Between the Rains, work in progress

2023, Video, UHD, 30 min, stereo sound

Short Project Description

Between the Rains is a multi-chapter experimental video work in the early stages of production. It explores contaminated and collaborative visions, such as fungal, machine, and neurologically non-normative visions, and their impact on human bodies and knowledge systems. The project looks at porous bodies, touching upon non-normative vision, historical mass social contagion, and knowledge systems' indebtedness to encounters with the more-than-human.

The video aims to create composite environments that organize bridges between the imaginary from elsewhen, the social reality right here, and the forgotten histories of forerunners engaged with socially expanded practices, talking to the people, the divine, and the unknown.
The project focuses on two vectors: ergot fungus, literally a mushroom at the end of a world, and AI as blackbox and (pseudo-)prophetic machine, which generate new landscapes of thought and, possibly, togetherness. The project explores how these vectors are linked with notions of productivity and futurity, how reductive narratives, biases and blind spots can be challenged, and how both are strongly connected to human brains' plasticities. Seeking out collaborators affected by chronic or acute migraines with hallucinatory elements, it investigates embodied knowledges of heightened attunedness. The project taps into hybrid filmmaking, compositing sculpturally with layered rear-projections, collaging bodies via costume, and corrupting AI-based images with the „noise“ of human movement and agency.

Production stills

Research Images

In-Depth Project Description & Central Questions

IBetween the Rains is an experimental video work in three chapters which is currently in the early stages of production. Between the Rains is a journey through contaminated and collaborative visions - fungal vision, machine vision, neurologically influenced visions and humans in their midst as material and medium. How do the boundaries of human bodies and the knowledges situated within them shift when influenced by organisms, landscapes, or technologies? Between the Rains looks at porous bodies and hybrid assemblages of human and non-human embodied knowledges and touches upon neurologically non-normative vision, historical mass social contagion and its effects, and knowledge systems' indebtedness to encounters with the more-than-human.

Human and more-than-human sensoriums contaminate each other to give rise to future-making and future-sensing tools through the ages. Gases emanating from the earth, sheep‘s livers, lab rats, Spores, Drones, Probes, Carriers, Rovers and Neural Networks – all of them have been active information-gatherers at frontiers of the knowable. The metabolisms of knowledge-making involve many bodies and movements.
What practices of storytelling, representation, visualization and communication do humans employ in our relation to the non- or posthuman? The European tradition of fables, for instance, and the myths of all pre-literary cultures are rife with metamorphoses and chimeric creatures. Experimental and speculative literature and art have since elaborated on these tropes and created many new ways of colliding and merging humanity with the vast domains of life, sentience, and agency that reside adjoining to it. The boundaries of what it means to be human have shifted over the course of history; companies have been granted personhood, rivers and stones too which is super important now in the face of mass extinction. What are moving image methodologies pointing to a cinema beyond the human? How to „give voice“ to non-human agents without talking over them?

Gaining visual material from heterogenous sources and processes, Between the Rains aims for plasticity. The moving image work makes use of hybridized image-making strategies, compositing in space with layered rear-projections, literally collaging bodies via costume, and corrupting AI-based images with the noise of human movement and agency. The aim is to create composite environments that organize bridges between the imaginary from elsewhere, the social reality right here, and the forgotten histories of forerunners engaged with socially expanded practices, talking to the people, the divine, and the unknown.

To approach the complex, I look at two particular encounters: AI as prophetic machine and blackbox, and ergot fungus as, literally, a mushroom at the end of a world.

The fungus Claviceps Purpurea, better known as ergot, grows on grain after prolonged rains and has led to sicknesses of many names, hallucinations, and mass dances and social contagion in central Europe all through the middle ages. For centuries, the ingestion of this fungus wreaks havoc among the population, spurs the foundation of well-known orders and cloisters, gives rise to new hybrid, collaged bodies in visual culture, empathy-machine virtualities in religious image programs and early amputating medicine. It also lead, famously, to the so-called Dancing Plague, some well chronicled incidents happening 1278 in Maastricht, in 1374 in Aachen and 1518 in Strasbourg, a. o. Being a class sickness, St Anthony‘s fire epidemics follow in the wake of wet (poor) harvests. In Bosch‘s images, like in Grünewald‘s altarpiece of the Isenheim (Colmar monastery, we find visions of this suffering – both externally visible in streets and homes, and internally seen, felt and communicated via artistic media.

The project‘s second vector is an AI, trained on myriads of generated human faces, now repurposed to propose new landscapes. I‘ve started experimenting with Generative Adversarial Networks, image-generating consumer AI, with the aim of generating images formed by cooperative inputs by landscapes, human storytelling agency and technology. The inputs of collected landscapes and architectures around the Elsass region have been the base for my first experiments around hybrid landscapes springing from the union of environment, human storytelling agency and technology. The architecture of AI is a blackbox, but its territory is not – potentially, it is the entire planet. The knowledge structures of AI are also in the trees, in the forest, in the roots, in the rhizomes, in the way bees and birds swarm. It is not, as tech capital would have us believe, a new singular event and god-like solution of unattainable objectiveness; rather, it is a continuation of human wisdom and knowledge building strategies, including early divination practices, and necessarily influenced and tinted by various bags of beliefs.

Both present interesting bundles of embodied Welt-wissen and are strongly linked with notions of productivity and futurity. The predictive becomes the prescriptive, and ultimately, the real. Both myceliae and neural networks are models and parallels for the human brain. What if there's a glitch in the human brain? One that cannot be explained, keeps rubbing up against simplistic productivity dogma, and puts heavier afflicted individuals at the fringes of society?

Since I was 17, I suffer from classic migraines with hallucinatory auras, a family heirloom. My first medication contained ergotamin, an alkaloid derived from the ergot fungus („Mutterkorn“) that grows on grain after prolonged rains. Last November, I travelled to the Elsass region to investigate the remnants and traces of the centuries-long ergot epidemics that haunt the region, and, invisibly, most of central europe. Reading medieval manuscripts from the 15th century (e.g. Hildegard von Bingen, Julian of Norwich) it becomes apparent that some of the mystics' visions describe exactly this aura, which I know myself.
Hildegard von Bingen and many other female living saints were afflicted with neurological diseases that only much later were theorized. The special suspicion they faced from both church and believers poses a parallel of contemporary ableist disbelief and demand of proof. But more importantly, they have embodied knowledge of becoming porous and permeable to environments and life rhythms, triggered into cascading pains and periods of inertia by mostly unknown factors. Highly reactive, sensitive and heightened awareness...
I would like to get in contact with other migraineurs, listen to and collect their stories and also enter into collaborations for artistic production on this topic. As an "invisible" neurological disease, many people, especially in the working world, still have to deal with the successor of the suspicion of ...
I would like to make an innovative and trans-temporal contribution to the dismantling of reductive and ableist productivity dogmas and also develop a cinematic language/strategy that interacts with the non-sayable or non-showable and makes it possible to experience it in an unconventional way.

Can the porosity of so-called deviant bodies and minds be instructive for the impending age of mass extinction? What is the delicate balance in speculative approaches of the future between the predictive and the prescriptive (as in AI)? The mystic finds joy in the dissolution of self—its “corruption or partition” on the way to nothingness. The so-called insane person fights to retain ontological security out of fear. The mystic actively deconstructs the self in the name of love. Contemporary debates about the relationship between personhood and materiality spring from the same set of concerns that medievals were preoccupied with. Religion, flawed as it is, has at points throughout history offered a language for describing First Contact with the unknowable. The allure and the terror of the technological singularity, whereby humans meld with machines, indicate a deep unease about animacy and liveliness.
Between the rains frames contamination as decidedly positive and believes that the loss of boundaried self is only truly horrifying within an anthropocentric framework that prizes human being in its current state over all other forms and ways of being.

My aim is to connect personal stories with scientific findings and speculative investigations, in order to to address contemporary issues by reworking historical material, experimenting with visual languages to establish a new vocabulary that combines mythologies and new technologies.

It is clear, now more than ever, that certain historic models can no longer hold, as demonstrated by the systemic disruption of political, social, economic and ecological strata, bastions of a dimming era. Collaborative constructions serve as the blueprint of a new ecosystem when individualist hero's journey plots have failed us. An investigation into the alternative construction of the self within ever-fluctuating boundaries, provides a robust breeding ground for decentralized creative processes. In this sense, this multi-source agency serves as vital resistance to inertia.

      All images and content if not stated otherwise © Laura Leppert 2023.