19 October 2023
Thursday, 11 EST/5 CET
DocTalks x MoMA
Session 1

“At home on the chaaw salíi”:
an oral history of architecture with the Haida

Harvard University

Respondent: Frederik Braüner, UC Berkeley

Totem pole at Old Masset, Haida Gwaii, BC

Along the Arctic circle, time, frost, and colonial oppression have inevitably vetted out stellar models of living  sustainably. What are these architectures of adaptation, buoyancy, and persistence? And what about them  are we not able to pin—and pen—down? Such were the questions guiding an oral history project I  undertook, where I spoke with the elders and knowledge-keepers of various sub-Arctic Indigenous peoples  about the architectural knowledge that lay intertwined with their knowledge forms and life skills. Thousands  of years of knowledge are transferred orally—without writing or drawing—through their stories, myths, and  worldviews; what of this oral epistemology itself shapes knowledge as adaptable, resilient, and sustainable?

I focus here on the Haida from Haida Gwaii, BC, and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations from the  Yukon, Canada. In my conversations with them, stories flowed freely from myth, to life lessons to teaching  about morality, to passing on valuable skills required in everyday life, to recounting the trauma they  encountered in residential schools. I note the sophisticated mnemonics at work in these drifts. In these  cultures attempting to recover from generations of rupture and trauma caused by colonial repression, I  account for how culture and language are regenerated by not only retelling their stories, but also by  returning to their lost arts—building canoes, longhouses, and totem poles in the case of the Haida, and contraptions for hunting, seasonal dwellings, and food storage in the case of the Southern Yukon First  Nations. A special emphasis is placed on water in their respective ecosystems as a key agent of  environmental change. Architecture here is approached as merely a phase in the life cycle of carbon chemistry involving food, clothing, energy, and shelter. And architectural space is anything but universal; rather, it emerges from the animal bodies, landscape features, and atmospheric phenomena encountered  in everyday life—which describe axes of dwelling, subsistence, and space.


Ecopoetics workshop &
The Architectonics of the Poem:
A Non-Standard Ecopoetics

Topological Poetics Research Institute (TPRI)

Respondent: Phoebe Giannisi, University of Thessaly

The above image includes re-mediated photographs from ecopoetics workshop 2023's collaborative writing exercise "ecorenga erosion" held in Val Taleggio, Italy, the author's speculative diagram of a non-standard ecopoetics, and bricolage material from images of Cecilia Vicuña's "Spin Spin Triangulane" — a large immersive quipu — N.H. Pritchard's The Matrix, and Leslie Scalapino's Seamless Antilandscape.

From July 18-July 31 2023 my colleagues and I at The Topological Poetics Research Institute (TPRI; 4 PhD candidates and recent PhDs) organized ecopoetics workshop 2023, an autonomous alter-institutional intensive residential program at the Nature, Art, Habitat Residency (NAHR), an environmentally oriented art and science research institute run by architect and writer Ilaria Mazzoleni in Val Taleggio, Italy. Our workshop was attended by MFA students, PhD candidates, and professors, and consisted of 2 weeks of seminars, collaborative writing exercises, presentations from scholars in the field, and deep engagement with the local environment of Val Taleggio. ecopoetics workshop takes as its starting point an “architectonic” understanding of the poem, one that desubjectifies authorship into a collective assemblage of nodal transformative points in the homology of the built landscape of the valley and the anthropocentric entanglements therein and beyond. For DocTalks x MoMa I propose to present and contextualize the workshop and its ongoing outcomes.

In recent decades, ecopoetics and ecocriticism emerged as a response to ongoing environmental catastrophe. At its most radical formal extreme, such as in the work of Cecilia Vicuña, ecopoetics participated in fostering an expanded understanding of the poem, wherein the “parapoetics” of the poem, or what we might call its architectural identity, became inextricably bound to any understanding of its “content.” In other words, ecological thinking authorized a form of poetics that can be reasonably considered “architectural,” that is, a form of poetics concerned as much with a poem’s spatio-temporal-material existence as it is with the “language-content” of the poem. While ecopoetics and ecocriticism have been quietly recuperated into the standard form of academic discourse, in my session I would like to present what I’m calling a “non-standard ecopoetics,” one that continues to push on the boundaries of the poem, and the poetic subject, in the situation of anthropocentric climate change, ongoing coloniality, and racial-financial capitalism.

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