Excitation Energy Transfer

Over here at the Fields of Decay headquarters, we were asked to read a paper about photosynthesis that uses the term ‘Excitation Energy Transfer’ (EET). We love science, but for the love of science, those dense scientific publications are hard to absorb! So, while still not entirely sure what EET is, it feels like a valid descriptor for the end of Week 2’s experience at Sydney University’s symposium: Feminist Queer Anticolonial Propositions for Hacking the Anthropocene.

Now, imagine Leah and Sophia as one molecule and the presenters at the Symposium as another. Borrowing some science from the internet to color our analogy (thank you, internet):

Excitation energy transfer (EET) is a process where the electronic excitation is transferred from a donor to an acceptor. It is widely seen in both natural and in artificial systems, such as light-harvesting in photosynthesis, fluorescence resonance energy transfer spectroscopy and microscopy, and the design of light-emitting molecular devices.

When a molecule absorbs light, it becomes electronically excited, and such excitation may be transferred to another molecule nearby. In photosynthesis, most of the light-absorbing pigments, chlorophylls and carotenoids, are in light-harvesting complexes, which means their role is to absorb light and send the energy to other pigments, eventually to the reaction center for driving chemical reactions.

from: Modeling Electronic Coupling in Excitation Energy Transfer, by Chao-Ping Hsu and Matteo Cavalleri

***

Pigment interactions are far stronger, and energy levels and absorption spectra change. The interactions lead to new excitonic energy levels, shared between the strongly interacting molecules, which can even behave as one big super-molecule.

from: Natural Strategies for Photosynthetic Light Harvesting, by Roberta Croce and Herbert van Amerongen

If information, creativity, and knowledge can be envisioned as forms of light energy, then we were shooting rainbows out of our eyeballs by the end of the conference. Our resonance with the educators, thinkers, creatives, and organizers of Hacking the Anthropocene was so immensely and viscerally felt that we very well may have bonded into a super-molecule of planet-loving goodness.

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Week 2, Day 4 (continued): 

It all started after we hustled our way to Sydney, picked up our brand new (used) Aura Camera 6000, and dragged ourselves + half our weight in equipment over to Love Letters to Other Worlds, an evening of art, engagement, and collaboration with other worlds. IWCS Dickson St. Community Space was a hive of activity containing photographic, video, and interactive artworks by Kathy High. Waste Matters: You are my Future was largely about microbiomes and fecal transplantation, an “exploration of the power of poo.” It was also about so much more. Both intimate and touching, as well as rockstar dream your own big future, it was funny, moving, and stimulated the senses and imagination. There was a face painting station where one could be adorned with either David Bowie embellishments or a termite masterpiece, and in the center of it all was a Ouija Board mechanism to commune with the termite world called Caution, workers below, created by Perdita Phillips. We made lots of friends, both human and termite. We asked a lot of good questions like: “Who was here?” “What is energy?” and “What is it?” Many of the answers were in the termites’ native language, which we could only pretend to interpret. However the answer to the latter question was “best b jk.” Termites, you best be joking. Then the oracle planchette (which, in this case, was a wine glass) swiftly landed on the termite’s behind. The end. Humor and profundity rolled into one experience.

We can’t leave this evening without saying that the snackage was mighty, especially Lindsay Kelley’s gastronomic experience Bioart Kitchen. With her black elbow-length latex gloves greased with (what looked like) butter, she concocted a cocktail of the most lubricating proportions. It may have looked like shit (chocolate ice cream, coffee, Kahlúa, Benefiber, and corn), but it went down and out real smooth. A thought-provoking and relaxative night was had by all.

Sophia Bowie

Week 2, Day 5:

On Friday we caught the early train (along with hundreds of city commuters) to the University of Sydney to attend the Symposium (hosted by the Sydney Environment Institute): “Hack the Anthropocene!”

And hack we did.

According to Wikipedia, the Anthropocene is “a proposed epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems”.

From the outset, it was clear that this Symposium was going to be all about hacking and hijacking this definition. As Dr. Astrida Neimanis so eloquently proposed, “audaciously exploring alternative possibilities” beyond the binary ‘man’ vs ‘nature’ perspective that places we ‘humans’ centerstage. She instead offered an alter-Anthropocene which considers the perspective of the invisible, the shadow people, the non-human casualties. She proposed that we were gathered in that room out of a desire for a more embodied response to what can be done. Perhaps that is what is needed to understand and attend to the predicament at hand.

We then witnessed an inspiring Opening Keynote by Ellen van Neerven, who read an excerpt from her book, “Heat and Light”, which was transformative and poetic and reeked of solastalgia. It also really underlined the value of fiction as a tool for resistance, storytelling as a tool to enliven empathy and transmit layers of knowledge that exist in lived experience.

The imagery of entanglement from this session (entangled roots, entangled opinions, messy ideas) resonated throughout the day as we dived into a multitude of back-to-back ideas and provocations from a range of academics and artists.

Entangled Lines
Kathryn Yusoff

The morning session opened by waxing poetic and delving deep into ECOZOA: A Cellular Response to the Anthropocene, poetry by Helen Moore. How can we respond on a cellular level to the whole ecology of ourselves and the environment?

Vicki Kirby talked about identity – Where do ‘I’ begin and end? What if nature speaks me? What if nature is suicidal? What if culture was really nature all along?

Suzi Hayes proposed Barbie as the high priestess of the Anthropocene – symbolic of white privilege and power, representing “the unfinished story of whiteness” – but also symbolic of a specific orientation. Are nature and culture really separate? Which silences are implied with Barbie at our helm?

The brilliant Pony Express lured us in with their Eco-Sexual Mystique, a video-art piece that got us all hot and horny for nature via intimate and sexy human-snake interaction. “I don’t know if we have the same definition of consent.”

And then Romand Coles gave a talk that blew our minds, resonating intensely with our project’s aims and filling in some gaps for us. How can we refocus the sense foreboding and prophecy of the Anthropocene, the sense that we are faced with an incomprehensible planetary catastrophe? Can we instead see this as some kind of call to action – and if so, how can we adopt new eco-political systems for being?

In thinking about systems and ideologies, this article critiques neoliberalism’s obsession with competition and consumerism, but also suggests that we have failed to build an alternative. “It’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” So how do we prepare for change? How do we mobilize new alternatives?

This is where Rom’s talk was so powerful. He talked about his research in grassroots democracy and social movements, and the energetics for change being a combination of the “Episodic Shock Democracy” (for example, a rage-filled uprising); and the “Slow Time Quotidian Practices” (the everyday, small changes built on energetic exchanges that can happen on a cellular level in a conversation that activates mirror neurons; or interspecies connections). He emphasized the “energetic grid” where these alternating currents meet and support each other—where profound practices of attention such as meditation, gardening, and artmaking provide a base to stabilize and draw energy from macro-dynamics and flare-ups such as storms, fires, and fury. Can we cultivate capacities to become enraged and galvanize social change?

Rom talked about “receptive agency” as key to this rethink – if our world is “felt”, then the way we receive and the energy around how we respond is super important. There is an ecological effect when we are moving receptively and co-creating. Practicing attention creates resonance.

Can we energize the “Not-Yet?”

We were lucky enough to grab Rom during the lunch break and talk to him about Fields of Decay, at which point we were sparking with our potential to energize the “not-yet” through this project. Rom’s suggestion that performance can act as a wormhole was particularly evocative for us.

We also discovered that our adoption of the phrase ‘energy enthusiasts’ had a historical resonance. During the American Revolution, the term ‘enthusiasts’ was used to undermine the credibility of groups of women knitting for the war effort. However, these fierce knitters chose to reappropriate the term, owning that they were ‘knitting enthusiasts’ with pride and political rebellion. We like it. Energy Enthusiasts Unite!

Speaking of energy enthusiasts, we were excited to discover a video display of Cat Jones work Somatic Drifts, a sensory interactive work exploring “trans-human and inter-species empathy”. This work was super inspiring as we start to formulate our own sensory, experiential components to Fields of Decay.

All the while, Stephanie Springgay hacked at our senses with her Volatizing Bouquet—an olfactory ether permeating the space and causing our smellometers to register something both foreign and fitting for the themes at hand.

After lunch, more provocations were layered into our already hyper-stimulated minds and senses…

Spiraling

Can we practice purposeful attentiveness and responsiveness to nature? Nature uses lures. Food lures attract the right insects to pollinate flowers. Beauty is used as a tool to elicit responsiveness, which leads to action. “I want you to want me,” says Nature. By paying attention, we can see and understand the lively responsiveness of the world to cultivate a lively relationship. Responsiveness is relational. (Thom van Dooren and Deborah Bird Rose)

Kay Are
Kay Are

The dingo’s howl is a howl for the Anthropocene. Kept in an enclosure, we see ex-pets behind wire fences, returned for not acting like pets, but acting true to their nature – wild, non-affectionate, independent. What does the howl of a dingo in captivity represent? The horror-movie foreboding of a future we know is approaching? (Fiona Probyn-Rapsey)

Victoria Hunt led us on a physical journey deep into our physical selves. We turned ourselves in the space and in our imaginations into a skeletal view of looking at ourselves from inside and out.

Lindsay Kelley’s extreme baking experience turned to ‘hard tack,’ a survival food that sustained many explorers and soldiers. As we attempted to bite into these solid hard-tack biscuits that were more like rocks, Lindsay talked us through the colonizing history and associated indigestion that the hard-tack represented. Luckily there was tea and juice available to wash it all down.

Hard-tack

After the break, we were asked to question our assumptions of Indigenous Australians, looking at their relationship to mining, sustaining their own livelihoods, and anthropogenic expectations these ‘stewards of the earth.’ (Eve Vincent and Timothy Neale)

Majidi Warda gave us a retelling of the Anthropocene as a phone sex romance. “Now the really big bang… what to do?” … “This is irreversible” … “Build more machines and save the dying mother.”

Jennifer Mae Hamilton proposed a rethink of our response to nature … why clear the roads with salt when the snow falls deep? Why not close the roads, rethink, stay home, slow the flow of cars and fossil fuels? What would we do instead if we had to take the time to stay in?

And then we pretended to be ticks. Feel the light, climb up higher and higher, then drop and hope to land in a fleshy warm zone. Then suck. Undine Sellbach and Stephen Loo proposed this playful approach to the cycle of the tick, encouraging us to see it from a different perspective.

The closing keynotes continued to hack our overstimulated minds…

The first keynote was by Professor Cecilia Åsberg, who we met the previous night while communing with the termites. Cici is also Head of The Seed Box in Sweden, which was beaming on our radar, so we already knew she was the real deal. Here’s what we took from her keynote, reconstructed and re-membered:

We have so many stories of toxic impacts upon our world. We did not know better. We still do not know better. We are a culture of the obscene, full of devices, overload, overuse, an obsession with things – but no one wants to take the blame, no one wants to own up. Capitalism, corporatism, consumerism. But each individual has their own part to play, we are all implicated in a thousand tiny anthropocenes. Nature is messy, contaminated, toxic. But was nature ever pure to start with? We are afraid of the chemical, but everything is made up of chemicals. We need to find allies, a new ethic of conviviality, care, sharing and hospitality.

Relational
Cecilia Åsberg

And finally we heard from Dr. Kathryn Yusoff, whose closing provocations brought race to the forefront of the conversation. Again, reconstructed and re-membered from the chaos of our frenzied notes:

Decolonisation is not a metaphor. It has territorial implications. The frontier mentality, and the concept of ‘stewardship’, of man as responsible for the land, reinforces colonialism. Geology maps history through the strata, layers of rock, mineral, fossils. Geology uses death as markers, and the anthropocene amplifies the horror by picking epic moments as golden spikes or markers for future geologists. Dates are set based on nuclear tests, slavery, genocide – so many markers connected with the deaths of indigenous people. The Anthropocene as Environmental Racism. Maybe we need new forms of worlding, and to hasten the end of this one?

Cautionary Tale

Week 2, Day 6:

We went out Friday night and celebrated the end of the Anthropocene (or the end of hacking away at it, anyway). We were lucky to be staying with the wonderful and inspiring Julie Vulcan, so our late night conversations were rich with re-hashing and re-hacking all that we had taken in.

So Saturday morning was a slow start. It was too beautiful not to go out and see Sydney, so we went to Carriageworks to catch some of some of the 20th Biennale of Sydney:

We also got a chance to hug fellow EARTHling Andrew at his digs slinging drinks at Cafe Lounge. We went to bed tired and inspired.

Week 2, Day 7:

Days turn into nights turn into days, and this one brought us up and out early morning to catch some more of the Biennale on Cockatoo Island before taking flight back to Brisbane.

Sailing to Cockatoo

We highly recommend making your way out there if you are in Sydney. The island is covered with evocative and provocative exhibits, so much so that we spontaneously erupted into artistic response. Our top two artworks were choreographer William Forsythe’s pendulum field, Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, and Korakrit Arunanondchai’s Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names (though notably we were not able to see everything on the island). We responded accordingly:

Art Everywhere

And then we headed back to Brisbane before “cracking on” through Weeks 3 and 4 (to borrow terminology from Leah’s husband, Mark). We had absorbed so much in a few short days, got really excited, sent out a lot of energy, and reacted with artistic flare. If that process is not Excitation Energy Transfer, then we fold and the plants win. Anyway, we received this message on the way out:

“Good luck on your project! I take the image of you two in lab coats with the aura camera as a promise of indisputable success.”

~ actor, environmental scientist, and Earth empathic being Andrew Lindqvist ~

Dissolving the Binary

Nature, we want you. Let’s do it.

 

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Seeding the Fields

Tomorrow starts off Week 2 of Fields of Decay with a stomp! But before we Suzuki train ourselves onto the scene early on a Monday morning, a recap of Week 1:

Sophia arrived in Brisbane on Saturday March 26th from Delhi, India, while Leah was beachside performing absurd cabaret for the Brunswick Picture House‘s opening weekend. The two met on Australian soil on Sunday and settled in just enough to get moving again on Monday.

Day 1 was a slow roll in, as it was a public holiday for Australia. We felt like troopers for showing up to work and also proud of ourselves for not going too hard and easing into the process. We brought over our gear, grounded in the new space and stretched our bodies as we put our minds together on best practices for us to begin our work together.

Afterwards we took in a broader view of Brisbane at Mt. Coot-tha, christening our new collaboration with sips of champagne as we pin-pointed our places in the city and our perspectives on the universe at large.

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Day 2 we refined process. Leah warmed us up with some contemporary dance moves, yoga poses, and more grounding—as we work with electrical impulses, we begin each day with grounding.

We attended to administration, setting up meetings with scientists, researching experiments and tools we may be able to model and use. Sophia is reading “The Field” by Lynne McTaggart and even though McTaggart is not a scientist discussing quantum physics, it is still a heady game. We teased out relevant passages and picked them apart further, using markers and big paper to turn the studio into a science classroom for artists.

IMG_20160404_142804

We powered through our scheduled chunk of ‘Make’ Time, opting instead to deal with logistics and setting up systems for success. Afterwards, we went out for an intense Vinyasa Yoga class at Brisbane Yoga Space, did handstands, and returned home to cook up a vegan tofu stir-fry using fresh herbs and yummies from the backyard garden. Leah even skilfully made gluten-free lemon tarts and Sophia stayed up too late staring into the computer screen.

Energy Enthusiasts Unite!

Day 3 and 4 we tapped back into our shared trainings, and did improvisations that may have gone overboard (especially when Sophia got locked out of the building). We’re getting physically in touch with the space, while studying how the space between particles is a hive of activity. Our minds are buzzing with activity—still attempting to understand the Zero Point Field and how it may be an endless renewable energy source we can tap into. We are mapping out sites of interest for field visits and defining our terms and criteria for the project. We met with Kieran Swann, Program Manager of Metro Arts where we are gloriously and gratefully housing our residency, and bounced our ideas off him and received feedback on what resonates.

We also delved into ‘Make’ Time! We got out our slew of cameras, projectors, recording devices and started to trial-and-error capture any waves we could find. We got back in touch with our projection inspirations (both in our own work and in others’). We did field recordings of the sound and light (or lack thereof) in our basement residency space, preparing to head out with our experiments into the world imminently.

And we did that night! We had our first meeting with a scientist, Skye Thomas-Hall of Schenk Lab which specializes in Algae, Plant, and Microbial Biotechnology. Despite having trained together with SITI Company and working together on a Superhero Clubhouse project in NYC, this is our first devising collaboration together. Thus, we are in the very early stages of figuring out how exactly this collaboration will function as well as the content we will produce. So it was really great to go from talking about expected outcomes with Skye (because we know but we don’t know yet—this is the time for experimentation!) to being able to bounce ideas around on a more fluid and free level. We discussed everything from sites to tools for measurement to more ephemeral psuedoscience approaches to the subject.

We have been discussing how we are dealing with two different realms within this one project—the tangible, biological earth and our human bodies’ relationship to it and the more intangible physics behind the superstructure of our universe that interconnects us all. So it was really nice to hear a scientist devoted to matter that can be tested whip out a statistic that 68% of the Universe is made up of dark energy, dark matter is 27%, leaving our observable Universe at a measly 5%. There is literally a lot more than meets the eye here. time to explore the other side of the story as well as hug some trees and Reiki some animals.

We also bid on an aura photo camera on eBay, just in case that’s where this project is going.

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Day 5 Friday’s warm-up commenced levitation training!

Okay, Friday was April Fools’ Day, but “The Field” implies that it might be possible. So the day became all about energy. Sophia gave Leah Reiki as an energetic warm-up, and we both stream-of-consciousness did a riff on energy, blind-folded and to the jams of Jay-Z and Beyonce.

On Thursday night, Sophia stumbled upon some toxic sites near Sydney (virtually tripping on them via the internet waves and Google keywords). of particular fascination was Sydney’s “green Olympics” being built on a toxic dumping site.

We pondered some new criteria for choosing our sites of interest: what about places where you can’t necessarily see the damage but it exists very presently underneath? Leah found some local Brisbane sites where the toxic sludge is oozing out from beneath parks built on gold mines turned dumping sites.

And what will we use as our baseline studies? can we compare sites over time? Or is it more feasible to compare the beautiful vs. the disturbed?

The week left us with a lot of open questions and we left the studio to attend the intense, entertaining, and educational play reading of fellow Creative Development Writer/Director Emma Workman Bolt. We also went to Qld Poetry Festival’s ‘Couplet’ event, a poetry and sexy parody fiction reading at the Brisbane City Library. We felt ready for the weekend, which would bring us another scientist meeting with Evan Stephens, and a day of rest.

we believe there are some connections between the things we know and the things we don’t after this jam-packed week of learning and processing:

From Lynne McTaggart:

But there was also a larger implication of a vast underlying sea of energy. The existence of the Zero Point Field implied that all matter in the universe was interconnected by waves, which are spread out through time and space and can carry on to infinity, tying one part of the universe to every other part. The idea of The Field might just offer a scientific explanation for many metaphysical notions, such as the Chinese belief in the life force, or qi, described in ancient texts as something akin to an energy field. It even echoed the Old Testament’s account of God’s first dictum ‘Let there be light’, out of which matter was created.

Leah waxed poetic and profound post-Reiki and so we unwittingly co-crafted a poem out her observations.

there is something about that sense of touch—
exchange of energy
that is identity affirming,
it feels like Love.
i don’t use that word a lot
to describe
earth all around you
electrical impulses
echoes of sensation
a ripple effect
in our bodies
memory of touch
being touched
or nearly touched.
aware of where we are
in space,
channeling the Earth
through us
into a lightbulb,
waves
strung into filaments,
déjà vu
of the lo-res images,
light and movement energy
imprinted into sound—
a transmission.

we are training in studies of levitation.

We are energetically enthusiastic about Week 2 and the adventures it will bring. We are riding the waves of fate to meet with a scientist in Mullumbimby and then further south to attend the Hacking the Anthropocene Symposium at University of Sydney—another full-on week where we attempt to understand the mysteries of the Universe! lucky us and wish us luck 😉

For more about the Fields of Decay project: Metro Arts Creative Residency