Final Leaves Refuse to Fall

Learning to print, a dispute among scavengers, shape-shifting raccoons and more

It’s happening again. The darkness of mid-autumn is edging in, and with it houseplants, and street-side shrubs begin to recoil from the encroaching shadows. The wintery winds are dimming the warm autumn foliage. Feral Malmö too, like the domesticated maranta or peace lily, has been reticent about embracing the growing night.

Even as it does get darker and colder, and all manner of life begins to retreat into burrows and den, the opportunity to find and make stories of interspecies urban living. New characters and different behaviours begin to emerge as the climate and colors shift. Bringing with them new dramas and seasonal opportunities of the longer nights.

When things get this way, many birds elect to simply fly away. Fair enough. But for the corvids (crows, ravens, jackdaws, rooks, and magpies) they needn’t migrate to make it through the colder months. Interesting on any day of the year, recent construction taking place on my street has the clever birds exhibiting their own kind of indignation. Understandably frustrated by the sudden upheaval of their once reliable feeding ground…

New Machinery and Food for the Flocks

On one grey morning, sometime in the last week, a green shipping container arrived in the neighborhood square. The little park it possesses, was fenced up. Earthmoving machinery arrived some days later to pull up the old swing set that hung there and while less brilliant than other playsets in the neighborhood, it was nonetheless used with some frequency.

Despite the arrival of this modest construction site, the mornings on Brobygatan have remained mostly quiet. As it usually is on mornings when the waste truck isn’t around. Recently, the mornings had grown grey and misty, a symptom of a maturing autumn. The wood doves have been gone for some weeks already—having picked clean the young berry trees—while the pigeons are huddled on the roofs to gather up whatever solar warmth they can manage, when they aren’t down picking the berries from sidewalk shrubs. Brown rats hide in the low shrubs and the corvids remain active on these grey mornings.

But among the jackdaws there is a quiet tension brought on by the changes. Not long before the arrival of the mysterious ‘EVERGREEN’ shipping container, that heralded the desolation of the children’s playground, the rooks had started to show up. While the rooks are no stranger, to the city airways, they are hardly found picking around Brobygatan. Only when the autumn mists manifested and the large walnut tree started to drop its seeds excitedly.

Normally, the other birds are no trouble for the jackdaw. On the contrary, the Brobygatan jackdaws would rather team up with other birds to forage than to fend for themselves. Like many of their kin in the city, the jackdaw are autonomous but coordinated with a trusted partner, and collaborative with the many other city flocks. This can also include other birds, that are not as quick and studied as the jackdaw, but are nonetheless gregarious enough to accept the help of the expert scavengers. Often with the good-natured, if a little oblivious, pigeons and they wouldn’t begrudge the tight-knit sparrow flocks or the high-strung gulls.

Certainly, you would think, they would get along with their close relations, the rooks then? After all the corvids would do well in collaborating with their cousins in foraging for food, finding nest locations, and outsmarting the aggressive cars and machinery that haunt the street. While the jackdaws do well with the cagey magpies that occasionally show up to collect seed and falafel from the street gutters, the recent arrival of rooks has created an unexpected competition for food. Troubling the already anxious air of birds that are collecting all they can before the scarcity of winter arrives.

For the birds of Brobygatan, even the sight of the rook is a bit jarring. Jet black feathers, they tower over even the more corpulent gulls. They swoop in quickly and hop confidently across grass and concrete, brandishing their long and razor sharp beak. In picking up large portions of food, the rooks will quickly carry off much of it, and burying their plunder for later. Despite the stresses of food collection, other birds are happy enough to keep their distance, but the jackdaws don’t much care for the ill-humour of the visitors.

Luckily, the rooks appear to be as ephemeral as the morning mist. The travellers, arrive in the dark hours of the morning and leave before midday, never giving the other flocks enough time to distinguish the meaning of the rook’s habit.

Magpie is the Message - Learning to Screenprint

This past weekend, Feral Malmö learned to screen print. Part of our goal for this project is to explore communication and storytelling techniques that can help people around Malmö to start thinking about other species as cohabitants and collaborators in urban life. This project was founded by three designers, so if nothing else we can at least say we understanding the importance of visual communication. Thanks to STPLN, for providing the workspace and equipment, and the guidance of Katarina Älg, we’ve started to use screen printing as a tool for spreading the message about more-than-human life in Malmö.

With the screenprinting workshop, we will begin to produce posters and other ephemera to share information, stories, and projects that we will be hosting in the future. Also we hope to create a framework for communication that isn’t just digital, as accessing perspectives in the city requires more direct interaction in the urban spaces where we are working. Ideally, opening up to more people (outside of our likely very-curated digital sphere) who might have knowledge to share about the creatures of Malmö.

That in mind, if you live in Malmö, or elsewhere, and have an interesting story to share about your experiences with other creatures in the city please get in touch and share! Otherwise you can take a look at the instagram to see some more artwork and findings from our workshop last month.

Looking Elsewhere

Another part of this newsletter that we’ve decided will occur sometimes, is a little review and *related links* section. Here you can find a few selections of books, art, design, food, memes, or whatever else, that has served as some inspiration or might offer another view on ecology and other species that is related to the Feral Malmö project:

Pom Poko

Studio Ghibli produced movie from 1994 about the clans of Tanuki (raccoon-dogs native to Japan) that live on the outskirts of Tokyo, and whose habitat is threatened by urbanisation. Eventually leading to conflict and war, the humorous and generally good-natured Tanuki using their testicles (in the English dub they refer to their balls as ‘pouches’ for some modesty purposes I guess?) to change into people, objects, other animals, and unnamed monsters to fight off the city’s greedy capitalists.

An underrated, and absolutely crazy epic that echoes the themes often repeated in studio Ghibili films about the uneasy tensions that breed conflict between people and other species. What makes Pom Poko unique, both in style and story it cuts closer to real-world conflicts around urbanism and species that are forced to embrace a feral existence where capital and land-development feeds a form of urban growth that can never be satisfied. The illustrations of the Tanuki characters move from more stylised to more realistic throughout the film, their identities destabilised by the blurring borders of nature and city.

The movie is heavily influenced by Japanese folklore and history with direct allusions to famed battles and myths about the Tanuki. The mythology is used to address an issue that was and is today a condition of multispecies living. The result is strange, funny, familiar, and tragic.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

There’s a lot of exciting things happening in the world of fungi right now. Author Merlin Sheldrake, son of well-known author and parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake, provides an overview of contemporary fungi culture that tries to take a kind of middle road between conventional and alternative science. Describing his experiences traversing the world of fungi while under their influence (literally and figuratively), Sheldrake looks at both the tradition and the modern, burgeoning field of mycology that is making up for decades or centuries even, of modern science overlooking the complex kingdom of life.

The most compelling aspect of this book is the exploration of fungal agency, looking at the world for a network-centred perspective and considering mycelium as collaborators. In this book, fungi are characters, which feels distinct for a fairly conventional nonfiction book like this, which makes the reading about them all the more interesting.

Overall, the book probably could have done without many of Sheldrake’s self-reflections and the stories of his intellectual and familial pedigree. And certainly could have offered a more critical perspective on the industrialisation of fungi but nonetheless, the book is packed with a lot of fascinating information about Fungi and contemporary thought around fungi and how they collaborate with other species. And as I’m sure Sheldrake would agree, the fungi speak for themselves.

Pollinator Pathmaker

Designer and artist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg created this artwork, and the generative interface for pollinators, as a way of making art for pollinating insects. The website uses an algorithm to help users designer their own pollinater garden, offering a wide selection of plants native to the UK and Europe that look particularly appealing to your local pollinating insects.

Dr. Ginsberg who works specifically at the intersection of nature and technology, was commissioned by the Eden Project as a part of their initiative to bring awareness to the mass extinction of insects and the importance of pollinators (especially pollinators that are not industrialised). The project was designed by Dr. Ginsberg who made hundreds of paintings for the project, and recieved a great deal of help from horticulturists, pollinator experts, designers, and an ai expert in development. Support from the Eden Project and other investors like Google, and resources went into building this generative artwork.

Still, Pollinator Pathmaker interesting template for using design for other species. There is a great deal of potential for creative people, to build projects not just for other species, but with other species—pollinators or otherwise. As collaboration with other species, in art and life, is a necessity to build new worlds beyond the extinction-inducing capitalism.

My garden (I wish) as seen from the eyes of a pollinator

Captive Parrots Speak Their Mind

Justice for the birds!

A guest post by
Uzbek German Interaction Designer based in Sweden.
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