Screen City Biennial: Ecologies: Lost, Found & Continued

Mikhail Karikis (Photographer)

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


“What if we started anew? What if we started forming a new society, with at its core a sustainable form of energy production that is not exploitative, that does not leave traces, nor harms other creatures and their future? Can we imagine an alternative future ecology, in which people and their environment are in tune with one another?”

These were the questions that Karikis pondered on when visiting Tuscany’s Valle Del Diavolo. According to the local legend the hissing, steaming and sizzling volcanic Devil’s Valley inspired the landscape of Dante’s Inferno. It is also the very location where sustainable energy production was invented and where the world’s first geothermal power plant was built in 1911. Later a group of Modernist villages, designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Michelucci, were build to house the thousands of workers and their families that moved to the valley to operate the plant. But since the late 70’s, the power plant has become increasingly automated resulting in major unemployment, rapid depopulation and ultimately in the abandonment of most of the villages. Karikis’s project Children of Unquiet is situated in the midst of the ruins of this modernist project, with the children of the workers who left as its protagonist. Central to the interdisciplinary, collaborative project, is a film in which we see the children take-over one of these silenced worker’s villages through play, imitating the sounds and noises of the environment that they grew up in: the sound of bubbling water, the whisper of geysers and the roar of the factory’s pipes.

Karikis’s project No Ordinary Protest takes on the children’s science fiction novel The Iron Woman (1993) by British writer and poet Ted Hughes. This eco-feminist story features a female superhero that has the power to receive a noise. Transmitted through touch, this noise resonates with the collective howl of all creatures on the planet that are suffering from the environmental crisis. The Iron Woman gifts the children with this supernatural ability to receive this noise. The children then realize they have to take matters into their own hands and take action. For No Ordinary Protest Karikis worked for nine months with a group of seven-year-old schoolchildren from a historically disadvantaged area of East London. Through workshops and play they created a project together, which reflects on the environmental themes of the book and imagines the noise that assists the protagonists in their protest. In the central video of Karikis’ project, we see the children debating on the environment and the reckless attitude of adults towards it. This debate ignites a sort of activist-spirit in the children, and a spirit of solidarity. The children become advocates of the unheard through their positive reclamations of noise. In the final act of the film we see them wearing self-made masks, as if they have become one with the noise-making creatures. This new activists unit of noise making creatures slowly comes crawling towards us. While being uncertain about their ecological future, No Ordinary Protest uncovers children’s political voice and activist imagination.

The noise – the howl of the creation – in Ted Huges’s story, is reminiscent of what Michel Serres describes as ‘background noise’ in his publication Genesis (2005). In his theory Serres makes a distinction between ‘parasitic perturbation’ – noise as a disruptive and relational force – and ‘background noise’ – noise that prefigures phenomena. It is the latter that is of interest here. “Noise is not a matter of phenomenology, (…) it is a matter of being itself. It settles in subjects as well as in objects, in hearing as well as in space, in the observers as well as in the observed, it moves through the means of the tools of observation, whether material or logical, hardware or software, constructed channels or languages; it is part of the in-itself, part of the for-itself, it cuts across the oldest and surest philosophical divisions, yes noise is metaphysical.” (Serres, Genesis, 2005, p. 13).

Serres background noise is not loud. We are often unaware of it. However we should not turn a ‘deaf ear’ to the noise. Instead, Serres argues, we should try to hear – through both its content and its form – this noise, the sound and the fury, as it is ‘the ground of the world’, the condition of life.

Perhaps, Karikis says, this is what we should learn from the female superhero and the children: “that only if we are willing to listen and sing along to the noise that swells up from the precarious periphery of today’s world, we will be able to imagine an alternative ecological future, a future in which man and nature, people and all other creatures will be in tune again.”
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationStavanger, Norway
PublisherScreen City Biennial
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2019


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