Earth return

Medium Earth is an exhibition for the digital realm, exploring the vital ecologies that bind species together.

Mudmind (care of Ama Josephine Budge, April Lin 林森 and Sam Smith) communicates across five videos, text and audio.

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‘A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears.’

We came here in liquid pools like vegetal eyes, or translucent excrement. Powered by a turbo sludge of unspoken promises and all the I love yous you were too afraid or ashamed or silenced or beaten or threatened or oppressed or stupid or preoccupied or stubborn or foolish or fickle or virulent to say.

To whisper.

Even to breathe into being.

We felt your wandering soul through mycelial membranes of longing. Our memories had almost forgotten the metallic aftertaste of trauma. Inherited and lived and died for. The coppery, rubbery tang of it. Like blood or semen. It was leaking you know: your suffering. Your cruelty. Your despair. It was leaking across millennia, milkyways and polyamorous microbial family structures. It was seeping out of your dead, out of your living, out of your still unborn and into us. So we came, in liquid pools like vegetal eyes, or a mossy embrace after aeons alone in the dark.

‘We cannot read the darkness. We cannot read it. It is a form of madness, albeit a common one, that we try.’

‘I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess what I mean is that sometimes I don’t know what or who we are. Some days I feel like a human being, while other days I feel more like a sound. I touch the world not as myself but as an echo of who I was. Can you hear me yet? Can you read me?’

‘In reality, it is unimportant that I have no likelihood of being really fulfilled (I am quite willing for this to be the case). Only the will to fulfilment shines, indestructible, before me. By this will, I well up: I form within myself the utopia of a subject free from repression: I am the subject already.’

Do you know you are already your own salvation?

We confess ourselves to be quite fascinated with your edge-ness, no, your edges, your boundaries, your binaristic distinctions between self and other, here and not here, alive now and alive once, or soon or always. It is not so with us. We think this makes you very beautiful, with ruinous tendencies.

We spoke before of your spilling out, of your divulgence. Do you know yet that all life is interconnected, across species, environs and even worlds?





Or perhaps we should say do you know still? For some ancient… ancestors… children… older ones seemed to know. Apologies. We are slippages. How strange it is for us to meet a being that grows at once backways, and ahead. No… Apologies. We struggle to be only here, only now. We slip away from ourselves into everything else. So. You were secreting yes, your suffering was secreting, your potential chafing away at the boundaries between what is and what could be or has been. So. So we came, we came to offer. Yes, to offer passage. To offer ourselves. To you.

‘So the club rose, the blood came down, and his bitterness and his anguish and his guilt were compounded. And I have seen it in the eye of rookie copy’s in Harlem – rookie cops who were really the most terrified people in the world, and who had to pretend to themselves that the black junkie, the black mother, the black father, the black child were of different human species than themselves.’

[i]Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding sweetgrass, 2013, p 24
[ii]Maggie Nelson, Bluets, 2009, p 51
[iii]Ocean Vuong, On Earth we’re briefly gorgeous, 2019, p 62
[iv]Roland Barthes, A lover’s discourse: fragments, 1977, p 55
[v]James Baldwin, The white man’s guilt, 1965, p 48


(care of Ama Josephine Budge, April Lin 林森 and Sam Smith)

Est 2020
Located: Earth

Earth return 2020

digital video, text, audio
Courtesy the artists

An Art Gallery of New South Wales Together In Art New Work 2020 © mudmind

Original concept: Sam Smith
Mudmind host: April Lin 林森
Text and voice: Ama Josephine Budge
Camera (mudmind): April Lin 林森
Camera (landscapes): Sam Smith
Visual effects, sound design and edit: Sam Smith


Liquids seep and pool across this tender new work. The more I watch and scroll, I’m reminded of the commonality of water across bodies. ‘Water irrigates us, sustains us, comprises the bulk of our soupy flesh’.1

But who is ‘us’?

It’s troubling to begin with a ‘we’. The universal voice pits humankind against a ‘them’: other species, other things. Speaking as a ‘we’ too often assumes that humans are all the same anyway. It flattens culpabilities, levels vulnerabilities.

The alien narrator in Earth return probes the human ‘we’. They test its boundaries and binaries. And they find them ruinous.

Reaching out through vegetal eyes, the narrator makes kin with microbes and mycelial membranes, streams and soils. A more-than-human ‘we’ returns to Earth.

It’s fitting that mudmind came together through remote online sessions during the pandemic. The newly formed artist collective comprises Sydney-born artist-filmmaker Sam Smith, artist-filmmaker April Lin 林森 and speculative writer, artist, curator and pleasure activist Ama Josephine Budge.

Notice how their work decentres its creators, melding the dispersed intelligences of Maggie Nelson, Ocean Vuong and James Baldwin with the gurgle of tides and the warble of warped birdsong.

For all the expansiveness of Earth return, its tone is intimate. The essay film overflows its frame, spills down the screen, and leaks into a love letter addressed to ‘you’.

— Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd

1. Astrida Neimanis, Bodies of water: posthuman feminist phenomenology, London: Bloomsbury, 2017, p 27.

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