Part 2: Pigmy
So why do I write about my Mum and pigeons? Well, the real answer is because I want to write about plants.
For over two years now, together with two fellow artists Erik Overmeire and Ivan Henriques, under the catchy name of World Wilder Lab, we have immersed ourselves in a science of electrophysiology of plants, in order to be able to understand plants’ behaviour. Kind of slow and inanimate (hence there are plants not animals), they have been co-existing with everybody on this planet for millions of years. In fact they were here much longer in here than us. Without any consideration we cut them, eat them, extract stuff from them for medicinal purposes, replant them, genetically modify them, take them out with roots, plant them in a great excess, transplant them from one place to the other, harvest them, make furnitures out of them, make textiles out of them, smoke them, drink their juices, use them as poisons, use them as nutrition, use them as decoration, marvel on their beauty, hate their viciousness – basically use them and abuse them in any possible way. But they are heros. They are very resilient, which is a good thing because any other species after such treatment would extinct (well, many did) in no time.. But plants are still here and we are very much dependent on them. Quite common knowledge, right? But we never think twice (well, except a few hard core environmentalists maybe) when the tree or a bush has to be removed for a new urban construction development.
Unlike pigeons plants are generally not perceived as a nuisance (unless it is a Japanese Knotweed). They are important for cities to absorb CO2 and produce Oxygen, trees on busy streets provide a bit of the buffer for the noise and shade from the heat of the sun during the summer, the majority of food is provided by plants and also they look nice and induce in us a sense of calm. Personally (and I am sure for many of you too) when I think about “Nature” or going to “Nature” I have a vision far away from the city, with forests, big trees, cliffs, grass, wild bushes, flowers and loads of greenery. Abundance of plants. But this notion of Nature couldn’t be further from the truth.
Timothy Morton in his book “Ecology without Nature “argues that we, Western society, must relinquish the idea of nature all together – in order for us to start perceiving once and for all ourselves – humans as a part of that nature and all other species as equal partners with what we and anything we do are very much interconnected. I do like that concept. I haven’t read the whole book, and obviously I am very much simplifying here, but that idea proposed by Timothy Morton nicely ties in with the Latour’s “Multinaturalism”.
Nature is us. Nature is a city. City is a part of Nature..
So how do we do that? How can we change our perception and relation and reposition ourselves as an integrated part of Nature? Never mind pigeons who are animals and at least move fast and their metabolism can be compared to ours, but how can we relate to plants? There are people in this planet who claim that ability. For example: Baka tribe from one of Pygmy tribes in African rain forests. The Forest is a house , while the village is merely a temporary sleeping space. The relation of the people from Baka tribe with the forest is such, that they consider themselves inseparable, part of each other, an organic whole. Like their bodies the forest is considered inalienable, so long as one remains alive. They are extremely agile in the forest and can walk long distances very rapidly without making any noise. Their incredible skills and endurance in the forest make them successful hunters. They know every plant and recognize every animal track no matter how small, even turtles. Using traps, dogs, spear and crossbow they hunt nearly all animals – but they follow certain rules so that there is no danger of extinction of animals they used to hunt. For the Baka, the forest is living and communicates with them. Instead of domineering nature, the Baka’s goal is to live in harmony with it. There is obviously a spiritual angle to it – with god Komba and his naughty son Jengi who are living within Baka tribe house (forest) overlooking everything. That narrative is crucial for tribal people to position themselves in their worlds and to explain that which is abstract, invisible and uncontrollable.
We in cities do not have such believes. We might romanticise and escape to “nature” – a concept which Timothy Morton also strongly opposes. So how can we change our relation to nature in urban environment then? How can we be Baka in cities? How can we integrate everything which is in here into one big interconnected whole, so that everybody’s needs can be taken under consideration?