Notes on nature, ecology and knowledge in a world on the verge of an ecological crisis
The following are occasional notes from October 12th, 2013 to August 17th, 2015 written by Ravi Agarwal. The exhibition Ecologies of Loss, curated by Marco Scotini at PAV, is the first Italian solo exhibition of the Indian artist, as part of a series investigating into the relationship between artistic practices and ecological thought in the Asian continent.
Two years ago I had close encounters with the sea, a first for an inland urban person. It continues. The ground changing experiences, led me to further my ongoing explorations about ideas which constitute nature. Today, the planet is in an ecological crisis. This is framed as a conflict between economic development and the planet’s limit to support a growing and resource intensive human population. The crisis is validated by measurable tipping points which indicate, scientists claim, that we have entered the age of the Anthropocene, where for the first time in history, human actions will determine the future of the earth. The era arguably began with the industrial age of mass production. Here technology and capital combined to create economies based on natural resource extraction and waste generation on a massive scale, using fossil fuel energy. As a way forward, new markets for environmental solutions are being offered, which involve making economies and markets more efficient and energy less fossil fuel based, but based on the same trajectory of extraction, consumption and waste. There is no guarantee of future survival. However ideas, such as reducing consumption trigger fears of “going back” in time and fly in the face of “growth” and “’progress.” Even more remote is a questioning of the deeply inherent and fixed oppositional binary positions we have over time taken about “nature.” In the Deleuzian way, this may be an opportunity to re-consider evolution as a positive set of responses to “desires” and uncover their genealogy and geology. Rethinking a foundational human-nature relationship that could be more critical to future sustainability, than merely creating better markets.
“Like patriarchy, ecology too is caught up in a framework of dominance.”
My explorations have led me to consider that the idea of nature itself is more complex and pre-dates the history of capital/technology/industrialization. As per Bruno Latour, in a Platonian way, the fixing of nature as “absolute” and measurable only by scientists as experts, replaced all other pre-existing human-nature subjectivities and relationships. The loss of the subjective self, reduced to a capitalist one, has led to the privatization of wilderness, fencing of forests, taming of rivers, and the rapid destruction of other species. The history of migrations, dispossessions, gender discrimination, colonization and racism, can be re-read as a history of ecology. Those who lived on the “land” have became poor, while those who live “off” it have became rich, while institutions have been created to systematically perpetuate such actions.
Nature has been reduced to an object which can only be “acted upon” through it being “extracted” or “admired,” “enjoyed,” etc. but not “lived with.” Like patriarchy, ecology too is caught up in a framework of dominance. Contemporary philosophers like Timothy Morton have proposed that nature as a category should be discarded altogether and replaced by a network of relationships between animate and inanimate objects. We need to look beyond to examine if other trajectories are /were possible that co-create a more complex idea of ecology such as suggested by Felix Guattari.