Jaz Choi, Anne Galloway
Let us begin by acknowledging the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its profound effects on people's lives. Since the global outbreak, the demand for the mobility of a wide range of things continues to increase, while others are under strict control. This includes viral and material matters, as well as digital content—things that help sustain human minds and spirits, not just the human body itself. More-than-human-centered design and nurturing, care-full relations have been key emerging themes in recent design research and practice [1,2,3]. We both believe that radical change must start with the self, and that we are not singular but holobionts, a coalescence of animals and other living things. In this column, we have both responded to the matter of global mobilities from the perspective of our everyday lives, focusing on what time and movement mean to each of us now.
During the past year, I have often reflected on the troubling connections between highly mobile zoonotic diseases and strictly confined animal farming. In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand restricted, if only temporarily, the movement of everyone in the country except for essential workers. As most people sheltered in place, we did not stop transporting feed to farms and animals to slaughter, or shipping both live animals and animal products around the world. Tracing the movement of both human and non-human bodies has become instrumental to the country's health and biosecurity strategies, and our livestock industries continue to play a stabilizing economic role in a sea of uncertainty. Our small island nation remains largely isolated from the rest of the world, and largely protected from the virus.
But studying sheep farming for more than a decade, and keeping my own sheep half that time, has changed the way I experience and think about mobility, time, and space. Most important, they now register first and foremost with me as embodied experiences, in all their situated messiness. And since our flock has sheltered me this year, I find myself responding to questions of global mobilities in terms of local movement. I wonder what researchers can learn about our own movements—or lack thereof.
Taking care of animals regularly requires moving between different space-times. Shepherds recall past weather, plant growth, animal condition, and market prices, and they speculate about their entangled futures, just to decide where the sheep might graze today. But movement should not be confused with sustained action; pauses and periods of inaction are integral to good relations and just exchanges in more-than-human worlds.
A shepherd I respect and admire once explained to me that every time a sheep dies on farm, it is because of something they did too little or too much. They were talking about responsibility and accountability in the deep interconnectedness of farmed animal and human lives. Everything a farmer does, or does not do, affects the animals. Everything humans do, or do not do, shapes who we become in relation to the animals we keep. Domesticated-animal agency works the same way, but we prevent them from keeping us in the same ways.
Figuring out when to move and when to be still is also the central task of learning to "speak sheep." To be a shepherd the sheep trust, you must move with them. That requires regular stops to carefully observe the position of the sheep's ears and feet, and to imagine what that personality, in that body, in that space, might do next. Only then can you make your own move, knowing it will trigger the whole process to begin again.
It's easy to get lost in the hopes and nightmares of global mobilities, but we still live every day through local movements—smaller in scale, but no less relevant. Taking care is only ever situated, and I am fortunate to be bound to this place and these creatures. They take good care of me and I do my best to return their gifts.
The past year showed that the dominant cultural vision, driven by an incessant desire for "progress," is not conducive to livable futures. How we might understand and imagine futures needs to radically change, in Audre Lorde's way: "to grab something by the roots." Where the year's unfoldings and self profoundly entangled, I was compelled to remember my deeply embodied yet less cognizant Korean shamanic roots in my understanding and experience of time and space.
As the oldest belief system in Korea, shamanism has evolved syncretically through multiple periods of political oppression and stigmatization. It remains at the core of Korea, shaping Korean culture and arts. Spiritual ecologies involving shamanic traditions co-evolving with Indigenous cultures, and how harmonious relations might emerge between these and other fields of knowledge and practice have been well articulated by Robin Wall Kimmerer, David Abram, and others. Here, I hope to draw attention to an aspect of Korean shamanism that resonated with me this extraordinary year: humanness in relation to spatiotemporality and harmony as a means to help imagine the future-perfect in arts and design.
|Still from Jane Jin Kaisen's Community of Parting. This work stayed with me (Jaz) well beyond my first encounter with it at the 2019 Venice Biennale. This two-channel video art invokes the story of Princess Bari, the mythic foundation of female shamans (mudang), a goddess who is believed to care for the dead crossing the river of life. It explores, with tenderness and honesty, female Korean shamanism as ethics and aesthetics of memory across space-time. More about Kaisen: janejinkaisen.com.
Similar to other shamanic lifeways, in Korean shamanism, time is perceived as nonlinear and circular. It simply exists, negating the need for metaphysical or schematic speculations. Instead, it opens space for lamentation and the acceptance of its passing through creative expressions. Yet such lamenting is complemented with explicit acknowledgment that humans can experience time in their own unique ways. For example, ritual music is centered on the concept of time as flow. It is fundamentally improvisatory; each performance is different, led by the percussionist constructing the rhythm in response to the combined state of the shaman, performers, and audience. Abundant use of syncopation opens and sustains opportunities for irregularities, for change. Humans move repetitively through coming and going or living and dying, but there is always a possibility for change—if not now, sometime in the future.
As such, Korean shamanic understanding of harmony is not about fitting irregularities like puzzle pieces into a singular spatiotemporal whole. Rather, it demands a frank admission, or at times even a blunt defense, of pluralism and diversity. Misfortunes are deemed spatiotemporally bound, which requires—literally—untangling (풀이) through shamanic performance, often involving the knotting and unknotting of fabric. Harmony in plural is evident in how tutti is performed. As noise artist Ji Youn Kang says, in Western music, tutti takes place when all sounds are directed to come together at once perfectly: "1, 2, 3, BOOM!" In Korean ritual music: "1, 2, 3, BooBooBooBOOM!" .
Thus, in Korean shamanic traditions, perfection necessarily implies imperfection. Korean shamanism categorically defies the notion of purity, singularity, and uniformity. Carefully looking at Korean traditional architecture would reveal a wide range of irregularities, such as difference in the thickness of columns and level of finishing and forms of material, demonstrating perfect-imperfection, not as a result of carelessness or lack of finesse, but rather through seeking the highest aesthetics humans could achieve as imperfect beings. In this line of thought, Youngsoo Cho sees mak (imperfection) and bium (emptiness) as central to Korean aesthetics .
Remembering my Korean shamanic roots has been helpful for me to (re) imagine different futures and differently about futures—to mak-dance on, in this body, in these space-times.
Despite the differences, each reflection is highly situated in particular bodies, minds, and spirits. How would you understand global mobilities if you brought it this close? We invite you to join the conversation: #GlobalMobilities #LocalMovements #TheCo #InteractionsMag
1. Jain, A. Calling for a more-than-human politics. Medium. Feb. 19, 2020; https://medium.com/@anabjain/calling-for-a-more-than-human-politics-f558b57983e6
5. Cho, B. Mak and bium: imperfection and emptiness in Korean aesthetics. The Architectural Review. Jan. 26, 2018; https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/mak-and-bium-imperfection-and-emptiness-in-korean-aethetics
Jaz Hee-jeong Choi is the director of the Care-full Design Lab and Vice-Chancellor's Principal Research Fellow in Design, RMIT, Melbourne, Australia. [email protected]
Anne Galloway is a multispecies anthropologist, design ethnographer, founder of the More-Than-Human Lab, and associate professor in Te Kura Hoahoa (School of Design Innovation), Te Herenga Waka (Victoria University of Wellington), Aotearoa (New Zealand). [email protected]
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