Matri Linear B

Angela Melitopoulos

April 2020

This artistic research project takes as its starting-point the expressive force of the earth’s surface as a ‘speaking landscape’, as the agency of a statement, and explores how we can learn to understand them; it addresses the relation between the viewer, her kinematic and kinetic tools of visualization (cartography, painting), as well as other artistic-scientific methods of image production (archaeology, digital art), and the operative knowledge formations of landscapes. As its research objective, Matri Linear B investigates the seeing of the landscape itself as a process of social organization.

In Matri Linear B, four very different places/areas become the laboratory of an open field research study. This is expressed through the landscape from the perspective of various technologies – including social technologies – i.e. observation from a group in which non-human actors also operate. The deep time of geology, images of earth’s surfaces as operative, visual areas and their narrative qualities contain a geological history in which knowledge is produced by other agencies and new orders of observation.

The imaginary notion of the hominid is characterized by earthiness, making the human observer themselves part of the observation of the environment. For anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, anthropology is a science of the relations of observation, since in the anthropologist’s discourse, the discourse of the ‘native’ correlates in mutual relationships so that it is the subject and the matter of their observation. The shifting subject-object orders that, with anthropology, contributed to the critique of modernity, today affect both the dominions of this knowledge and also the being and becoming of all life on earth. This means that the human and the micro- and macro-relationships of the earth have a common physical function of sensory perception but a perspective that is culturally distinct, which intersects and interacts. The different bodies can be perceived in their faculty; however, similarly, the perspectives of perception and cultures are essentially multi-perspectival.

Matri-linearity includes a special physical space of imagination that will be expressed in this project as a ‘cine(so)matic’ relationship. This firstly addresses the intuitive flow-dynamic of an agency between human, environment and technology, a dynamic that can be captured in the artistic process. This agency, as a human and non-human assemblage, senses the environmental conditions in which it is acting, and realizes them as a narrative process.

What can we learn from this kind of seeing of different landscapes Are the traces we are pursuing to be found outside or inside this sensory system? Are they filled with cultural and cosmic points that activate our human memory when we go for a walk there? Is a magnetic and magic property of a landscape earthy, and are the sensations of our molecular, cell-like perception similar for all living beings within the same environment? How do we see landscape, which guides our way of seeing with its cosmological properties? What scaling, what dynamics of visual representation contain what knowledge? What contemporary history and what social organization of matri-linear society intersect today with the ecological knowledge of the land?

The project starts from the landscapes of Lower Austria – the intensive, industrial agriculture of the Weinviertel region, its biotopes and archaeological sites.

The knowledge of the farmers in this industrialized agriculture is guided by the modern expertise of government/science, which observes cultivation using satellite images and assists production. Organized for industrial purposes, the landscape of the Weinviertel region is also riddled with tunnels dating back to ancient times. Beneath the surface of the earth lie numerous wine cellars with a geological-psychological potential that shapes social relationships. Beneath the surface of the earth lie numerous wine cellars with a geological-psychological potential that shapes social relationships. The landscape of Lower Austria is today dominated by industrial agriculture, which is affected both by current climate change and acute rural exodus. The farming community has shrunk rapidly over the last 40 years, while the mechanization of agriculture has steadily increased. In terms of a cosmological view, more and more land is being looked at by fewer and fewer observers. At the same time, digital imaging processes are increasingly being used to regulate and control decisions in farming across Europe, primarily with satellite images, but also using robotics. New, alternative ways of life for agriculture in Lower Austria involve organic farming methods, which avoids old market dictates and regulations by using alternative distribution methods. Furthermore, they have an impact on the entire social life of a society, its inheritance, gender relations and its knowledge of the earth and its art. The rupture that shook the last three generations of winegrowers here led to a devaluation of ecological work in agriculture and a reevaluation of its industrialization with biochemical substances, which have a molecular influence on all living things and on the earth.

Investigations of geological soil stratification in the Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites of Lower Austria take us into the archaeological space of opportunity through the vertical order of considering geological history (stratigraphy). The most accurate digital positioning of pieces that were found in a small area but dating from different periods defines the possible interpretations of this history. For instance, from the remains of a fireplace one can conclude this was the site of a kitchen, also holding parts of a Venus figure and so pointing to a ritual, shamanistic use. The revision of the interpretations of prehistoric finds in the modern science of archaeology, especially the interpretation of gender-specific roles in prehistory, is opening up to critical, scientific methods, but limits our ideas in methodological terms. The revision of the interpretations of prehistoric finds in the modern science of archaeology, especially the interpretation of gender-specific roles in prehistory, is opening up to critical, scientific methods, but limits our ideas in methodological terms.

Thus in the 1960s feminist researchers began to fundamentally transform images of the role of women in prehistory. They started to make connections between anthropology and ethnology, as well as the idea of a matriarchal society, and the Venus figures. In the 1990s, the research of women continued both in archaeology and anthropology, leading to significant shifts in theories on prehistory. According to their approach, it is ethnography and anthropology that must reframe archaeology, because the social orders of Palaeolithic and Neolithic cultural history remains enigmatic due to the low number of artefacts found.

The Stone Age discoveries made in Lower Austria often tell stories of successful finds by archaeologists who had to operate very carefully at the digs, because each excavation is a unique process that informs what direction their inferences should take. In addition to the excavation methods, which resemble the genesis of an image in art, I am primarily interested in the debate over how the discovery of the Venus figures could relate to a matri-linear life organization in the Palaeolithic, and how this could be connected to ideas of an earthbound, cosmological culture corresponding to an egalitarian society.

A second field of research looks into the function of art in the Aboriginal cultures of Australia as a form of futuristic Indigenous knowledge production located at the centre of colonial negotiations. The Aborigines’ deep knowledge of time has endured unbroken in their stories and myths for over 40,000 years. Their concept of time is not linear, while their environmental awareness is linked culturally to ecological, social and economic responsibilities. It is told with the specific geology of the desert landscape, and continues to be updated to this day as cartographic art practices and in performative rituals. However, over the past three generations the transfer of this old knowledge has been rendered precarious, and is under threat from the destruction wreaked by colonization and the commercialization of the art and tourism markets. The post-colonial struggle for land rights has developed since the 1970s. It focuses on cultural ties to the landscape and its myths, which are part of cartographic art, but which are being negotiated in the Australian law courts. In Matri Linear B werden besonders die Landkämpfe der Frauen zum Thema, deren kulturelle Praxis, die nur für Frauen bestimmt war, nicht in den Gerichtssälen des australischen Staates vorgetragen werden durfte.

In Matri-Linear B the focus lies in particular on women’s fight for land rights. Their cultural practice was intended for women only, and could not be presented in the courts of the Australian State. In Aboriginal law, cultural transfers are tied to people who carry secrets. Within their gender groups, they bear the mythical, ecological and economic knowledge and responsibility and care for the ritual sites in ‘their’ landscape. Art, culture and anthropology become constituent elements of legal negotiations in which it would be particularly important to shift the subject-object orders of anthropology and ecology.

Notions of a prehistoric landscape that became the image of Terra Nullius with the beginning of colonial modernism – i.e. a ‘natural’ organization of the untouched landscape – served for the colonial observer as justification for robbery, destruction and seizure of the land. The image of Terra Nullius facilitated the uncritical scientific thinking of a white patriarchal and Western origin history. This was used in the 19th century to support genocide based on racial hierarchy and land theft. The image of the landscape crystallizes the problem of this subject-object order, which to this day remains the central factor in negotiations over the struggle for land between modern nation states and their colonialized ‘natives’.

In Australia, the principal settlements of the Aboriginal peoples are to be found in the desert of the Northern Territories. As a result of colonial violence and continued segregation between the colonial heirs of Australia and the Aborigines, cartographic art became de jure proof of ‘traditional land owners’ who focused on their ties to the landscape and its cultural significance for the country in their post-colonial struggles. State-funded art centres owned by the Aboriginal Land Council have been established in many settlements in the Northern Territories.

Resistance to colonial paternalism and land theft developed rapidly in the cartographic painting of the landscape, partly because it recorded the knowledge in the cartographic image of the landscape for anthropology, and partly because it became legal evidence that documented belonging to a particular ritual site through stories while also regulating ownership, which also affects mining rights.

A third field of research concerns the semi-nomadic, semi-autonomous societies of the Zomia highlands in Southeast Asia between China and India. Here, matri-linear societies have withdrawn and avoided national organization over the centuries. By fleeing into the inaccessible mountains, they managed to escape occupation by the patriarchal nation state, evading slavery and the rule of warlords. Currently, matri-linear societies that have until now functioned well are suffering from the dynamics of a tourism that reveals the desire for alterity in patriarchal societies.

The final field of research in the project deals with the landscape of my childhood in the Alpine foothills of Bavaria, the birthplace of my mother and grandmother. There landscape becomes a place for everyone who succumbs to its magic. The final stage of the research lies in its affective epiphanies, which provided the inspiration for this project.

Matri Linear B follows the narrative potential of non-linear and auto-poetic storytelling forms. Horizontal movement on the earth becomes the film narrative of an inference, a series of events that converge and intersect with different knowledge formations.

In the broadest sense, it is about the political aspiration to fuel the space of possibility of an idea in which a different kind of social value perception could happen, one which, according to historian Heide Goettner-Abendroth‚ saw the mother as a prototype and was “based on maternal values of nurturing, caretaking, mutuality, balance, and peace-making as the centre of an egalitarian and peaceful society”.

So far, field research has been completed in Lower Austria and Australia. The other two locations will be visited in summer and early autumn 2020.

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