Cultural Ecology

Work In Progress: yx

In 2007 I shot ten scenes for a feature length project called The Upper Air, but I was dissapointed with the results and scrapped the project.  I've decided to re-edit the scenes into a short entitled yx, which will hopefully be finished next month.  The themes and concept are very much the same as the original project: the privitization of resources and of bodies, the translation of hermetic spaces into hermetic narratives, allegories of ecologies in crisis.  The new title comes from Stéphane Mallarmé's poem, Sonnet en -yx.  The video has performances by Jeff Harms and Evan Rubin, and Sam Wagster was an immense help in the production.  Below are some stills from the edit in progress.

Beckoning the post-apocalypse

Max Ernst, Epiphany (1940)

Whenever desire climbs a tree, internal repercussions trip it up and it falls to its death; the rhizome, on the other hand, acts on desire by external, productive outgrowths.  That is why it is so important to try the other, reverse but non-symmetrical, operation.  Plug the tracings back into the map, connect the roots or trees back up with a rhizome.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia.


An emergent thought:

The recognition of the illusion of economic growth is a symptom of a crisis — a self-betrayal of the materiality of capital in the grain-become-visible in the tightly stretched membrane.  Crisis relocates idealist and utopian strategies from the hypothetical and fantastic to within the possible, pragmatic and even necessary.  It brings the holistic and broad to bear upon the specific, and the local — global ecology becomes tangibly present in everyday negotiations of individuals and small communities.  Unexpected regions of the metaphysical materialize as we are forced to perceive the interconnectedness of living beings and the power of cosmologies to inform, motivate and direct human behavior.  The neurotic visions of post-apocalypse projected by the philosophies of growth, industry and economic disparity reveal their attractive democratic foundations, the leveling of qualities of life and the rationality becomes evident in post-industrial models.  Intrinsic rights of the individual cannot be argued to be dependent upon individualist goals, and it becomes urgently necessary and unavoidable to conceive of communal organizational structures which function as part of a whole.  It becomes undeniable that our belief in a better possible future, so necessary to undertake the difficult work of reaching it, is part of a long, intertwining and diverse lineage of holistic beliefs that have always existed and been valuable, yet were not always recognized outside of the codified boundaries of official culture. Essentially, to instrumentalize belief, we assume an analytical (extra-dimensional) vantage, creating in the zone of the singularity — the space in which belief is transformed into objective forces by “necessity” — a probability map of possible positions and trajectories.

I have a sense that we need to, in communities of natural human scale, carefully and analytically revive the historical records of cultural ecologies — the materially conjoined structures of human organization and natural environments — with projected relevance in inverse proportion to their proximity to the epicenters of empires. We have firmly entered the borderlands — the frontline of the conflict between programmatic expansionism and the indigenous, the genesis of synthetic cultures that from the inside appeared occult and mystical and which, in the analytical revival is revealed to be programmed by holistic mythologies. Here and now we will reconfigure the historical syntheses of nomadic federations and city-states.  The border is still being pushed outward, but when we look toward the future-past, we can begin to re-imagine practices of ecological existence and experience — formerly maligned as “primitive” and “superstitious” — as praxises arisen from sound, resonant and beautiful theory.  Such an analytical retracing becomes a novel progression, taking what once came after with us into what once came before. 

Perhaps this precludes an inversion of the deepest sense of deterritorialization.  Perhaps this prefigures a recorporation of the imaginary body. 

A Primer on Symbiogenesis

Lynn Margulis discusses her work as a synthetic thinker in the biological, chemical, physical and geological sciences, and describes some of the background of her work on the theory of symbiogenesis, as well as Gaia theory with James Lovelock and Carl Sagan.  I find her work to be underrecognized outside of the sciences, in particular in the discourse of human evolution and mimetics, which relies on the outdated and dubious philosophies of Richard Dawkins and other classical Darwinists.  Her work should be of the utmost interest to the philosophies of identity and information ecology (mimetics).

From the Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy

Lynn Margulis

Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Natural Science. She received a National Medal of Science from President Clinton in 2000.

Her books include What is Life?, What is Sex?, Slanted Truths (all co-authored with Dorian Sagan) and Symbiotic Planet.


Dr. Margulis has proposed that eukaryotic flagella and cilia may have arisen from endosymbiotic spirochetes, but these organelles do not contain DNA and do not show any ultrastructural similarities to any prokaryotes, and as a result this idea does not have wide support. Margulis claims that symbiotic relationships are a major driving force behind evolution. According to Margulis and Sagan (1996), "Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking" (i.e., by cooperation, interaction, and mutual dependence between living organisms). She considers Darwin's notion of evolution driven by competition to be incomplete.


Symbiogenesis is a theory of evolution. It argues that symbiosis is a primary force of evolution, because acquisition and accumulation of random mutations or genetic drift are not sufficient to explain how new inherited variations occur. According to this theory, new cell organelles, new bodies, new organs and new species arise from symbiosis, in which independent organisms merge to form composites. This challenges some standard textbook ideas of how evolutionary change occurs. To some degree, Darwin emphasized competition as the primary driving process of evolution, symbiogenesis emphasizes that co-operation can also be important to the process of evolution.  

Symbiogenesis was first formulated by K. S. Mereschkovsky (1855-1921) in his 1926 book "Symbiogenesis and the Origin of Species" and by Ivan Wallin, in "Symbionticism and the Origins of Species". Ivan Wallin proposed in 1927 that bacteria might represent the fundamental cause of the origin of species, and that the creation of a species may occur via endosymbiosis. 

In the late 20th century, Lynn Margulis claimed that microorganisms are one of the major evolutionary forces in the origin of species, endosymbiosis of bacteria being responsible for the creation of complex forms of life.

Margulis' theory of symbiogenesis

Margulis emphasizes that bacteria and other microorganisms actively participated in shaping the Earth, and helped create conditions suitable for life (e.g., almost all eukaryotes require oxygen, and only developed after cyanobacteria have produced enough atmospheric oxygen). She also argues that these microorganisms still maintain current conditions and that they constitute a major component in Earth biomass.

She showed that free-living bacteria and other microorganisms tend to merge with larger life forms, seasonally and occasionally, or permanently, perhaps under stress conditions. In the now generally accepted endosymbiotic theory, Margulis demonstrated that current plant cells resulted from the merging of separate ancestors, the chloroplast evolving from endosymbiotic cyanobacteria (autotrophic prokaryotes). A more recent additional hypothesis for the origin of some algal and plant cells is the fusion of Thermoplasma (sulfur reduction, fermentation), Spirochaeta (motility), alpha-proteobacteria (oxygen respiration) and Synechococcus cyanobacteria (photosynthesis).

Margulis claims that most of the DNA found in the cytoplasm of animal, plant, fungal and protist cells originated as genes of bacteria that became organelles, rather than from genetic drift or mutation.

Along these lines Margulis has argued that bacteria have the ability to exchange genes very easily and quickly, even between different species, by conjugation or through plasmids. For these reasons, the genetic material of bacteria is much more versatile than that of the eukaryote (see Primary nutritional groups for more on the extent of bacterial ability in terms of nutrition). Margulis claims that versatility is the process which enabled life to evolve so quickly, as bacteria were able to adapt to initial conditions of environment and to new changes by other bacteria.

The Museum of Nature

Roller-coaster, by Ilkka Halso, 2004.

Museum I, by Ilkka Halso, 2003.

Kitka-river, by Ilkka Halso, 2004.

Theater I, by Ilkka Halso, 2003.


From Ilkka Halso's press release for Museum of Nature:


Museum of Nature is next step in continuum of imaginative nature restoring project, which started year 2000 as Restoration exhibition. Restoration series was about restoring single nature objects in means of technology and building skills. Museum project takes one step further. I make plans and construct visually buildings, which protect nature from treaths of pollution and what is more important from actions of man himself. I visualize shelters, massive buildings where big ecosystems could be stored as at present. These massive building protect forests, lakes and rivers from pollution and what is more important from actions of man himself. At the same time I study different aspects of mans relation to nature as rare unique endangered place. While putting nature into a museum you have to take under consideration aspect of audience/consumer. Nature becomes joyride for turists or beautyfull landscape turns into a meditative theatre show. Project is based on pessimistic vision of what is happening on earth. I am looking into future and I am not very happy about that. I am considering these pictures more as visual pamphlets than estetical images.  Digital process is constantly present in the works. I am combining freely photographs of landscapes and computer genereted 3D-models. Works are visualized building plans, plans I rather not want to see realized.

— Ilkka Halso

Kryžių Kalnas

Kryžių Kalnas ("the Hill of Crosses") is a site of pilgrimage about just north of the city of Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania. The exact origins are unknown, but it is considered that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising.  Over the centuries, not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. The number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 55,000 in 1990 and 100,000 in 2006.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, near the Polish city of Krakow, is a salt mine that has been in continuous operation since the 13th century, and still is producing table salt today. The mine stretches to a depth of 327 meters and is more than 300 km long.  In addition to its purpose as a mine, Wieliczka features a oturist route lined with statues of historical and mythical figures (all of them sculptured out of salt by miners), chambers and chapels lined with salt crystal chandeliers, underground lakes, and exhibits showing the history of salt-mining.

Birch Bark Biting

From the website of the artist Pat Bruderer, also known as Half Moon Woman — one of only three people in the world practicing the art of Birch bark biting:

Birch Bark Biting is one of the oldest First Nations art forms. It Is done by separating pieces of birch bark and folding it two or more times. You place the bark between your teeth visualizing what you want to create. You begin biting while rotating it with your hand. Originally, birch bark biting was a form of competition to see who would create the most elaborate design. Later they were also used for beadwork and silk embroidery patterns. There are more than 10 stages to complete just one piece.

It has been said that the best designs were used to create the Chief's regalia (elaborate traditional clothing) and that each bite represented a spirit. Birch bark bitings were also used in as part of the construction of certain sacred ceremonial object.