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  Art Ecology Sustainability / 24.04 – 19.07.2009
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James Bradburne
Franziska Nori
Lorenzo Giusti
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John Thackara
Gunter Pauli
Marjetica Potrc
Hans Drexler
Franco La Cecla
  The indispensabile control
Franco La Cecla
  The concept of an environmental crisis first gained currency in the mid-1970s, with the energy crisis. It seemed that oil reserves were going to run out and, for the first time, people actually realised that nature is a limited resource. The Club of Rome published the world-shattering report entitled The Limits to Growth (1972) and during the same period a far-reaching movement that started in California gave the name “ecology” to the notion of a new “balanced” relationship between man and nature, and began to demolish the “theological” idea of unlimited progress. This powerful surge of awareness swept through the most diverse countries and population strata, but it was not sufficient to change the established structure of institutions and behaviour.

Today, 40 years later, the situation is far more worrying. Climate change is clearly evident, despite the scepticism and denial of many illustrious scientists, and the planet’s state of health is suspended between the contamination of soil and air, desertification, general impoverishment of animal and plant diversity, deforestation and pollution of the ocean depths. Furthermore, the global situation whereby resources are concentrated in a few hands and countries, the confusion of migratory flows of hundreds of millions of people each year, and urban migration are signs of an unjust and desperate world, where a small minority is granted the right to ignore the general disaster in which we are entangled. A recent issue of New Scientist depicted the scenario that awaits us if the global temperature increases by the predicted 4° C over the coming decades: 90% of the world population is in danger. Today, the situation regarding the transformation of institutions and the collective mentality and approach to these themes has changed slightly. Over the past 40 years many people have carried out analyses, described scenarios and pleaded for decisive action to be taken. Some of these voices have been channelled into politics and have on the whole failed to achieve their purpose. Environmentalist or green thought has generally been swallowed up by the context of post-Hegelian politics, in which “point of view”, “prejudice” and “choosing sides” counted and still count for far more than a general change of mentality. Now as then, the problem with ecology and the thought associated with it is that it wanted a translation in a field that falsified its action. In some way politics is the place of contamination and pollution of the ideas of nature. An eminently conflictual place, it is unable to admit anything but the reasons for a dispute, not the reasons for a prophetic settlement, such as that offered by the “green” perspective.

In 1990 I organised a conference in Milan entitled La Natura e i Media, in which Jack Goody, Jean Baudrillard, Paolo Fabbri and I coined the term “pornecology” to denote the danger of using ecology for purely “glamorous” purposes, an ecology debased by the way it transforms the way we live that is instead subservient to the old inefficient institutions of politics, the media and fashion. It was precisely those who rode this wave of ecology – green parties, glossy magazines on the environment and even the large movements like WWF – that were in danger of becoming the first parties responsible for this new kind of pornography of nature (e.g. a lion cub instead of a scantily clad girl next to the latest fridge or car model). Of course, this alarm merely remained a way of infuriating the usual people who were acting in good faith and were sure they were right. Above all, it infuriated green politicians.

Ecology too rapidly fell into the familiar channels and failed to draw on the rich current of thought that ranged from Gregory Bateson’s great intuitions to Félix Guattari’s musings on the “three ecologies”, Hans Jonas’s philosophy of responsibility and Bruno Latour's anthropo-political reflections. This line of thought was, and still is, capable of reopening the blinkered eyes of institutions and initiating changes in mentality. The problem is that from a political point of view, in Germany and Italy as in France and the United States, everything possible has been done to purge that thought of its revolutionary radicalness. An example is the suspicious welcome that most of the Left accorded Ivan Illich’s radical criticism of mutilating professions and institutions. Illich’s extensive research describes and analyses the roots of the system that create dependence and become counterproductive, and the monopoly of industrial production (which is also applied to education, labour, the health system, the Church, and even media and virtual control).

Over the past 40 years green thought has become a deep-reaching system rooted in classical philosophy and branching into the spirituality of different cultures. This current of thought has also “rediscovered” indigenous cultures as an effective reservoir of practical and mythological reflection on nature.

Anthropology in particular has been profoundly transformed by this perspective. The populations studied not only became daunting bricoleurs, but people who had sensed the necessary deep connection with the rhythms and cycles of the geographic and climatic contexts of resources. Some, such as Marshall Sahlins, concentrated new economic parameters associated with cultures of abundance and subsistence (which is not a contradiction, because producing for subsistence first and foremost ensures abundance between the land and the population) in an interpretation that drew on the wealth of archaeological and anthropological information.

If one wished to give this production of thought a spatial arrangement, the upper part of the diagram would be occupied by the “written” thought of philosophers, anthropologists, novelists and biologists, with the deep drift of consciousnesses below, ranging from indigenous ones, where thought becomes a system of beliefs and practices, rituals, alliances and, in the same category, the way in which the sense of environmental hazard has become prominent in our contemporary consciousness, along with the general yearning to leave behind the purely materialistic and economic vision of the world. I believe that, from a Foucauldian viewpoint, such mentalities now mingle and influence each other more than we believe. The various currents of thought cross-pollinate each other, ensuring that reflection on the current state of the world is not a sphere reserved for an elite, but a more general movement that encompasses emotional reactions, manners of feeling, forms of life, practices and resistances. This is, incidentally, one of the consequences of globalisation: a reshuffling of the various forms of thought and sensibility.

In the past 30 years a third current has developed between these two, in the form of politics. The political aspect had not only been absent, failing to cause any epoch-making change, but as mentioned earlier, politics had been the greatest obstacle to a different perspective of the environment as a "common home". Ecology cannot travel via politics, in the way that the latter has been conceived in the past 100 years. And this is because it is not a matter of opposing ideologies, but of indispensable control; as though a country were to put the matter of the operation of a waterworks or an airport (its actual operation, not its location, choice or other aspect) in the political sphere.

Our politics lack the idea of concerted action regarding resources and an agreement that goes beyond the contingencies of governments. The ecological question is a little like that of the shared currency or connection to a computer network. It is thus a sense of functioning that cannot be presented as though it were a position that can be debated from year to year. It is no coincidence that the only organisations that have worked in this field are those resembling transnational bodies for human rights or for emergency aid in the case of disasters, such as Greenpeace, Conservation International and the UNDP. If we then add the typical corruption of the political arena, which in Italy has reached paradoxical heights, it is clear that the party in this sphere has caused damage above all. People have identified the corruption of individuals with the corruption of ideas and have retreated from them, in either shock or boredom.

At the moment, we are facing a grave economic crisis which, as we know, conceals an even more frightening and daunting crisis of resources. Now as never before, all those who mocked environmental alarmism have been contradicted and their sole chance will be, perhaps, to continue denying the evidence or minimising the problem, indicating it as the last thing in order of importance. However, the environmental question always re-emerges at all times in which “reality” is revived with its emergencies in its full harshness. This re-emergence brings a far deeper drift back to the surface. Judaeo-Christian thought has denied all attribution of autonomy to nature, refusing it a presence and its own specific discussion. Creationism insists on the idea that man is the sole agent that counts, the only one that can give things a name. Conversely, in all native cultures trees, animals, stones, rivers and mountains are entities of equal significance to people. It is what anthropologists once inappropriately defined “animism”: the notion that everything has a spirit. Yet this view of the world, this thought that moves with the world and dialogues with itself and with all its elements, re-emerges periodically in history. Some artists, poets, philosophers and particularly people who still live in contact with the natural elements are well aware that this drift has never completely disappeared. And today we are witnessing one of these returns. Just think how sad and desolate it would be if everything were once again to fall into the hands of those who believe that nature is merely “something to fix”.

Animism is a form of belief that projects society onto nature and not vice versa; this may be the greatest fear of the political world. As Latour has recounted several times, today the real crisis is one of representation, who and what is represented in parliament, the street or the media. Who represents the trees, the fish, the air, the sea, the rivers, who represents the “living” today, but also nature in its temporal compositions, the seasons that are about to be sacrificed to globalisation. Poets like Gary Snyder have taught us that we need to return to a phase of humanisation of nature if we want to continue to give sense to humanity. Consequently, today as never before, it is necessary to rediscover the cosmological sensibility that was once the preserve of artists.
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Ettore Favini, Futurefarmers, Tue Greenfort, Henrik Håkansson, Katie Holten, Dave Hullfish Bailey, Christiane Löhr, Dacia Manto, Lucy + Jorge Orta, Julian Rosefeldt, Carlotta Ruggieri, Superflex,
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, Nikola Uzunovski