Poetic Communications with the Internet of Possums

 

exhibition-iop-04

Catherine Clover, Independent Artist
Stephen Barrass, University of Canberra

30x30x50 cm
Perspex Possum Box, Audio Recordings, Mobile Phone, IoT Temperature Sensor, Solar Charger

Clover, C. and Barrass, S. (2016) Poetic Communications with the Internet of Possums, in Stuart, A. (curator), Untaming the Urban: a visual art response, ANU School of Art Sculpture Workshop, 6-16 December, 2016. PDF catalog.

A voice is heard coming from a mobile phone inside a perspex possum box. The voice is Cath Clover reading selected works to the possums that have recently moved into her house. Her readings include a range of fiction/nonfiction, transcriptions of the sounds of possums, excerpts from field guides about how we classify and identify them, and dreamtime stories about possum ancestors. The readings are intended as a kind of offering, a means of sharing space, with the idea that perhaps, ultimately, the possums would be willing to share what they think or know of us in return. While it may be unlikely that the possums understand human language, specifically English, it is an attempt at communication between humans and other species. Through this process it may be possible, “for we humans to learn to communicate with other species on their terms, in their own languages, or in common terms, if there are any.” [Plumwood, V. 2002. Environmental Culture – the ecological crisis of reason, UK, Routledge, pp. 189].

Cath recorded the readings in the field during the day with all accompanying everyday suburban activities audible – birds, flies, neighbours, traffic, planes, weather. These sounds describe the sonic environment in which the possums live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The recordings are raw with only limited editing. Mistakes, stumbles and the sounds of page turning are kept to retain a sense of the live/performative experience as well as to reflect the emergent and contingent nature of our proposal of sharing the texts with the possums. The possums’ nest is an old cardboard box on the top of a tall cupboard in a back shed in the garden. The recordings are made on different days and while some movements were heard, I couldn’t tell if the possums were listening or even awake on any occasion.

Cath selected the following readings:
Trickster Spirituality: the world as agent in Environmental Culture – The Ecological Crisis of Reason by Val Plumwood, Routledge 2002.
Duration of reading 9’ 30”

Australian Mammals: A field guide for New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania by Jack Hyett and Noel Shaw, Nelson 1980.
Duration of reading 10’ 15”

The Possum Wars by Andrew Bock, The Age 1 May 2011
Duration of reading 13’47”

What designers can learn from Aboriginal Possum Skin Cloaks by Myles Russell Cook,
The Conversation 30 March 2015.
Duration of reading 6’ 51”

The installation is a prototype node for the Internet of Possums, which is an open source software and hardware project that aims to transform the perception of urban possums from “not-quite companion animals” to “significant others” [Lenskjold and Jonsson, 2016], or more colloquially from “pests into pets”. This work builds on frameworks for understanding as will be described in our paper for the Untaming the Urban Symposium at the ANU on 7-8 December 2016. Audience responses to the Installation, and our reflections on these responses, will be used to develop the project further, and will be described in a future book chapter.