Magical Thinking: Towards a Future Worth Living Review: Sonic Acts Conference Day 1

PhotoAnja Kanngieser at conference Magical Thinking, De Brake Grond. Photo by Pieter Kers.

The Sonic Acts Conference on Saturday 22nd February 2020, Magical Thinking: Towards a Future Worth Living, began hopefully with a talk by T.J. Demos on creative urgency and intersectionality. ‘Any construction of a new alternative, or potential world, can only begin by its creative imagination,’ Demos urged. As a growing era of negativity is becoming a way of being in the world; a heady medley of hatred, misogyny, nativism, racism, endless wars, apocalyptic outrage and generalised dispossession shrouds the possibilities for imagining a future that is different from the present, a future where nature is not immutable, where another world is possible. Demos proposed an alternative to unproductive fatalism in a newfound urgency for creative aesthetics with transformational material consequences.

Addressing a room full of people from different academic backgrounds, Demos reiterated the importance of the shift towards intersectionality in critical analysis. It is time to drift away from separatism of disciplines and towards multispecies relationality. By leading a life ‘between the lines’, Demos argued there is a possibility to forge, rather than to feign, the real. He cited ecofiction and ecoart as sources of imaginative renewal: where radical politics, critical analysis and envisioning the future as disruption, unpredictable and different, is possible. He used the work of the Black Quantum Futures as an example and quoted the likes of Adrienne Maree Brown: ‘science fiction is simply a way to practice the future together.’ Demos’ thinking paid homage to his base in the redwood-fringed campus of the University of Santa Cruz, frequently referring to Donna Haraway and Angela Y. Davis, and his arguments ran parallel to Eduardo Kohn’s and Anna Tsing’s calls for multispecies ethnography. For example, in the concept of a ‘pluriverse’ or ‘a world of many worlds’ born from a new spatio-temporal consciousness. There is no tabula rasaaccorded to this imagination, the future builds off past memory, past violence is layered and unfolding into the present and the future.

For those well-versed in multi-disciplinary practice, Demos’ lecture may not have served anything radically new to the table, but it was useful in synthesising the wide-reaching potential for imagination and intersectionality. It opened the day for guest speaking artists and researchers who presented more in-depth and varied manifestations of these themes.

The day’s middle panel provided a new perspective to the discussions surrounding creative reimagining and solidarity. In her talk, Listening to Ecocide, Anja Kanngieser was fiercely passionate, yet articulate and collected, an inspiring demonstration of the power of female rage in confronting the consequences of humans living (and dying) according to a regime of mastery and control. She took the general ideas surrounding regenerative imagination and centred them in a microcosmic locality in Naurau, a Pacific island off the coast of Australia used for mining prosphate (fertiliser for the booming agriculture industry in Australia) and as an offshore detainment centre and prison.

Working with sound, Kanngieser’s work, or ‘kin studies’, centres on the art of attunement, of staying still and paying attention to the polyphonic harmonies as well as silence. Through her testimonies and biophonic sound recordings of the bird-song silent mine, the crackling reef or the testimonies of ‘traumatised’ people living on the eroding coastlines; Kannseiger’s work is lyrical, imaginative yet firmly grounded in action. In the panel entitled, Missing Crime, with fellow ecocide academic, Nabil Ahmed, she explained how she thinks less according to tactics and strategies and more by sitting still, spending time, paying attention and how this reimagines a particular way of being in the world, devoid of layers of abstraction. Kannseiger pointed to her uncomfortable position on an island  impacted by environmental crises, a colonial past, and a neo-colonial present, acutely aware of the influx of ‘white people in the Pacific’ and instead offers the ways in which academics can use their position beneficially, such as leveraging funding and referencing predominantly indigenous scholars.