CALL FOR PAPERS

MULTINATURALISM — ART + AUSTRALIA #57.1 

When Edward Colless’s legendary editorial nihilism (Plague, Brutalism, etc…) becomes quotidian realism, it’s time to take stock. When bushfires ravage the country, killing billions of animals, but the federal government won’t cut emissions, and state governments won’t stop logging native forests, it’s time to take stock. When climate disaster and the 6th Great Extinction Event mean business as usual, but a human virus halts everything, Multinaturalism begs the question: why have people and planet parted ways?

De-centering the human, Multinaturalism ensures that conversations about culture necessarily encompass nature. Coined by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Multinaturalism grows out of Amerindian thought, which, like many Indigenous epistemologies including those of Australia, posits a time when all life was human. Various events led to the differentiations we see today: mountains, rivers, plants, animals, but underneath these external differences, beings are still connected via kinship. Some of these relationships are being re-acknowledged with legal title and personhood status, such as the Whanganui River in Aotearoa. Meanwhile, closer to home, the sacred trees of Djab Wurrung continue to be threatened by a proposed highway extension, echoing the bleak vision of Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, in which state-sanctioned destruction of a sacred tree leaves its kinspeople feeling “unhinged from their own bodies, unmoored, vulnerable, separated from eternity.” (79)

Cosmological relationality operates as a fundamental challenge to European dualism, the supposed gulf between nature and culture that is the inheritance of the Enlightenment. Val Plumwood calls this state “hyper-separation”, paving the way for global extractivism (Macarena Gomez-Barris), climactic chaos and “extinction cascades” (Deborah Bird Rose). Our current era, like the majority of Western scientific taxonomies, has been named after those doing the classifying: the Anthropocene. Yet again, “man” is at the centre, and it goes without saying he is white, straight, cis-gendered and able-bodied (Rosi Braidotti). The neologism Anthropocene has many detractors, not least Indigenous communities who have fought to maintain belief systems that don’t support a nature-culture binary. The language we choose is crucial: “It matters what stories tell stories”, (Donna Haraway). When learning her native Potawatomi, Robin Wall Kimmerer finds that English nouns (inert objects) are instead verbs, entities in a constant state of relational becoming. “To be a hill, to be a sandy beach, to be a Saturday, all are possible verbs in a world where everything is alive” (Braiding Sweetgrass, 55). Multinaturalism also encompasses the supernatural, as Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa reminds us that spirits form part of any healthy ecology. Bruce Pascoe writes of the pedagogical role of animal imagery such as “a row of bats hanging from a tree to teach us about the importance of family”, but equally he references the interdimensional: “beings floating in space with their legs folded back at the knee to impress upon us the importance of dream and the wonders it reveals.” (Salt, 111)

This issue of Art + Australia is dedicated to non-anthropocentric perspectives and practices that exist within a continuum of naturecultures (Haraway), whether from Indigenous or other epistemologies which de-centre colonial, patriarchal and capitalist agendas. In what has also rightly been called the Plantationocene (Anna Tsing), we are wary of reproducing “monocultures of the mind” (Vandana Shiva), and seek a “polyculture of complementary knowledges” (Kimmerer). We encourage image-and-text companion planting, and healthy understories as well as overstories.

 

Please submit a short abstract (approx. 300 words) as a proposal for consideration to the editor by 4 May 2020. All essays are requested at around 2,000 words. Successful proposals will then need to be submitted in full by 30 June 2020. A writer’s fee of $1,000 (plus gst if applicable) will be paid. (Published October 2020) Email abstracts to: tessa.laird@unimelb.edu.au and vmcinnes@unimelb.edu.au. Tessa Laird, Special Issue Editor

 

Title Image: Artist Peter Waples-Crowe wearing Ngarigo Queen – Cloak of queer visibility, 2018 at the opening of A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness, curated by Hannah Presley, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2018. Courtesy the artist and ACCA. Photograph: Jacqui Shelton