Louis Henderson at Sonic Acts, photo by Pieter Kers
By Hannah Klaubert
“Animism is the only sensible version of materialism”. Filmmaker Louis Henderson
named his talk on the first day of the Sonic Acts Academy after this quote by anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. This idea of animism, as has become clear through Henderson’s presentation, forms the basis around which he builds his video works. But what exactly is animism? And why is it a ‘sensible materialism’?
Basically, this position comes down to a critique of one idea that has been extremely persistent in the Western history of thought: that everything around us, all matter including chairs, apples, mountains or minerals, are inanimate and passive things. We humans on the other hand have a rational and immaterial mind that differentiates us from our the things around us. Mind and body are two separate things. We are animate and have the agency to form our surrounding world through our actions.
Animism turns this upside down: thought and subjectivity cannot be separated from the material, but come into being through a multitude of human and non-human actors. We perceive through our eyes and skin, through touch. We are also shaped through other objects around us, such as our computers and phones.
Why is this relevant for us, and in particular for the production and perception of art? Firstly, an animist perspective, as Henderson shows in his work, makes it possible to understand the circuits of power, money and material in which our globalised technologies circulate. In tracing connections between gold-mining, e-waste, religious email-scamming rituals and the ephemeral ‘cloud’, Henderson follows the material through (colonial and capitalist) power structures and gains new perspectives on the weird assemblages of matter and meaning that cross our global society. Secondly, animism allows for a new perspective on artistic practice itself. It can shed new light on the camera as an active mediator, and different forms of digital and narrative representations of reality. Camera, code, copper and dirt are all with us in the cinema when we watch Henderson’s work: it creates shared subjectivities that fluctuate between places and experiences.
Animism pays attention to the material, it pays attention to the senses. It is sensible to the ethical ambiguities in which both operate. This is why we can call animism a sensible materialism.