Previous Issues

BOOK REVIEW: INTERCALATIONS

Land & Animal & Nonanimal, edited by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin. Berlin: K Verlag, 2015; The Word for World is Still Forest, 2017; Reverse Hallucinations on the Archipelago, 2017.

In my favorite series on ecology, contemporary art, and global world environmental conditions, Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin bring together essays, artists, historians, and other practitioners to the under-strata of the earth’s processes. In Intercalations, geology is historical praxis for contributors like Rich Pell and Lauren Allen, Geraldine Juárez, Seth Denizen, and Rachel Thompson. Unmistakably sharing roots with the writing and explorations of Alfred Russel Wallace, Alexander von Humbolt, and Ursula Le Guin, Springer and Tuprin transform the book into a natural history exhibition space.

The Intercalations series focuses on: tracing their historical methodology, i.e., the usefulness, legitimacy, and innovativeness of these object studies as historical method; putting their particular examples in dialogues with other objects and practices of interest, e.g., native and nonnative land practices and policies and human intervention in postnatural histories; positioning K Verlag in the larger network of online and digital research and curatorial platforms.

If JB Jackson and Yi-Fu Tuan brought the human to the geographical, Springer and Turpin bring the human to the geological. Like a rock layer forcing destratification of older layers, the Intercalations series de-centers the human in discursive, museum, and ecologic networks, allays the historical power of colonial science and ideology, and speculates potentials toward sylvan knowledges.

These three collections of essays and case studies are part of a series called Intercalations. Springer and Turpin address a “reader-as-exhibition-viewer” in their introductions, converting the conventional reader into a viewer of their “paginated exhibitions.” Land, Animal, and Nonanimal highlights species conservation efforts which challenges good news stories” instead of “doom and gloom” as “what is needed to compel people to appropriate action,” according to Thom van Dooren. Also highlighted are the origins of language in animals and questions concerning the primacy of humankind over nature, the genealogy of the postnatural in the context of the Anthropocene, animals in the context of sound studies and recording histories, as well as photographic land archives from Singapore and other places.

The Word for World is Still Forest, a title altered from the Ursula Le Guin short story The Word for World is Forest, starts with a preface written in Katie Holten’s “Tree Alphabet” from 2015. The preface becomes epilogue when the “reader-as-exhibition-viewer” discovers the decoder in the final section of the book. In between, Springer and Turpin’s focus on the forest highlights the conditions of historic and contemporary land use policy that bears on present-day practices. Converging in large part on northern Amazonian indigenous voices and experiences, Abel Rodríguez, Carlos A. Rodríguez, and Catalina Vargas Tovar highlight Middle Caquetá River sylvan mythologies; Paulo Tavarez, the botanic archaeology and reclamation of past indigenous spaces; Yanni Alexander Loukissas, data and arboretum archival capacities; and Shannon Castleman, illegal tree felling in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Reverse Hallucinations on the Archipelago proposes an alternate history of colonial science, primarily in Indonesia, where co-editor Etienne Turpin lives and works. In “It Goes on Like a Forest,” Dan Handel considers a fifteenth-century tapestry, Ikea Malm cabinet, and Milton Friedman’s “Lesson of the Pencil,” from 1980. Through a discussion of the tapestry, the Malm cabinet, and the pencil, Handel traces Indonesian teak trees from their material roots through to their sometimes kitsch-y end. He demonstrates a type of material history, wherein socio-political, cultural, and environmental conditions map the movement of a single object.

In their individual world picturing, the collections highlight methodologies that go beyond the history of singular art objects and instead argue alternative histories of their environments by considering long-time, visual histories. Springer and Turpin consider poetry and oral histories alongside visual objects to curate their “paginated exhibitions,” tracing banal or overlooked motifs associated with sylvan materials within individual object studies.