carbon moon moths

Conference Paper for Energies in the Arts Conference.

I’m giving a paper this week at the Energies in the Arts Conference co-presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA), UNSW Art & Design.

The conference is timed to coincide with the exhibition Energies: Haines & Hinterding 25 June-6 September, 2015 at the MCA — two of my most loved Australian artists. I’m talking about the work of Joan Brassil; a pioneer in art science installation, who has recently had a major retrospective at Campbelltown Art Gallery. I’m trying to extend Brassil’s poetics by talking about the works as installations that generate new thoughts and questions about the earth and the cosmos.

Joan Brassil Can it be Everlasting? (1978)
Joan Brassil Can it be Everlasting? (1978)

Carbon moon-moths: Joan Brassil’s resonant machines for ecological listening.

Australian artist Joan Brassil’s interest in the energy of the natural world lead her to create a series of resonant machines for ecological listening. Specifically, How Far Between the Potatoes and Planets (1976) and Randomly Now and Then (1990) present material transformations as ecological “instruments of resonance and randomness” (Brassil, 1991). In both works interruptions, whether in matter or meaning, document challenges to human perceptions of space and time. This paper uses a discussion of entanglement and ecosophy drawn from Karen Barad and Felix Guattari to examine how Brassil’s works reconsider the transformation of matter within machinic systems that contain both human and nonhuman things. I suggest that because of her understanding of matter as phenomena Brassil’s works encapsulate a uniquely resonant approach to ecology.

It is hard to resist the poetics of Brassil’s carbon moon moth as it spirals towards and away from the space time of her installations. As a material system traversed and formed within flows of energy the moth contributes to an understanding of the dynamic resonant energies of geology, bodies, and the cosmos. The moth in our porch light helps us to think about energy and resonance as processes of mattering, as processes that are not analogical but that are, in physicist Karan Barad’s terms “entangled.” Likewise, Brassil’s carbon moon moth helps us pay close attention to the world we live in. If we are entangled with lights, with carbon, and with moths we cannot draw analogies, something cannot be ‘like’ something else if it is entangled within it.