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Live Coverage: SPEAP/Bruno Latour’s Paris Climat 2015/Make it Work, May 29-31

Jennifer Teets and Vincent Normand will take the e-flux conversations live coverage helm for the duration of Make it Work/Theater of Negotiations, May 29-31. The conference is hosted by SciencesPo and the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers and spearheaded by Bruno Latour and SPEAP (SciencesPo Experimentation in Arts and Politics).

Bruno Latour has previously proposed the definition of aesthetics – “becoming sensitive” – as a clue to help us represent ourselves in the fascinating yet perplexing period of the Anthropocene. For Latour, the Anthropocene must become “real” (through the instruments of science), “present” (politically and socially), and “true” (with emotions and mental representations) for us to properly tackle the problem of representation.

Make it Work promises to be a unique experiment with political, diplomatic, scientific and artistic dimensions created in the spirit of learning. For three days, 200 students from around the world will take part in a public simulation of the UNFCCC international climate negotiations, COP21, which will take place in Paris in December 2015. The conference marks a major deadline in a race against time and against the effects of global climate change, with its many devastating consequences so apparent today, and certainly in the future.

Under the umbrella of Make It Work/Theater of Negotiations, an initiative launched by SciencesPo and partner institutions in preparation for COP21, this project was created for political action to meet artistic creativity. Make it Work/Theater of Negotiations’ program comprises non-stop negotiation, a scenography invented by SPEAP, installations and setting by raumlaborberlin, a scenario by Philippe Quesne and Frédérique Ait-Touati, as well as a public program consisting of films, radiophonic experiences, daily print and conferences by leading artists, philosophers, and scientists – all enacted in front of an audience.

In advance of our live coverage tomorrow, check out Jennifer Teets’ text on SPEAP for art&education,Reassembling Art Pedagogy: Pragmatism, Inquiry, and Climate Change at SciencesPo Experimentation in Arts and Politics (SPEAP)." For more information about Make it Work, here’s a link to some collateral material written by Latour.

The schedule below:
5pm Doors open
5:30-7pm Conference by Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, historian - A political history of Co2​
8:30pm Opening ceremony
00pm Doors close

1pm Doors open
2pm-3:30pm Conference by Violaine Sautter, geologist - In the secrets of the rocks
4pm-5:30pm Conference by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, artist and filmmaker - Anticipation garden and cinema
6pm-7:30pm Discussion between Tobie Nathan, psychologist, and Francois Deck, artist - Displacement, experience, changing place, changing destiny
8pm-9:30pm Discussion between Eduardo Viveiros De Castro, anthropologist, and Vinciane Despret, philosopher - Coexisting in a plural world
10pm Open air cinema
00pm Doors closed. The negotiations carry on all night long
1pm Doors open
2pm-4pm Ratification of the agreement and speeches by delegations and Presidency
4:30pm-6pm Conference by Bruno Latour, philosopher - How to represent competing territories?
6pm Closing ceremony
10pm Doors close definitively

*Image above via nasa.gov

Welcome everyone, we are online from Nanterre, Paris. There are different channels to follow the conferences and debates, and SPEAP has created the following one: http://live.dcfvg.com/en/about

In January of 2014 I wrote that “Make it Work/Theater of Negotiations” appeared from afar as a “testing ground for the climate change debate, highlighting material entanglements and hybrid approaches that might be overlooked by dominant power structures—the challenge being whether the theater can hold sway in the larger political and social arena.” Here we are in Nanterre around six months later to see what these material entanglements propose and further, what concrete proposals (if any) could be mobilised en route to the COP21 to be held in Paris in December 2015.

Actually listening in on the delegations is tricky – you can watch them from above in the main “working” platform of the theater or get a taste on a guided tour, but to understand what they are negotiating is left for speculation (at least for the public attending the public program and taking tours, i.e. experiencing the “art”). We’ll follow the public program and hopefully be able to tease out the greater ambitions within the mainframe of the conferences. Here is Bruno Latour pitching the aim of the project at partner institution Parson Paris in January of 2015: http://blogs.newschool.edu/parsons-paris/2015/02/09/parsons-paris-commitment-climate-change-lecture-bruno-latour/

And here are two snapshots of what we encountered upon arrival:


The program kicks off with Jean Baptiste Fressoz, historian (CNRS and Centre Alexandre Koyré, EHESS, Paris). His talk, titled “A political history of Co2​”, is presented as an attempt at providing some historicity to the concept of Anthropocene, especially in natural theology, medical etiology and geologic cartography, and is framed as a response to the use of the concept as a unifying and depoliticizing machine.


Here is a bio on Jean-Baptiste Fressoz:

Dr Jean-Baptiste Fressoz is a historian of science, technology and the environment. He has worked on the history of risk regulation in France and Britain in the 18th and 19th Centuries. He is currently working on two projects: a political history of climatic knowledge in the 18th and 19th Century; and a history of the practices of forecasting and creating futures (time preference, net present value, material fatigue, resource modelling). He is also the author of L’Apocalypse joyeuse, une histoire du risque technologique, Paris, Le Seuil, 2012. He co-authored The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History, and Us with Christophe Bonneuil to be published by Verso in January 2016. Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, formerly a lecturer at Imperial College, London, is now a historian at the CNRS.


Jean Baptist Fressoz traverses history pointing to Thomas Burnet’s “Sacred theory of the Earth” from 1684 as a reference, or William Sund’s geological map from 1815, amongst others. Later he situates the history of the carbon crisis: from Colonial expansion to the energy crisis, the English malady, a certain kind of unconscious recklessness and “catastrophism” – how the Anthropocene is an Anglocene up until 1980. He furthers by describing technology, the advent of tramways and the automobile, and fundamentally, war as crucial elements. Rather than having a theoretical take on the Anthropocene he attempts at historicising it.


Welcome to Day 2: Live Coverage: SPEAP/Bruno Latour’s Paris Climat 2015/Make it Work, May 29-31. There has been a change of speakers and unfortunately Violaine Sautter, geologist, could not join the conference (rumour goes there was an ideological conflict with sponsors? We will seek out confirmation). François Gemenne steps up to take her place with “Déplacements de population liés au changement climatique” - “The displacement of populations linked to climate change”. Bruno Latour introduces Gemenne explaining the entire framework of Make it Work. Gemenne opens speaking about the Nansen Initiative - http://www.nanseninitiative.org and certain measures in conversation on developing a protection agenda for those displaced as a result of a changing climate. He later proceeds to describe the 1755 Lisbon earthquake catastrophe, a series of catastrophic events across the world, leading up to a certain kind of difficulty (politically and scientifically) to understand how many people will be displaced in the future if we continue our current march towards a 4 degrees C/ 7 degrees F. Gemenne definitely has a dramatic and passionate tone (think a flip-side motivational speaker) as he paces the floor, even getting down into the audience to speak on the lack of scientific understanding around how to predict rising sea levels as a cause of a rapid change in glaciers, ice sheets, and hence sea levels.

Here is a bio on François Gemenne:

François Gemenne is a specialist of environmental geopolitics and lectures on these issues in various universities, including Sciences Po Paris and Sciences Po Grenoble, and the Free University of Brussels (Belgium). His research mostly deals with populations displaced by environmental changes and the policies of adaptation to climate change. He has conducted field studies in New Orleans (United States) after hurricane Katrina (2005), Tuvalu, China, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Mauritius and Japan, after the Fukushima disaster (2011). Taken from: http://www.iddri.org/Iddri/Intervenants-auteurs/Francois-Gemenne

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We are all suffering from the English malady, as its been passed all over infecting us, colonising our bones and brains. Ask anyone why to have a car ? why to collaborate day in and day out of this madness, and they would not even know what are you trying to tell them. The Anglocene is the right term. We can’t dismiss the fact of the protestant puritan magic sacred adoration of work and constant production and growth. But also, as their southern enemies from Catholic Spain had done to Las Indias and its sophisticated inhabitants. The Anglocene tuck over and considered the corrupt latin south Europeans as inferior beings to be colonised and corrected. Of course in many ways they where right, but their solutions against the Latin order have clearly failed.


A quick thought on the theatrical model mobilized by Bruno Latour and his team for this event. Its dramaturgy is inspired by the scenography of UNO style planetary diplomacy, and this dramatization is supposed to short-circuit the traditional representation of nation-states: states are replaced by natural and technological entities, and speakers appear as agents of this diplomacy, quite literally diplomats.
This is not the place to discuss in detail how problematic the tension between dramatization and representation is in Latour’s work, but it’s worth bringing it up in this context since this tension is also one of the conceptual issues raised by the concept of Anthropocene, which disorganizes historical systems of production of conceptual divides and the role of representation in their naturalization. Theater here is mobilized as a stage where the type of dialogue forbidden or captured in actual global politics can happen. It can be staged, but only as a mere fiction or, as Latour proposes it, a simulation: theater as the dialectical nexus simulating the projection of its object in social space by simultaneously instituting its own extra-territoriality. That’s why, in Latour’s system, it seems that aesthetics cannot be thought outside its classical-trivial poietic role of “becoming sensitive,” in contrast to science whose role is to make explicit the implicit conditions of experience.
Hence, in this simulation, one ought to ask what kind of knowledge this mobilization of theater is supposed to construct, and if ultimately this mode of dramatization doesn’t produce more mystification than explanation.


Making things public is a good idea, making things explicit would be much better.


Delegations at work

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Next up is Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, artist and filmmaker, with a presentation titled “Anticipation garden and cinema,” a selection of film clips/works interspersed with commentary. Here are some snapshots from the presentation.

Anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who is taking the floor for a discussion with philosopher Vinciane Despret, is probably best known for his concepts of Amerindian Perspectivism and Multinaturalism, and for the characterization of his project as a permanent decolonization of thought. The conversation starts with general considerations on animality, and on the animal as something like a multistable figure situated at the hinge of several ontological designations. Similarly to French anthropologist Philippe Descola, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro thinks there is a structural inversion between the naturalist-modern ontology and the animist cosmography, so well that it becomes possible to read one through the lens of the other in the project of anthropology: Naturalism supposes the continuity of physicalities (Mononature) and produces discontinuities at the level of Culture (Multiculture), while Animism supposes the continuity of Culture or “soul” (Monoculture) and sees discontinuites in Nature (Multinature). As Roy Wagner puts it: European praxis “makes souls” against the backdrop of a given material continuum, indigenous praxis “make bodies” against the backdrop of a given sociocultural continuum. To make a reference to Joseph Conrad, this symmetry is what we could call the “heart of darkness” or the “dark precursor” of the discipline of anthropology, a heart of darkness that Viveiros de Castro, and more broadly ontology-affected anthropology (the recent so-called ontological turn of anthropology) is working at bringing “home” and making explicit. Here, the decolonization of thought is a movement of ontological re-predation.


If our popular anthropology sees the human as erected against an animal “bedrock” (itself occulted by the discrete entities produced by Culture), indigenous thought on the contrary concludes that animals (and more broadly, the non-human realm) are “ancient” humans who continue to be human despite the division of nature in discrete bodies. The game of a “perspectivist” anthropologic knowledge here would be to reveal these two images of the human to their co-constitution, or even to reveal these two representations to their multistability, in a constant reversal of their figure/background relationship. So well that perspectivism here projects the human/non-human divide inside each existing entity, like a constant perspectival oscillation.

For Viveiros de Castro, it seems that a true anthropology aims at producing an image of ourselves in which we don’t recognize ourselves, in virtue of the oscillation of the human/nonhuman divide within each entity.

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“In Borneo, indigenous tribes believe that orang-utans (from “orang hutan” = person of the forest) do actually have the ability to speak, but choose not to in order to avoid being put to work.”


Day 2 has come to a close. We’ll be back with more in depth commentary on the contributions today. You can also follow this twitter feed of the negotiations - https://twitter.com/hashtag/cop21miw?src=hash&vertical=default&f=tweets

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And here’s a little sample of what is being aimed for over on the negotiations end of the stick: “The UNFCCC negotiations in the past have always been State to State. What is interesting today is the fact that you have a State arguing with a non-State entity, which has equal sovereignty and equal rights in the UNFCCC [framework] to debate, argue over resolution and interact. [Here at COP21 Make It Work] you have the possibility of new modes of political representation that we have not had in the past. The idea that the United States can be arguing with the Oceans is somehow unheard of. On the flip side of that, because we’ve been raised since birth in our societies in thinking like a State, the difficulty is that when you tell somebody you have to be the Ocean, it’s hard to step back and not think like a State.” - See more at: http://www.cop21makeitwork.com/2015/05/meet-the-delegates-in-the-space-of-solutions/#sthash.rrrYkRGp.dpuf

And the YouTube channel of “Meet the Delegates”: https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLU53KrER2i05-O3QzJ_3Hg6wcGPJnTcmL

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Day 3 is about to be underway and will kick off with the ratification of the agreement and speeches by the delegations once they come to an accord. Bruno Latour proceeds with a talk called “How to represent competing territories?” The collateral material linked in the introduction pinpoints Latour’s main pivot with this Theater of Negotiatons, that being “What happens to nation-states’s self-interest when their land is being morphed from beneath by other territorial connections?”

Bruno Latour on site of the simulation. Image credit: Philippe Quesne.

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Actually here we are in the main theater and an accord has not been reached “a bit of a strange and problematic situation,” as Bruno Latour describes it. Latour opens the floor summarizing the Make it Work framework in the company of two former SPEAP participants and one guest, Jan Zalasiewicz, a British geologist who Latour has collaborated with before at “The Anthropocene Monument” at les Abattoirs FRAC Midi-Pyrénées in Toulouse in October 2014. They begin to speak about twelve views inside of the Anthropocene and the proliferation of non-human entities inside political negotiation and the agency they offer.

A history of plastics on earth

This is Anthropocene 101 (a bit of a yawner) - an ad hoc in the moment summary with simultaneous translation by SPEAP students and comments by Latour… now gaining traction…the speakers are re-addressing the term “the Anthropocene” and if it is necessary to produce another label for this era, which brings me to think about the role of political mobilisation over this constant dialogue around the re-naming of the Anthropocene?