For the past year, anthropologist Julie Hermesse (UCLouvain/LAAP) and actress Caroline Kempeneers have been involved in a multidisciplinary project exploring and questioning the impact of the eruption of a volcano on the island of La Palma (Canary Islands). They talk to us about their research, at the crossroads of the arts and sciences, which will be the subject of a public presentation in Louvain-la-Neuve in spring 2024.
As part of the ARC-TALOS grant (Santorini Eruption. Comparative anthropological and volcanological research of an archaeological case study) and the 'Research and Creation' fund obtained from UCLouvain that the authors met in La Palma in January 2023. They decided to work together to investigate the new Tajogaite volcano. Caroline Kempeneers, a multidisciplinary artist, has been living on the island intermittently since 2019. She has been able to observe the various phases of the new volcano and its impacts at close quarters. Her wide-ranging knowledge of the players on the ground and her access to local information relayed by social networks and the press have enabled her to open a broad spectrum of investigation and prepare the data collection and ethnographic work carried out in conjunction with anthropologist Julie Hermesse. Hermesse, who had regularly spent time in La Palma, was invited back to investigate the anthropology of disasters, a field she had worked on at the start of her career.
A scientific article and an exhibition
Their joint research has resulted in a scientific article written by four hands: Volcan fissuré, âmes fêlées et nouvelles opportunités: Ombres et lumières du nouveau volcan Tajogaite, to be published this winter in the Canadian magazine Frontières. Taking a diversion into pre-colonial Guanche history, this article bears witness to the ambivalence of this page of recent Palmera history: a history that is both 'cracked' by the eruption of 2021 (in the image of the volcano's current Guanche name) but also a history of self-determination demonstrated by the local populations despite the losses and bereavements.
In addition to this paper, the results of their research will be featured in the exhibition Chaos, a multidisciplinary visual and sound exhibition based around the La Palma volcano, curated and produced by Caroline Kempeneers in collaboration with Belgian illustrator, painter and fresco artist Mathilde Dujardin, Belgian and French sound designers Margaret Hermant and Fabien Leseure, and Palmero photographer Arturo Rodriguez.
Two sensitive and intertwined points of view
Caroline Kempeneers and Julie Hermesse share a common belief in the merits of a cross-disciplinary approach to their work. Both have already drawn on other disciplines in their previous work. They resonate with the approach of Kenneth White, author of the practical theory known as "geopoetics" which, in his words, "constitutes a field of research and creation oriented towards the exploration of the sensitive and intelligent relationship to the earth, to the space that surrounds humans; it [geopoetics] attempts to bring together observations, reflections and intuitions from science, philosophy, literature and the arts. It aims to question our understanding of space from different points of view and using a variety of methods: through research and reading, through interaction with the landscape, and through the various creative practices that result".
A member of the International Institute of Geopoetics, Caroline Kempeneers also introduced this theory-practice to Baccalaureate students in anthropology and sociology during a course at UCLouvain in March 2023.
A rigorous analysis of the field
From this point onwards, the scientific rigour of the former frames the dreaming spirit of the latter, and conversely, art drives scientific constancy. The anthropologist and the artist agree that in the analysis of the most minute details, such as anecdotes, lie shared visions of the world. Their sensitive and intertwined views offer a rigorous analysis of the terrain, which, through ethnographic research, seeks to convey the mourning triggered by the Tajogaite eruption and the new perspectives emerging on the island.
A rigorous analysis of the terrain, not without poetic flights of fancy and a return to the legend of Guayota (God of darkness locked up in the Teide volcano) of the Guanche people, who lived on the island before the Spanish invasion of the land and the arrival of the colonists.
The artist and anthropologist were able to observe that this ancient colonial past was revived by the volcano, and that the Palmero's strength of self-determination today in rebuilding their lands on the ravaging Tajogaite dragon is akin to that of the Guanche warrior king Tanausu who, once defeated, refused to bow to the Spanish crown, preferring to take his own life on the ship that was taking him back to the Peninsula in captivity. Creative and reconstruction projects abound on the island, where the light returns 'poco à poco'.