To mark the launch of SPUN - Society for the Protection of Underground Networks, I'm releasing early the mycorrhizal fungi-related sections of my new film This Entangled Land, which features an interview I did with SPUN co-founder Prof. Toby Kiers about fungal networks in soil and my artwork on the subject. I've been gratefully drawing on Kiers Lab research for many years, particularly in relation to my project Producers-Parasites-Hosts 2012-2018 (see elsewhere on this site).
Mark That Maps Itself: On Roads That Lead Nowhere
by Alena Alexandrova, based on her lecture about Annabel’s work and this exhibition in particular.
ROAD – associated with horizontality, expansive, causes flattening.
FOREST – a living network, vertical, and thick, creates its own climate.
TREE TRUNK – its rings are a record of time, circular and layered, they become visible only when the tree is cut, at the moment of its death.
FALLING – the change between vertical and horizontal states associated with becoming dead and motionless, but also with becoming transportable.
STACKING – the piling up of different materials and commodities, which previously belonged to different contexts, in order to store and transport them. This results in a strange form of flattening. Flattening is an entropic process.
FLOWING – mobility, resistance to containment, but also relating to leaking and flooding.
WORDS – can be seen as flat, and flattening, insofar as they come with the building of roads. Can be seen as vertical, insofar as they capture the complexity of local habitats.
FOLIAGE – immersive environment, impenetrable surface to blend with and disappear.
VERTICALS – generally static, articulating long, deep time, associated with life.
HORIZONTALS – generally mobile, articulating fast time, associated with death, flattening.
ROOTS and root-like structures – should never become visible, or brought to the surface. When they do become visible, they form a network of marks that can signify stasis and death.
Durn That Road (2019) by Annabel Howland is a work that witnesses a journey to an island and its people, gestures, words, animals and plants. The installation consists of material collected on journeys to Borneo. A constellation of vertically and horizontally organized photos and film stills, field recordings, an interview and documentary excerpts together compose an installation that outlines the invisible flows of capital that determine the visible devastation of a landscape.
Durn That Road does not narrate, it is not exactly a travelogue, nor is it a field study. It articulates the visibility of the complex forces that determine an unfolding ecological disaster in a grid-like structure composed of horizontal and vertical planes. The verticals are formed by a constellation of aerial views showing expansive networks of roads that penetrate the land, but lead nowhere. The logging sites and roads form a strange flat, root-like structure that grips the land, transforming it into a barren, surveyable territory. The vertical collages also show aerial views of the forest as a thick surface of tree crowns; a deep green, soft pattern. They suggest the structure of sedimentation, or geological layers that form in deep time and resonate with the living time of one of the oldest rainforests on the planet.
The installation includes field recordings of the sounds of the forest and their modulation through the process of deforestation. The ambient sound of the forest changes in texture depending on where the logging sites are, so one can literally hear the flattening in the texture of sounds. The voice of children reading a dictionary of a local language Sa’ban, resonates with the sounds of a land gradually losing its voice with the destruction of its forests. In a filmed interview shown on a screen, three Sa’ban people discuss how the new road connecting their village to the city is changing communal living and their relationship to money. The interview captures a similar process of flattening, or erosion, that affects the delicate social networks of extended families and their everyday lives. The semi-nomadic use of land by family groups gradually transforms into a more settled use of the land, often nearer the road. Roads improve access to education and paid work, but also to building materials, leading to a dilution of social relations as families begin to live in individual houses instead of communal longhouses. Game hunted in the forest can now be sold, instead of shared with the community. The horizontal penetration of the land for the use of its resources causes its social textures to fragment and flatten, and perhaps, over time, brings about the gradual loss of complexity in its local languages.
An enlarged bulk cargo distribution diagram and pages from a ‘cargo notes’ instruction manual from 1964 describe how raw materials from across southeast Asia – timber, latex, apricot kernels, frozen rabbits, chicken eggs, and many other commodities – were to be stowed in ships’ holds for export to Europe. Composed of verticals and horizontals, the diagram and notes articulate a language of capture, of translation of the land into goods and materials, and point to the shallow, accelerated time of trade, the export of materials, and to financial flows. Horizontals and verticals form the generic infrastructure of grids, and grids establish an abstract, homogeneous flatness that is very different from the folds and crevices of a space understood as an environment or a habitat. Living trees become horizontal logs. Verticals converted into horizontals mark a loss of complexity; a transformation of complex, dense planes of a habitat into surveyable surfaces and, hence, death.
Horizontals and verticals relate to different types of visibility and embodied experiences. Being in the forest, in an environment composed of vertical trees, implies a relation of immersion. In contrast, a view from above captures the land as a horizontal, observable, mappable surface. This cartographic view establishes a territory as an abstract plane, it “abstracts” it into a virtual model, an informative capture of a territory with its network of roads. But in Durn That Road the photo collage of aerial views of the networked marks of the logging roads are not a representation of the roads on the island; they are very concrete and in a sense tautological; they are roads with no other function than the extraction of resources, and they signify nothing other than their own presence. They chart a map of disaster, not a place; they are a mark of destructive and invisible flows of financial capital and corruption.
The composition of vertical and horizontal planes resonates with the rhythm of two temporal perspectives, more precisely with their clash: the accelerated time of extraction and destruction and the deep time of one of the oldest rainforests on earth. This marks a crisis of human self-understanding under the conditions of technological modernity, which brings acceleration and complexity, but is also an entropic process of flattening. Durn That Road does not exactly produce a documentary or investigative report. Rather, it creates an open fragment that witnesses different aspects of forces that simultaneously build and ruin. And it witnesses the accelerated rhythm of resource extraction, which results in a future that fails before it is reached. Howland’s practice observes and articulates the visibility of speculative interactions between a range of complex systems which, though not usually visible, are always omnipresent.
Alena Alexandrova, Amsterdam 2019
Durn That Road
Sunday 20th January to 17th February 2019
Annabel Howland’s artworks weave speculative webs around ecology, finance and art. Looking through the lenses of different fields of research, she unpicks, isolates and reweaves threads from these systems. The resulting installations constantly shift between scales and perspectives in attempts to fathom and imagine the systems’ complex twists.
The title, Durn That Road, quotes the character Anse Bundren in William Faulkner’s 1930 novel As I Lay Dying. Anse is introduced to us through his rant against a road he finds threatening, mainly because it brings people (i.e. the taxman) to his door, but also because of its implicit demand for movement. “When He aims for something to be always a moving, He makes it longways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up and down ways, like a tree or a man.”
For her exhibition at Bradwolff Projects, Annabel has developed a multimedia installation, which takes as its point of departure a road through the rainforest in the state of Sarawak on Borneo (East Malaysia). This logging road started on the coast and was gradually extended through to villages near the border with Indonesia where Sa'ban is spoken. Dr Beatrice Clayre began studying Sa'ban in the 1960s. In 2013 she published a trilingual Malay-Sa’ban-English picture dictionary, by which time the changes to village life brought about by the road had become tangible. In 2016, Annabel travelled the length of the road with Dr Clayre’s son, anthropologist Alasdair Clayre, and Semion Balan and Gareth Lihan from Long Banga, filming and interviewing people about the road, their languages and their ways of life.
They started with simple questions about how the arrival of a road affects the people living along it, and how a minority language fares under the changes a road brings. But a line through the rainforest that links communities, which used to be separated by many days travel on foot or by boat, also links into other lines that criss-cross the globe, following the long flow of capital, raw materials, and religion.
The installation is structured around strong verticals and horizontals, intermittently penetrated by single point perspective.
An Arts Council Collection National Partner Exhibition
2018, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne
At Altitude is a selective look at the historical impact and the continuing appeal of the aerial image. Ranging from the exhilarating viewpoints of early aviation to the all-enveloping but flattening vantage point of Google Earth, the exhibition charts these changing perspectives, illustrating how the wonder of the overhead view was transformed through advances in technology as altitudes became higher and horizons more distant.
An illustration from Thomas Baldwin’s book Airopaidia (1786), “A Circular View from the Balloon at its greatest Elevation” sets the context for At Altitude. The drawing is considered to be one of the first ever ‘real’ aerial views, describing Baldwin’s one day in the air over Chester in 1785. The aerial potential of the local landscape, famously often depicted from an elevated position by Eric Ravilious, provides another source of inspiration. The exhibition then focuses on recent decades, looking at increasingly technological mediations of the landscape, the role of conflict in the elevated view, and how changing methods of observation have inspired and informed artists.
Bringing together works in film, video, photography, sculpture, painting, drawing and installation the exhibition features artists including Jananne Al–Ani, Michael Andrews, Ken Baird, Tacita Dean, Charles and Ray Eames, Simon Faithfull, Mishka Henner, Dan Holdsworth, Kabir Hussain, Peter Lanyon, Christopher R. W. Nevinson, Cornelia Parker, Carol Rhodes and Wolfgang Tillmans, alongside a new installation created by Timothy Prus of the Archive of Modern Conflict and a site-specific commission for Towners Collection by Annabel Howland.
Bournes, Deans, Bottoms and Brows, Installation view, Annabel Howland, 2018
Photos by Rob Harris.
This work was generously co-funded by the Mondriaan Fund of the Netherlands.
Sound from the installation in VU Amsterdam.
This edit was made for a busy, noisy thoroughfare.
Annabel Howland’s artistic research weaves a speculative web connecting art, science and finance. In her ongoing project Producers-Parasites-Hosts, such themes as cheating and cooperation, transparency and instability, profit and loss, intermingle with stories of microbial cooperation, dark pools and human debt. The multimedia presentation at VU during GET LOST – art route concludes this phase in her research. The installation in the central hall and corridor of VU’s main building comprises drawings and text printed on translucent film mounted on the windows, audio, photographs, plant roots and more.
Prompted by the consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis, Annabel Howland launched this research-based art project in 2012. These conversations have given rise to a multitude of forms – from paintings, diagrams, texts and publications to lectures and sound installations – presented over recent years in various contexts.
Throughout Producers-Parasites-Hosts, Howland has followed closely research by VU Professor of Mutualistic Interactions, Toby Kiers. Kiers has drawn on economics models for her research into the trade in nutrients between plants and fungi in the soil. Howland broadened this conversation by engaging with VU Professor of Finance, Albert Menkveld, around his work on flash crashes and robotic trading.
Artists and scientists explore the world at fundamental levels, driven by a deep curiosity about the substance of life and matter. The creative process of examining a subject from different angles and passing it through a range of media and artistic languages opens up new perspectives for the viewer, for imagination, and for nuanced reflection.
Clare Butcher wrote the essay to accompany the exhibition Do you read me? Really read me?
This installation was commissioned by VU Amsterdam and was generously co-funded by the Mondriaan Fund.
GET LOST – art route generates art in public space by partnering organisations in Amsterdam’s commercial district, Zuidas, with artists. For this edition the artists were invited to reflect on the idea of CODE OF CONDUCT.
GET LOST – art route 2018 received generous support from VU, AFK, Zuidas, City of Amsterdam, and the Mondriaan Fund through its programme Experimental Regulations.
For the map, audio work and the most up-to-date information on the programme, tours and performances, go to www.getlost-artroute.com
Photos by Jan Theun van Rees and Annabel Howland
(ON CHEATING) (2014)
Installation in Pakhuis Wilhelmina, Amsterdam (2014).
6-channel sound, gouache, photographs.
The installation comprises gouache painted directly onto the wall, two photographs, and a six-channel sound piece playing, radio-like, around the space with the voices of Tony Curzon Price (economist and former editor of “openDemocracy”), Toby Kiers (URC Prof. of Mutualistic Interactions, VU University Amsterdam), Albert Menkveld (URC Prof. of Finance, VU University Amsterdam) and Gregory Wyatt (Oxford University). In this ‘collaged conversation’, the participants ponder the centipede game, financial bubbles, algorithmic trading, cultures of trust, cheating, relatedness, and non-cognitive decision-making.
The gouache wall-paintings are based on photographs I took of hairy-carrot root cultures and fungi experiments at Kiers’ lab at VU University. The two photographs show two different petri dishes containing hairy carrot and fungi experiments (photos: Daniel Engelmoer, Dept of Ecological Science, VU University Amsterdam). These experiments investigate symbioses between plants and fungi; the degree to which and under what conditions they trade nutrients and the outcomes of these markets.
Photos: Jan Theun van Rees
Pompgemaal Den Helder, 2014
This is documentation of the work I made during my two month residency in Het Pompgemaal Den Helder. The installation comprised paintings (gouache and watercolour on paper), handwritten quotes from a range of sources, and a five-channel sound piece playing, radio-like, around the space with the voices of Tony Curzon Price (economist and former editor of “openDemocracy”), Toby Kiers (URC Prof. of Mutualistic Interactions, VU University Amsterdam), and Albert Menkveld (URC Prof. of Finance, VU University Amsterdam).
The gouaches are based on photographs I took last year of experiments carried out in Kiers’ lab at VU University using hairy-carrot root cultures and fungi in petri dishes with grids drawn on the lids in blue felt-tip pen. The watercolours are studies of the plant Medicago truncatula jemalong A17 which, like the hairy carrot, is commonly used in experiments in plant-fungi symbioses. These are interspersed with a number of quotations, handwritten by me, from different sources: Asger Jorn, Against Functionalism, chosen by curator Hilde de Bruijn; an explanation of the petri-dish and grid experiment by Daniel Engelmoer (post doc Dept of Ecological Science, VU University Amsterdam); Thomas Rainsborough’s famous plea for equality and suffrage during the Putney Debates in London in 1647 and Henry Ireton’s equally famous dismissal of it; Martin Luther’s 1524 statement in his Van Verkaufshandlung und Wucher, quoted in David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years on the impossibility of living according to the Gospel, the need to repay debt, and the necessity of the ‘sword of the ruler’ being ‘red and bloody’. These intersect at different points, in different ways, with threads that run through the paintings and the ‘conversation’ in the sound piece: evolution, algorithmic and high-frequency trading, game theory (the centipede game), cultures of trust, cheating, relatedness, matter, and more.
Elements in Parasite-Producers-Hosts
GENIUS WITHOUT TALENT
Group exhibition, de Appel, Amsterdam (July - October 2011)
The birth of my daughter presented me with a perfect opportunity indulge in my fascination for language and language acquisition; to document and explore one child's linguistic development from infancy.
I am not a linguist. I am an artist with an enduring interest in the traits and processes that constitute language. I employ the tactics of an enthusiast to gather data and use self-devised systems to explore the ways in which qualities and meanings aggregate and evolve. For this body of audio work, the fact that my own child was the source of my material meant I was able to respond quickly and spontaneously to many different linguistic and vocal moments – to grab a mic in a flash. Some of the original recordings involve interaction with me, but in many I tried to stay in the background a much as possible, listening in on the improvisations and riffs taking place within the physical and cognitive limitations of a particular developmental moment. We hear her audibly savouring the sounds of her world, utterly absorbed in her story.
In Prosodic Tales: '2;00.12', '2;01.08' & '2;01.24', the first completed works stemming from this research, we hear three stories. Each was recorded in a single take and each is a spontaneous monologue. Recorded between the ages of 24 and 26 months, they capture a period of vocal expression that teeters on the brink of language. We can identify the prosody of conversation and narration, the contours of word(sound)s, repetition, and expression, breaks and pauses. But, just as when we listen to an unfamiliar language, we can only guess at the true content; its meaning and references largely elude us.
Prosodic Tales are exhibited alongside drawings from the Aspirant Lines series. These were made by tracing enlarged, projected images of my daughter's drawings and doodles, which were made in the period roughly corresponding with the period in which Prosodic Tales were recorded. They are the visual traces of another kind of physical effort to communicate, learn, or mimic. Drawn in chalk pastels, my drawings trace her marks which become pixellated through the mediation of the projector.