Sonic Ecologies – 1

This is an AI-supported transcription of an interview conducted by Tuçe Erel with artist and writer Adriana Knouf, held as the first episode of a podcast series titled “Sonic Ecologies” as part of a project by the Art Laboratory Berlin. Click here for the AI-supported Turkish translation of the interview, edited by Tuçe Erel and Öykü Burçak Ortakcı. Click here to listen to the original.

Tuçe Erel: Thank you, dear Adriana, for accepting our interview request in our podcast series called Sonic Ecologies.  

And each year, we decided to have a theme in our podcast. This is the first year and you are the first guest of our very first episode.  

And the new series, Permeable Bodies, that we as the Art Laboratory Berlin team, organize to feature reading groups, workshops and artists’ talks and then this specific podcast. And the Permeable Bodies series, which you are also going to be a guest speaker tonight, which is the 11th of May, 2023. We are very happy to welcome you to this series in which we are dealing with artistic and feminist explorations of embodiment and identity in flux, as well as an investigation of our interconnections and interactions with the environment around us. In this interview series, we would like to inform our audience about our guest artists, scientists, and researchers and their interests and how they are focused and relevant to our series. Our program, Permeable Bodies, deals with the human body, especially women’s bodies, and their metamorphosis under the biopolitics of the capitalist scene. And so when we think about these topics, our compasses are also invaluable scholars such as Rosi Braidotti, Astrida Neimanis, and Luce Irigaray.    

So before we expand our conversation over this connection, I make this little introduction, first, let us hear about you and introduce yourself to our audience.  

Adriana Knouf: Thanks so much, Tuçe, for the interview and for inviting me here on behalf of Art Laboratory Berlin. So, yeah, so my name is Adriana Knouf. I’m an artist, writer and xenologist, originally from the US, but now currently based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. And I’ve been working in sort of the world of media arts for almost 20 years now, mostly doing stuff earlier on in NetArt, but in recent years moving towards more bio art, net media, space art, and so forth. And so I do a lot of practice that has to do with the body and the transformations of the body and sort of connecting to one aspect of my identity, which is as a transgender woman and sort of the transformations that happen. And I’m not sure how to do that as a result of that.  

But I’m also very much interested in extraterrestrial space and how different bodies respond and change and modify and may need to be modified for extraterrestrial space, as well as doing other work with nonhumans like lichens and so forth.  

TE: At the beginning, I briefly said that there are some theoretical foundations that we value a lot. And I know that you are also very much connected as a researcher and lecturer and artist with theory. So you are working on trans and xeno entities. And could you please elaborate on the xeno entities and trans entities in your theoretical and artistic framework?  

AK: Sure. So I’ve been developing this thing called xenology, which is the study analysis and the development of the xeno, the strange alien or the other. And so I’ve approached this mainly from the perspective, first off of, again, being a transgender woman and sort of the ways in which trans bodies are marked, as you know, as other, and thinking through the types of transformations that people like myself who undergo medical transition have. And the types of transformations that happen to our bodies, which tend to push ourselves to new possibilities. And so, for me, that’s what’s so interesting about the xeno. It’s not about recuperating it and trying to bring it back into the fold of sort of the status quo. But it’s more about how we can push ourselves to become even more and more xeno. And I see that this possibility of pushing ourselves is limited under capitalism because of the ways in which transformation only is transformation when it basically supports a profit motive. Right. And I’m very much interested in what I see as the universe, given the possibility of transformation and change.    

TE: In terms of change and transformation and marking it, I would like to also then jump into another question that also my colleague, Regine Rapp, would like to raise here in terms of the scholar Nikki Sullivan’s writing and how we are actually dealing with this transformation. And so I would like to quote that she says, “begin to acknowledge and to theorize the ways in which all bodies mark and are marked; to rethink the ways in which bodies are entwined in (un)becoming rather than presuming that they are simply mired in being unless they undergo explicit, visible, and identifiable transformational procedures.” So how would you comment on this? Actually, you already started to deal with that. But what is your take on it?  

AK: Yeah, sure. So when we’re talking about transgender bodies, we talk about transitioning and being in the process of transitioning. And transitioning is a word that is often used by trans people to describe that process. It’s also used by others to describe us. But I would say, and I truly believe that we are all always in a form of transition, whether that’s the transition to an older age through menopause, through different types of growth when you’re younger, or through puberty. And so forth. And so, you know, I’ve been developing in this other wider practice, practices for living in what I call transitioning times. And so the idea that we need different types of tools and abilities and practices to deal with this transitioning that happens to us, all of us, at different times of our lives. And I think that aspect is an extremely important part. It’s not something that is necessarily visible. It’s not something that has to be visible. There’s a push and an important push for trans people to be visible. But as we’re seeing in terms of the attacks on trans people in the United States these days, in other parts of the world, and so forth, what’s happening to LGBTQ people in Uganda and so forth, this visibility is leading to a pushback. And I think it’s really important to understand that, that sometimes these transitions cannot be visible. They don’t need to be visible. Right? And it’s just something that we go through as trans people, but other people go through it just as much as we do.  

TE: Then I will just continue with some other quotes from Nikki Sullivan. And she says,  

“Queer, at least as we understand it, is a heterogeneous and multidisciplinary practice aimed at ‘bringing forth’ and thus denaturalising the taken for granted, the invisiblised, the normalised; in short, the dispositifs or technés of (necessarily material) (un)becoming. Somatechnics could likewise be conceived as a form of ethico-political critical practice (rather than a definable, circumscribable discipline, field of study, or methodology)”[1]

So this is a quote from her book titled Soma Techniques, Queering the Technologized of Bodies. And you have been already explaining this visibility and invisibility and other suppressed bodies. What do you think in relation to this quote?  

AK: Yeah, sure. So thinking through this idea of Soma techniques, right? It’s from my perspective, it’s not only about sort of the biological transformations that happened, right? But the other types of technical capabilities and practices that go into that, right? So the biotechnologies that go into that, the types of clothing that we wear, the types of implants perhaps that we might have as a result of different types of needs or desires and things of that nature, right? And this sort of gets back to this idea of xenology, right? That I’m not interested in sort of like a transhumanist overcoming Promethean elimination of the ills of the body and so forth, right? But I’m interested in what are the ways in which we can then openly embed some of these technologies, whether they are physical, whether they’re conceptual, whether they’re philosophical, whether
they’re imaginary and so forth, right? What are the ways in which we can embed those into our bodies and into our bodily practices in order to, you know, deal with some of these forms of transitioning that we’ve talked about, right? Whether it’s the transition to different types of genders, whether it’s the transition to, you know, old age, whether it’s the transition of wanting to go to outer space and trying to live better in an outer space environment.  

TE: My last question is in relation to your title again, which is “In extraterrestrial space, all bodies are trans bodies.” This is the talk that you are going to give in the framework of Permeable Bodies Series that we are organizing at Art Laboratory Berlin.  

And when I first read the title, of course, I immediately thought about this, Donna Haraway’s writing about “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene”chapter, where she starts with this, “We are all lichens”, which is a quote from Scott Gilbert.[2] So, and I know you’re also interested in the lichens. So what is the connection here?  

AK: Yeah, sure. So actually, when I came up with that title, I wasn’t thinking so much about my lichen research, but it’s a really good connection to make. What I was thinking about is the fact that any time a human body, I mean, not only human bodies, other types of biological bodies, but if we’re going to talk about human bodies, any time a human body goes to space, it undergoes many, many different types of transformations and transitions because of being in the microgravity environment. Whether that’s dealing with different types of changes in bone structure, cardiovascular function, eyesight, so on and so forth. And so, for me, it’s really important to highlight this because of the way in which we tend to see astronauts as these perfect bodies. And that is also the way that sort of national space agencies structure their searches for astronauts. When in reality, every astronaut that goes to space is extremely transformed by their experience. They are all heavily medicated, even if it’s not always talked about that way. And so for me, it’s actually interesting to think about that maybe bodies that undergo certain types of transformations already here on Earth, like trans bodies, or the disabled or differently abled and so forth. We might actually be better astronauts because of the fact that we know very deeply what it’s like to go through these transformations already. And so for me, I think it’s really important to realize that once you leave sort of the surface of the Earth and go into an extraterrestrial environment, you’re not the same type of human anymore as you are when you’re on terra firma, right? And so perhaps that should allow us to open up the possibilities of who we imagine to be an astronaut. Amazing. I’m so looking forward to hearing this talk, actually.      

TE: Thank you for your time, Adriana. Is there anything that you would like to add, anything that you would like to share with our audience before we close this little interview?  

AK: I mean, I’m just very delighted to have been invited to be able to come here. I’ve respected and watched from afar Art Laboratory Berlin, and so I’m really excited to be able to be here. Yeah, and I do think it’s important for all of us to begin thinking about these transitions, right? And thinking about what are the things that we might need to enable the different practices of transition in our lives. It’s not just transgender people who are doing this. It’s all of us.  

TE: Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly the reason why we wanted to do this series of talks and workshops in the future. We are also going to talk about menopause, for example, menstrual liquids or other taboo topics that we are always hesitant, self-censored to talk about, our femininity, and our transformation every single time. So it is our moment to take on it. And we are very pleased to have you here as well. Thank you.  

AK: Thank you.

[1] Somatechnics: Queering the Technologisation of Bodies, Ed. Nikki Sullivan Macquarie & Samantha Murray, Surray (UK)/Burlington (US): Ashgate Publishers, 2009.


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