Following Seismic Sensations through the Earthquake Implants of Moon Ribas
by CHANTELLE MITCHELL and JAXON WATERHOUSE
Following Seismic Sensations through the Earthquake Implants of Moon Ribas
by Chantelle Mitchell and Jaxon Waterhouse
And yet it moves, spoke Galileo, in reference to the orbit of the Earth around the sun. It moves, it moves us and we move with it. Increasingly, the contemporary period is marked by the reconciliation of human activity with its ecological and geological impacts, leading us to an increased recognition of the liveliness and affective capabilities of lithic matter. But what could it mean to tie the body to these movements, acknowledging the agentic nature of the lithic and to commune with it? To invert the human-as-geologic intrusion discourse of the Anthropocene and instead be moved by the Earth?
In 2013, Catalan artist Moon Ribas embarked on a project to embed the movement of the Earth into her body via her Seismic Sense; subcutaneous technological implants which vibrated in sympathetic resonance with seismic activity around the globe. Initially implanted into her arm, these sensors, connected via bluetooth technology to online seismographic databases, registered even the most minute of earthly tremors. The seismic activity becoming embodied via technological mediation; a lived experience of quivering in tandem with the Earth. As the project progressed, these sensors were relocated to Ribas' feet and the artist employed the resonance of these earthly movements as the basis for choreographic performance. As the Earth moved, Ribas's sensors moved with it, and so did Ribas. Whilst the Seismic Sense served as foundation for performative practice, the Earth's continual movement meant that the sensors were constantly receiving transmissions and vibrating in sympathy. Much like other senses, the Seismic Sense was always present -- always on and always attuned. Invisible and subterranean geologic movement continues, opened out beyond the surface as it is registered by Ribas and manifested as choreographic performance.
Whilst Seismic Sense ceased in its embedded form in 2019, with Ribas' removal of her implants, we see this sense and its resulting performative expression as crucial and critical in muddying the boundaries between human and other than human. Ribas' work resonates amidst Anthropocene rhetoric positioning the human-as-geologic, but we seek to excavate the further significance it accrues when viewed as an inversion of this discourse, a constructive refiguring of the human/geologic entanglement. Within Seismic Sense, the geologic is recognised as agentic matter - not subject to passive interpretation and being, but instead acknowledged as lively, resonant and co-creative. Through technological interventions into her body, Ribas troubled fixed boundaries of human and other than human. In this way, her body became attuned to a new sense, these new sensorial capacities becoming a cyborg praxis which expands the limitations of the human, into a sonorous entanglement with the affects of the other-than-human.
Ribas self identifies as both cyborg and artist. For Donna Haraway, the cyborg challenges traditional dualisms as she writes, via integration of the human with technology: "The dichotomies between mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized are all in question ideologically" (Haraway 163). Ribas diffuses the boundaries of human self and other through the vibrating and embodied aspects of her Seismic Sense. In this way, not only is Ribas acted upon by the movement of lithic matter, but she enacts this through a harmonious extension of movement through her body, expanding her sensorial capacities toward a different form of being -- one in which the body moves in resonance with the world. This is best understood by watching Ribas' Waiting for Earthquakes; a series of performances in which she moved; oscillating, jolting and thrumming in response to the vibrations that moved her.
Whilst Ribas' practice, and indeed this notion of cyborg, may seem futuristic, we suggest that Seismic Sense is a further manifestation of the ongoing and increasingly apparent entanglements of the human and the geologic. In lieu of technological implants of our own, we engage Katve-Kaisa Konturri's methodology of following in order to move with the categorical muddying enacted by Ribas's practice. Lacking the attunement of Ribas, we follow the paths outlaid by Konturri. Regarding following, Konturri states: "The motivation for approaching art in this way is to value the intricate processes of making and sensing -- their capacity to open even the stiffest of materials and figures beyond their seeming stillness. To follow, then, is to embrace the 'work' of art, its material, affective, and relational doings that push it beyond the representational function, offering something new instead of what is already known" (10). Speaking to the generative and relational possibilities of the Seismic Sense, Ribas states: "Before, I knew Earth was a living organism, now I feel it," translating abstract knowledge into an affective and lived understanding -- a bodily way of world-making and knowing (Hutchings, 2020). Whilst waiting for the earthquakes which inform her performance practice, or in those times where the Seismic Sense is personal lived experience for Ribas, we can, by following, begin to attune ourselves to the resonances of these sensorial engagements with the other-than-human.
In following, we walk. While the soles of the feet connect us to Earth, it was the shift from four soles to two in the evolution of the hominid toward bipedal locomotion which signalled the divorce of the human from the natural world. Despite these literal separations of the human body from the geologic, the geologic has always been co-constitutive in the emergence of that which is human. As we cast our gaze backwards through time, we see this resonate in histories of communication. Whilst we view the Earth's stratigraphy as an archival holding, before humanity was a record in stone, we made records on stone. The front feet, upon leaving the Earth, became hands which grasped the rocks, with and into which humankind made its first inscriptions, transferring data from etcher to etched into, to be fixed, terrestrialised, foundational -- these marks are the bedrock of human history. From those first petroglyphs -- strange renderings of animals and Gods incised into the rock face, and the grinding of stones for dust and pigments applied liberally to stone and skin with reeds or hands, to Moses and his tablets, to lithography, to throwing stones in acts of protest, and the creation of cairns. The histories of writing and communication could be read as obscure branches of geology.
This anthropocentric narrative of human and geologic constitutes a history of speaking through stone: its use as vessel, medium, or message itself to create the world. As theorists Brian Massumi and Erin Manning remind us, however, modes of existence are intermodal and plural, in which existence is found both within matter and between assemblages of matter, existing in many and varied forms (8). This recognition of intermodalities and pluralities emerged within a broader New Materialist philosophy, which acknowledges and concerns itself with entanglements and assemblages of matter that are co-constructive, and therefore, co-creative. New Materialist ways of thinking attempt to highlight how matter matters; exploring the agency, vibrancy and world-building capacities of actors within these assemblages and relationships. Of particular pertinence within the context of Ribas' Seismic Sense is the work of Jane Bennett, who acknowledges the ecological sensibility of her New Materialism in considering the vibrancy of matter through a vitalist materialism. Bennett provides a theoretical framework in which the liveliness of matter is recognised as having active power in relational structures beyond the human. For Bennett, the vibrancy of matter "induce[s] in human bodies an aesthetic-affective openness to material vitality", a vitality in which matter is positioned as thrumming with agentic force (x). This vibrancy is too a vibration, a quivering liveliness, a sign of life which she extends to all matter. We situate the following employed by Konturri in alignment with the New Materialist framework of Bennett, and we follow the vibrancy of matter as it becomes resonance within Ribas' embodied practice.
In thinking through the agency and liveliness of matter we look to the writing of Annie Dillard, one of the most prominent nature writers of the 20th Century:
"The island where I live is peopled with cranks like myself. In a cedar-shake shack on a cliff -- but we all live like this -- is a man in his thirties who lives alone with a stone he is trying to teach to talk." (57).
Whilst Dillard self-identifies here as a crank, one can imagine that her 'crank-ness' comes from the closeness with which she communed with nature, much like the shack-dwelling individual -- but while Dillard channeled the other than human with depth and grace, this differs from the shack dweller's task. Dillard teaches us, through Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Teaching a Stone to Talk, the value of attunement, of observing and listening. This act of decentering the human subject, demonstrates a reverence for the natural world. By quietening the human, there is space for the natural to speak. Here, Dillard emphasises the communion within this endeavour -- despite how preposterous it may seem. It seems unlikely, however, that the shack dweller was the first to embark on such an endeavour. One can imagine Sisyphus whispering soft words of encouragement to his boulder, urging it on and up the mountain each day. But Sisyphus' sweet nothings, alongside this gentleman's pebble pedagogy, constitute a talking to stone -- as yet, the stone does not speak back.
Dillard continues: "Nature's silence is one remark, and every flake of the world is a chip off that old mute and immutable block. The Chinese say that we live in the world of the ten thousand things. Each of the ten thousand things cries out to us precisely nothing" (57). We read this concurrently with the words of the Chinese poet Du Fu (712 -- 770):
"The nation falls into ruins; rivers and mountains continue" (Hinton 2019, 45).
This continuity could refer to their beyond-human durability and continued presence, but when read diffractively through Dillard, what we hear in the rivers and mountains is silence. These rivers and mountains continue to cry out to us "precisely nothing" (57). Through this text, we posit that this silence comes not from the inability of the mountains or rivers to communicate. Rather, by drawing from the pluralities and intermodalities of a New Materialist approach, this perceived "silence" is a miscommunication; an overlaying of muteness upon matter which is inherently lively and agentic. As such, these intermodalities become questions of communication, and attunement to the vibrancy of matter. In following these vibrations and resonances, we posit that Ribas' Seismic Sense constitutes a manifestation of communing with the geologic. Rather than teaching the stone to speak, a la Dillard's crank, Ribas has attuned her body to geologic resonances; her register and response to these resonances then constitute communion with the Earth -- although not with the sonorous body of the mountain, but with its roots, deep beneath the surface.
In positioning the silence of the mountains as the inability of the human interlocutor to understand what is being said, we seek out the polyphony of voices that can alert us to other-than-human life and agency. Following Bennett and Konturri, we move beyond the purely aural realm, as we recognise the liveliness of the lithic despite its ensconcement within dichotomies of life and non-life. As Bennett writes, the vitality of matter is "obscured by our conceptual habit of dividing the world into inorganic matter and organic life." (viii) However, by breaking with this conceptual habit, the Seismic Sense challenges the perceived muteness of the lithic, destabilising anthropocentric modes of being and knowing which enact its obscuration. In attuning to and amplifying this liveliness toward a point whereby the lithic can be perceived as agentic and co-constitutive, Seismic Sense then lends itself to Spinozist understandings of the world, in which the appearing-differentiated is in actuality one.
We seek to reframe Spinoza's monism through a contemporary and geologic approach to the mountain's silence. Seeking an origin point, we mobilise here the notion of geotrauma as the opening lines in the dialogue between human and geologic. Geotrauma, which emerged from the crypt of Nick Land and the Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit (a diverse collection of thinkers and philosophers operating in loose collaboration through the 1990s, exploring such expansive topics as technoscience, numerology and futurity) is concerned with the formation of the Earth through solar trauma and stellar death. Geotrauma suggests that the initial interaction of matter which led to the creation of the Earth was a deeply traumatic experience for all (celestial and non-celestial) bodies involved. This interaction is positioned as the ururtrauma, with the psychic ills of humanity positioned as secondary traumas nested within the foundational and formational interstellar collision of material from which all Earthly matter emerged. Geotrauma persists, reverberating forward in time from this shared origin point of the human and geologic, through human and other than human bodies. This (geo)traumatic reverberation of carbon, be it in stone or in bone, is the communication of Deep (Cosmic) Time both through, and to, our shared matter. The eternal and continuing violence of the First Collision becomes the 'dark half' of the vibrancy ascribed to matter by Bennett, posited by her as a marker of agency, activeness, being and becoming (53).
The vibrancy of Bennett's matter is interpreted as a sign of life, a potential communication beyond the visual, aural and verbal signifiers upon which human phenomenology is premised. We see in our geotraumatic condition an aeon-spanning communication through carbon. Whilst Bennett's vibrations are observed through attunement to the agency of the other-than-human, our geotrauma is felt. It is an inherently bodily and embodied phenomenology, owing to the shared mattering of human and other than human. Ribas uses the mediation of the sensor and the seismograph to connect her to the Earth. But we can envisage this happening without technology. We think here of the work of philosopher Jen McWeeny, as she explores a phenomenology of depth through her engagements with the right whale; exploring depth in relation to the water column -- space not predicated upon flat surface movement, but an immersion in space. There is a necessary depth in the space shared with the right whale, but it extends into bodily depths as we consider the affective aspects of this bodily engagement. We can transpose this depth also to our examination of Ribas' work -- as reverberations move through watery depths, they too move through earthly depths -- and it is to these vibrations and this vibrancy that the Seismic Sense attunes.
McWeeny supposes that it is the casting off of such primate-centric conceptions of the world as being 'held' or 'grasped' and the anthropogenic ways of knowing the world through the hands and eyes that accompanied our bipedal evolution that open possibilities of deeper connection with the other-than-human. Positioning the communicative medium of water as the hydrological component of Spinoza's continuum or fabric of nature, McWeeny explores how the movement of another body underwater acts upon her body, destabilising human primacy in the employ of sounding; the manner in which the right whale knows and experiences the world around it. Although she does not look at, nor touch the whale, she is engaged with and engaged by the whale, as the whale's movement causes 'vibrations' to pass through the connective tissue of the water, vibrations which she subsequently experiences. McWeeny's bodily experience constitutes a sympathetic deepening of the human/other-than-human relationship, as she gains insight into other than human ways of experiencing and knowing the world. Through this attunement -- McWeeny amidst the oceanic and Ribas in relation to the geologic -- there is the recognition of the arrogance of anthropocentrism, the notion that we would discount the communicative possibilities of the mountains because of their lack of speech. Following these vibrations, as they move McWeeny and Ribas, we can begin to infer that the mountains were not silent, but were instead speaking a different language.
We follow these lines of communication, as they transform, via depth and sensation, from aural to embodied. For Ribas, her Seismic Sense emerged out of a desire to feel the Earth. This work was built from previous experiments which deepened her sensorial experiences. Previous projects, such as Kaleidoscopic Vision, Speedborg and 360° Perception, were presented in various iterations but, at their core, operated as wearable sensors which detected the movement of surrounding humans through speed and proximity. Similarly, Seismic Sense began as an external sensor strapped to the artists' wrist. As the project continued, Ribas sought deeper and more seamless integration with the Seismic Sense, having the sensor embedded in her arm. Ribas further extended this through performance and in migrating the sensors from her arm to her feet -- bringing the body closer to Earth. Ribas likened this to an elephant stamping its feet in communication, and emphasised the literal grounding of her practice through this refiguration of the sense in physical form. Whilst this work has ceased in its embedded form, we see it as crucial and critical in muddying the boundaries between human and other-than-human. Konturri considers the transformative possibilities of practices which engage with the continuums of art and life, "making art alive and life art ... because each co-worker brings along [their] own immanent field of intensity." (28) It is the muddying of life and non-life here which positions, through affirmation of Bennett's notion of vibrant matter, the geologic as coworker. As Ribas herself states, this work enabled her to become more than human, but it also renders accessible other than human agency, through enabling the geologic to become communicative -- somehow more than itself as well.
As we move amidst geologic and watery depths, we are reminded by Konturri that "[w]atching the flow from the bank prevents moving with the flow" (12). We watch, and in stepping into the river, we follow -- a twofold following, through focusing our attention toward Ribas' practice, and through framing her practice itself as a form of following. Ribas' following is geologic -- an attunement, resonance and movement in response to the Earth -- in a manner akin to Iris van der Tuin's New Materialist notion of "taking a plunge into thinking in movement", itself a dive into Konturri's river (238). By being enacted upon seismically -- moving and being moved by now-embodied resonances of the Earth -- Ribas' practice amplifies and actualises both the Earth's movement and other-than-human agency. Seismic Sense is a work extended by performative outcomes, both choreographic and sound-based. In realising these, Ribas acts as conduit, transposing her interior sense into accessible auditory and visual modes of human sensation. This enables us to position Seismic Sense as something to be followed -- we watch Ribas actualise her interior geologic attunement, and we witness her following of the flows. But to watch the river, or listen to it rush past is to gain only a partial understanding of the river. To step into the river is to feel the icy water, to sense the rush and to know the tug of the current -- that is another story.
Whilst we recognise the watery undertones of many of our readings, we perseverate instead upon the flows of the geologic. In following Konturri's river we walk upon the sedimented banks which cradle the river that has carved out a path in the geologic over millennia. We see flow as not limited to the hydrologic realm, and recognise that all that is geologic was once molten, beholden to flows and flux. This framing of the geologic is an alignment with Heraclitean formations of being in the world, and an endorsement of its flux and flows. Heraclitus spoke of his river without an understanding of the geological composition of the Earth -- the movement of the mantle, which in geologic time moves in a manner similar to viscous fluid. The interjection of humanity into the geologic record necessitates our recognition of the geologic, then, as part of this framing. It is this flow of the molten rock of the mantle, that is terraforming in its truest and original sense: terra-forming. The Sahara Desert creeps ever outward. Lake Baikal, formed as a continental rift, grows wider by the year. Basalt and lava continue to flow. At the time of writing, Krakatoa had just begun erupting again. The Earth does not stop moving. It seems our revolutionary heroes of '68 were only part right -- while there is a flow under the cobblestones, it is not the beach, but the molten counterpart to the Heraclitean river.
As Michel Serres, renowned philosopher of science -- albeit science in fluid and associative ways -- reminds us, "To the theory of fluids there corresponds a theory of paths. If everything flows, there must be channels. If everything communicates, there must be roads" (95). As Manuel De Landa ventured in 1992, "geologic strata teach us that even the seemingly most rigid strata can flow (however slowly), mutate (metamorphic rocks) or even be reincorporated into self-organizing processes (convection flows of lava)" (155). The geologic, then, is not static matter subject to passive interpretation and being. Wet ontologies, although oriented toward a refiguration of oceanscapes in relation to terrestrial ontologies, provide a means through which we can present the fluvial as central to geologic-artistic investigations, in an extension of McWeeny's explorations of phenomenologies of depth. These wet ontologies relegate the surety of terrestrial fixity to mere human-centric folly, and through a dismantling of this mirage, the material world can be refigured in recognition of the agency of matter and the other-than-human. Key theorists for the development of wet ontologies, Kimberly Peters and Philip Steinberg, state that the wet countering of flat and terrestrial ontologies favours recognition of "the chaotic but rhythmic turbulence of the material world, in which, even amidst unique events of coming together, there is a persistent, underlying churn" (248). The terrestrial, then, becomes refigured by its actuality as a molten process in recognition of constant and necessary tectonic movement. The Seismic Sense is a fluid sense, uniquely responsive and respondent to paths laid out by transformations of tectonic movement into data, transmitted through the body as impulse.
Finding a footing upon Konturri's banks necessitates following the ecological impetus behind the work back to its origin within the Earth, and the basis of Konturri's following within a Deleuzo-Guattarian frame. As Deleuze and Guattari underline in A Thousand Plateaus, the practice of following is not about the reproduction of what already exists from a fixed point of view but opening oneself to what is still in the making (372). In this way, the themes and imageries of artistic praxis and output are considered in direct relation to the molecular flows in which they emerge, "becoming] understood as continuous actualisations of process..." (Konturri 202). By transposing this to the riverbank, Konturri welcomes its redeployment within a New Materialist context, positioning a following praxis as something that does not "embrace well-trodden paths but strange, curvy, quirky, unexpected ones." (Konturri 202) These 'continuous actualisations' are affective in their resonance, positioning the body as a receiver of impulse, as a register of motion and movement. Out of sight, below the Earth, our well-aged paths grow strange, curvy and unexpected. Countering the stratified and strict linearities of geography and spatial mapping, these paths emerge from and return to the Earth; actualised as lines on a seismograph. Within the twinned frameworks of following and Ribas' practice, these lines are refigured as conduits, cargo-bearing in their emergence and return. Viewed in light of shifts in contemporary theorisations of matter and geology as agentic, they return as sonorous messages awaiting reception.
Ribas' becoming-cyborg sits within a broader project, the Cyborg Foundation, established alongside childhood friend and fellow cyborg, Neil Harbisson. Although Ribas does not consider the Cyborg Foundation to operate as a studio or laboratory, it provides a conceptual and organisational structure through which she and Harbisson consider cyborg rights and relations with the world, and the use of technology as a union with, and extension of, human sense capabilities. In addition to Ribas' previously discussed work, the Cyborg Foundation has seen the realisation of Harbisson's Cyborg Antennae, in which the achromatopsic artist expanded his sensorial capacities to colour and UV light through a camera implant embedded in his skull. This implant translates images into sound, which, via this implant, are transformed into reverberations against Harbisson's skull - a kindred operational methodology to Ribas' implants. Similarly for Harbisson, this implant operates as an extension of ecological awareness. By expanding his sensorial capacity, he feels closer to animals than before he was cyborg (Jeffries, 2014). Bluetooth Tooth, reciprocal implants within Ribas and Harbisson, allowed the artists to communicate by translating their percussive mouth movements into Morse code. These works act to transform the self through technological mediation, furthering relationships with others - other humans but also the other-than-human.
Similar to the unifying enmeshment of the human and technologic in the cyborg, approaching Seismic Sense as communication positions both Ribas and Earth as intra-active. Within this Baradian frame of intra-action they are not separate constituent parts or events. They instead become "a single event that is not one" (Meeting the Universe Halfway 224). This intra-action emerges from the meeting of organic matter in relation; the vibrancy of the geologic as registered by implant, before transmission to body. In this way, not only does Seismic Sense subsist as a terrestrial becoming-with in relation to geological and seismic activity but presents as demonstrable Einsteinian 'spooky action at a distance': quantum entanglement. As Barad outlines, "Quantum entanglements are not the intertwining of two (or more) states/entities/events, but a calling into question of the very nature of two-ness, and ultimately of one-ness as well. Duality, unity, multiplicity, being are undone. 'Between' will never be the same. One is too few, two is too many" (Diffracting Diffraction 251). For Ribas, this being between rings true in both Seismic Sense and the broader work of the Cyborg Foundation, operating as an extension of that which is sensible; a union with the world that is both complicated and expanded through the refiguration of our sensorial capabilities as human, toward cyborg. Further, Barad states, "It is through specific agential intra-actions that the boundaries and properties of the 'components' of phenomena become determinate and that particular embodied concepts become meaningful" (Posthumanist Performativity 28). When viewed through the lens of transmission awaiting reception, the orientation of human-self and geologic matter is complicated, as geologic matter and seismic events take on new resonance. This is the quantum entanglement, the ability of separate bodies to share a twinned state or condition, to be intertwined and intra-active. There is an other-than-human/cyborg telepathy that occurs within this Baradian frame. This is a union, which, via the Seismic Sense, brings Ribas into a deeper entanglement with Earth through recognition of shared matter as the foundation of the universe. Seismic Sense is not so much teaching the stone to talk, but teaching the body to listen. A transmission, an invisible tether travelling through the Earth's surface, to the satellites in the atmosphere, and back to Ribas' feet.
Seismic Sense can be revealed here as a New Materialist interface, the "meeting point of matter and things," amplifying the potential of the project to produce sensation, and refigure relations and relationships (Bird 3). This interface receives transmissions (both information and resonance), enacting the entangling of matter within the Einsteinian frame: bound by the principle that by observing a particle in place, another, even light years away, will change in response. There is a literal intra-active relationship between the movement of matter and its subsequent sensorial impacts upon Ribas. However, there are depths to this interrelationship of human and other-than-human matter that can be untangled through a recognition of the quantum framing of matter. Orienting her quantum investigations in relation to Derridean notions of hauntology and haunting, Barad asks: "What if the ghosts we encountered in the flesh, as iterative materialisations, contingent and specific (agential) reconfigurings of spacetimematterings, spectral (re)workings without the presumption of erasure, the 'past' repeatedly [were] reconfigured not in the name of setting things right once and for all ... but in the continual reopening and unsettling of what might yet be, of what was, and what comes to be?" (Diffraction 264) This speaks to our geotraumatic origins, but also to the eruption from and interruption into the Earth through seismic events and anthropocentric, Anthropocene activities. The settled appearance is just an illusion, the constant reopening and closing of the Earth's crust is implicit in the movement of the tectonic plates. By viewing this geotrauma through the lens of quantum entanglement, the reverberations of our shared carbon are amplified. The interrelationship of human and other than human extends temporally, beyond an individual lifespan. This shared mattering presents our geotrauma as not simply the ghosts of our life, but the ghosts of all life.
Contemporary media theory, grappling with ecology and the Anthropocene, has moved to reframe technology as quite literally geological (Parrika 2015). Made from metal, from mineral, the sensors embedded in Ribas' body are engaged in a resonance not only between data and body, or earth and the individual, but between geologic matter. As such, the extension of this is the embeddedness of a temporal complexity and entanglement, due to Deep Time as a constituent element of these techno-geologic materials. The geologic and terrestrial implications of Ribas' becoming-with amplify and animate the fluidity of mattering. By troubling boundaries of self, geology and technology, there is movement between states, through sense and affect. This troubling enacts an Irigarayan diffusion, in which the 'solid plane' is recognised as tectonic; resting upon "subterranean and submarine life, on capped fires and winds which yet stir ceaselessly beneath that shell," illuminating deceptive solidities, masking movement and motion below the surface (Irigaray 20). This movement across binary boundaries troubles traditional scientific thinking and the boundaries between human and other-than-human, demonstrating to us the entanglement of all things.
We are dealing with bodies of all sizes, and we narrow our scope from the Earth-sized and sonorous to the molecular which constitutes all matter, enabling mattering and attunement to Deleuzo-Guattarian emergent flows. Barad, in stating that "even the smallest bits of matter are an enormous multitude" further considers the intra-active realities of perceiving and measuring even the smallest of things; even in measuring nothingness there is a co-creation of the measuring apparatus (What is the Measure of Nothingness 15) And whilst scale between the Earth-sized and the molecular assists in differentiating matter and relations, it is the shared mattering and the intra-active nature of matter which are of significance. Seismic Sense illuminates to us the shared mattering of carbon between Earth and body. From the pores of the skin, to the meeting points of the tectonic plates, to the cell wall -- all bodies are permeable, containing gaps where things pass through, the reopening and rupture enabling our hauntings. In communicative terms, we can envision this as a bodily form of Morse Code -- the signal absence between dots and dashes necessary in delineating characters and words from each other. Within the intra-actions created by Seismic Sense, Ribas is placed into direct contact with the Earth, enabling the possibility of communication by letting the geologic into her body. The connection between Ribas and the Earth, and the potential for transmission, is maintained in moments of absence in which the sensors vibrate in resonance with earthly movement, but it is only when transmission goes through, as mediated by the implants, that the connection is actualised, and therefore constituting an instance of Earthly communication with Ribas.
As Massumi and Manning remind us, articulation occurs in the gaps and ruptures -- at the point of exchange and modal intersection -- and further, that "it is in the breaching that thought acts most intensely, in practicing co-composing" (viii). Ribas frames her Seismic Sense as co-composition with the Earth, through her percussive and choreographic responses to received transmissions. To co-compose is to work with, attuned to the collaborator's instincts, movements and impulses. In the case of the Seismic Sense, we position these co-compositions as acts of following in which Ribas and her implants amplify the co-constitutive powers of the Earth, working jointly with technology to highlight the resonant capacity of the body. Through this, Ribas acts as a geo-human tuning fork, connected to the Earth through cyborgian interventions into her body. The vibrations of the Earth travel through the body, received not as sound waves through the bones of the ear, but as impulses transmitted via the technological implants in the soles of her feet - those registers of the body upon the Earth. In this way, Ribas resonates - the after effects of the quakes lingering as sensation in the body. What occurs here is an intra-action that moves beyond an inversion of the human-geologic relationship as present within Anthropocene discourse.
The Anthropocene, although debated, is positioned as our current geological epoch, one defined by human interventions into and presence within the geologic record, throughout our environments and atmospheres. Seismic Sense, through which Ribas operates as geo-human resonator, inverts this framing of the Anthropocene as anthropogenic penetration of the geologic, instead opening the body to geologic presencing. In recognising this inversion, we position Ribas and her implant alongside Arthur Conan Doyle's 'When the World Screamed', as considered in A Thousand Plateaus. Within the narrative, the antagonistic Professor Challenger undertakes a project to drill deeply into the mantle of the Earth. Convinced of the Earth's sentience, he attempts to usher forth a sign of life through this subterranean and subcutaneous activity. The creature (Earth) is awakened: "It was a howl in which pain, anger, menace, and the outraged majesty of Nature all blended into one hideous shriek" (Doyle 586). Whilst we know that the Earth is not, in fact, a sea urchin-like creature, as Challenger thought, we need to consider similarities between his actions and our literal intrusions into the Earth through the extractive apparatuses of mining and industry, or the symbolic wounding and penetration of the Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene is yet to have a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), an international marker of the bounds of stratigraphy, inserted into geographical and stratigraphic points which operate as the standard by which these layers are defined. We find ourselves globally in uncharted territory -- in the same manner that the futuristic and cyborgian nature of Ribas' work constitutes an extension of human through technology, we see her communion with the Earth as an alignment with broader contemporary geo-politics and the Anthropocene condition, in which we are forced into dialogue with the natural world. We experience its irruption into our day to day; through natural disasters, rising temperatures, constantly upticking C02 levels and the consequences of climactic change we are brought into symbiosis with geology, ecology and atmosphere. Both at once measurable and observable, but at the same time, an undercurrent of accelerated human activity. We can envision this as the backlash accompanying the shriek that Challenger provoked in his geologic wounding. What could be more allegorical in this time of rampant extractivism and climate catastrophe than these narratives and reversals of extraction and wounding that we read in Ribas' Seismic Sense? This enables the refiguration of Ribas's practice as an inversion of Challenger's project, or an alternative, affective and spectral GSSP - a stratigraphic marker placed within the body, instead of within the Earth.
We grasp this spectrality while it is present, and locate Ribas as a mediumistic figure, alerting us to sonorous movement. Through her implants, Ribas ushers forth the Earth's sentience and extends it beyond the surface. Her implants enable the mediation of the message through satellites -- co-composition actualised as she is stretched, via technology, from core to atmosphere, as conduit through which the shared and spooky matter can communicate. For all without this Seismic Sense, the Earth's howl is only rendered audible and experiential through seismic activity strong enough to reach the surface and impact human activity -- some one fifth of the 500,000 seismic events that occur yearly -- but through technological attention and intervention the smallest seismic sensations can be recorded for human perception. Despite technological advancements, earthquake detection systems only seconds warning of an impending seismic event; although, much like the activity of ants before rain, animals have been recorded fleeing to a safe place days before massive earthquakes (Tributsch 2013; Wikelski et al.). Current scientific theory presents that some animals can sense smaller tremors than humans; foreshocks in anticipation of something larger (Tributsch 2005). Ribas, through her Seismic Sense enacts a more-than-human sensibility. Rather than relying upon primate-centric modes of knowing the world, her attunement to vibration is an extension toward other-than-human phenomenologies, appearing as a kind of extra-sensory perception. Divorced here from its supernatural connotations, spookiness becomes the sharing of animalistic sensory premonitions. Something inescapably natural, but receptive to Ribas as conduit and medium, through the extension of her body into entanglements of human and other-than-human matter.
Seismic Sense is a work inherently of the Earth; geologically comprised and communicating earthly sensations. It is a grounded work, speaking of and to interiority of both Earth and body. However, this interiority is resonant and refracted, as feedback loops within this work extend body and Earth into orbit. Ribas' sensors receive information transmitted via satellite, extending the mineral and material spectrally, into the embrace of endlessly orbiting satellites in the outer atmosphere. There is a literal otherworldliness to this extension into space, which mirrors the otherworldly (read: supernatural) character of spooky matter/quantum entanglement. However, in mirroring and multiplying, muddying the internal and external, the cosmic and geologic, Seismic Sense becomes an intra-worldly work. Through Seismic Sense, this intraworldiness is made clear when we acknowledge Ribas and the Earth as co-composers. While each has world-building capacity in their own right, the intra-action that occurs within Seismic Sense creates a communion between them, one in which the human and other-than-human are rendered accessible, available and understandable to each other. This extends beyond Ribas however, towards her audiences. While her communion with the Earth is mediated by the sensors in her feet, she acts as a mediator for the viewer. In doing so, Ribas draws us deeper into our entanglements with the other-than-human, opening up the possibility for a deeper ecological awareness, towards a comprehensive ethics of care inclusive of the other-than-human.
Intraworldiness, an interstitial space between human and other-than-human, as illuminated by Ribas' Seismic Sense, presents a generative site of New Materialist recognition. This generative and interstitial space is one in which the resonant, world-building and agentic power of matter becomes perceptible. Entangled within complexities of mattering and agency, Seismic Sense demonstrates inextricabilities of the human and other than human, and the possibilities of communion through attunement. We think here again of Haraway: "Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess" (181). What Ribas enacts through this work is the intersection of both, demonstrating that the two are not mutually exclusive. Seismic Sense speaks to goddess-esque omniscience through the feeding of data back through orbiting satellites, entwined with the embeddedness of the Earth; Deep Time and space futures, the spectral and the physical, the machinic and sonorously organic, the endless spiral dance of orbits and tectonics. All mark a return to that shared mattering and shared understanding. These technologic and affective attunements to other-than-human phenomenologies open a space for following in the flows of contemporary ecologic and geologic being; an ongoing process wherein our becomings will eventually become a homecoming -- a return to earthly, geotraumatic origins, as we recognise the simple fact of shared mattering. And within this text, we too return home, to the shack on Dillard's island. What once seemed a preposterous idea, this notion of speaking to stone, is maybe not so preposterous after all. As Ribas has demonstrated, via her Seismic Sense and its engagement with an other than human phenomenology predicated upon vibration and resonance, communion is possible through attunement. By following the processes which formed the mountains, Ribas has embarked on a project which moves towards understanding the mountains and their silence; no longer a talking through or to stone, instead a communicating with stone.
Earthquake, 1927, photographer unknown. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Website
Moon Ribas, Waiting for Earthquakes. Image courtesy Will Clapson.
Moon Ribas, Waiting for Earthquakes. Image courtesy Will Clapson.
Victoria. Mines Department (1890). Geological formation showing a fault line.
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