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Nervous Listening: Neuroceptive Ethnographies of Atmospheres

Workshop and lecture with Marina Peterson, Maxime Le Calvé and Clemens Winkler on 26 June 2023

Published onJun 15, 2023
Nervous Listening: Neuroceptive Ethnographies of Atmospheres

Entering the Central Laboratory that day, participants were greeted with balloons to inflate with their breath and a 285-hertz “Theta” sound bath, which they were invited to explore haptically through to the red latex bubbles. Blown into tension, they made us subtly reactive to air vibration. Thus attuned, we started listening nervously to the atmosphere around, and to each other’s vocal utterances. In the spirit of contemporary experimental anthropology, emphasizing the intersection of art, science, and lived experience, our workshop "Nervous Listening: Neuroceptive Ethnographies of Atmospheres" strived to explore the ethereal fabric of our surroundings through the collective and individual exploration of neuro-phenomenological experience. Marina gave the introductory impulse, holding a balloon unsuspectedly in her hand, which had already become part of her ephemeral sensory being for that day.

©Richard Lemmer

The thematic foundation of our workshop was nervous listening, a methodological approach to feeling, recording, and interpreting the atmospheric phenomena that impact and are impacted by our nervous systems. It bridged the current research of Marina Peterson on cloud seeing and “weathering uncertainties”, the fieldwork of Maxime Le Calvé on nerves as hyposubjects to be “befriended,” and the design program of Clemens Winkler on cloud making. This involved paying particular attention to the intricate interplay between our inner climate and the outer ecological atmospheres, delving into the notion of neuroception, a concept imported from the polyvagal discourses of Stephen Porges and Deb Dana. The methodology was also imbued with a fascination for the platypus—an intriguing creature renowned for its use of electroreception—serving as a symbolic reminder of our aspiration to expand our perceptual bandwidth and redefine the realms of human experience.

Participants were guided through a series of conversations and hands-on inscription exercises designed to sharpen their focus on the subtle dynamics of energies and materials—delicate threads weaving the tapestry of our atmospheric interaction.

©Richard Lemmer

Micro-neuro-phenomenological musings

However, it was through individual explorations that the vibrant richness of neuroceptive ethnography came alive. Each participant embarked on a personal journey into the landscapes of perception, contributing unique insights to our shared neuroceptive archive. During the conclusive writing workshop, they wrote up one of the defining experiences of the workshop.

Clemens, for example, eloquently voiced his experience of feeling both lost and connected while using a balloon as a listening device, a scenario that incited him to question the elements that differentiate sensations. Karolina highlighted the intriguing paradox of control and lack thereof, as she navigated the fluctuating dynamics of holding and releasing a balloon, leading her to focus on the materiality of the balloon and its skin-like qualities.

©Richard Lemmer

Yoonha, Rasa, and Anthony further added layers of complexity and depth to the collective understanding of the workshop's theme. Yoonha noted the sensory residue left by the balloon and its surprising elements, from the sticky feeling on her hands to the lingering smell of rubber. Rasa's attention was drawn to the sonic resonance of the balloon in interaction with metallic pipes in the street, creating a symphony of atmospheric sounds.

“There's a rain water drainage system that invisibly covers the entire church. It is made from copper in different thicknesses. The pipes wind down from the rooftop to a few centimeters above the ground where they are doing a gentle curve, right over the floor. They look a bit like a mouth. I'm surprised how many pipes it apparently takes to drain a church roof.

When you put a balloon on the pipes - And that is right next to it and not on it - they resonate in the metallic tone. When you hit them with your finger, some pipes sound better than others; the thinner, the copper, the nicer, the metallic “clong” that emits through the pipes, as a body of sound into the membranes of the balloon, that resonates with it.”

Rasa Weber

Rasa Weber by ©Richard Lemmer

Anthony underscored the dual vulnerability and resilience of the balloon, reminiscent of human skin, and the tension it created as the sun caused it to stretch and potentially burst.

“I was sensing the balloon but I also realized I had a responsibility to take care of the balloon. It was no longer a safe space where it could exist unencumbered. I would be sensing via the balloon but I would also need to be ever sensing the precariousness of its existence. There were people, shrubs, traffic that one needed to pay attention to.  More than ever one became aware of the fragility of the distended balloon material”

“For the second exercise where we were invited to zoom in on one specific phenomena, when we had to go really narrow, for me it was the feeling of expansion when the sun is on the balloon, and it's heating up and it's going through the skin of the balloon warming and expanding the air inside.”

Anthony Thottingill

Maxime delved into the subtleties of touch and sensations radiating from his hands to the balloon, while Marina, staying true to her anthropological roots, keenly observed and recorded the experiential dynamics of the balloon and its interaction with her body, both in physical and sensory terms.

In conclusion, "Nervous Listening: Neuroceptive Ethnographies of Atmospheres" successfully provided a unique and enriching platform for exploring the sensory realms of atmospheric interactions. As each participant ventured into their individual sensory experiments, their shared insights contributed to an intricate tapestry of neuroceptive ethnography that blurred the lines between art, science, and anthropology. The workshop underscored the significance of attending to our sensorium in shaping our understanding of the world, carving out a space for innovative ethnographic methodologies that challenge our understanding of what it means to perceive.

©Richard Lemmer

©Marina Peterson

©Marina Peterson

©Marina Peterson

© Cassius

© Rasa Weber

Sunlights within! ©Yoonha Kim

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