Wolfe and Whiteman: Landscape and Inscription

On Thursday Feb 19th, I had the pleasure of attending a talk on the UNSW campus in Sydney by Cary Wolfe and Maria Whiteman. Maria’s work (http://maria-whiteman.squarespace.com/) speaks to many of the concepts we have been collectively exploring through this larger project, namely movement, affect, ecologies, and sensory knowing. They presented on her video installations “Mountain Pine Beatle” and “Roadside Kestrel.” One of the aesthetic or affective cuts that I took from her presentation and the videos was the repetitive image of walking feet filmed from above, moving over different terrains and topologies, and the reoccurring motif of the side car mirror. There was a lot of talk about these projects in relation to Timothy Morton’s work on ecology, intra-species, environmental degradation, and human response in the face of catastrophe. However, the feet and the mirrors activated a nostalgic sense of longing, materializing modes of transportation through lands, much like the work of Elinor Whidden (http://www.elinorwhidden.com/92738/home/) that aims to examine issues related to Colonialism, silence, invisibility, and violence.

As part of a neo-liberal narrative of progress, climate assumes that change is teleologically directed by known human actions. Dominant climate change discourse is saturated with conjectures in which humans will control the future or save the past. The language that frames such discourse is often laden with urgency and impending crisis of the world’s end, yet, as Clare Colebrook (2012) has argued, this threat is perceived at a distance. She writes, “there is neither panic nor any apparent affective comportment that would indicate that anyone really feels or fears [this threat]” (p. 53). Climate change she contends is constituted through the consumption of affect – news coverage of natural disasters; apocalyptic movies – but without intensity “without any sense that our bodies and our time are mutually implicated in environmental changes” (Neimanis & Walker, 2014, p. 559). Rather than a view that climate composes a backdrop to human existence, climate is ‘in us’ (Colebrook, 2011); or as Whiteman and Whidden’s work attests “we are ‘weather bodies.’”

Here i draw on Astrida Neimanis and Rachel Loewen Walker’s (2014) concept of “weathering.” Weathering they contend is “a way of being/becoming, or a mode of affecting and differentiating that brings humans into relation with more-than-human weather” (p. 560). They argue that such a re-orientation shifts the question of “what can we do to stop climate change” (which keeps climate change at a distance) to “how is climate change me?” (p. 561).