The apparatus of animal tracking…

“To ‘de-passion’ knowledge does not give us a more objective world, it just gives us a world ‘without us´; and therefore, without ‘them´- lines are traced so fast. And as long as this world appears as a world ‘we don´t care for´, it also becomes an impoverished world […], a world of enthusiastic automata observing strange and mute creatures; in other words, a poorly articulated (and poorly articulating) world.”[1]

In 2017 the image of a map in a newspaper covered with a network of coloured lines captured me. It was generated by a complex apparatus of researcher, satellites, RDF-transmitters and tagged migratory birds. The interwoven lines of the avian routes were quite abstract, in the same way tremendously vivid and fidgety. They incorporated the knowledge of millions of birds crossing continents and seas in order to survive. Some lines made circles of happy returns, some stopped tragically in the middle of the pale blue graphic of the sea. I felt strongly connected to the lives and deaths of the avian voyagers. The graphical visualisation transformed their routes into rich stories about nonhuman migration. I imagined the ornithologists sitting in front of their computer and trying to decipher the stories the lines were telling them: The lines of the routes of birds being on the move.

Animal tracking as research practice seems to be revolutionary. Never again migration birds have to spend their lifetime in cages to tell something about their migrational habits.[2] Once they are tagged, they are supposed to spend their lives as they want to. Nevertheless, there is a crucial difference in their being in the world compared to before. Tagged migratory birds are part of an anthropogenic apparatus, which produces objective and mute animals according to the idea of a distinct nature.[3] The birds´ articulations are distilled to numeric data and coordinates, the apparatus is not capable of any other languages. In addition, the researchers gaze is rendered invisible in the lineal graphics of the routes. Thus, the apparatus of animal tracking leads to an anthropocentric practice of simplification and produces de-passionate stories of a world full of different and important voices which should be articulated.

…gets enriched

Following a bird which was forced to carry a RDF-transmitter and speaking about a common travel would be a wrong conclusion. The common aspect of the parametrical travel is not the act of traveling together, but the consciousness about the fact, that our lives are interwoven affairs. Migratory birds do have this consciousness. Their habitats are inherently exposed to anthropogenic contamination.[4] Without the ability to react to these influences they would not have survived. A crucial amount of humans have lost this consciousness. They have habituated their abilities of ignoring and of not being affected.[5]

By linking the practice of animal tracking with my project the apparatus is getting extended. On the one hand its set-up enables me to travel with a tagged migratory bird, while on the other my participation extends the apparatus with an incorporated possibility of crossspecies-articulation. For the apparatus the white stork is almost a silent object. The practices of animal tracking do not focus on mutual communication. The RDF-transmitter is not an interface, but a tied force of positioning. By joining the apparatus with my willingness to articulate and my interest in understanding the articulations of a white stork the apparatus is aligned differently. By being open for conversation I am creating the basis for redistributing the conditions of knowledge production. Through my participation white storks are able to question the set-up of the apparatus and therefore retrieve their capability for dissent.[6]

[1] Despret, Vinciane: The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis, Article in Body & Society, SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi, 2004, p. 131

[2] C.f. Berthold, Peter: Vogelzug- Eine aktuelle Gesamtübersicht, WBG, Darmstadt, 2012

[3] C.f. Latour, Bruno: We have never been modern, Havard University Press, Cambridge and Massachusetts, 1993

[4] The word is understood in a neutral manner. C.f. Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt: The mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2015, p.32

[5] Van Dooren, Thom: Flight Ways- Life and Loss at the edge of extinction, Columbia University Press, New York, 2014, p. 140

[6] Despret, Vinciane: The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis, Article in Body & Society, SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi, 2004, p. 124