Jordan Rapaport and Liana Zhen-ai Kleinman
premiered at Ki Smith Gallery,
January 23, 2021
presented at SMUSH Gallery
April 30-May 1, 20221
new immortal, a multimedia work by Liana Zhen-ai and Jordan Rapaport, imagines a world in which archaeologists of the future dig up evidence of our impact on the planet. With the discovery of discarded single-use plastics, antiquated technology, and skeletons of disappearing species come memories, the faint evidence of the ways these lost objects touched us as much as we touched them. In this temporally warped, melting history, who speaks? When we re-write the story of the planet, who lives to tell the tale? Can the dissolution of narrative allow new voices to enter the scene, and history to be written by new victors?
the term new immortals comes from the editorial preface to an edition of Environmental Philosophy, coined by the authors Michelle Bastien and Thom van Dooren. The term describes man-made objects that interpellate the creator into a future which they may or may not see. a plastic bag, for instance, takes between 200 to 1000 years to degrade. when we make or interact with the bag, we leave traces of ourselves - our labor, our desires, and our needs. we are entangled with an object that will live for longer than ourselves, that, within the purview of our lifetimes, is immortal. these objects form the geology of a distant future - archeologists will one day find geologic strata which show layers of Walkmen, then iPod shuffles, then quantum computers, and so forth. new immortals tell the story of human impact on the planet.
they are also wormholes into our understanding of the climate crisis. in a small way, throwing away a plastic bag demonstrates our inability to understand or grapple with the immensity of anthropogenic climate change. just as a plastic bag is both a momentary possession and an immortal being, climate change works on strangely warping time scales. when we talk about climate change, we speak in future tense: by 2050, sea levels will have risen four to eight inches right here in New York. the climate crisis is also something we hypothesize about as a historical event, did the beginning of global warming begin when we began to notice its effects in the 1960s, or during the first spike in carbon emissions during the industrial revolution, or from our first forays into agriculture? when we try to pin down climate change, place it inside the story of humanity, it becomes slippery.
stories themselves become slippery. when our background, our environment, becomes the foreground, what happens to narratives? in this work, we attempt to communicate with non-human entities, touch the hole in the ozone, and confront our collective climate grief.
-liana zhen-ai kleinman
workshop participant grief phrases
Accompanying the performance of new immortal, I conducted a series of workshops at SMUSH Gallery in Jersey City from April 30th - May 1st, 2022. During the workshops, I guided participants through a movement warm up that brought them, physically, to different viewpoints, noticing how the room looked different when they were at eye level with the ground, or how they experienced the air around them differently when they jumped. The goal of this physical investigation was to come into a visceral understanding of how the sensations of non-human entities might differ from our own. We engaged in a discussion of the term ‘new immortal’, and talked about how the lifetime of objects, and especially non-biodegradable objects, exists outside of our own narrative.
In homage to new immortals, workshop attendees created a movement phrase they might use to mourn a new immortal they disposed of. The movement phrase imagined a world in which every time we disposed of an object, we performed this mourning rite. We investigated how emotionally and physically exhausting the repetition of this performance was, and how absurd it might be to perform this movement over and over. Disposing of new immortals is similarly absurd, a sentiment we felt with our bodies as much as understood with our minds.
created with the support of the Monira Foundation and SMUSH Gallery and with funding from London Contemporary Dance School