mold is repeated in no certain order; however still evokes systematicity. Thus, by employing a rhythm of uncertainty and intuition, Diaz infuses these materials at hand with a psychological familiarity of environmental patterns, which consequently collapses the boundaries between human and non-human forces.

AXKAWA I by FATIMA, MU Gallery, 2022/Photo: Jack Pontarelli (left) and Dmitrii Gretchen (right)
Similarly, FATIMA draws from the historical iconography rooted in the archetypical patterns abundantly observed in honeycombs, geological formations, and indigenous cultures across the world. The circular metal disk sculpted with tessellated cells, and activated with a piercing neon light, is described as a "portal" of growth, fertility, and prosperity by FATIMA. The word Axkauia in her title AXKAWA I belongs to Nahuatl - a Native American language of Uto-Aztecan clan, which means "of abundance". Expressed through a language of symbols, FATIMA's work invites us to shift the narrative of the self from a bounded individual to a collectively producing system that is part of an abundant whole. Hence, the portal becomes a lens to experience an entangled ecology brimming with queer modes of thinking, feeling, and communing together.

Therefore, Sympoesis implies a materiality that is drastically collective, where the subject and the object unite with each other to create a direct perception of an action that is distributed equally amongst living and non-living entities at any moment of time. It relies on an ideological relational ontology, which flattens all ecological hierarchies from top to bottom. Perhaps, it becomes a meeting place [12], where past-present-future roles collide against each other, unsettle, and produce new materialities that were previously unimagined. It silently eschews futurism and teaches us to be present.


[1] Blamires, L. Q. (n.d.). In search of the water glyph. My Local Utah. https://www.mylocalutah.com/quadman/anasazi-adventure/

[2] Akomalafe, Bayo. Entangled with the world. www.bayoakomalafe.net, 2012, www.bayoakomolafe.net/post/entangled-with-the-world.

[3] Van den Bergen, L., & Van den Akker, R. (2021). Biomimicry and nature as sympoiesis. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, 25(3), 434–450. https://doi.org/10.5840/techne2021107146

[4] Haraway, Donna Jeanne. 2016. Staying with the Trouble - Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

[5] Morton, Timothy. 2007. Ecology Without Nature - Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[6] Dörler, D., Kropf, M., Laaha, G. et al. Occurrence of the invasive Spanish slug in gardens: can a citizen science approach help deciphering underlying factors?. BMC Ecol18, 23 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-018-0179-7

[7] Akomalafe, Bayo. What climate collapse asks of us. www.bayoakomolafe.net, 2022, https://www.bayoakomolafe.net/post/what-climate-collapse-asks-of-us

[8] Akomalafe, Bayo. To find your way get lost. www.bayoakomolafe.net, 2022, https://www.bayoakomolafe.net/post/to-find-your-way-get-lost

[9] McCormick, E., Murray, B., & Fonbuena, C. (2019, June 17). Where does your plastic go? global investigation reveals america's Dirty Secret. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/17/recycled-plastic-america-global-crisis

[10] Kilby, Phoebe. Sympoetic Communities. Sympoetica.

[11] Rinaldo, Ken. Borderless Bacteria / Colonialist Cash. www.kenrinaldo.com, 2022, https://www.kenrinaldo.com/portfolio/borderless-bacteria-colonialist-cash/

[12] Berry, Alex. (2019). Sympoetics of Place and the Red Dust of India. Journal of Childhood Studies. 13-27. 10.18357/jcs442201919057.

All Photos by Jack Pontarelli and Dmitrii Gretchin

World That Awaits was curated by Amay Kataria, a new-media artist deliberating upon the relationship between self and the collective. Operating with a systems mindset, he conspires with his surroundings to create subsystems of warmth, empathy, and joy. He holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was previously an artist-in-residence at Art Center Nabi and Mana Contemporary. His work has been exhibited at Vector Festival, Hyde Park Art Center, Ars Electronica, Electromuseum, amongst others.