ESR 1 Blog September 2021: Gabor Erlich

Moving on

Reykjavík, Iceland. Jumping right in, the very first day surprised me with ‘orange weather warning’, but even the wuthering cold could not stop me from completing the obligatory bureaucratic processes that changing one’s domicile entails. It turns out to be not only time-consuming but also a rather risky activity.

Taking risks though seems to be an important element of any serious endeavour. Without actually carrying out a risk-assessment, I am aware that relocating for a period of six months is a gamble, especially regarding the cadence of my work, which, after precious efforts, seemed steady and settled in the UK. Thus now, the gambit is to tailor those already existing site-specific patterns, which always means providing room for the new good in a resilient manner, in a way that is neither a rigid regime governed by blockages and nostalgia, nor a positivistic implementation of the ‘flexible personality’.

And this takes time – the first fact to acknowledge rather than forcibly fast-forward.
But to direct this towards less abstract realms, I’ve gotta admit how lucky I am: in this first week I met with all three ESRs based in Iceland (in order of appearance) Claude, Bilge and Jenny. Long-awaited occasions to render the real people with the previous, digital experience, and real people they are! One great thing about living in a relatively small place is that it is much easier to see others. Another new good is certainly the simplicity in leaving the city to discover ‘nature’, something, I am not a great expert of, suffice it to say. Thanks to Jenny, the first weekend was packed with outdoor activities, of which I am not going to provide a list so you, Dear Reader, will not get too envious. In a sense, I have to say, I feel closer than ever to understanding the concept of the sublime. I have been reading Neil Smith’s cardinal book, Uneven Development, where he analyses the concept of nature and argues that in our contemporary world, due to the continuous extractive expansion of capitalism, it is almost impossible to actually find Nature. It has been conquered, demolished, enslaved. (I wholeheartedly agree with Smith, as well as with other scholars who claim that we live in an age that is best described as the capitalocene, such as Andreas Malm and Jason W. Moore). What is left from it is enclosed in the shape of nature reserves, national parks, and the like. To me, it was the first time to realise that there are still some places on the planet one can use the term nature for. In this fashion, I ‘found’ nature in Iceland because it is too active, lively, and powerful enough in its disinterestedness, to render any attempts at extractivist entrapments impossible. One can construct a bridge between squiggly tectonic plates, build a house over a geyser, or pave roads onto the side of the volcano; but the forces are unstoppably there, constantly reminding us, humans of the capitalocene, that even if it seems easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism (Mark Fisher), the planet holds a strongly antagonistic opinion.

How will I amalgamate this into the research remains to be discovered in the next couple of months.

I know, I did not get back to the topic I started last time. One thing though: if you have not seen Massimiliano (Mao) Mollona’s FEINART lecture, please, check it out on the programme’s youtube-channel, and get his book, ART/COMMONS now. I guarantee that it is a must, no matter where you are!

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