[Osekovo_17_02_23]
same as it ever was

Feral Drifting with Lonja Wetlands: Fragments of More-than-Human Cohabitation

* An updated and edited version of this text has been published in the book “Designing in Coexistence – Reflections on Systemic Change”.

Reflections from the Feral Drifting with Lonja Wetlands workshop by Open Forest Collective (Markéta Dolejšová, Jaz Hee-jeong Choi, Andrea Botero and Chewie).

River Sava, this time of the year flowing peacefully through the Lonja wetlands (image credit: Aleksandra Drecun).

Introduction

The Feral Drifting with Lonja Wetlands workshop involved a 4-day feral, performative investigation of multispecies relations and spatio-temporalities of care that shape the flow of life and death in Lonjsko Polje (or Lonja Wetlands), the largest protected wetlands in Croatia. Together with 19 workshop participants, we experimented with feral ways of sensemaking that invite open-ended, multisensory, and spontaneous encounters unfolding beyond the bounds of human control.

Inspired by the movements and rhythms of local, other-than-human creatures, such as storks, mosquitoes, storms, and the river Sava, as well as the artistic strategies of dérive (including their flaws), we drifted with the local ecologies and invited pathways towards care-full co-habitation. To navigate through these space-times, we experimented with various performative and speculative sense-making practices including walking, listening, storytelling and forming relations.

This feral investigation resulted in co-creative outcomes – or fragments – in diverse forms, such as multispecies rituals, synesthetic maps, wayfinding games, and memory seed banks that were documented as short videos and later turned into the Feral Fragments of Lonjsko Polje film. Here, we share the key processes of our collective workshop and reflect on them in relation to the notion of feral data.

Storks, the vigilant wetlands creatures, silently observing the landscape (image credit: Aleksandra Drecun).

Feral Ways, Feral Data

Lonjsko Polje is an ever-changing land. The regular flooding of the local rivers Sava and Lonja creates a unique, shapeshifting environment composed of alluvial forests, as well as wet meadows and pastures inhabited by different creatures at different times. This combination of diverse habitats and their regular flooding provide the conditions for complex cohabitation of rare birds such as the white-tailed eagle, white egret, grey heron, black stork, as well as many migratory birds and various mammals including spotted Turopolje swine, wild boars, deer, roes, otters, beavers, and wild cats. We arrived at Lonjsko in June after the flood season was over and water had subsided, once again creating a new landscape with all that (re-)emerged along with the water – rocks, driftwoods, puddles, and more. 

As Open Forest Collective[1] – a multispecies group of creative practitioners and researchers of diverse cultural and biological origins – we have been exploring more-than-human ecologies in different settings such as forests, forest gardens, wetlands, and cities. Our practice-based investigations experiment with feral ways of sensemaking[2]through which we engage with what exists beyond human control and domestication; hoping to explore unfamiliar terrains and seed new, unexpected relations. We are interested in experiencing and understanding how such feral relations may evolve with – or in spite of – the dominant paradigms and normativity. 

Unexpected (at least to the human walker) encounter of the Open Forest’s Chewie and a Bohemian otter (image credit: Jiří Dolejš).

In our collective work, we often take participatory, performative, and embodied approaches in the form of experimental walks and dérives or drifts (spontaneous movement through landscapes guided by chance encounters[3]) with local places and their creatures, both human and other-than-human. One of our intentions with these activities is to explore and experiment with the so-called feral data, which Genevieve Bell[4] describes as data that is situated, qualitative, experiential, and messy. Examples of feral data that we experienced or co-created in the past include data woven into traditional belts and eel traps, provoked by tree sensors, or generated by a dog[5]. Our continued engagement with feral data helps us reflect on diverse more-than-human experiences, epistemologies, and cultures[6].

Feral data co-created by humans and other-than-humans of various places around the world (image credit: Open Forest Collective).

One of the central aspects of our inquiry is questioning what feral data might look – and feel, sound, smell, taste – like in relation to local more-than-human ecologies. We explore how co-creating and engaging with feral data can help us make sense of these ecologies in different ways, beyond the kinds of data that are deemed legitimate within the dominant knowledge systems that often prioritise quantification and quantifiability.

Feral Drifting with Lonja Wetlands 

We intended the wetlands workshop to manifest in the same spirit, and so avoided applying any particular well-known design methods to produce particular design outcomes. Instead, our intention was to create a space where everyone could spend time with the wetlands and with each other, to explore diverse local spatio-temporalities of life (and death) and make sense of them collectively. 

The full workshop group of feral drifters (image credit: Tradicije Čigoč).

Together with 19 participants who were invited to join the workshop through an open call, we based ourselves in the village of Čigoč, in the main local family-run accommodation Tradicije Čigoč – a traditional wooden cottage purposely re-built in an architectural style that is typical for the region. Tradicije was our nest where we lived, slept, ate, talked, and danced together for four days. Our daily wetlands explorations and reflections started and ended in the common workshop room which we named the CottageCore, and which we continued filling with various props, prompts, foraged materials, and stories collected through our drifts.

The first CottageCore gathering: everyone introducing their creatures (image credit: Tonči Čerina).

We took inspiration from the Letterist and Situationists International’s artistic strategy of Dérive (drifts) and experimented with drifting as a way to move with the wetlands and its creatures, in order to explore and learn about the relations that make the local more-than-human ecologies. To help everyone ease into drifting, which was a new concept and practice for many participants, we offered a set of prompts that had been co-created for our earlier public event called the More-than-Human Dérive at the 2021 Melbourne Knowledge Week and revised for the wetlands workshop. Throughout the workshop, these prompts were further re-imagined and re-created by the workshop participants, based on their daily drifting experiences.

Prompts for drifting and moving-with the Lonjsko Polje landscape (image credit: Markéta Dolejšová).

At the start of the workshop, we asked participants to introduce themselves through their favourite other-than-human creatures and move around the wetlands with/as these creatures, which ranged from a snail to a phoenix. After that, the participants formed five groups around the five elements – water, air, metal, earth, and fire – based on the relations these creatures had with the elements within the context of the local environment. 

Making sense-with the other-than-human creatures of Lonjsko Polje (images credit: Feral drifters).

In practice, our wetlands drifts took various shapes and forms, involving activities such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, crawling, foraging, recording sounds, filming, and sometimes simply remembering. After each drift, we returned to the CottageCore to share our different experiences, observations, and sensory impressions with the whole group, slowly shaping the room into a growing (and more intensely alive) feral archive. Doing this enriched our understanding of the more-than-human entanglements across different local spatio-temporalities and reminded us that our evolving relations with Lonjsko Polje could manifest as any and many things in different places and times, even if we could not clearly articulate them here-and-now.

CottageCore sharing circle and the Air group showing their memory seed bank (image credit: Tonči Čerina).

At the end of the four days, each group shared their experiences and co-creative process as the Feral Fragments of  Lonjsko Polje – performative acts in diverse forms, including a nonbinary wayfinding system, a synesthetic map, a memory seed bank, a meditative embodiment of a river water, and a ritualistic speculation on local biodynamic culture that we present below. The groups documented their fragments as videos that we later edited into a short film that is available online[7].

Through the process of making the fragments, we were able to collectively explore, learn about, and make sense of the different more-than-human relations that make up the Lonjsko Polje  ecologies. For us, these fragments are co-creative expressions that also serve to be feral data enriching our research, as well as our livingwith more-than-human worlds.

Making sense-with the other-than-human creatures of Lonjsko Polje (images credit: Fire group).

Feral Fragments

The following feral fragments were co-created by the five groups of participants who connected, via their other-than-human creatures shared at the start of the workshop, around the five elements – earth, water, air, metal, and fire. 

Fragment Earth: Horn Of Plenty

By Aleksandra Drecun, Korana Mileusnić, Laura Middlehurst and Maria Heinrich

A still from the Horn of Plenty video fragment (image credit: Earth group).

“That, I think, is the power of ceremony: it marries the mundane to the sacred. The water turns to wine, the coffee to a prayer. The material and the spiritual mingle like grounds mingled with humus, transformed like steam rising from a mug into the morning mist. What else can you offer the earth, which has everything? What else can you give but something of yourself? A homemade ceremony, a ceremony that makes a home.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer: Braiding Sweetgrass

Disguised as our earth-bound feral alter-egos, we roamed the land into the forests and pastures of Lonja for three days, gathering the natural treasures that called to us. We positioned ourselves as humans in this fluctuating and inherently anthropomorphic landscape, wanting to honour the land and animals, whilst building on the symbiotic relationships already inherent in this fragile environment.

Cow horn – the horn of plenty (image credit: Earth group).

In the realm of agricultural innovation, Rudolf Steiner’s vision shines through biodynamic culture, portraying farms as holistic realms where soil, plants, animals, and human care intertwine seamlessly. This symphony of cooperation is woven with conscientious methods such as composting, the companionship of animals, and an embrace of diverse botanical life. At its heart, the horn manure preparation (preparation 500) encapsulates the essence of this ethos, as cow manure metamorphoses within a buried horn, enriching plants with fortified root systems – a testament to the intricate blend of spirituality and ecological mindfulness that grace the pages of farming history.

We developed a reciprocal relationship of gifting that offers an alternative to the primitive accumulation of natural resources by extending value chains. Our inspiration were the gifts we received from the wetlands, such as small objects, sounds, and feelings. Through these gifts flowed the values of kinship, multi-species connections, and the fostering of care. 

Embodying the myths and present relationships within the Lonja wetlands (image credit: Earth group).

We gathered these objects in a discarded cow horn, our horn of plenty. This vessel embodied both the myths and relationships within the wetlands and our ceremonial offering of gratitude. The horn of plenty became a ritual, a gift, and a reciprocal act of care.

Fragment Water: Embodying The River 

By Meda Retegan and Anna Martić

Embodying The River (image credit: Water group).

“Embodying the River” is a meditation on what it means to open yourself up to other modes of being and allowing your perspective to shift and to let go of restrictions of what is, and what could be. Water is our impenetrable gift continuing to bind all beings together. 

Bodies longing (image credit: Water group).

We are bodies in bodies of water regardless of shape and shell. In aiming to seek out this interspecies bond, we allow the feral side within us to reappear. The River takes over and elevates us to a long-forgotten equilibrium. 

//

where the light doesn’t reach 

embraces are exchanged 

life emerges 

tossing and turning in all directions 

my body is full but longs to be emptied 

your body craves pouring 

I meet you where I begin 

and you end

together we continue from there

//

In becoming,

We let go 

From me,

To we

Letting go, together (image credit: Water group).

Fragment Air: Weaving Memories of Lost Seeds 

By Sara Gurdulic, Ebba Pijl, Ela Meseldzic and Daniella Ruffino

an impulse

a response

moving the landscapes

retraction of the Pannonian Sea poured warmth in the crevices.

imagine a life of a we/ [as] t [e] land,

wavering corn landscapes lost the linen rituals,

a decaying path of a lost seed tells a story:

of shared labour

of shared leisure

of shared struggles

of shared memories

of the rising tides and -future- rejuvenating cycles

margins are once again diffusing

reclaim the tensions

embrace the tides

Moving the landscapes (image credit: Air group).

We arrive at the Lonja Wetlands, an ever-changing alluvial expanse. There’s no power. A massive storm has swept across the country. We go to bed within the glow of candlelight & thick linen sheets. In the morning we are unplugged and awake to the ebb and flow of the landscape. The wild moss, reeds and oak mingle with domesticated geraniums, corn and plum trees. Water fills and drains, drawing down into the soil and ascending into the air; creating weather patterns, sustenance, and resources. Amid this fecund landscape we meet an old woman weaving linen. Energy from plants, animals and the sun fuels this fine skill. A seeding flax plant sits in a pot.

Weaving Memories of Lost Seeds (image credit: Air group).

Can seeds transform into vessels that carry narratives and transcend the boundaries of time? 

Tales flow freely, unburdened by temporal constraints.

A decaying path of a lost seed tells a story (image credit: Air group).

Once common and growing abundantly in this area, for fabric and fodder, the flax represents a wild abandonment from local industries and closer connections to land. Within its husk are the legacies of generations, of traditions and rituals forgotten, songs hummed for plant strength, a heritage interwoven with soil and water and a spirit of resilience that knits past to present. 

Seed memories can be portals for revitalising traditions that promote sustainable coexistence and responsible stewardship of the land. 

Tales of the flax seed and similar entities inspire a remembrance of the profound interdependence that sustains life on Earth, fostering a renewed appreciation for the delicate dance between humans and nature.

Fragment Metal: Imagining with Lonja Wetlands through Sensory Disruption

By Inés Fernández Elhordoy, Sylwia Mieczkowska, Ella Papenfus and Nastja Ambrožič

Imagining with Lonja Wetlands through Sensory Disruption (image credit: Metal group).

Prompted to “Find a border, imagine its texture, and taste the landscape,” we explored borders with a pinch of imagination. Questions arose: What constitutes a border? Is it a tangible entity, or fragment of imagination? The workshop within Lonja Wetlands merged in the in-between spaces of wild-domestic, natural-fabricated, and physical-virtual. Guided by the drift prompt co-created during the workshop, our concept of sensory disruption emerged in probing our own limits and borders as parts of the wetlands.

Find a border, imagine its texture, and taste the landscape (image credit: Metal group).

Through synaesthesia, we pushed our sensory, bodily and imagination limits. Gathering data via drifts, we mapped fragments of a synesthetic map of the wetlands. We tried various easy to sense unconventionally – describing touchless sounds by scents, for example. Artificial Intelligence (AI) turned descriptions into spot-on (and not so spot-on) images. Boundaries of experience transcended.

Sensory disruptions shared with the CottageCore (image credit: Metal group).

Fragment Fire: Liminal Wayfinding

By Bethany Copsey and Sarah Kilkenny 

During our feral drifts through Lonja Wetlands, we noticed and were drawn to the liminality of the space. For example, guided by the sun, we found that points of destruction in the tree canopy created a space for new life to thrive, and in decaying wood we saw evidence of life and death cycling. These were not the clear binaries we often witness expressed in anthropocentric thoughts. 

Liminal Wayfinding (image credit: Fire group).
Collecting sensory impressions (image credit: Fire group).

Inspired by our drifting prompts, we wanted to play with wayfinding. We disrupted the convention of journeying with a map to a specific location and instead tried to create a toolkit for drifting away from binaries – such as dead/alive, nature/culture, feminine/masculine – and towards liminality. We produced a series of activities and games as prompts for both drifting and discussion.

Sharing tools for drifting away from binaries (image credit: Fire group).

Concluding remarks

Experimenting with feral data that has emerged through more-than-human relations unfolding outside the human-centric datascapes can reveal what may have previously been less visible or in the margins. Feral ways of sensemaking that both result in and evolve through feral data can thus be seen as a form of creative deviation from the dominant rational and orderly knowledge systems, inviting other-than-humans in collective knowledge making. Through our ongoing engagements with feral data – including the Lonjsko fragments presented here – and the many different creatures involved in their co-creation, we hope to explore the following questions:

  • What might co-creation, participation, and making sense actually mean when we engage with other-than-humans?
  • How can we understand and embody feral data particularly in the context of practice-based research that follows hopes for eco-social transformation?

We invite you, readers, to consider these questions when you watch the Feral Fragments of  Lonja Wetlands film, when you drift with our collective feral sensemaking experience, and perhaps even when you make your own feral fragments – whatever these may be in relation to your life and your practice. 

Lonjsko Polje – always in flow, ever-changing, shapeshifting (image credit: Aleksanda Drecun).

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Park Prirode Lonjsko Polje, Tradicije Čigoč, rivers Sava and Lonja, and all creatures of Lonjsko Polje. 


[1] https://openforest.care

[2] Dolejšová, M., Botero, A., Choi, J.H-j. Mitro, M., Pokrywka, A., Mattelmäki, T. and Chewie (2023a). Feral Experiments in CreaTures Co-Laboratory. Proceedings of the VIII Art of Research conference, Aalto University. 

[3] Debord G. (1958). Definitions. Internationale Situationniste. Paris (1) Translated by Ken Knabb. https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/definitions.html 

[4] Bell, G. (2018). Making life: a brief history of human-robot interaction. Consumption Markets & Culture, 21(1), 22-41.

[5] Dolejšová, M., Botero, A., Choi, J.H-j. and Chewie (2023). Open Forest: Walking-with Feral Stories, Creatures, Data. In: Proceedings of the 21st European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. The International Venue on Practice-centered Computing on the Design of Cooperation Technologies. https://dl.eusset.eu/handle/20.500.12015/4676

[6] Choi, J.H-j., Botero, A., Dolejšová, M. and Sleigh, L. (2023 – forthcoming). Messy, Entangled, and Shapeshifting: The Feral Map. International Journal of Cartography – Special Issue on Art & Cartography.

[7] https://youtu.be/lXK6GQn950o