Waiting and Working with Worms are part of a series of collaborative art works, co-composed by Maria Miranda and Norie Neumark with worms. For us, as for many artists, a crucial question presented itself before we began the project – how to work with nonhuman animals ethically and politically as well as aesthetically… in ways that don’t exploit their vulnerability. In other words, how to collaborate, to work with them, attending to their intelligence and creativity and sociality, rather than using them or putting them on display. To burrow into these concerns, we decided to work with worms in our suburban backyard. We were initially drawn to work with worms when we sensed an affinity between our commitment to recycling and their composting/transformational skills. We delighted, too, at the way that we shared vegetarianism, recycling, and a love of coffee. Normally overlooked in the background, even despised, or unnoticed, they are so vital to the existence of humans, nonhumans and the environment as they literally make the topsoil that grows our food and replenishes the earth. Yet these amazing critters still retain much mystery, at the same time as being a common part of every-day life
In our ongoing composting collaborations, we fed the worms what we were eating and they transformed ‘dead’ matter into live soil, nourishing us with castings and with so much food for thought. Over time, we began to feel a strange but intimate emotional connection to the earthworms. We decided to try to attune to them through listening to their voices and amplifying them through our own bodies. We were inspired in this by theorist Vinciane Despret who comes at these issues through the figure of with-ness–describing possibilities of human-nonhuman animal relations as a mutual attunement—a passionate, bodily with-ness. Eager to collaborate, to co-compose an artwork together, we began this ongoing durational project, recording sounds and voices, making videos and taking photos, and blogging. We worked with the methodologies of listening—to the worms’ voices— and of waiting—attuning to their time, which, of course, turned out to be different from ours (which included, btw, a disinterest in appearing for video shoots according to our timetable). With time, we became committed to collaborating by waiting and listening, rather than compelling them to appear or speak.
For over twenty years Maria Miranda and Norie Neumark have worked as out-of-sync (www.out-of-sync.com), making collaborative projects that explore cultural and philosophical concerns through material processes that unfold in our everyday life. Our work is often a prolonged meditation on a problem, idea or situation that arises in our own lives. The work unfolds through reading, talking, walking and eventually materializes as a mixed media installation, usually featuring video and sound. For the past 5 years, animals have been worming their way into our concerns and practice. And most recently worms have brought us to compost and gardening as part of our art practice.
Norie Neumark is a sound/media artist, theorist, composter and gardener. Her radiophonic works have been commissioned and broadcast in Australia (ABC) and in the US. Her collaborative art practice with Maria Miranda (www.out-of-sync.com) has been commissioned and exhibited nationally and internationally. Her current passion is human-animal relations, environmental concerns, and voice. Her writing on voice includes Voicetracks: attuning to voice in media and the arts (MIT Press, 2017) and Voice: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media, (MIT Press, 2010), lead editor and contributor. She is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at VCA and Emeritus Professor, La Trobe University, Melbourne, and the founding editor of Unlikely: Journal for Creative Arts. http://unlikely.net.au
Maria Miranda is an artist, scholar, composter, and gardener. She has maintained a collaborative art practice with Norie Neumark as Out-of-Sync since 1993 – making work that engages with questions of culture, place and memory (www.out-of-sync.com). Their work has been nationally and internationally exhibited. Maria was awarded a DECRA Research Fellowship for The Cultural Economy of Artist-Run Initiatives in Australia ( http://the-ari-experience.com). She is the author of Unsitely Aesthetics: uncertain practices in contemporary art (Errant Bodies Press, 2013) and co-editor of An Act of Showing: Rethinking artist-run initiatives through place (Unlikely publications 2018)