HYENAZ recently discussed the current state of their research into extraction and extractivism on the “This Beautiful Shot is not an Accident” podcast with Laura J. Lukitsch. You can listen to the podcast here or read the transcript that follows:
Laura So this is the end of week four of my residency, and I’m here with Kate and Adrienne in the forest again, and we’re going to talk about the week they had here at the residency as we all prepared to head back to Berlin. So, um, before I begin, if you could share who you are and what you do.
Kate I’m Kate and I am a electronic producer and a performance artist, and I am one half of Hyenaz.
Adrienne Hello, I’m Adrienne. I’m the other half of Hyenaz and yeah, we’re doing movement performance and a lot of work with the sounds, field recordings that are specific to certain conceptual contexts that we’re working in. This tends to be the basis of the kind of works that we do.
Laura Yeah, thank you. And when you came, you were talking about specifically what you wanted to work on when you were here, which was researching the extractive nature of art as it related to your field recordings. And I’m curious what you did in terms of your research and what you found and if you found that you have to do things differently in the future with your field recordings or if you are feeling like you’re not crossing that barrier and being extractivist and maybe before talking about your research, you can define what activism and art is.
Kate Well, so extraction is taking something generally out of the ground or taking something normally by force out of something else. And extractivism has been used to describe how these process have been globalised and how it influences global systems of labour. There’s also labour extraction, which was a term used already by Marx to extract surplus labour. But generally it’s been used especially by Latin American scholars, to think about the way in which extractivism of natural resources from the ground have then been exported and how that works into the whole global system of trade and then exploitation in many different ways of the earth and also of labour. But now there has been an increasing body of work around extractivism and other kinds of economies. So digital content, of course, is one way in which, you know, we are sharing and giving up our content to be, or our data, you know, willingly giving up our data or semi willingly to big corporations who are then extracting that for use. There’s also ways of looking at kind of emotional extraction, intellectual extraction of ideas. And so we’re kind of we’re extrapolating from that or expanding from that to think about how those processes operate within arts. So that could mean and again, I feel like we’re in some ways we’re inventing our own ideas around this or extrapolating from ideas around this to see how it resonates with us inside the arts, because we do a lot of taking of sounds or taking of images. I mean, we use the word taking, which is really interesting because, you know, as we or I say, I would say one uses that word often or it’s a common word to say can we take a recording or do a recording or take an image? Is that an extractive practise is kind of the question. And so that’s what. Yeah, that’s what we’re we’re looking at. I think I got away from your first question or you had a large question in the beginning, then I got away from the next part that you were asking.
Laura Well, sorry. Yes, I’m the other question was, the first one was defining it. And thank you. And actually, it’s interesting because you talk about taking can I take your interview or some audio and then in filming, it’s even more problematic in a way, that word shot. Can I you know, I’m going to go out and shoot. And actually that term is in the name of this podcast, which I’ve thought about, like, do I remove that because it can be problematic. But the second question was then what were you reading in terms of, you know, what was, what did your research involve? And then have you come to any determination about your own processes as it relates to extraction and extractivism? Because the flip side of that is like a lot of work that artists do is they also, bring forth information that may not be brought forth in other ways, and I don’t want to use the word give voice, because that’s also a problematic, because that’s kind of a place of privilege. So there’s also this idea of privilege, who’s privileged and who’s not?
Kate Yeah, I think that’s getting at what Adrienne and I were discussing yesterday, which is that the artist has always had a very interesting position in any sort of labour and in capitalist system because, of course, many artists are, you know, working and selling their artwork in some form or another to survive. So they’re part of a capitalist system. And yet there’s also this other drive that I’d say is sort of anticapitalist in the sense that they are working out of a sense of urgency. Maybe it’s part of just I need to wake up and write. It’s part of my mental health or my I want to live outside of the normal or I hate these normal, but I want to live outside of general frames of work, you know, from eight to five every day. I need a different kind of lifestyle, different kind of relationship to the world and in which I am. So it places the artists in this, I think, in many different kind of positions, you know. In one sense the artist, and it goes back to a really old kind of division between artists so that there was this this idea of the artist as a sort of unique genius who is somehow funded either by the you know, by the court or by these funding bodies and kind of lives beyond the system and is producing art almost like aside from all of the capitalist system. And then there’s this handywork or artisan who’s creating, making making objects like maybe making a stool. And it also has a lot of artistry, but it’s much more connected to labour and to the idea of making and being part of the capitalist system. And I think this distinction has always been sort of classist, definitely classist, and has involved distinctions between artist and and therefore has extractivism sort of built into it, because we see this with, you know, big artists who kind of have their name on something and then have a whole brand of people working for them. So the actual handymakers who are making all of the objects that become part of it and the people doing the logistics and, you know, all of this big machinery of the so-called capital-A artist on the top. So I feel that there’s extractive things happening there within and among artists. So, yeah, it’s it’s interesting to think about where does the artist locate him or herself inside of these relationships of extraction. And I think what I mean, what I would say is definitely we all are we we are somewhere inside of this network and spectrum. It’s not kind of one way or the other being extractive or not being extractive. And I think essentially, of course, even the idea of taking a field recording, there is something extra activist about it. Even when one gets consent, even when one achieves some kind of sense of collaboration, that’s something we’ve been looking at a lot is around this idea of gaining consent, around collaboration and gaining consent to have one’s voice or ideas taken, because there’s still the problematic of authorship. You know, still the artist comes away or the person who’s taken the interview or taken the image or the sound with in some sense, possession or ownership of that forever after. So even if they’re paid in that one time to do the interview or whatever it is, it’s hard to achieve kind of equality, so-called, especially in a capitalist system, because then who gets you know, when the work gets shown, whose names are on there, whose names are in bold, whose names are on the top, et cetera, et cetera. And on the other hand, I think that people who consent to give their sounds, their ideas, their words, it’s not that they’re being it’s not a straight, you know, black and white thing where they’re being exploited to be giving up or giving up these ideas or sharing these ideas. But there is a kind of, in that moment, there is a kind of consent to the system that is already unequal. You know, there’s already these hierarchies built into it. So we’ve been thinking about ways that we can sort of subvert that. What can we do? How can we kind of continue on relationships when we make interviews about different kinds of very practical things around? OK, we share the interview material with them right away. We offer payment for interviews. We tell them when it’s going to be published again. We do a lot of work around where it’s going to travel and we do a lot of work around mapping the context of doing sound recordings in the beginning. So it’s like thinking about what is the context of making the recording, who are the people involved, what is the environmental context of the recording? Doing all of that work I think helps at least to situate ourselves and does some kind of pushing back to these forces. But they can’t be entirely undone, you know, so. So, yeah, it’s always still questions. But I’ll let Adrienne talk now because I’ve been taking up a lot of space. I’m sure you have a lot of things to add to the research.
Laura Yeah, I know, Adrienne, you were really intensely reading some research that had philosophical underpinnings, I guess, around existentialism. What did you take away from that process and how does that fit into your current thoughts?
Adrienne For me, I became very interested in the difference between extracting material versus extracting immaterial things. I think that it’s very clear the examples of extraction when we’re talking about removing minerals from the ground, people can say that there is a hole left behind and a landscape that’s transformed. And so there’s a very clear connection between an action that was taken and the consequence for for human beings or for non-human entities, environments, systems and different kinds of homeostases are broken and can perhaps never be repaired. There’s something very different when we’re talking about taking something which is immaterial, extracting something which is immaterial. So when we’re talking about, for instance, a human being feeling extracted from, what are the signs that that’s taking place, that they feel tired, that they feel depressed and that they feel angry and resentful against the person that is extracting from them, whether that be a boss or a fellow artist that they’re working with or for, it’s not quite as clear a manifestation of that. And as human beings are quite complex systems then the kinds of things which can lead us into say depression are many and overlap so it’s never clear exactly why one is feeling depressed and it could be because of childhood conditions, or could be because an artist you’re working with who is taking your labour and putting their name on it. it’s not clear then where it lies. So it’s hard to measure. It’s hard to weigh that damage that’s done by immaterial extraction. And also, like there’s a big difference between, for example, taking marble out of a quarry out of the ground and leaving the space transformed, then compared to going in there and recording the sounds of stones of the space and both things involved taking. But one form of taking doesn’t necessarily leave the landscape changed in any way. Then you ask yourself, does it matter then that I came here and took what I needed to take? Does it have any kind of… Is it extractive if we can’t say that anything has changed? And I’m not sure about how to answer that clearly. I think that it might be that the space can’t really articulate any kind of grievance to the artist. But the artist can sense sometimes that, like the taking action is actually doing harm to themselves as an artist and their well-being, because by always removing or always taking sounds and then we’re making these new kind of copies of the sounds that we are thingifying them and we are commodifying these things. And so when we when we interact with objects, when we interact with sounds, we interact with images as commodities, then we’re transforming their nature and we’re implying that they are all replaceable. That one sound is just as good as another. One person is just as good as another, that they only have a kind of exchange value because ultimately we’re trying to to sell something and exchange this artistic creation for money or for cultural capital or whatever it is we gain from doing it. And I think that that’s a kind of disenchanting process that that I find personally depressing. I never feel quite at home with those kinds of processes. And yeah, I would say also that like for example, for thinking about extraction immaterial and the material that somehow eventually those two things overlap. So if you take the example of the way that Silicon Valley is extracting data from individuals who are their customers or clients, then, it’s an immaterial thing which is being extracted. But we’re seeing that like this material, this data has no value in and of itself in immaterial form. It’s used to shape behaviour and in particular, our consumptive behaviour. So by extracting data. They’re also encouraging us to purchase more things, which is encouraging physical manifestations of extraction, of destruction of landscapes, of pollution of the entire environment with chemicals, petrochemicals and all the different things that are that are in our bodies right now. So eventually, like the immaterial extraction leads to a material extraction, the two things kind of blur into each other. And that’s what’s been kind of interesting, that’s what’s been a revelation from me through my reading. The reading I’ve been doing is just briefly from Lewis Gordon, who is, I think, defines himself as… well he’s interested in investigating Africana existentialism. So looking at existentialism, particularly from the perspective of being a black person and the way that knowledge systems affect black communities, as I understand it, and the way also that black communities, by being structured as an other or even excluded from ethical relationships entirely, how they actually then are at a unique position to critique and to take philosophy beyond it’s kind of stagnated state that it’s in now – what the white European euromodernist philosophical tradition finds itself in right now. So that’s the reading. And so it’s just it’s been good to read somebody who’s both very political and also very radical in the sense of going back to the basics, going back to the phenomena, the experience of a human being, what it means to have an object, what it means to interact with another subject. And thinking about it in those terms, I like that, that’s brought me back to see things differently than the kind of pre-assumed concepts I might have brought to a project originally.
Kate I can just add something to that, because I really liked what you said about how the immaterial comes back to the material and then, of course, also the immaterial is gathered through the extraction of the material. So to, you know, make the computers in the first place. And this brings me to something I’m reading now where it really shows how even 10, 15 years ago, a lot of paradigms were around sort of north, south, west, non-west, very nation state based ideas of extractive processes or new imperialist processes. And all of the same things are still happening, like rape, murder, labour extraction near slavery, modern day slavery. All of these things are still happening and of course, environmental plunderage. But the messiness is really increasing. So he’s really making, the author now, who ironically and embarrassingly, I can’t remember the name of the author right now. No, no. It’s a new, it’s a book I just started, actually, who’s really locating extractivism in Latin America. And but he talks about the messiness now that it’s not really just nation state or corporation, that it’s all very much mixed up and it’s very hard to tell because of subcontractor’s and because of all of these different kinds of global involvements where to really place blame as far as who is doing the extraction and why I feel like this is sort of paralleled as well in the art world, which is that it’s really difficult when we think about the amount of content that we’re generating, the amount of sounds and ideas that are around us to really think, oh, who had that idea first? I mean, is that important, first of all? But, you know, to to sort of sort out authenticity, to sort out where something, quote unquote comes from and who does the taking and who is taken from, but rather, how this is really a much more messy… authorship is much messier and the network is much more complicated. And so that way I also see a lot of parallels between how extractivism is taking place.
Adrienne Yeah, I agree. And I think that it’s kind of become a massive infernal machine in which there’s so many different processes that are all kind of becoming linked to each other. Climate systems, data, information systems, production systems. They’re all being drawn into each other and affecting each other. And I think about how, for instance, that I read that IQs is in human society, are gradually decreasing. And this is obviously a problematic measure. But it is observable that over the decades, the sum of humanity is losing three IQ points in each decade. Its quite a disturbing thought to me that we’re losing some of our intelligence, which makes us more susceptible to manipulation through information systems, which makes us more likely to buy things which are polluting the environment, which are then necessarily then polluting our neurological makeup. And that it’s a kind of like it’s a loop and that we’re heading around, which is leading us towards that destruction of ourselves and the destruction of our planet.
Laura So I would like to ground this into your own work and how you think about what you’re doing, because I think it seems to me that you mentioned that looking into this as a subject is new to you. So before this, you I’m imagining when you’re creating, you’re probably thinking about how can I generate something that is generous to the world and to do that, unless you’re just going to use your own recordings of your own body, you are using recordings from the outside world and the topics that you touch on, which is about bodies and about gender and race and sexuality, having multiple voices, having other inputs, I’m sure helps you create a more rich, final product, which you’re not necessarily selling. So how do you think about those field recordings and how do you make the decisions and what to record and how to include those into your work, which is involving kind of remixing of… and re… I don’t know what the sound term is, but you change the sounds in some way.
Adrienne Yeah, Kate, began this a document called Compendium of Tactics. So we’re trying to document this process. And if you want to talk a bit about that in a second. I mean, the first one I think about I don’t really know exactly…. I don’t have all the answers clear yet, and I don’t know that I ever will. But I think that the first very important step is just to problematise those practises that you’re doing in order to transform them. I wouldn’t want to ever retreat from interacting with the world and with others to kind of purify myself of any kind of potentially ethical quandaries or dangers or whatever, but I do like the idea of always problematising these relationships and foregrounding these relationships in the first place, rather than just assuming that, like at the end of the day, the show must go on and that what I produce as an artist is more important than the relationships that constitute the creation of the artwork.
Kate Yeah, I would say it’s new, not new in the sense that it’s new that we’re using the framework of the idea of extraction, which we decided to do because in this series we’re working on called Foreign Bodies, each song we try to kind of dig deep into one concept. And this concept we decided to concentrate on extraction and extractivism because we did the field recordings in a marble quarry in Italy for this particular track. But I would say the ideas around extraction, appropriation and usage of other people’s materials has actually been really instrumental or formed the basis of my work for a really long time, because I came from writing when I moved to Berlin in 2004, I started doing performance art and initially I just had my writing in my body. And I was using this as the basis of some pieces. It’s interesting, because as my art became more entangled in my work, meaning I needed to earn money from my art, I think I needed to produce more content. And I started working with… I started using more and more other people’s songs, for example, like I was doing burlesque and stripping. And I would, you know, dance to somebody else’s song, which is perfectly fine. But when you think about creating an artistic work, it becomes problematic to sort of try to mould somebody else’s creative work into your own dance. You know, just as an idea. It’s really interesting because that whole creative work of the song has a whole life of its own. And I don’t think I necessarily saw this as problematic. And at the same time, I didn’t see it as sort of where I wanted to go artistically. And so this as I became more and more conscious of that, I also realised that I wanted to kind of keep going back to my own body, my own words, my own songs, and then actually put me into the direction of sound design and production and learning how to create my own music and to to kind of resist the forces of using, you know, anything other than what I myself could produce. And that also includes what’s on my physical body. So I am a lot of times performing naked because, I mean, not only do I deal with sexuality and how the body is read, I’m also really interested in what we carry on our body and all the symbols that clothing then carries with it. And that goes back to this idea of the artisan who’s kind of the actual hands that are creating all the things that are on our bodies. And then, of course, the symbolism, the appropriation, the sort of cultural content that’s contained in all those things worn on our bodies. So a lot of my work has been, I would say, in resistance or in dialogue with this idea of, you know, how do we speak authentically from ourselves, how do we produce a truly authentic kind of work? And yet I think in all of that, I would have to say you never can produce authentically. You’re always, you know, even even a song has been influenced, has there’s this, you know, huge subconscious that we’re kind of dealing with, that we’re in relationship with, you know, that we’re enmeshed in. You know. That said, I think, yeah, there are these these tactics. We use the term compendium of tactics, which was actually coined by my co parents Sadie Lune, which is just things that you can do, for example, like the mapping of the context of the sounds, making sure really doing all the labour of tagging people, remembering, writing down their names, correct. Spelling, bringing them through the journey of where all of the work is going to travel, making sure to share any kind of income that comes out of it, trying to share income initially just continuing to make it known that the process is ongoing and that they can they can be part of it as much as possible. And then, of course, forming genuine collaborations from the beginning to the extent that it’s possible, because the problem with collaborations is obviously there’s a risk involved in, you know, to get people who want to work kind of in that initial phase that’s free and without any kind of financial recompense. It’s really difficult. So I think that’s what makes genuine collaborations from the ground up sometimes complicated in our systems because we’re busy and we’re broke, you know. So but yeah, I think there’s a lot of sort of tactics one can work with to try to keep remembering where things come from, bringing the initial authors into the ongoing process.
Adrienne Nothing else to add to that.
Kate I don’t know if we answered all of your question, though. No, and I’m thinking of it. How does that come into our work?
Adrienne I mean, for example, one way it comes to our work is, you might want to think about, if you’re going to work with another musician, then you might think about, OK, do I just pay them 50 euros and take what I need or should I think about this as kind of co-authorship so that they have continued like rights to that work. This is a collective decision you can make. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t make sense to have authorship because the person really just wants to be in and out. But it’s worth to think about what kind of, if we’re inside capitalism, what contractual form best actually serves our mutual interests. And, that’s one example.
Kate We did a recording with a interpretor and migrant from Gambia some years ago in 2015 or 2016, named Yusuph Suso and we paid him for the initial recording, we made a track, but luckily through some years of trying to get funding, we just now received notice that we will have funding to do a performance where he’ll be in Palermo and will be in Berlin. And so we’re hoping that after this all this time, we can actually develop something that’s continues on in this collaborative spirit and that is also funded. So this is something that for us has been it’s it’s really it’s a word. It’s. It feels full circle as far as what we’re trying to do through our processes, and it took time and we had to wait and but this is kind of what what we’re aiming towards, you know, to be able to have these eventually these performances and eventually have them being being funded. Not that funding is the end all and be all, but the fact is we’re all living in this in this capitalist system and we all need to pay rent.
Adrienne I think at the limits, though, I think I really want to, I want to engage, I want my work to try to approach the end of capitalism and whether that be the kind of final end through revolution or just through creating spaces that exist outside of capitalism, that exclude capitalism and I’m not very close to achieving that yet, but I do think more and more that this has to be the horizon that we’re kind of approaching.
Laura Yeah. Yeah, thank you. I am and for you, does that mean, like these collectives as opposed to I know you do. You’ve been doing work with different collectives and different residences and different kind of alternative spaces. Is that what you’re referring to?
Adrienne Maybe. I mean, that’s a good example. Like I said, we did we have been to different kinds of meetings of left wing… different left organisations and individuals, mainly from East European and Central Asia kind of background. And in those places you have temporarily a kind of exclusion of capitalism because everything is communal and everything is shared. Unfortunately, those are very time-limited kind of manifestations. I don’t know exactly… I would like to go further with this as a question. I mean, I just I feel like as an artist, I got very much drawn into, speaking personally, into kind of careerism, which, you know, there is a kind of, all around, there’s this kind of careerism which is a form of capitalist realism, but like it then at the day you’ve got to look after your own interests, then you’ve got to like make sure you get the good, like, try to, you know, in order to get to the main stage of a festival somebody else is not on that stage. So then like ultimately like in as a careerist, you want or you desire, even though you might not admit it to yourself, you desire to be present at the expense of other’s exclusion or absence. And we always talk about how there aren’t just enough seats at the table in the way to create art these days. There’s a few big personalities and big names and big brands and everybody else kind of scrounging to get there. And most of most of us never quite getting there. And I don’t like this, this seems to me a terrible, a terrible suffering for the soul of so many people who get into art, because presumably they have like some kind of ambition to change the world or disturb the way the world is functioning, and I think to bring people closer together and to find ways to live life and with a greater degree of harmony. So that’s seems to me like a really cruel irony of what happens when art is pursued as a career.
Kate Yeah, I mean, I would only I would only add to that that I feel like we’ve been unsuccessfully careerists in the sense that, you know, I think my my art is still tied to its is tied to my work and in the sense that I’m still earning very little and I’m OK with that. I think actually that’s part of my resistance in some way as I consume very little and I earn very little, and that’s the point. I think that makes sense to me. That’s how it should be, actually. I don’t have a car. You know, I don’t buy new clothes. I try not to buy almost anything new. And we ride our bicycles everywhere. We try not to fly. We try to take just trains and buses. We use Linux. We try to use open source software. Adrienne, has a totally unGoogled phone. We try to work outside of systems to the extent that I think that we can. So we try to find small places of resistance and try to form and find networks where we can in small community.
Adrienne Yeah, this is true.
Kate However imperfectly, so imperfectly
Adrienne I think you’re right. I mean, I think that sometimes my work has been sort of like it’s been a tension between these different kinds of ways of of approaching art and working in art. And I think once you start to be an artist, you get drawn into these kind of ideologies around what it is to be successful and what it is to be an artist, but fortunately, I don’t think that I function so well in this ideological system. And if I did, I wouldn’t be here talking to you guys. I’d be in my apartment in Dubai. Um, you know, I don’t know exactly, but. Yeah.
Laura Yeah. Thank you guys for being so open and honest about this. I think, you know, artists, people that do want to do something for change and that’s out of the system really struggle. And you’re thinking about it really deeply and in a very provocative way. And I think maybe it feels normal to you because you’ve been in Europe for so long, but I think a lot of the people that listen to the podcast are in America and they’re not thinking outside of the systems as deeply. So your perspective is really, I think will be interesting for people.
Adrienne Great. Also, we can send you some of the titles of the books we’ve been reading in case any of your listeners are curious about the books. We didn’t talk about them in so much detail, I think because we’re still kind of internalising them. So I can send you that in case…
Laura Oh, I’ll put that in the notes on the website.
Kate Yeah. I like to add to that that we are trying to form, and maybe your readers are interested because now everything is global and digital so we can speak online about it, which is that we want to do a reading group that’s geared towards artists or workers who don’t think of themselves as academics so that we can engage with critical theory and with reading and incorporate it into our work. Because I think so much of critical theory is actually in some ways it’s like extractive of bodies who are doing either the art or theorising on workers, theorising on artists, sex workers, etc. And so we want to engage with these things as the bodies themselves and as people who don’t necessarily have access to the kind of language. And so it takes us longer to read. It takes us longer to understand it, it takes us longer to figure out how we want to incorporate into our work. So, yeah, we want to do a reading group on extraction with others who are interested in this topic and trying to figure out how to incorporate this critical theory into their work. So, yeah, we can maybe have some information about how to reach us.
Laura Wonderful. I’ll also put that on the website. So listen to the end of the podcast. So thank you so much.
Kate Thank you.
Adrienne Thank you.