Amy Pekal, 1993, USA 

Cultureland artist May – August 2020

Welcome Amy, instead of being confined by the Corona pandemic, the current conditions work as a source of inspiration for your residency project ‘Assembled Ecologies’. What are your plans for your Cultureland residency period?

For Cultureland, I plan to assemble an archive of found objects, photos, film and narrative interviews. Alongside this archive I will also produce a series of paintings based on my fieldwork in the Buitenwerkplaats.

Assembled Ecologies is the umbrella name for this ongoing research project. Within Assembled Ecologies there are situated investigations, of which take place in various locations. Situated investigations are fieldwork-based inquiries into the phenomena of naturecultures. Moreover, Assembled Ecologies as how can we can live with the environment, differently.

The Corona pandemic has deeply influenced the working conditions of the arts dramatically. To me, COVID-19 is the largest ‘natureculture’ assemblages the century has seen. I want to explain a bit more about assemblages because they are a concept that I frequently return to on in my research and writing. Assemblages are both concrete objects such as gatherings of things or beings, and transformative processes. Assemblages behave like rhizomes; they are non-linear, non-hierarchal constructions with many possible entry points. In nature rhizomes are the structure of grass or mushrooms. Thus, assemblages are something that is not fixed and permanent but rather always temporary but moving and changing.

Besides your work as an artist, you are also a writer and researcher. Your expertise is the sociological, cultural understanding of the natural world. What inspired you to specialize in this topic?

In my painting practice I gravitate towards materiality and nature. However, my paintings are informed by social phenomena. About four years ago, I began searching for a philosophical and theoretical framework that could be a framework for the way I thought about and created environments. My practice sort of started out with these two strands: A question for society: Why do we do what we do? And a question for the environment: How can we as society better relate to the natural world? I think in a way, I found this framework by painting.

See, as much as I am interested in words I am also interested in movement and how that movement is continuously configuring and reconfiguring. Instead of taking reference photos I take reference films, I replay them, overlap images, make certain layers transparent, and from that overlay, a new image emerges and that is the image I am interested in painting– an entangled and assembled environment or, to use Karen Barad’s sentiment: a diffraction. Thus, it is really my practice of painting and love of having conversations with strangers that inspired me to dig deeper into the philosophical and sociological understanding of the phenomena of naturecultures.

How could art help us understand our natural world?

What sets art apart from any other form of knowledge production is its ability to create an affective response in the body. Artwork informed by a practice-based research moves beyond representing issues as subjects or objects and digs into an entangled way of understanding the natural world. In this way, art can move us to respond from a place of affect a different way of knowing, one that cannot be explained with facts and graphs.

Part of your methodological approach is to investigate environments, earth cycles and the communities that work with them. How will you apply this to your residency project?

Since moving to the Netherlands in 2018, most of my environmental encounters have been within the urban. Earths cycles are harder to come by in their full view and most of our knowledge of seasonal changes are felt by the weather and the changing leaves and sprouting flowers, planted in allotted spaces in the city. We never really feel the fullness of earths ongoing because, in the urban, that relation is mediated and preplanned. During my time at the Buitenwerkplaats I will specifically focus on the concept of material encounters within earths cycles. My ongoing question in that is: How do we unlearn past practices of dominating and cultivating the land and instead, learn to work alongside its cycles? In this way, we situate ourselves as participants in earths processes. Such a way of thinking is most appropriately entertained in places like the Buitenwerkplaats because the rural offers an opportunity to directly engage with the earth.

As your project is taken place in Amsterdam, how will the city’s characteristics influence your project?

My research always begins with fieldwork about a place. While my methods of collecting information remain the same with each place I work in, the site-specificity means that what I find could not happen anywhere else.

In Amsterdam, I have decided to collect a series of narrative interviews from female voices in Amsterdam working directly with the topic of naturecultures in different ways to produce a handmade artist book as a way of looking at the urban natureculture relating’s at this moment in time. The narrative interviews will focus on topics such as cycles, public space, material encounters, and gardens.

In the urban I am not so much interested in the same stuff I would be interested in in the rural. Although I do not think these two sites should be labeled as separate places either. That is also what I think the work that I am developing will do – sort of find a way to blur the binary, entangle it, and embrace the complexity of living as naturecultures.

In doing so, the city’s characteristics will influence my project through the material objects and conversations. In this first week of my wanderings through Amsterdam, I took notice of: the buildings whose materiality held time and history, the canals whose stillness felt forced and the return of bodies in the street. Urban life in transition from isolation into the public space – repetition (patterns of walking/transport) and of course, the parks.

What do you think of Amsterdam’s current relationship with nature within its urban space?

This is a complicated question and I will do my best to answer it as openly as possible, and also to not generalize my answer. Amsterdam’s current relationship with nature within the urban is full of tensions and contradictions. Community efforts to increase biodiversity occur on one side while on the other stores and businesses continue to use unrecyclable goods in the distribution of their products. Therefore, this process in its making and remaking continues to be met with friction. I believe that Amsterdam’s current relationship with nature is one of promises that happen in the margins, a harmonious relationship with nature is certainly not there yet, but there exists the potential for it to be there.

What kind of outcome do you hope for your project ‘Assembled Ecologies’?

What I hope to see come to life for this aspect of Assembled Ecologies is an artifact in the form of a handbound book containing a collection of conversations with female voices in the city of Amsterdam discussing the urgency of changing the ways we live and work. From those discussions I hope that the collected objects, images and films from both the urban and the rural field work will provide a way of looking at naturecultures not as binaries but as one interlaced system.

When I think about assembling and mending or rebuilding relations between culture and nature I see it as an ecology; a systemic set of relationships, an entanglement and the beauty of ecologies is that they are filled with material encounters between bodies both human and non-human and of course, they are also ongoing. Therefore, society resembles life and life resembles society.