Figure 1. Resist as Forest cityscape projection, Trondheim. Photo by Pablo DeSoto.1
The thinker-creators gathered here take inspiration from Christina Sharpe’s command that “we must become undisciplined.”2 True to “becoming” rather than “being,” the voices of “Becoming Undisciplined” express ongoingness, incompleteness, even uncertainty. In the form of essays, interviews, self-writing, letters, maps, film, and visual and performance art, these works ask what it means to veer from disciplinary strictures while creating and envisioning change. “Discipline,” as refracted through the contributors’ lenses, comes to mean not only academic departments and fields but also genres, borders, judgment, policing. Most importantly, discipline comes to mean categories and classifications of race, gender, ability, sexuality, and professional status. Despite this variation and our refusal to situate this cluster in one field or even in more capacious rubrics of specific “studies” or “humanities,” common threads emerge. Perhaps none is more prevalent than a sense of imperilment that calls in turn for disassembling the entrenched institutions and values that have created conditions for loss as well as—perhaps—transformation.
— Heather Houser & Stephanie LeMenager
For us to be capable of resisting, we must become the forest—and resist like the forest . . . that knows it carries ruins within itself . . . [W]e must lend shape to this political, affective feeling . . . to lend meaning to our actions.
Sound Clip 1. An extract from Resist as Forest sound composition mastered by Shreejay Shrestha. Full credits below.
DEFORESTATION, AUSTERITY, POSTCOLONY
As careful readers of Christina Sharpe and Mel Chen3 and observers of the defiant work of the KTH’s EH Laboratory (EHL), which, in its own playful words, has been “undisciplining Environmental Humanities since 2017, naturally,” we have long worked across diverse archives and explored how “sectarian” academic knowledge infrastructure prevents us not simply from addressing questions about environmental justice but even from actually asking them.4 Yet, while such “undisciplining” has been our central research method, we also had to confront its lightning-speed neoliberal appropriation. Austerity measures in Brazil, Norway, and worldwide disassembled, undisciplined the humanities programs’ infrastructure, flooding universities, decadently, with industrial money and storytelling on the benefits of extraction, and threatening both environmental and educational ecosystems (Figure 2). At the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway’s largest public research university, and Hanna’s home base, providing technocratic eco-solution plots and catering to the nation’s extractive industries—often at odds with NTNU’s humanistic creed: “knowledge for a better world”—is, in fact, an official research direction.5 Yet, we recognized that compromised or endangered academic infrastructures are still desperately needed, even for any “undercommons work,”6 which made us wonder: how do we grapple with this institutional undoing in meaningful ways? In the process, we began to search for remaining public infrastructures and for a humanistic discipline, just one “without the punish,” as Damir Arsenijević quipped,7 to “lend shape” and space to a less necrotic environmental storytelling.
PLACE BY CO-DESIGN, INFRASTRUCTURES, & DISOBEDIENT STORYTELLING
Resist as Forest, a public environmental storytelling action, emerged from this effort, envisioned by Pablo as part of his NTNU ARTEC artistic residency in Trondheim, tied to Adressaparken,8 an interactive urban park awarded the SXSW Place by Design.9 Co-curated by Hanna, it was also our attempt at disobedient and collective environmental storytelling and the “(un)disciplined” reclamation of the infrastructures of the humanities in public spaces.10 The ethos and form of the intervention are indebted to the work an award-winning Brazilian investigative journalist, Eliane Brum.11 However, Resist as Forest, an experiment in techno “commoning,” was ultimately a communal performance, carried out in Adressaparken, a space co-owned and co-managed by NTNU, the Trondheim Municipality, and Adressa (one of the oldest newspapers in Norway), but, also, a public space that is ours.
On September 27, 2019, Resist as Forest was staged in the center of Trondheim, our “Silicone Fjord” port city in Norway, in a South Sámi region in the throes of green colonialism conflict during the Global Climate Strike.
How did we get from a university-funded, individual residency to a collectively authored, polyvocal, co-designed transmedia storytelling action at the center of our industrial-knowledge factory town, just as the university was undisciplining, austeritizing critical humanities out of existence, top down, and by design?
Pablo arrived for his short residency in Norway from Brazil at the height of Amazon deforestation, fires, and violence, originally planning to focus solely on the Amazon crisis. Soon, other important connections—Norway’s crucial support for the Amazon Fund, but also local deforestation and overdevelopment practices and investment in Hydro Alunorte, for instance—expanded the dimensions of the project, making it eerily local and relevant.
Sound Clip 2. A short podcast about Resist as Forest. Created by Magda Futyma for NTNU ARTEC.
To start, we mapped existing public, academic and technological, infrastructure still available in the city, and we contacted local environmental and research groups, to respond to deforestation urgencies in real time, and collectively. The publicly accessible Adressaparken, which was designed precisely as “an open arena for . . . new expressions and . . . digital forms of narrative,” was the center stage for this intervention.12 We felt, at the encouragement of NTNU ARTEC director Andrew Perkis, that this public site (truly open-access and free of charge for technologists, artists, and the public alike), equipped with environmental sensors and embedded outdoor speakers, could well serve as a liminal, university-city exhibition space for democratic environmental storytelling through co-design, done with tellers and publics normally not included in industrial extraction plots.
WORDS AS DESIGN METHOD
Despite the heavy infrastructural machinery involved, so to speak, Resist as Forest began with words, not technological hardware. It took its title and conceptual form from an essay by Brum, who argued for the need to challenge the environmental “ignorance of continental proportions” and to think about the “forest as the center of our world.”13 We must, she insists, learn how to “become the forest” and “resist like the forest,”14 building decolonial alliances to move away from predatory extraction. Her ecopolitical metaphor of “becoming forests,” then, became a building block, an aesthetic, and a disciplined collaboration method, eventually materialized and performed by us at urban, lateral and vertical scales, and in multidimensional and transmodal ways. First, in our classrooms, research labs, and then in the city streets (Figures 1, 6; Sound Clips 1–3).
Sound Clip 3. A longer podcast about Resist as Forest. Created by Magda Futyma for NTNU ARTEC.
AUGMENTATION, HUMANWARE, PUBLIC SENSES
We used the park’s outdoor space and interactive hardware (Figure 3) for the performance and enhanced it with external speakers, projections—yet, most importantly, the humanware of the city (Figure 4). We recognized, in other words, that “people are infrastructure,” too.15 Throughout the preproduction and co-design processes up to the final performance, we had collaborated extensively with local and international students, artists, city residents (young and senior), migrants, scholars, administrators, activists, technologists, the NTNU ARTEC collective, and city institutions, working across languages and knowledge regimes. We learned a lot from participants from both Norway and abroad about the global scale of the deforestation crisis, its colonial, extractive, and political causes, planetary entanglements, and about our own town. When we took the urban stage for a few hours during the Global Climate Strike, the public assembly transformed into what Hanna called “the urban chorus,” taking over the city and its skyline and airwaves, with volunteer co-creators, performers, and hundreds of participants from across the city’s social strata. This urban orchestration gave us a sense of what “resist as forest” could feel like, thick with sounds and words resonating in different languages, across different bodies, aesthetics, media, and the city (Sound Clips 1–3). It also made us realize the enormous emotional impact of this crisis—the grief, anger, helplessness, fear, hope, defiance—felt across globe. Participants expressed it in workshops, in poetic performances, and in the shared visual and sonic inscriptions they eventually contributed and performed in their own languages (Figures 1, 4, 6; Sound Clip 1).
The format of this public assembly, then, was as multimodal and immersive as it was collaborative and interactive. The public intervention included a co-produced 3D animation, an immersive soundscape, theatre, multilingual poetry recitations, and flyers (Figures 1, 2, 4–7), and performative transmodal interactions. For instance, the pre-recorded multimodal projection (Figure 6) was augmented by a “becoming bodies / trees” street warm-up and a Gibberish group performance (Figure 4).
The pre-composed immersive soundscape of the Amazon and Norwegian rainforests (Sound Clip 1), mixed with contributions by students, artists, activists, and community members in multiple languages, and played in the park, was amplified by live voices in multilingual ecopoetic recitations (Sound Clip 1; Figure 4), a street theatre improv performance (Figure 5), and it was overlaid with the city noise and car traffic. Monumental 3D forest animation (Figure 6) was interspersed with the motto “resist as forest” in 25 languages (translations contributed by volunteers), looped on a façade of the symphony building well into the night (Figures 1, 7).
EPHEMERALITY, ENGAGEMENT, AND INSTITUTIONS
Can a public immersive storytelling event challenge industrial plots when entire disciplines and academic infrastructures are vanishing, like the forests?16 Resist as Forest, an ephemeral, theatre-like transmedia event, made space for transnational and public storytelling about environmental-injustice architectures, the planetary crisis, and the fragility of academic ecosystems. We don’t know its long-term impact, of course, but Resist as Forest placed us at the center of the city and the Global Climate Strike environmental retellings, together with more than 7 million others (by very rough estimates). Crucially, it “lent shape to an idea” that different relations are possible;17 it monumentalized environmental narrative disobedience, global solidarity and local collaborations, across the urban space, bodies, institutions, disciplines, languages, façades, and machines. Its grand and intimate scale and polylingual choral character, engaged us, then, in the urgent ceremony of transnational solidary and cocreation. After all, it was a transient, fragile “we” who augmented this environmental storytelling, providing prosthetic extensions to the glitchy technological and institutional hardware, interfacing across the university / city / gender / class / language / national borders divide. If anything, we tried to discipline public institutions back into aligning with their public service mission for a day, finding allies and collaborators in unlikely places along the way, and learning how to feel differently about sharing the public stage together. Ultimately, Resist as Forest was an invitation and a rehearsal for others to reclaim the public space, hardware, and academic infrastructure that belongs to them—to learn how to resist, “like the forest,” the plotting of extractive regimes.
This article and the event and art/public-storytelling installation work would be impossible without a transnational collective of co-creators and the city coming together, and we acknowledge advice, resources, soundwork, images, technical support, and trust, of many people, organizations, and institutions, and the co-editors of the special issue, Heather Houser and Stephanie LeManager. We thank the NTNU ARTEC, for funding and logistical support, encouragement, collaborations, and creative contributions, and especially Andrew Perkis, as well as Alex Murray-Leslie, Dagfinn Dybvig, Sara Brinch, Ellen Bruun, Andreas Bergsland, and two incredible NTNU ARTEC student assistants, Shreejay Shrestha and Vilde Borgan, whose work was indispensable to the final production; Siddharth Gautam Singh, for his 3D animation work; Ada Mathea Hoel and Alex Murray-Leslie, for performing at and leading a “Becoming Bodies/ Trees” street session; Olga Lehman, for initiating multilingual poetic recitations in our city; Sophia Efstathiou, Stella Mililli, Roel May, for their Gibberish improv intervention; Heli Aaltonen and Ellen Bruun, for poignant street performances; Aida Miron, for her “Amazonian Beeforization” design; Frank Ekeberg, for his Norwegian rainforest recordings; Ánde Somby, Aajege and Helen Murray, for translations from Norwegian to South and North Sámi, with an allusion to a resistance motto “La fjellet lever”; the Kayapo people; Robin Støckert; Aajege; Sofie Månsson; codeofconscience.org and the Macaulay Library, for their work and inspiration; Alex Gil and Roopika Risam, for modelling critical, decolonial DH work; NTNU students from Music and Music Technology, Trondheim Kunstakademiet (KIT), and the Department of Language and Literature (ISL): Christopher Logan, Ada Mathea Hoel, Unnur Andrea Einarsdóttir, Mina Paasche, Joachim Sture, Jørgen Wassvik, Berke Ince, Pål Lersveen, Lisa Størseth Pettersen, Samrridhi Kukreja, Jennifer Petzold, Srinavin Shiva, Chen Lili Zaneta Jianing Zuo, Erin Akawachi, Hilde Edvardsen, Karolina Jawad, Aage A. Mikalsen, Sigrid Voll Bøyum, Woon Ting Chan, Bjørg Madelén Gamborg-Nielsen, Mahsa Hamed Mousaviyan, Laura Henrike Hurenkamp, Erina Kawachi, Trond Nesheim, Jennifer Petzold, Srinavin Kumar Raja, Shiva Sherveh, Lili Zaneta, Jianing Zuo, Brooke Eriksen, Mari Ellevseth Oseland, Jørgen Vie, and Vova Gabissov, for contributing words and voices to the sound and visual work; professors and MA students from Architecture and Urbanism at the Federal University of Paraíba, Brazil, Lincoln David, Thais Gaudencio, Leticia Palazzi, Tatiana Wells, Flavia Lopes, Diogo Gomes, Eduardo de Almeida, Raul Brito, Rafael Ponce, for contributing to the planning of the Adressaparken intervention; Andrew Perkis and Krzysztof Orleanski, for their Adressaparken ground work; Besteforeldrenes Klimaaksjon (Grandparents for Climate Action) and Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) for activism and participation; Celina Stifjell, NTNU Environmental Humanities Research Group; Åsgeir Arnesson Rise (Hælje Rise); Gulabuddin Sukhanwar, Litteratur for Inkludering (Literature for Inclusion), Stefanie Hessler, Kunsthall Trondheim, EGGS Design, and Irene Dominguez, World Cultures United, for support and participation; Sepehr Haghighi, for his expert sound and tech support; Magda Futyma, for her podcasting magic; Amanda Masha Caminals, for curatorial advice; Anna Trojanowska, for photo editing; and Kristen Ebert-Wagner, for editorial work.
Sound Compositions Credits
Resist as Forest sound composition was conceptualized by Pablo DeSoto, recorded by Ada Mathea Hoel, and compiled and mixed by Shreejay Shrestha. Source list includes the following:
1. 00:00:00-00:00:31: Ambient sound of the Amazon, “Amazon Jungle – Day.” Used courtesy of RTB45.
2. 00:00:04-00:00:31: “Contacts on Tree” recorded at Halsnøy forest in Sunnhordland by Frank Ekeberg.
3. 00:00:05-00:00:28: “Resist as Forest” in various languages recorded by Ada Mathea Hoel (Persian: Mahsa Hamed Mousaviyan; Norwegian: Vilde Borgan; Turkish: Berke Ince; Croatian: Lili Zaneta; Cantonese: Naomi Chan; Spanish: Alex Gil).
4. 00:00:05-00:00:31: Resist as Forest whispers voice / recording by Ada Mathea Hoel.
Podcasts (short) and (expanded) with Resist as Forest creators and participants were an NTNU ARTEC commission produced by Magda Futyma.
This is one of nine contributions from the ASAP/J cluster of Becoming Undisciplined. Read the other pieces here.
This cluster is a digital supplement to a print forum in ASAP/Journal 7.1, which you can read here.
- This and Figures 3, 4, 5, 7 are edited by Anna Trojanowska.
- Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 13.
- Christina Elizabeth Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke, 2016); Mel Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Duke, 2012).
- Marco Armiero, “The Environmental Humanities and the Current Socioecological Crisis,” in Humanities and Higher Education: Synergies between Science, Technology and the Humanities (Higher Education in the World 7, GUNi, 2019), 426; Marco Armiero, Stefania Barca, and Irina Velicu, “Undisciplining Political Ecology: A Manifesto,” KTH EH Lab, January 1, 2020, https://www.kth.se/blogs/hist/2020/01/undisciplining-political-ecology-a-minifesto/ (accessed February 15, 2021).
- Mads Saurstrø, “We Want to Be a Driver for the Transformation of Norway,” NTNU News, June 12, 2020. https://www.ntnu.no/nyheter/en/we-want-to-be-a-driver-for-the-transformation-of-norway/ (accessed January 29, 2021).
- Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013); Armiero et al., “Undisciplining Political Ecology.”
- Damir Arsenijević (Streams 21: Transformative EH conference round table, August 4, 2021).
- Adressaparken, https://www.ntnu.edu/thepark/ (accessed September 28, 2021).
- Before its 2020 defunding, NTNU ARTEC promoted transdisciplinary artistic work via its Seminar Series and Artist-in-Residence fellowships.
- Armiero et al., “Undisciplining Political Ecology”; Moten and Harney; Sharpe, In the Wake.
- Eliane Brum, “Eliane Brum: Why the Amazon Is the Center of the World,” Pulitzer Center, July 26, 2019,https://pulitzercenter.org/blog/eliane-brum-why-amazon-center-world (accessed February 15, 2021).
- Brum, “Eliane Brum.”
- Ibid. Pablo translated Brum’s phrase “like the forest” from the Portuguese “Resistir como floresta” into the phrase “as forest.” We kept it.
- AbdouMaliq Simone, “People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg.” Public Culture, 16. 3 (2004), 407-29.
- Armiero et al., “Undisciplining Political Ecology”; Sharpe, In the Wake.
- Brum, “Eliane Brum.”