• Interviewing masharu, founder of Museum of Edible Earth 

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    Posted: 28 November 2023

    On embodiment and post-/extractivism

    Conversations by Julia Kassyk with masharu

    Earlier this year, our team grew - Julia joined as an intern. During her internship, she has been helping us with research and production. Next to that, she had a chance to enrich her Master's thesis research with a closer interaction with embodiment artists and practitioners from our network. Julia is researching how artistic embodiment practices can facilitate a transition to post-extractivist ways of being. In Julia’s interpretation, post-extractivism implies non-exploitative relationships with ourselves and other beings (humxn, other-than-humxn, living and non-living), which are based on reciprocity and leaving space for the regeneration of ourselves and others.

    Julia conducted a series of interviews with artists and designers who engage with embodiment and concepts related to post-extractivism. In the spirit of sharing knowledge, valuable reflections and insights of her interviewees, the conversations will be published on the Baltan website and available for everyone to read.

    Introduction to the interview

    In her first interview, Julia talked to masharu, our long-term collaborator. masharu is a multidisciplinary artist, an earth* eater and an earth lover. They founded Museum of Edible Earth (MEE), which holds more than 500 edible earths eaten by humxns** all around the world. Among the samples, you can find and taste clays, chalks, limestone, volcanic rocks, topsoil, and salt.

    masharu met the soil through a variety of interactions. Their projects within the Intercourse with Clay theme involved engagement of the whole body with clays, soils and rocks. Together with fellow earth lovers, they taste, touch and dance with the soils going beyond the conventional ideas about humxn-soil relationships and showing how we can exercise our capacity for love and intimacy beyond the humxn-centred imaginaries.

    Next to MEE, they are currently working on two ongoing projects - Compost as Superfood and Nonbinary.

    In the interview below, you can read about the challenges the artist experiences in the extractivist world we live in and the ways in which masharu practices reciprocity, degrows their artistic practice and resists the exploitation that extractivist culture imposes.

    The interview
    Zoom call, 19.07.2023

    Julia: As a person who travelled around the globe, how do you feel about the state of the world?

    masharu: It is an interesting question to start with. Different things come to my mind. I guess ‘the world’ implies ‘the world of humxns on the planet Earth’ or ‘humxnity’? If yes, I do not feel very optimistic about its future.
    I can only imagine that there is not so much time left for humxnity to be in the shape it is now. I do not see a stable world around me. There are places like the Netherlands where we experience some stability. At the same time, it does feel like living in a bubble. If someone does not go outside of what is called the ‘Western world’, then they might not feel the severe consequences of for example climate crisis, war, displacement, limited access to food and medical supplies, etc.

    The world is changing quite rapidly. I foresee that for some, the change might be catastrophic. For example, climate change will likely bring loss, destruction and death to those who live in not climate-change-resilient parts of the world. I do believe that my life, here in Amsterdam, will change as well. I think the bubble we live in here will finally pop at some point.

    For my work, I travelled quite a lot, which also shaped my worldview. I feel that the more I travel and see, learn and experience, the more aware I am of how little I actually know. As a humxn, I can produce thoughts and speculations, as I just did, but honestly, I feel like I know nothing, despite three diplomas of higher education (hanging in my toilet). I met a number of highly educated people who in my opinion know very little too. Talking about knowing and not knowing, I believe, the only thing I can know for sure as a humxn is that I will die one day. For the rest actually nothing. Everything else I know might not be true.

    This statement resonates a lot with me. I also wonder how much I actually know and understand about the world around me, despite the enormous amount of information I process every day. And it is hard to live in this uncertainty. I am wondering, in light of what you just said, what is the relationship between your practice and what is happening in the world?

    I do from time to time ask myself the question you raise, and I am often not satisfied. Your topic is the post-extractivist approach, and it is remarkable that in my practice I am also in a way extracting, and accumulating. Can then my practice be seen as extractivist rather than post-extractivist? To answer this question the purposes of post-extractivist practices in juxtaposition to extractivist practices need to be defined. In this way, I see my practice as a representation or reflection of what is happening around me because many things are problematic and questionable, but also it is difficult or maybe impossible to carry on in a non-problematic way.

    I find it crucial to acknowledge the nuance. We are all extractors to some extent and I do not think it is possible not to extract at all. To me, it does matter, however, why, how and from whom one extracts. As we mentioned the extraction, it would be helpful if we discuss what we mean by that. Are you familiar with the term post-/extractivism?

    I am not familiar with this exact terminology, but I would imagine that extractivism refers to extraction. If I were to specify this thought, what comes to my mind first is the ongoing extraction of natural resources, which often leaves behind significant damage, and possibly profiting from it. I imagine that it is not only the resources on the planet Earth that people treat that way, but also other humxns or even themselves. And post-extractivism would imply moving beyond this logic of being.

    As I speak I realise that it could be taken a bit further and extractivism might be connected to contemporary mentality and getting something out of everything. I can imagine that for many it could mean a drive to get the most out of everything, squeezed into the limited time that we have in the busy society we live in right now. It is like if on a personal level, I want to get the most out of my day and complete every task I planned, often regardless of what that means to my well-being.

    I want to acknowledge that I carry this extractivist approach towards myself: the approach of getting as much as possible out of my own body. I sometimes push a lot and want to have things done perfectly when it is not really necessary. And it has consequences for how I interact with my environment, such as my colleagues and collaborators, as well as the planet's environment.

    It is not a very sustainable approach. Just before we started the interview you provided yourself with a good example: this interview is planned from 11:00 to 12:00, and if it is extended, I will not have time to regenerate for my next meeting at 12:15. I am thinking a lot about those things these days, as I am concerned with my own wellbeing, and pushing myself constantly over the edge definitely does not serve it.

    At the same time, as a person living here and managing my life in this society, it is hard for me to imagine how it could be otherwise. That kind of approach seems to be a norm for many people in my environment nowadays.

    That is exactly what I mean by extractivism. Phrasing it as a contemporary mentality of the (considerable part) of the Western world touches the very essence of what I am researching. As you brought up the body, I was wondering what you think is the relationship between the body and extractivism, or better say, the extractivist mentality.

    My answer to this question will be two-fold.

    Within my practice I work with eating earth, it is thus connected to the embodiment of earth. As mentioned before, I do extract as well. However, the intention behind my practice was and is to add something different to the ideas the audience may have about embodying and being in a relationship with earth, which can possibly trigger people to try to move beyond extractivism.

    My practice is rooted in my personal desires and cravings. It is a response to my very physical need to eat earth. In the society I live in right now, it is hard for me not to feel the pressure of all the tasks I need to accomplish every day and not to get caught in having an extractivist approach towards myself as I mentioned before. Eating earth helps me to deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed or challenged beyond my capacity. This is my personal practice, which I decided to share with people via MEE.

    What also comes to my mind regarding the relationship between the body and the extractivism is the decision I made recently. My collection of earth has grown rather big by now and it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage it. I also feel the weight of responsibility as I want to take care of it as well as I can. I started feeling the consequences of my own extractivist approach. It is possible to travel continuously and keep collecting edible earths, but I started asking myself about the purpose of growing my collection as it already had a lot to offer. Eventually, I decided to put a hold on my research trips and instead focus on understanding the meanings behind this collection and how to take good care of it.

    It was not an easy decision to make. Society thrives on ‘more, more and more’ and I find it hard to root this narrative out of my mind. Therefore, I am very grateful for my friends and advisors, whom I could discuss it with. One of them was Arne Hendricks, who you may know from his projects about the degrowth of a humxn - The Incredible Shrinking Man. One of many interesting things he told me was that at some point, it is not that we artists express ourselves through our work, but the work is expressed through us. Maybe in my case, I was hired by the earth to create the MEE. I am honoured to be in service of this unique collection and I am very grateful that it is something I am also making my living with. But I do think it is important to acknowledge when I grow tired, also physically, of my work and I myself need time to revisit the purpose.

    Thank you for sharing this with me. I think it is important to acknowledge that I do not think that the extractivist mentality is not just individual responsibility. The world around us encourages this approach. We can try our best, but we cannot fix it all. I often struggle to understand that and end up feeling quite overwhelmed. As we agreed earlier, it is hard to even state what is that we actually know about the world around us, not to mention to know how to act upon what we know. But you mentioned moving beyond extractivism, or one could say, towards post-extractivism…

    What comes to my mind when speaking about post-extractivism is the practice of reciprocity that I have learned to enact when collecting earths. If I extract earth myself, I try to give some earth back to the place I am extracting from and have a conversation with it. By conversation, I mean a few different things. Depending on the circumstances, I sometimes speak to the place I am in with words, in the way we speak to each other now. I introduce myself, explain what I do in my artistic practice, why I need earth from it and what kind of earth I brought. Other times I carry out this conversation in my head. It then often becomes a moment of deep reflection, which takes all sorts of directions, depending on what the place brings up for me.

    I have to admit, I was not mindful of the reciprocity from the beginning of my journey of collecting edible earths. Thankfully, I have encountered people carrying indigenous wisdom, who taught me how to enact the care I have for earth on a much deeper level. I feel very grateful for that. I also try to be mindful of my relationship with earth outside of the collection moments. Within the initiative Earthing with Elvira Semmoh and Nelson Carrilho we brought different earth samples to the sculpture of Mama Baranka - Mother Earth, close to my studio in Amsterdam. I find it important to give my attention to earth as I carry on with my daily life.

    **Fascinating. It makes me think of “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer and the rules of Honourable Harvest the author describes, which speak of that exactly*. Relating to your practice and your experiences, if we were to move towards a post-extractivist society, what would you suggest the first steps for a person to take?

    To be completely honest, I am telling you all these things, but I still feel that I do not know how to be in the dialogue or connection with the earth, as deeply and as often as I would like to. Even though my roots are in the north of Russia where the connection to the living and non-living environment is very present in traditional communities in people’s everyday lives, especially in the rural areas, where I had a chance to profoundly experience it myself. In general, it is very uplifting for me to be in places where people live through being in a mindful and close relationship with the environment around them. Still, it is difficult for me to proceed with my life in this manner.

    Thinking about what would need to happen for us to move beyond extractivism, I believe that some change on a personal level needs to occur. I do see a link between disconnection from oneself and an extractivist approach towards oneself and others. I can imagine that for some talking to earth, a tree or a sea may seem nonsense. Maybe it is. On the other hand, even if we assume it is not possible to talk to earth, then it could be a conversation with a true version of myself that does not need to play societal roles or respond to societal expectations. I also heard from some people from the exhibition audience that they experienced getting connected to various places around the globe by eating earth from those places. Sometimes I hear someone saying that they feel themselves in that or this place or see images (or visions) from there. I get the impression that oral consumption of earth gives people a glimpse of travel through space and time, which impacts the way they think of earth.

    I ask myself sometimes how we could develop the practice of being in dialogue and connection with humxns and non-humxns in a metropolis such as Amsterdam for example. I have been to places where people would for example ask permission from a place to build a house there. But looking at my closest surroundings, I see my practices of connecting to earth as something I can conduct as an individual. For it to become a habit of Amsterdamers, I believe, a larger societal change would need to occur.

    As a final point, I also wonder how different the world would be if for instance authorities or politicians asked the land or the sea for their opinion on the projects and plans they are making. To conclude, in my view, having some kind of dialogue with the environment, rather than acting as if we are entitled to exploit it as much as we like is fundamental in moving towards a post-extractivist society.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, experiences and practices with me. Hearing about your relationship with earth will certainly leave an impact on how I interact with the environment around me, hopefully making it more caring and mindful.

    *earth refers to the samples of soils and clays collected in MEE, as well as an entity. As a reader, you are welcome to explore other interpretations and ways of understanding and describing earth.

    **masharu uses the term to de-centre a white-abled heterosexual cisman born in the Western world as a representative of the whole of humanity on the planet Earth

    *From Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants** (2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Milkweed editions. Pages: 193-194.
    “Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
    Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
    Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
    Take only that which is given.
    Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
    Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
    Give thanks for what you have been given.
    Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
    Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”

    Photo credit:
    "masharu, “The Museum of Edible Earth”, 2017 – en cours. View of the exhibition “IN TRANSFER – A New Condition”. The exhibition is commissioned by Esch2022 – European Capital of Culture and produced in collaboration with Ars Electronica. Curators: Martin Honzik and Laura Welzenbach."


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