This is the first in a series I’m writing for SHFT called Ars Natura: art in nature, nature in art. Though I typically blog abut media and technology I have become increasingly aware that the problems our civilization faces are not going to be solved by technological ingenuity alone.
Yes I believe we can solve the energy problem and perhaps even find a way to deflate the planet’s overheated atmosphere. But that will only be the beginning. In the larger scheme of things, CO2 is only a symptom of a greater problem – our epic disconnection with nature.
Homo sapiens became the world’s most successful species precisely because of its ability to “step out” of the Garden of Eden, to disengage from the natural world in order to conquer it. And we were very, very successful. 6 billion and growing, our success and the increasing strain it places upon our planet will, whether we like it or not, force us to turn back to Eden.
The human species will not survive unless we do. And if you think we can solar panel our way out of our problems, you are mistaken. There will be many more problems to meet us on the other side (some far greater than the carbon problem) unless we are able to mend the primal rift between mankind and the natural world.
There is only one “technology” I know of that can assist us in this quest, it’s what I call perception tech – the use of visual and sensory media to rewire our brain’s dualistic perception of nature. Art, I would argue, is the key to unlocking a new vision and understanding of how we humans are all inextricably linked to the natural world. We are part of nature. We are nature.
Our bodies are nature. Our coffee mugs are nature. Our manipulation of the rainforest to sustainable grow coffee is nature. Our freeways, the ones that deliver the coffee to Starbucks, are nature. Starbucks is nature. OK well maybe I’m pushing that one too far, but you get where I am going. Every component of the built environment, however ugly, is “natural” because we are, in fact, natural.
So it’s time to end the romanticized notion that nature is somehow “out there” beyond the outer limits of the saturnesque rings of suburbia that now encircle every major urban metropolis in the world. No, nature is “in here” – in the heart of your city, in your back yard, on your kitchen table.
It sounds strange and that’s because I’m using language to try and describe it, and our language is the fundamental instrument that has created and perpetuates this sense of separation we have with our environment. And that is precisely why we need the hand and the mind of the artist to lead us into a new era of unified perception.
The artist can cut through barriers of language and thought using color, pattern, form, texture, sound, motion – bypassing the rationalized framework that constantly locks our brains into either an adversarial or (on the flip side) a romanticized relationship with nature.
That’s why a guy who normally writes about green technology is starting an art column. Bless the hearts of all those nanoscientists, nuclear physicists, and solar engineers struggling to create viable solutions for the high-tech city of the future. But without a fundamental shift in our perceived integration with the natural world I’m afraid it will all be for naught.
by Karl Burkart