Maya Marshak and Cara Stacey collaborated on a piece called In/Visibilities which was exhibited at the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) Live Art Festival in September 2018.

Agri/cultural environments entangle humans and ‘other’ life-forms. Over millennia agricultural seed has come into being as a collaborative process, involving humans and a plethora of other organisms, from mammals to microbes, all linked in a shifting and evolving ecological constellation.

Throughout history, relationships with land, landscapes and ecologies have undergone immense changes. Industrial agriculture with its colonial roots has deeply affected people and agoecological environments, as well as the relationships between them.

Focusing on insects this piece combines hand-drawn animations with soundscape recordings, to tell a story of agricultural change, visibilities, invisibilities, dwindling diversity and ghosts.

Both the sound and the images move from diversity to monotony, representing the way agricultural technologies have impacted ecological systems as well as the knowledges related to them.

The diverse sounds were recorded in agroecological maize fields while the more monotonous sound was recorded in genetically modified maize fields. Many of the insects depicted are drawn from dusty agricultural entomology collections which today are rarely consulted. Others represent species of insects found in the area in which the sound recordings were made. In the final part of the animation only stem borers are left. These are key pests found in maize fields; some, termed ‘superbugs’, have begun developing resistance to toxins introduced to manage them.

The soundscapes were recorded by Cara Stacey in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in the maize fields of Make Ngwenya and Hlengiwe Zungu, who are working along with other farmers to restore traditional agricultural seed and practices. The piece draws attention to the loss of ecological diversity in agricultural environments as well as the knowledge linked to this diversity. It underscores the importance of imagining a future of food based on multiple pathways, multispecies relationships and multiple ways of knowing.

This collaborative piece was an output of Maya Marshak’s PhD project which was linked to and supported by the Agri/cultures Project (GenØk), the University of Cape Town’s NRF/DST SARChI Bio-economy Research Chair and The Seed and Knowledge Initiative.

Follow this link to see the animation and hear the accompanying soundscapes.