Monster Writing Month

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer – what better time to conjure a monster!

Ghost_trees_in_snow_2December is Monster Writing Month at The Monster Network! We will bring three blog posts that each engage with the interconnections between writing and the monstrous, between creature and created, between words and worlds. Exploring writing as an un/lively process, and text as something that always escapes the control and intent of the author, Monster Writing Month asks what kind of creatures the writer summons – and what creatures summons the writer.

Keep an eye out (and press it back in) for the first blog post on Friday 6 December!

The Monster Writing blog posts are inspired by the workshop ‘Monster Writing’ organized by Katrine Meldgaard Kjær and Line Henriksen at ETHOS Lab, IT University of Copenhagen, November 2019.

Image: Ghost Trees in Snow, Wikimedia Commons. Sheila Sund from Salem, United States

Monstrous architecture

— Guest post from architects Signe Pērkone and Ramón Córdova –

In July of 2019, the Monster Network was invited to give a keynote at the symposium Monstrous Ontologies: Politics, Ethics, Materiality at the University of Roehampton in London (you can listen to our keynote here). One of the presentations at the symposium was delivered by the architects Signe Pērkone and Ramón Córdova, who talked about how they work with the monster in their own architectural practice. We were intrigued and interested by what we heard, and saw a lot of connections to how we think, work, and write with the monster in the Monster Network. So we asked them if they wanted to write a blog post for us!

In what follows, Signe and Ramón write about their experience working with, amongst other things, a territory occupied by a vast landfill close to the southern border of Mexico. During their talk they showed a video from the landfill, which can be viewed here (password: Ecologies).

Before giving you a chance to explore architecture and the monster, we let Signe and Ramón introduce themselves:

Signe and Ramón are architects and researchers based in Riga, Latvia. They strive to practice architecture as an integral part of the affective and relational lived experience. They have studied, worked and done research in Europe and Mexico, and their work has been presented in various conferences, art exhibitions and publications. They are interested in expanding their practice by intersecting it with other disciplines, and fostering discussion of its becomings and emergence from territories and assemblages of human and non-human components.

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Image from Signe Pērkone and Ramón Córdova’s video ‘Landfill clips’ (password: Ecologies)

Meeting the Monster Half Way

Monster as a Tool for Enriching Spatial Practices

 There are territories, places and spaces that after establishing relations with certain agents or in particular conditions become monstrous assemblages in the collective imagination, from slums to squatted buildings, and from crime infested city communities to remote landfills inhabited by migrants. But what does this monstering mean for the places themselves? What does it mean for us, who need to interact with them? Even more, those who deal with spatial disciplines, such as architecture, are often called upon to intervene in these territories, to make sense of them, to “improve” them. However, there is a danger in acting before understanding because, in one way or another, this leads to forced conclusions, filling in the gaps in knowledge with assumptions, and normative faux-solutions. Continue reading “Monstrous architecture”

Monster Talks 4: Halloween

File:Samhuinn Wikipedia editathon at University of Edinburgh editathon - 1st November 2016 05.jpg
Samhuinn Jack-o’-lantern. By Mihaela Bodlovic – http://www.aliceboreasphotography.com/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54299379 Image description: Three carved Jack-o’-lanterns, one in focus and two more blurry in the back. They have jagged, open mouths and look a little scary.

Why is it possible to consider the vampire and the zombie to be paradigmatic neoliberal monsters? What is the history of Halloween monstrousness? For our Halloween Special of Monster Talks, Sara Orning sat down with Mexitli Lopez, a doctoral candidate at the University of Oslo. Mexitli, has a long-standing interest in monsters and talked about her research at our Monster Network conference in Stavanger back in 2016, Promises of Monsters. She is currently writing her PhD dissertation on vampires and zombies in literature, film and television. Since Sara and Mexitli are now working on the same research project, BIODIAL: the Biopolitics of Disability, Illness and Animality, they wanted to get together to talk about some common ideas they have about the monster: how it may point to alternative ways of making community; how it points to a future that we don’t quite know what holds, and what representations of monstrousness may mean for how we relate to otherness in the “real” world. They are also addressing the long history of Halloween: how has that tradition been created through repeated layers of colonization and appropriation?

In the flesh 3
 Still from the TV series In the Flesh S1e1, created by Dominic Mitchell (BBC Three, 2013).
Text description: Kieren (who is a zombie/undead/Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer (PDSs)) wakes up from a flashback with a distraught look on his face. His skin is very pale, nearly white, and his pupils small and black.

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Creepy_witches_fingers%2C_Sanok_2012.jpg
Creepy witches fingers (paluszki wiedźmy), Sanok
By Silar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24715636
Synstolkningstekst: A basket full of cookies in the shape of creepy fingers, with blood running around pointy fingernails.

Monster Talks is a podcast series that explores the figure of the monster and the concept of the monstrous as important thinking tools for addressing dynamics of power, inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and violence. The podcast is made possible by the support of Nordic Culture Point and produced by The Monster Network in collaboration with Network for Gender Studies at UiS. All episodes are available from the podcast’s website at UiS.

 

Promises of Monsters

 

She studies this transformation through maps

European perceptions of human diversity

 

The first part sketches

the processes through

ambivalent space

for aging femininity  of

possession

of the emphasis on the importance of maps

 

 

The child then flew into the Pine Barrens, becoming

an emancipated minor. After all, who can speak

for the monster, and in so doing who may be

silenced, and what facilitates a monstrous challenge or defiance

rather than reductive

dehumanisation?

 

To turn into waste means to lose worth, significance, or purpose. A later text of Derrida’s can perhaps account for this.

 

The text is littered with

horror film,

beautiful paintings,              drawings          and photographs,           recognition and acceptance             and       those who do not                  fit

aging,           disability,          and             AD,       books,      and  images,  negative attitudes                monstrous voices and monstrous spaces,  and  both

popular understanding and film.

filled with the poetry of Ursula Le Guin and the storytelling of Donna Haraway.

 

in          in          in                         in which

a    a    a    a

of  of  of  of

 

narratives intersect

generate generate generate

 

her book: a highly original

with on the one hand a, but on the other hand  –

 

and this integration of different sources

as she states in her introduction

may well be the most and convincing aspect

 

It is certainly an ambiguous time

It is certainly an ambiguous time

It is certainly an ambiguous time

in shaping  growing  hardening

 

for the monster

towards –

 

 

* This poem is a collage based on the Promises of Monsters special issue (2018, vol. 2, no. 2, edited by The Monster Network), created in an online writing meeting with two of the members of The Monster Network. The material for the collage was chosen with the method of rolling an electronic dice for a) article, b) page, c) sentence. This material (8 sentences) was then edited into a poem; a collective voice, a monster, that emerges from the issue, if you may.

The materials were found from the following texts (listed in random order):

  • E. J. Nielsen’s caption for Figure 20. The Jersey Devil
  • Agnieszka Kotwasińska: “Un/re/production of Old Age in The Taking of Deborah Logan”
  • The Monster Network (Hellstrand et al.): “Promises, Monsters and Methodologies: The Ethics, Politics and Poetics of the Monstrous”
  • Marietta Radomska: “Promises of Non/Living Monsters and Uncontainable Life”
  • Nicola Moffat: “Monstrous Promises: Performative Acts and Corporeality in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”
  • Donna McCormack’s review on Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene (Tsing et al.)
  • “Monster Talk: A Virtual Roundtable with Mark Bould, Liv Bugge, Surekha Davies, Margrit Shildrick and Jeffrey Weinstock” (edited by Donna McCormack)
  • Erling Sandmo’s review on (Surekha Davies) Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human: New Worlds, Maps and Monsters

Monster Talks 3: Collective voices and the materialisation of ideas – monster as methods

Where do ideas come from? And how are certain ideas and stories reproduced and maintained, whereas other stories end up marginalized, untold or unheard, even monsterised? In this collective keynote speech given at the Symposium Monstrous Ontologies: Politics, Ethics, Materiality at the University of Roehampton, U.K on 1 July 2019, we grapple with questions of how ideas materialise, and how they are (re-)presented in our own thinking and writing about the monster. For us, the monster is a thinking tool that allows us to explore the supposed divisions between acceptable and unstable or disregarded knowledges or ideas, drawing attention to the production of knowledge, including how knowledge comes to be embodied. Through a collective, multi-voice approach, this talk experiments with incoherence and monstrous origin stories in order to try out how working with the monster require not only themes or topics, but also methods and practices. In this talk, we practice monster methodologies. We aim to bring out how ideas, thoughts and knowledges intersect, overlap and diverge, but also show how certain stories and imaginaries haunt us or intrude in our thinking as unpredictable agents. Through sharing our supposedly separate threads of thought, we experiment with differences as a modus operandi, or a common ground for thinking together. This, we hope, will spawn ways of thinking otherwise about – and with – ideas and their materialisations.

You can find the accompanying power point here: Collective Voices at University of Roehampton.

Monster Talks is a podcast series that explores the figure of the monster and the concept of the monstrous as important thinking tools for addressing dynamics of power, inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and violence. The podcast is made possible by the support of Nordic Culture Point and produced by The Monster Network in collaboration with Network for Gender Studies at UiS. All episodes are available from the podcast’s website at UiS.

 

Sneak peak into our event “Weird ecologies and storytelling practices”: Video by Gustaffson&Haapoja!

 

The Monster Network is proud to present the video “Embrace your Empathy!” with the permission of Gustafsson&Haapoja.

 

 

“Embrace Your Empathy!” is a work by Gustafsson&Haapoja. It was created for Flow Festival 2016 (Helsinki, Finland) along with a manifesto and flags of Utopian nations, where humans would co-exist more peacefully and equally with other animals. The video is realized by Matti Vesanen and the music composed by Mikko Virmajoki. It was originally shown without the music on repeat on a big screen near the festival entrance.

In her keynote lecture in the Monster Network’s event “Weird Ecologies and Storytelling Practices”, Laura Gustafsson discussed art, advertisement and propaganda, and this video was one of the examples used in her talk. Gustafsson sought to answer, whether it is possible to advertise empathy beyond rhetorics. How to make a person willingly give up their privileges and tune into the same level with other beings without resulting in propaganda?

 

 

Monsters, myth and media: Nordic stories of belonging and otherness (Network Funding from Nordic Culture Point 2018-2019)

Dr. Ingvil Hellstrand from the Monster Network gives us her thoughts on our workshop series funded by the Nordic Culture Point.

 

With the generous support of the Nordic Culture point, the Monster Network has recently completed a workshop series dealing with what we might call a resurgence of the figure of the monster in the Nordic countries. The political climate is changing, and in all the Nordic countries there is a harsher political rhetoric linked to what is considered normal and what is considered deviant. Simultaneously, right-wing politics demanding a ban on immigration and better integration are on the rise, and the past few years we have seen neo-nazi marches in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. These very real and acute situations is a reminder of the histories of monster-making: how certain bodies, voices and identities are rendered monstrous, or as not-belonging, as a result of ideology, social agendas, cultural norms and popular culture and the media.

 

Haunted Humanity

Our first workshop took place in Stavanger, Norway on 29 and 30 November 2018. This workshop, entitled Haunted Humanity, invited artists, writers and researchers to discuss how the very idea of being human is haunted, not only by monstrous Others, but also by the traditional hegemony of the (white, able-bodied, male, middle-class) human.  The (in)stability of the human is defined by its relation to its others, and we wanted to grapple with the idea of various hauntings, be it bodily, technologically, historically, territorially, fictionally and ideologically, to mention a few.

Coming from a feminist tradition, the workshop was organized around the principle of diffraction. This means that we gathered people from different fields and perspectives in order to bring out various approaches and multiplicities in terms of hauntings. One example of how we managed to do just that was a session where we discussed the Tasmanian tiger and the story of its extinction alongside a videowork by Swedish artist Tove Kjellmark that focuses on the female body. After an engaging talk about the preservation and presentation of the now-extinct animal by

Professor of environmental history at the University of Stavanger, Dolly Jørgensen, an initial  discussion about cataloguing and classifying brought about a debate about the impossibility of representation without haunting, exemplified by the female body as a spectacle. In other words, invoking the very idea of a body, be it female or a Tasmanian tiger, demands a reflection on how it can be displayed, represented, historizised, told, portrayed and reproduced. And further, an attention to who is doing the storying, and when and how it is being told, and what is silenced or lost along the way.

One of the major haunting figures to this day is Frankenstein and his monster-creature, and so we felt a tribute to Mary Shelley’s work as well as to the legacies of Frankenstein was in order. How can we deal with acknowledging the legacies on the one hand, but also challenge and subvert them on the other? Central here is of course the question of knowledge production, and the production of a literary canon. This theme of knowledge regimes, canonization, tradition and legacy did actually become an overarching theme for the entire workshop: whose knowledges are deemed monstrous, unfitting, problematic, and what are the consequences of being rendered illegitimate or improper by the state apparatus, religion or majority culture. For example, many of our invited speakers talked about Sámi knowledges as an example of something that has been silenced or hidden, and how this making-invisible continues to haunt history and culture, as well as families, identities and everyday lives.

 

Weird ecologies and storytelling practices

Our second workshop took place in Tampere, Finland on 4 and 5 April 2019, with the theme of Weird Ecologies and Storytelling Practices. Here, we continued the thread about knowledge production, but situated in critical story-telling practices. Having invited writers of speculative fiction, such as Laura Gustafsson and Johanna Sinisalo as keynote speakers, this workshop engaged in questions of why stories are important, and for who. How can weird and speculative stories contribute to change how we perceive the world that we live in and surround ourselves by? By exploring themes of imagining, (re)telling and envisioning the world otherwise, the very question of human superiority and the necessity of alternative perspectives and positionalities set the tone and artistic-theoretical framework for this workshop.

The workshop also featured a writing workshop with Professor Emerita Nina Lykke, in which she invited us to “write the posthuman”. In order to do this, she argued, the exercise is to draw on a range of senses and attempt to de-centre and and posthumanise the “I” position. By shifting perspectives and agency for the storyteller, Lykke advocated writing and thinking practices where a traditional, representational mode of writing was challenged: the point is not to represent, but to acknowledge the posthuman as a “you”. In turn, this “you”, is something or someone that we, the humans, must relate to. Throughout the workshop, Lykke’s point seemed to reiterate in several of the talks: in artist Henna Laininen’s dialogue with a glacier; art-researcher Shreyasi’s intimate photo assemblages of cities and technologies, and in researcher Marietta Radomska’s deliberations about the materialities of life and death.

Storying the monster is a way of making visible the boundaries for established knowledge regimes, and potentially challenge them. The monster is a figure that haunts, and it is thus in a position to raise questions about presences and absences, as well as about its own ontology. Similarly, the monster allows unexpected and unrecognized perspectives and stories to show themselves, and – perhaps – shift the boundaries for what is considered reality for a moment. For the whole of our workshop series, the monster served us well as a thinking tool about hauntings, weirdness, humanity and ecology.

Remember to listen to our podcast from these workshops!

 

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