The Seed Box was excited to welcome its first artist-in-residence in the fall of 2016. Laura Watts, poet and self-described “ethnographer of the future” currently based at IT University of Copenhagen, joined us for approximately one month’s time (September 12–October 7, 2016). During her stay, Laura conducted dozens of interviews with Seed Box students and scholars, presented at the Environmental Humanities Forum, and led creative writing workshops at the Department of Thematic Studies.
Laura’s work is concerned with how landscape and location impact our imaginations of the future. She has collaborated with non-academic groups in mobile telecommunications, renewable energy, and public transportation, and she is currently engaging with those in the marine energy industry in the Orney Islands of Scotland. Her most recent book, Ebban an’ Flowan, a collaboration with poet Alec Finlay, is a “poetic primer” to marine renewable energy.
We asked Laura to write a brief statement about her time in residence at the Seed Box; that statement appears below.
The sky is a carrier bag of star light and fiction
–after Ursula Le Guin, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” (1986)
To be situated (in Donna Haraway’s sense) is, in part, to look up and see the constellations and their stories. They whirl around the pole star, Polaris, and shift with your location on the planet, your location in the seasons, and your location in that moment at night. Epistemes come with some stars, and not others. When I was invited to be artist and poet in residence at Seed Box for one month in September, and I landed on ‘planet Seed Box’ my first instinct was to look up (so to speak) and to ask what constellations glowed overhead. For me to learn and respond to how Seed Box is situated as a project was always going to be a matter of storytelling its guiding stars.
Sometimes I am an ethnographer who writes poetry as part of my method to write the world otherwise. I nodded to Haraway because her insistence on the inseparability of fiction and fact, and the need for speculative fabulations (“SF”) to create flourishing futures are the founding tenets to my work. Sometimes, though, I am just a professional poet–my most recent book is a collaboration (with Alec Finlay), a collection of poetry on marine renewable energy. This time, on this residency, I took the opportunity to be a professional poet, but one who could draw upon ethnography to inspire my writing.
The challenge for an Artist in Residence on a social or cultural research project is that the project is in the bodies of the researchers–particularly at the beginning. There are no obvious laboratories to be ‘resident’ in. So, I had to make Seed Box as a place to be resident in–which is ethnographic work. And so my thirteen ethnographic conversations with Seed Box researchers allowed me to learn about, and make the place: the Seed Box planet with its own constellations, whose stories I sought to tell.
In my busy month of conversations, and also running a writer’s workshop, I made the Seed Box constellations and their stories. This night’s sky is filled with the fabulous creatures that roam the Seed Box project (I learned about the Prion, the Ants, the Tick, and more). I also created and shared poetic seeds. These are words that can be planted, nurtured, and grown into a different kind of academia, and a different kind of project. For who says that Seed Box is a planet just like Earth? Perhaps things grow differently there…
You can read and download all the work at www.sand14.com.