Written by Hung-Fei WU
In the face of the complexity of global geopolitics, economics, and ecology interwoven with unprecedented crises, humanity can no longer simply extract discussions of the environment or climate crisis in a compartmentalized manner.
Instead, sustainability should be seen as an embodiment of the human spirit of care and justice towards all life on Earth and marginalized communities.
Since 2022, I have been engaged in researching the discipline of Feminist Environmental Humanities (FEH) advocated by cultural scholars Jennifer Hamilton and Astrida Neimanis. There is no such difference from the more commonly known Ecofeminism (proposed in 1974 by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne) as both combine interdisciplinary plural concepts. Feminism, in addition to addressing bodily sensations and desires, unity, and healing in the face of trauma and oppression, is fundamentally concerned with justice in areas such as anti-colonialism, anti-racism, queer, transgender, and disability issues. It is a “necessary and core” rather than “additional” approach to examining environmental crises.
Through this column writing project, it is hoped to embark on a series of explorations about the wisdom that is both emerging and ancient, constantly looking back while continuously evolving. This exploration aims to examine how contemporary artistic practices in various creative, curatorial, and performance cases can shed light on self care and care for the environment, acknowledge the other, expand established knowledge paradigms, and foster a fluid, holistic alternative worldview that promotes co-learning and co-prosperity with all beings in the universe.
Rest as Resistance
“Rest is a third space. It’s a portal for new ways.” —Tricia Hersey
The first article of this column focuses on the theme of rest and transition, inspired by my participation last year in a feminist environmental humanities summer school organized by the interdisciplinary initiative, The FEELed Lab, in Canada. There was a session on “(Re)si(st)ing,” which centered around participants collectively reading the short story collection “At the Bottom of the River” (1983) by Caribbean writer Jamaica Kincaid. Following the reading, there was a free discussion revolving around the cyclical nature of rest and situations of listening and attuning.
Combining text reading, relevant exhibition case studies, and bodily experiences, this topic not only examines the issues behind artistic production and the state of physical and mental well-being, co-contributed by linear development and capitalism, but also hopes to inspire a rethinking and resetting of the singular measurement of time. It aims to initiate an alternative rhythm, scale, and form that fosters a more dialogical relationship and leads to a world making that is more sustainable and creative.
Tricia Hersey is an American performance artist, theater producer, spiritual guide, and community organizer who has long been involved in Black liberation theology, feminism, psychology, and cultural trauma. In 2016, she explored the spiritual practice of rest in a performance titled “Transfiguration,” using it as a connection to her ancestors. The establishment of “The Nap Ministry” stems from this work. Hersey points out that the history of enslaved Black people forced to labor on fields such as sugarcane or cotton is the origin of capitalism and white supremacy, indirectly contributing to today’s grind culture. Hersey’s grandmother, in her memories, would take a ten-minute nap every afternoon, even while juggling multiple jobs. She would say, “I’m not sleeping; I’m resting my eyes so I can hear the messages from God.”
“Being together” is a crucial ritual that embodies the concept of rest as a form of resistance through activities such as “Collective Napping Experiences,” immersive workshops, and performance art installations. Rest is seen as a way to repair exhaustion and to connect individuals, relying on each other and sharing vulnerabilities. Healing and resistance can only truly unfold when these connections are established. As Tricia Hersey puts it, “When we have enough people lying down together, I believe we can slow down capitalism.”
“Sleep holds the potential to disrupt the relations, the all-familiar hierarchies and arrangements between the ground, sky, time and place. In this respect, it may be considered a portal, leading to other dimensions.”──Eda Berkmen, curator of Arter Museum
The contrast between the privacy and public nature of sleep was further explored during my visit to the special exhibition titled “Rounded by Sleep” at Arter Museum in Istanbul last year. In ancient times, when there were no nation-states, people in tribes often slept together, providing a sense of security for each other. However, in today’s world, with single-household living being the norm, solo sleep has become a necessary privilege of privacy, potentially leading to nightmares and loneliness.
Annika Eriksson’s video work titled “The Great Good Place” draws its name from the book of the same title by American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. Oldenburg’s book discusses social and community spaces located outside of work and home. In Eriksson’s video, a group of cats gathers on a carpet in a park in Istanbul, peacefully occupying the space as they sleep. This gesture of occupying public space with carefree slumber serves as a form of resistance against the continuous reduction of free public spaces in the city due to endless urban expansion and gentrification.
Volkan Aslan’s video installation work “Sleepless” portrays a man curled up in a TV-sized space, constantly tossing and turning, caught in the futile cycle of insomnia and exhaustion. This reflects the struggles of modern individuals who find it challenging to find restful sleep amidst multiple crises such as the grind culture, information overload, wars, and species extinction.
Emine Ekinci offers a particularly passive yet radical form of resistance in the exhibition. First, it requires prolonged scrutiny to discern the subtle transitions of color taken from open-source data in the displaying screen. Furthermore, the work only activates during the closed exhibition hours, and during working hours, it is unplugged and in sleep mode, refusing to provide any information to the outside world. This act of withdrawal challenges the constant demand for productivity and information dissemination in contemporary society.
Aslı Özdoyuran’s sculpture titled “I would rather speak of liveness or construct a tense to talk about plant sleep” explores the temporality of different seeds and plants and delves into research on the interaction and power dynamics between humans and plants. By examining the time perspective of plant dormancy, Özdoyuran derives queer perspectives that challenge established systems that value reproduction and propagation as the primary criteria. This perspective offers an alternative lens through which to view the relationships between plants and humans, questioning traditional value judgments and power structures associated with plant life.
The exhibition “Rounded by Sleep” revolves around the binary concepts touched upon by sleep, such as intimacy and sharing, individual and society, care and control, resistance and submission, progress and repetition. It connects ancient history and delves into unconscious states, creating an overall exhibition experience that feels intimate yet mysteriously enchanting exploration.
When time is seen instead as the co-extant unfolding of relations, sensitivities might be honed toward other avenues of the possible. ── exhibition statement of ‘No Linear Fucking Time’
In late 2021 The Dutch art institution BAK (basis voor actuele kunst) launched “No Linear Fucking Time”, which offered a reevaluation of homogeneous time as a means of decolonization. The exhibition’s name itself draws meaning from a graffiti inscription found in Oakland during the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, which read “No Cops No Jails No Linear Fucking Time.” This exhibition was presented in-depth through gatherings, online publications, and forums, exploring concepts such as deep time, seed time, ancient time, cyclical time, localized time, disabled time, queer time, and non-human time. It actively encouraged alternative formats of temporal existence, challenging the conventional notion of time.
My visit to the “A Clearing in the Forest” exhibition in the new underground space called “Tanks” at the Tate Modern in the UK last year, on the other hand, seems to have been like a dim yet spiritually clear dream. The exhibition featured numerous video works centered around environmental knowledge, ancient rituals, and the concepts of time and the cyclical nature of life. The term “Clearing” in the exhibition title suggests an open and inviting attitude, allowing for the dynamic relationship mentioned in the exhibition discourse, where time is marked through rituals, connections with ancestors, and an evolving relationship with the land.
The poetic analogy made by the translator Wu Renyu, who also participated in the feminist environmental humanities summer school, about the activity patterns of our bodies and the environment is quite intriguing: being awake is solid, being asleep is gaseous, and resting is the liquid transition in between. In sustainable forestry practices, timely clearing can prevent excessive dryness that might lead to wildfires and create space for new growth. If linear time is seen as a forest, our pauses and rests within it serve as transitions, influencing deeper energy flows and relationships with other forms of life.
The “A Clearing in the Forest” exhibition opened during the vernal equinox, and the subsequent artworks followed the ebb and flow of the planting season. This might be one of the most touching promises an art institution can make—not forcing any life to labor but allowing for abundance and well-being to flourish.