Why and how we created Spiriterritory

When I visited Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto at his studio on February 18, 2020, to interview him for the upcoming Arterritory.com publication Arterritory Conversations: Detox and Healing for the Planet, the global pandemic was still ahead of us. Of course, we spoke about Covid-19, but back then it was still largely referred to as the “Chinese virus”. At the same time, however, it was clear that changes to the current world order, and also the need for them, would be irreversible.

Among other things, Neto said, “I think the title of your magazine, Arterritory, is absolutely great, because the art ends on territory. I once did an exhibition titled The Body as a Territory. The idea of territory is very broad, and it can happen in an abstract or material way. But there’s an important detail. In Portuguese, and I believe in any Latin language, ‘territory’ is a political body, but it is also terra, the earth, mother earth, our body. There’s a work Lygia Clark titled A Casa é o Corpo (The House Is the Body, 1968), which she called ‘biological architecture’ and ‘nostalgia of the body’. It was exhibited at MoMA in 2014. One day while dancing at a beach party under a tree, I received a message that was a variation of Clark’s statement from 1968, saying ‘A Terra é o corpo’ (Earth is the body). When we say it this way, we feel like we’re inside the earth/terra, as a part of it; we bring back the landscape to our body, and we feel as a part of it and not that it is apart from us.”

Exactly a month later, after I had returned to Riga and the pandemic had turned the usual world order upside down, I received an email from Neto, which ended with the words:

Let’s keep up the good vibe!
By the way, with all the museums, galleries and institutions down, it’s a good and important moment for magazines.
arterritory foresterritory spiriterritory
let’s go on
hugs love

Another month later, in April 2020 and inspired by Neto’s letter, we at Arterritory began a new section titled “Spiriterritory”. It is a space where we have conversations about vitally important issues: humans, the planet, our relationship with Earth and our future on it. We talk about what it means to be human and to be alive as well as the footprint we make in this world, all the while remaining conscious of the fact that a sustainable future for humans and the solution to the current crisis (be it ecological, social, political or mental) can only be found in interaction, in the meeting of ideas from various different fields and the subsequent synthesis of new ideas. It can only be found in a dialogue rooted in an international network – a dialogue between ancient knowledge and various spiritual practices and modern-day science, between shamans and philosophers, between artists and neuroscientists, between anthropologists and musicians, between politicians and religious leaders, between teenagers and adults, instead of only within the narcissistic “bubble” of a single discipline and a single way of thinking.

“We need a transformation of consciousness on a global scale,” declared ethnopharmacologist and thinker Dennis McKenna in an interview with Arterritory.com in late 2020. And to a certain extent these words of his became a catalyst for the transformation of Spiriterritory into a new, independent branch of Arterritory.

As Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” The process of transformation is not easy, and each one of us must find our own instruments on this path. Spiriterritory is a story about the path and instruments that lead us to ourselves and through ourselves – to the idea of a sustainable world. We believe, despite the prognoses, that this is not merely utopian thinking.

And in this, also belive the stars of our interviews, each doing everything possible to make this dream alive.

“In our time, consciousness has completely taken control over unconsciousness, the subject of endless research and reflection by Freud. I would say that we should think about helping ourselves come out of our shell and reclaim our irrationality. At that, we should not, of course, go back to things like male violence against women. Could we get back some irrationality while still being good human beings? Now, this one, I think, could turn out to be the key question of our times.”

/Lev Manovich, Professor of Computer Science and author of ‘Cultural Analytics’ and ‘The Language of New Media’/

“I’m really curious to embrace the way in which microbiome research undermines the immune system as an opportunity to articulate a new, planetary politics. For this to be possible, though, we need to understand microbiology as a kind of experimental political philosophy. We need to read microbiome research, we need philosophers and artists to work in labs, alongside the researchers and engineers.
Again, what is at stake is neither ontology nor the cosmos nor a metaphor nor truth. At stake is the conceptual opening up of new possibilities of being human differently. Of course, microbiology is by no means the only field that offers this. One has to steadily propose offers for how to think differently,”

/Tobias Rees, German-American anthropologist/

“It seems to me unlikely that there will ever be a fully scientific account of consciousness. And I think the reason for that is what I said before – because what you see is who you are. And who you are depends on your genetics – sure, your upbringing – but also the culture within which you were born. That cannot be explained scientifically. You can't tell that story of who you are through science alone. And therefore, you cannot tell the story fully of what you experience through science; there cannot be a fully, entirely narrow scientific story of that. Because what you see is who you are, and who you are comes from culture as much as from biology.”

/Daniel Glaser, British neuroscientist/

Spiriterritory is not a consciously imagined construct, but at the same time its creation is not just a coincidence. It is our small contribution to the cosmological vision of the global consciousness towards a better world, because we simply believe that such a world is possible. Likewise, it is no coincidence that the symbolic godfather of this idea is Neto, whom we first met six years ago at the opening of his exhibition in Helsinki and who at that time had only recently begun his own path of transformation.

The only truly conscious decision in the creation of Spiriterritory was my request to Neto late last year that he write a dedication to Spiriterritory. He wrote a poem and chose to illustrate it with two images from the O protesto e a serpente (The Protest and the Snake) exhibition, which took place at the Galería Elba Benítez in Madrid in 2014 and also served as a kind of turning point in his own path in life. In 2013, Neto had met the Huni Kuin tribe for the first time. It was also the first time he drank their sacred medicine ayahuasca, which he symbolically included in one of the works of art for the exhibition.

Una Meistere

Ernesto Neto. O protesto e a serpente, 2014. Photo: Courtesy of the artist


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