Honoring the Moon’s Otherworldly Presence

Lark Alder a.k.a. VCR’s project ..o0o.. Virtual Moon Altar for Global Ritual and Connection replies to the 13th Web Residencies call »Muntu Maxims«, and aims to unite people in a worldwide observance of the lunar cycle. In the following text, Lark Alder discusses the connection that the moon cycle creates between people worldwide, other species, and objects, as well as their individual practices of relating to the moon.

Lark Alder (VCR) in conversation with Denise Helene Sumi — Dez 17, 2020

Denise Helene Sumi: How does the lunar cycle connect, well, everything on earth?

Lark Alder: I’ve been keeping a journal about my observation of the moon since the start of the Web Residency, which happened to coincide with the new moon on November 14. One thing I wrote that sticks with me is:

»The truth is that I often feel lost in time, space, and tradition. The moon is the one thing that grounds me – a landmark that is both stable and constantly in motion. (…) The moon’s presence is multidimensional – both tangible and otherworldly«

So I would like to start with that statement, as I feel it sums up the way the lunar cycle unites us all through constant cyclical change that marks the passing of time. By definition it is a global experience as the moon phases are experienced simultaneously in all parts of the world. It is an experience shared by all planetary beings now, as well as ancestors of the past. Regarding human perspectives, there are countless cultural beliefs and practices related to the moon: both new and old, and those that are lost to time. Many of these cultural practices, faiths, and mythologies have common themes that highlight cycles of fertility, death, (re)birth, and time passing. Though my intention for the project ..o0o.. is to highlight these connections and how they intersect with the natural world, I quickly became overwhelmed by the vastness and complexity of cultural traditions.

»By definition it is a global experience as the moon phases are experienced simultaneously in all parts of the world. It is an experience shared by all planetary beings now, as well as ancestors of the past.«

Luckily, the time-scale for ..o0o.. is much longer than this month-long residency. It will roll out as biweekly posts over the next lunar year (twelve lunar cycles, or lunations). You can subscribe to a mailing list here. The research and sharing of cultural perspectives merits a slow and thoughtful approach, as so many cultural practices are appropriated and exploited through this very process. Plus, the moon’s presence is multidimensional – both tangible and otherworldly. There is too much to consider at once, and I see the process of connecting with the moon’s cycles to be in itself a process of slowing down. So at the end of this year, I will have much more information to share in response to your question. The way I see it, this project will take the form of a tapestry, while right now I am organizing the thread.

Denise Helene Sumi: As an entry point, rather than looking at the vast mythologies and cultural practices related to the moon, you turned to the natural world. The book Moonstruck: How Lunar Cycles Affect Life by Ernest Naylor was one source you were looking at. In connection with the question just asked – could you give more examples of how the moon affects the living beings, the natural world and its objects, by means of physical/genetic forces?

Lark Alder: Yes, rather than starting with human cultural practices and beliefs, I have begun by studying how the moon’s astronomical presence affects our planet’s physical matter and biology. This is no doubt laying the foundation for this project with the more »sciencey« side, but I don’t mean to equate science with »truth« or foundation. Many science-based studies I have come across purport to debunk myth and folklore, or grumble about how people’s cultural beliefs taint the accuracy of their studies – as if it were possible to untangle our networked existence.

I don’t see science as having more value than intuitive, indigenous, folk, or faith-based knowledge, nor the wisdom of the plant and animal world. I was recently introduced to the term »deep mapping,« which feels true to how I am approaching this project as a holographic, multidimensional exploration of the moon.

I am starting with the physical/astronomical presence of the moon simply because it is a planetary experience and a nice point of departure. From this perspective, these are the three ways I believe the moon most impacts the life and matter on our planet:

1) Illumination of the night sky
2) Marker of time passing
3) Gravitational pull and effect on tides

I am compiling a lot of research on these topics and will publish them in a future post. The long and short of it is that life’s evolution is informed by the lunar cycle. There is growing evidence that organisms (including humans) possess internal circalunar clocks – we are all lunar creatures.

Illumination of the night sky
Just as there is a 24-hour cycle of light and dark, there is a 29.5-day lunar cycle of nocturnal illumination. Certain species of flowers bloom in the full moon, as they are pollinated by nocturnal moths and other insects who use the moon to navigate. Nocturnal activity of birds who eat those insects also increases on the full moons.

When you are in areas without light pollution, the light of the full moon is bright. For most of human existence (before electricity), the light of the full moon made nocturnal activity much easier. The full moon was a time to travel, to gather, to stay awake through the night. It was the original disco.

Conversely, the new moon, when the night sky is dark, is a time we associate with rest, reflection; it is the more introspective part of the cycle. Much like the winter months. In these ways, our evolution is informed by the lunar cycle.

Marker of time passing
The moon is one of the most prominent and exact markers of time passing. Many animals (especially sea creatures) time their mating events to surprisingly exact phases of the moon. Just a few weeks ago, the coral of the Great Barrier Reef erupted in a massive spawning event, which occurs annually a few days after the Full Moon in November/December. Sea urchins, Palolo worms, flatworms, sand crabs, and sea lice are other examples, and many studies show how animals who live in intertidal zones maintain these rhythms even when removed from all environmental stimuli. They possess internal clocks that keep track of the lunar cycles. These are known as circalunar rhythms in the field of chronobiology, similar to the more familiar daily circadian rhythms, and there is growing speculation that humans might also possess genes that are attuned with lunar cycles.

Regardless of whether you can sense it internally, we can certainly keep track of the lunar cycle by looking at the sky – it is the original calendar.

Gravitational pull and effect on tides
I like to surf – the changing tides are the way I am most intimately aware of the changing moon phases. Some beaches are only surfable at certain tides, the shapes of the waves shift based on how the water meets the ocean floor. The tides are much more extreme during new and full moons when the earth, sun, and moon are all aligned. For animals in the intertidal zone, awareness of the tides can be a matter of life or death. I could go on about flatworms and sandcrabs, but will save that for a future post.

Denise Helene Sumi: The observation of the lunar cycle and associated social practices are ancient cultural, mostly analogue practices. To what extent do you reproduce or alter particular ancient practices and rituals and its narratives through your online moon altar?

Lark Alder: Well, this remains to be seen as the project is just beginning and will evolve over a year of lunar cycles. Did I mention that the dates of this residency start and end on/around the new moon? It is an auspicious beginning. I originally proposed it as an »Online Moon Altar,« thinking it would be a site of collective ritual practice, though I started to conceive of it more as a site of »Virtual Moon Reverence« to be more inclusive of all the shapes it takes as it is starting to feel more like a temple/shrine, as well as simply a source of information. Because it is entirely nonverbal, with no text, the information conveyed is more implied than stated. I am hoping to give the viewer the opportunity to intuit their own meaning and draw from their own sociogeographical and cultural experiences. So in that way it is very different then most traditions, which tell you a story or provide a set of instructions.

»I don’t see science as having more value than intuitive, indigenous, folk, or faith-based knowledge, nor the wisdom of the plant and animal world.«

As I mentioned, I am slowly moving to be thoughtful in my approach for referencing cultural practices. There is a fine line and a lot of gray area between honoring traditions and carving them up for consumption. It is not my intention to partake in appropriative practices that are so common in the realm of modern spirituality – which I have certainly seen my share of as a third-generation white Californian. At the same time, these cultural systems offer wisdom of great value and deserve acknowledgement, as they have certainly informed my own practices and approach to this project as a temple/shrine/altar. My goal is to be intentional and well-informed in how I bring them in, especially as I am not using language which makes it much more difficult to create a context/container for sharing.

One modern cultural perspective I look to reframe is how, as a child, I was often told that »the sun is the source of life.« The history of the moon offers a much more subtle take on what facilitates life on Earth – reminding us of how the less forceful presence is often overlooked in patriarchal, western, war-based, and settler-colonial societies – true to how many cultural perspectives of the moon are aligned with the feminine.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Honoring the Moon’s Otherworldly Presence

Work in progress, ..oOo.. »🤩🌗🌚🌓🤩 Virtual Moon Reverence «, 2020

Denise Helene Sumi: It is common knowledge that the human menstrual cycle synchronizes with the lunar cycle. With your background in queer-feminist theory, I’d like to talk about identity politics, genetic research, and categories such as »the masculine« and »the feminine.«

Lark Alder: Yes, I am cautious to equate the moon with »women,« as much of what people are referring to is menstruation. Referring to »women« in this regard equates gender with biology. Taking into account people who trans/nonbinary/gender noncomforming, many women/feminine people do not menstruate, while many men/masculine people do. And it is important to remember that the persecution of women as »witches« also includes these other targeted genders and people who practiced indigenous and earth-based healing practices.

»Because I have been thinking so much about all the women and other targeted genders who were prosecuted, tortured, and killed based on their relationship to the natural world, I also started to conceive of the temple as a mausoleum of sorts, a place to honor those whose lives were taken«

That said, I consider the moon to be aligned with the feminine, which is distinct from the term »women.« Much of this association stems from the menstrual cycle’s close correspondence to the lunar cycle (though the time of one lunation is actually a little longer than the average menstrual cycle, 29.5 versus 28 days). However, there are other converging factors, like the moon’s more subtle presence compared to the sun, or the fact that notions of witchcraft became associated with observance of the natural world such as the cycles of the moon.

Denise Helene Sumi: You were introduced to new and full moon rituals through New Age »woo,« right? There is a lot of criticism of the New Age movement, especially in the light of its marketing and the stereotypes it produces. Can you share this criticism?

Lark Alder: Yes, I absolutely share this criticism. But it is a »both-and« situation. »Woo« is a funny term, as it engenders a type of criticism about New Age-y culture itself – I use it to make fun of myself as much as I take it seriously as a term. To have just the woo with no politics is appropriative and irresponsible. But to look at everything through a primarily critical lens is no way to live. I think about this in terms of the queer theorist Eve Sedgewick’s concept of a reparative read. In contrast to the critical read, which is based in negative affect and the desire to expose blind spots and oppressive ideologies. The reparative read is rooted in positive affect: pleasure, curiosity, hope. The reparative read asks: What are the parts we can appreciate/learn from, even though the work is problematic? Sedgwick argues, and I agree, that we need both reparative and critical reads.

I have spent most of the past month reflecting on my own relationship to the moon and to intuitive practices in general. Specifically, I have been reflecting on the ways that modern Neo-Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft are appropriative or disrespectful to people who were persecuted for being witches. Something Sylvia Federici said in a talk I attended this month was useful to hear at this moment. She expressed her distaste for the way »witch« has been reclaimed/fetishized by contemporary movements, as it was not something people identified as, but a label they died protesting. In an article shared in our reading group, Isabelle Stengers quotes a statement by neo-pagan Starhawk, who said »The smoke of the burned witches still hangs in our nostrils.« As we reference tradition, we must not forget those who came before us, nor the fact that women and other targeted genders are still persecuted to this day, albeit in different forms.

Because I have been thinking so much about all the women and other targeted genders who were prosecuted, tortured, and killed based on their relationship to the natural world, I also started to conceive of the temple as a mausoleum of sorts, a place to honor those whose lives were taken, though it is all very abstract as of now. Because both the internet and the world of the unseen are so dense, I intend to approach this with great reverence, respect, and care.

Denise Helene Sumi: Do you recognize tensions between ancient practices and your use of technology for worshipping the lunar cycles? What potential do you see in the use of relatively young and independent technologies for a self-determined engagement with the moon cycles?

Lark Alder: I am laughing at the word »tension« after the attempt at the new moon Zoom ritual we had today. I was so flustered by navigating the technical aspects (which included routing my cell phone camera to Zoom so I could display a bathtub with rocks slowly filling with water) that I was completely unable to tune in and hold space. I could blame it on the fact that it was also an eclipse, or my last-minute decision to rescue a puppy the day before, but it left me feeling that I was trying to do the impossible in merging a very embodied practice with a virtual one. But I think that »impossible« spaces are the most exciting ones to explore.

Still, it would be strange to only observe the moon primarily through a digital device, just as it would be bizarre to use your cell phone to breathe. I feel it is important to move the project off-screen into physical space – one that you walk by rather than link to. An object that facilitates grounded connection rather than distraction. To this end I am making a printable lunar calendar which will be available in early January and am very excited about.

Denise Helene Sumi: You started your work conceptually with an altar – a place of worship. What is it for? Do we need an altar as a medium? Isn’t the moon the ultimate shrine itself?

Lark Alder: EXACTLY!!!! The natural world is the magic. It is the spell.

We do not need a place of worship. The moon offers us that through her presence in the sky. But I do think it is easier for people to enter a mode of reverence through spatial orientation. The altar/shrine/temple offers a designated space to enter that mindset. In pondering what the ritual should look like, it struck me that it wasn’t so much what people did to observe the moon cycle, but that they were paying attention at all.

»To have just the woo with no politics is appropriative and irresponsible. But to look at everything through a primarily critical lens is no way to live.«

Denise Helene Sumi: One of the key aspects of the online altar ..o0o.. is that it’s nonverbal. As a visitor, I enter an immersive virtual environment with specially composed synth sounds, inhabited by 3D-scanned objects, and the central altar, without written explanation. Why is this contemplative and sensory focus central to the work? Where exactly in the virtual ..o0o.. environment do you convey natural phenomena and where do you create a mystical environment?

Lark Alder: First, the moon predates language – I like that the project could present the content nonverbally, especially as language is so specific to humans and the moon reaches far beyond our sphere. I also wanted to make a web-based resource that was accessible to speakers of all languages. Though the internet is a global network, much of it is limited to people who speak more prominent languages and dialects.

The landing page is where the natural phenomena are communicated. It currently includes a visualization of the moon cycle and is also where I will archive the biweekly posts from the email list (roughly aligned with new and full moons), starting with images and sounds more closely related to the astronomy and biology I have begun researching. Being that posts are all nonverbal, they are quite abstract and don’t offer much factual information for people to latch onto beyond the experience of the sound/audio and associative connections.

The homepage links to an immersive 3D space with a watery expanse under what appears to be the moon’s surface. This is definitely the website’s mystical realm, transporting you to an extraterrestrial dimension that evokes the power of the subliminal and unseen.

 

Lark Alder aka. Lark VCR explores the personal, political, and social implications of an increasingly digitized and bioengineered world. VCR stands for Virtually Conflicted Reality–the state of perpetual disconnect we navigate as cognizant individuals who have no choice but to participate in systems defined by injustice. Leveraging hybrid forms of video and web-based media, their projects offer queer feminist visions for future technology’s role in mediating magic and intimacy.

Denise Helene Sumi is a curator and editor based in Vienna and Stuttgart. As part of Akademie Schloss Solitude’s Digital Solitude she is editor-in-chief of the Solitude Journals. She is a founding member and co-director of the exhibition space Kevin Space in Vienna.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Honoring the Moon’s Otherworldly Presence

Work in progress, ..oOo.. »🤩🌗🌚🌓🤩 Virtual Moon Reverence «, 2020

Lark Alder

Denise Helene Sumi

Denise Helene Sumi

Denise Helene Sumi is an art historian, curator, and editor. In 2018, she was a fellow for art coordination at Akademie Schloss Solitude. Subsequently she has been the coordinator of the Digital Solitude program and editor of the digital platform Schlosspost since June 2019. Amongst others her texts were published in the magazines Eikon, Camera Austria, and Spike Art Quarterly. Previously she worked as assistant at Künstlerhaus – Halle für Kunst und Medien in Graz and in Hellerau – Europäisches Zentrum der Künste, Dresden.

Denise is co-founder and co-director of the Vienna-based Kunstverein Kevin Space.

 

Lark Alder

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