116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Closed Eye Drawing in the Anthropocene

Graydon Wetzler, UC San Diego

I share an original participatory ethnographic experiment conceived in collaboration with visual artist and book translator, Yayu Tseng. My hope is that both our method and the experience of sharing its performance with others can evoke rather unexpected double translations of humanities and non-human mediums across scales tiny and geopolitical.

Proposal: 

I share an original participatory ethnographic experiment conceived and undertaken in collaboration with visual artist and book translator, Yayu Tseng. Taking our anthropocenic frame as a dominant non-fiction imaginary (both irrevocably verified and yet in our remote view mirror elsewhere), our study lends a non-human affordance for making contact with other-worldly intimates. In particular, I introduce our experiences in deploying ‘closed-eye drawings’ as a method for collectively rendering corporeal acts where no immediate reference to a visual field is given. We first experimented with this method in fieldwork undertaken in the curious (and often dismissed) interfaces across Iceland’s mythic, civic, non-human and sustainable cultures animated by the landscape’s indigenous huldufólk (hidden folk). The alfar (elves) are perhaps the best known huldufólk that have continually entered their complimentary human-world by enabling Icelanders to possess otherwise elicit stuff or to intervene in geopolitics by educing NATO airforce bases to go elsewhere. They also persist as curves throughout Icelandic infrastructure. We asked Icelanders to draw an elf with their eyes closed. Although none of the people had actually seen elves before, nearly all seemed to effortlessly draw their elf for us. How can you draw something you have never seen (an impossible object but a feasible thing)? ‘Closed eyes’ drawing encloses a visual body that is also an embodied imaginative phenomenon. The collected drawings are printed and bound using semitransparent paper giving the effect of a stratigraphic archive through superposition. 

 

While acknowledging the centrality of alfar as a pastoral tactic for resisting urban and geopolitical projects, we are more interested in sharing how our ethnographic method both enabled deeper interactions with Icelanders, as well as, revealing how the alfar folk situate something more complex and perhaps portable to other spaces. I contribute our modest experiment as one approach on rendering new interactions. In this spirit, I describe our stratigraphic-like archive as less than one-to-one between map and territory and more invitation to get a little lost and way find untapped modalities for connecting with nonhuman experience of place. My hope is that both our method and the experience of sharing its performance with others can evoke rather unexpected double translations of humanities and non-human mediums across scales tiny and geopolitical. More pragmatically, I hope to offer a non-vision of acting on built space and sustainable imaginaries with surprisingly spread for environmental humanities.