MICRO INTERVIEW No.10 – Johanna meets Nonhuman Nonsense

Johanna: Hi Linnea and Filips! As members of Nonhuman Nonsense – where would I run into you on a typical Thursday, and what would you be doing? 

Linnea + Filips: What we would do on a typical Thursday depends a little bit on when during the year it would be, but hopefully we would have an atelier and then we would be there! Or we would be travelling, installing an exhibition or hosting a workshop somewhere. In the beginning of the year we would probably be on our computers applying for new projects, doing research, having meetings, or outside the computer doing early ideation. At the end of the year we would probably be very messy and busy with building things and finishing for an exhibition or project or we would be out installing it, maybe a bit stressed and a lot of materials and objects everywhere! In the middle of the year both things could happen, or we would be off on a summer holiday. 

Johanna: Your work centers nonhuman agency and you are known for employing speculation, weird dreams, and estrangement to critically engage with questions around social and environmental justice. How would you describe your approach to or engagement with critical posthumanism, design, and the ways in which they might intersect and inform each other?

Linnea + Filips: That’s a really nice way to explain what we do, thank you! 

We both come from a design background and in that world the user ie, the human is often placed as the central figure. We do use a lot of design methodology in the project creation process, yet we are always playing with decentralising the human, which is an approach that is central in posthumanism. When engaging with the current global political and environmental landscape, we usually look towards critical theory and science in search of conceptual tools – terms, world views, and theories that offer the potential to reimagine our relationships with the nonhuman. It is also interesting to examine what are the moral implications of these theories and to understand what values and ethics are at play. In some ways, we could say that we have designed scenarios where posthumanist theories are applied in specific use cases. This kind of designing can and has led to weird, problematic, inspiring and paradoxical fictional conditions. This is also where it becomes personally fun to work with, to try to imagine dynamics and balance between intentions, values and consequences, colliding theory with practice. It is a playful way to explore posthumanist thinking, which often leads to humorous projects. Humour is a great tool (for the viewer and us) to ease in and uphold open engagement with serious complexities, especially ones that seem to contradict, as is the case with many of our scenarios. The paradoxes emerge because the theories we engage with and the propositions we design are trying to look beyond current popular paradigms and challenge the ‘common sense’, imagining relationships that then might seem like nonsense. Yet the nonsense and contradiction come about, hopefully, showing that the way we think of our place in the world right now is conceptually constructed. The separation of the world into dualistic categories such as self-other, natural-artificial, human-nonhuman is what we attempt to render as nonsense. So this is how the cross-pollination of critical posthumanism and design are manifesting in our practice, it is leading to contradicting storytelling that attempts to foster sensibility towards our surroundings.

Johanna: Next to your artistic work, you also give talks and workshops, you are educators, authors, and scholars in academic as well as non-academic spaces. How do these different roles and practices interact and inform each other? What is the balance between them?

Linnea + Filips: There are a lot of different roles to take on at a design/art studio, like the ones you mentioned but also working as accountants, administrators, applicants for open calls, website designers, social media managers and more. Keeping a balance is often a hard thing, at times we wish we had more time for experimentation, messy prototyping and making, which is probably the most fun part of our work. Yet it is also very rewarding and enriching to practice several things at the same time, to be able to run the studio but also to creatively develop concepts and projects. So, if we are invited to hold a workshop or talk, while we are working on an exhibition, let’s say about sea level rise and myth-making, we might use the opportunity to test our concepts with the participants. Recently, for example, we were hosting a workshop within the exhibition space of “Mud & Flood“, a new installation we made. The workshop allowed us to explore and test ideas that couldn’t be done through the exhibition format, and then in a more attentive and conversational manner together with visitors. It opened the creation process to the participants, by letting them respond to the project via written messages, voice recordings and sculptures and place them in the space to be encountered by future visitors. So on this occasion, the artwork was directly adjusted by the visitors and we gained insights into how the project is received and inspiration on what next steps to take. There’s a similar value in holding talks, it’s always exciting to get to the Q&A part to get critical feedback and fresh perspectives on our projects. No matter what topic or idea we are working with, we will try to explore it from different angles in different formats to stay true to the ecological complexity of the topics but also to search for a suitable format for the message to be channelled. Some stories and scenarios can be communicated well in an exhibition format, some might come across better as a website or movie, yet others might only make sense when they are interactive and dialogic. So it’s lucky and necessary to engage with a diversity of spaces and audiences including informed curators, open-minded students, relaxed festivals and online platforms. They all help to build richer, more sensible art-worlds. 

Johanna: Thank you so much for sharing that and giving us a glimpse into your artistic practice, day-to-day, collaboration, and organization! Please, accept the needle and keep stitching!

Linnea + Filips: Thank you! We will gladly take on the needle.