shimmer & loop

Joan Schuman, Earlid, fall 2021

In first encountering shimmer, one wants to dance or shimmy. More than cultural appropriation, the approach to this aesthetic connotes a respectful trying on—like a too-big coat, or a fancy ring. 

Shimmer is an encounter and transformation. Shimmer is entanglement. It’s how things bump next to each other.

Nearly a dozen artists have been summoned here to try things on, to polyphonously vibrate and tremble and tangle and loop. These audible endeavors attune to uncertainties in a collapsing world or simply a still body in a CT scanner or at the edge of a rising sea. There’s an eerie hope in remembered gardens, or an old listening, and onwards into an uncertain future and strange, watery visitations. Dispatches from pig nurseries mire us in pandemic catastrophes while imagined potions distilled from a sonic apothecary offer a speculated healing.

Deborah Bird Rose says of her concept of the Aboriginal shimmer, that to survive anything, we need to relearn multiple forms of curiosity, to tune into our awareness of interconnections.

As artists, we configure magical figures, weave speculative fictions, animate feral and partial connections. We need to stumble. And try again.

Deborah Bird Rose

And stumbling is monstrously evident in the climate chaos and entwining capitalism that has bolstered every calamity laying before us.

We could use more shimmer.

A crisis of imagination

Art can be a catalyst. It’s not a naïve premise. It’s not likely to solve climate catastrophes; it does, however, engage our empathy. What is oddly more trusting is to prioritize the data of collapse as creative material for an abstract reverie of beautiful ruin. It pelts the ears with soft warmth. We hear and thus ‘witness’ glaciers melting. But listeners aren’t encouraged to do much other than take in the mournful artistry. Although that melting might be imagined as the landscape’s scream for us humans to do something (now!) in the same way we demand endowments be redirected and funds dispersed in the countdown ‘decade’ we reportedly have left to fix things.

In the urgent cycles of information agitating us daily, if we lack stories of progress, even just narratives that arouse our curiosity, the world becomes a terrifying place. We need to hear voices—real and imagined and aestheticized—to mirror our potential energies for changing a devastating future squarely in our midst.

And there are too many ands. We need more conjunctions, less silly, assumed connections. A loop that wonderfully fails to conclude leaves us eager; it configures us, conjoined, tails to ears.

None of these works of sound art finishes anything. Rather they open more, question further, dive deeper into murk. The fictional history, Your Mating Call is Important to Us, invites us to wonder what comes of the warring factions, shhhing each other so the birds can sing. Blanc Sceol’s Hir beckons beneath water into strange hopes of something flying, a mirage. The muffled blurring of a TV reporter’s voice yields to the shadowed lives of farm animals such that all we hear is cowbells and hooves in Extinction. This fight between one entity and another is more a gathering of breath.

A book, a landscape, an outlaw

A number of us involved here have newly read Paul Kingsnorth’s fictional experiment, Beast (or, like a ritual, celebrated another spin through his novella’s scaffolding). As if a parabolic mirror, we’re considering an entanglement with his text. Is the beast a spiritual outlaw? a survivor? the landscape itself after an apocalypse?

Beast is a kind of fable or parable, depending on if the protagonist is considered an animal or the landscape. The danger is dichotomy: fear opposed to hope or conquering. Perhaps we simply traverse all these realms and find solace in each, not rooted in any of the divisions. The animal, says Kingsnorth, is not sinister; rather it’s vigilant, watching.

I once thought that my challenge was to understand everything … but there is no structure that will not fall and crush you under it.

Paul Kingsnorth, Beast

Kingsnorth muses about clarity and then a blank page stares back in massive silence. His book’s coda signals more misty brume, more pall.

These six featured experiments allow a listener to encounter similar gaps, blurs, repetition, loops, silences. They have been selected, revisited, made anew in the glare of uncertainty. There’s nearly a monster groaning and bubbling beneath the watery bog in Blanc Sceol’s Hir. And yet we are above the surf’s edge left to wonder why there’s so much apologizing in these works, overt or subtle, singing and weeping and whispering with fear.

The echo of this vocalizing booms quietly in both Adriene Lilly’s and JT Green’s artistry; the close proximity of our ears to others’ voices is an alluring gesture—whether eavesdropped from a smorgasbord of call-in opinions or stolen, tapped from middle-of-the-night dread.


shimmer & loop: a conversation
Adriene Lilly, JT Green, Joan Schuman

[Audio mixed by Joan Schuman; VLF signals recorded in the Salar de Atacama, Chile’s biggest salt flats and largest source of lithium, from Radiation Day: credits: Anna Friz & Rodrigo Ríos Zunino.]

Entanglement is magnificently dangerous.

We can choose to be flâneurs of the Anthropocene as we limp alongside those already suffering functional extinctions. It’s not monsters or ghosts. We are all in the weeds.

Fear isn’t a bad thing. Nor is greed for a more regenerative process of healing our global wounds born from obscene thirsts. Vigilance is the job of the artist—to look, to notice (to listen should be added to these Kingsnorth injunctions). In his series about The Machine, Kingsnorth diagrams our current anxious malaise:

Want is the acid. Capitalism is the battery. Growth is the engine. Greed is the forming energy that moves us to where we are inevitably headed. What is the brake?

The answer is: limits.

Medium Eva Carriere, 1912 (photo credit, Baron Freiherr Albert von Schrenck-Notzing)

We are each a collection of gears, a library of facts, an engineering, a heart. An opinion machine leads to an extinction machine.

Similarly, to curate is a tricky machine, shrieking in limits and breadth, better left as a whirling set of gears, an open conversation, looping with the artists. The ambiguous ghosts and monsters unsettle us from our defined roles, our center stage, by highlighting webs of hauntings and monstrous bodies from which we all emerge.

Hauntings, like ghosts, are not immaterial. Monsters, too, are a kind of announcement of the physical future: we’re here! Both ghosts and monsters can vanquish us with disastrous or wondrous residue: traces of nuclear radiation; lichens and mycorrhiza; systemic racism and calamitous capitalism; global exchanges of information and resources; fossilized oil; girls raised by wolves; technology’s convoluted solutions; noise from extractive mining that booms out of our gadgets and screens.

Stories are as ephemeral as puffs of smoke.

What stories will help us to live on this damaged planet? Ones that perplex and resonate.

This is a collection of magical figures, fits of vapors, states of disorientation, bewilderment and fear, winter mists, dark clouds of slight obscuration, apologies and gloom.

And hope and curiosity, a stripping away what’s hidden, unveiling (the original meaning of apocalypse).

And shimmer.

How to navigate Monsters & Ghosts:

Though the ‘linear’ loop is offered, you can make your own organization of the ear. Why not begin with speculation from The Sousrealists? You could hop forward (or go in reverse) and find yourself listening to the memories called forth in Silence is Coming, a kind of film-strip of sound.

And you could simply get lost in i imagine it will rise as it circles with no end. These works wheel together and resonate and ebb out again and muffle a bigger story.

Listen, then, in a loop.

Revel in the textual and audible conversations between and among the sonic practitioners.

Words inciting this exhibit:

Arts of Living on a Dangerous Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene – 2017

[Deborah Bird Rose’s Shimmer: When All You Love Is Being Trashed]

Beast, Paul Kingsnorth
[Second novel of the Buckmaster Trilogy, 2016]

Want is the Acid
Divining the Machine, #7
Sept. 15, 2021

AND: The Phenomenology of the End

Franco “Bifo” Berardi


Monsters & Ghosts is participating in EXTRACTION: Art on the Edge of the Abyss, a multimedia, multi-venue, cross-border art intervention.