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Not Just a Landscape: How the Art of the New Climatic Regime Views Nature
Essay by Alexander Burenkov
Katie Paterson. Future Library, 2014–2114. Image courtesy of the artist.
New forms of human interaction with nature are one of the key subjects of contemporary art. When depicting nature, artists capture how our relationship with the environment is shifting in the 21st century, and how we are redefining our place in today's world.
Overconsumption, corporate land grabs, global environmental degradation – every aspect of our relationship with nature today is defined by the climate crisis. We live at a watershed moment in history, and now, more than ever, feel the catastrophic consequences of the ideas of the Enlightenment, which led to the global shifts that we have inherited.

Five hundred years ago, at the dawn of the modern era, René Descartes drew up the principles of 'practical philosophy', which went on to guide both Western science and colonialism. Thirty years ago, Michel Serres published his book The Natural Contract, in which he argued that the environmental crisis is intrinsic to our very attitude to the world around us:

Mastery and possession: these are the master words launched by Descartes at the dawn of the scientific and technological age when our Western reason went off to conquer the universe. We dominate and appropriate it: such is the shared philosophy underlying industrial enterprise as well as so-called disinterested science, which are indistinguishable in this respect. Cartesian mastery brings science's objective violence into line, making it a well-controlled strategy. Our fundamental relationship with objects comes down to war and property[1].

Historically, 'civilised people' have treated nature as a resource to be colonised, exploited, commodified, and fetishised – which was understood not only by Marxist theorists but also by indigenous peoples – therefore, Serres suggested that we need to sign a new 'contract with nature' that would allow us to rethink our relations with the planet and non-human life forms.
[1] Michel Serres, The Natural Contract, tr. Elizabeth MacArthur, William Paulson (Ann Arbor, MI, 1995), 32.
Paulo Tavares
Non-human Rights, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.
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Serres's visionary ideas have since been expanded on across a wide range of artistic practices, for example, in the World of Matter international project. Starting from 2013, it has been a platform for creative reflection, research and analysis of how capitalism shapes nature and how we could redefine its impact. The project's participants are interested in 'decolonising nature', particularly in the ways that somehow refer to Serres's texts. This idea is clearly articulated in the architect and urbanist Paulo Tavares's 2012 Non-human Rights project. The World of Matter community publish video essays, photographs, and presentations to prove that the current model of resource capitalism, industrial ecocide, and neoliberal agro-economy is 1) socially and environmentally destructive, and 2) based on the imperialist paradigms of the past centuries, which is why its effects are felt more strongly in poor countries.
Contents
Part 1
The Environmental Turn
The exploration of various contemporary art practices that deal with climate issues and the modern individual's attitude towards nature can touch upon many aspects. For example, we can trace the evolution of land art and new forms of public art: how art responds to city expansion and the new rules of social distancing that emerged during the pandemic and changed the way we behave in public spaces.

The very recent public art project by Lithuanian artists Lina Lapelytė and Mantas Petraitis, Currents, commissioned for the 2nd Riga Biennial RIBOCA2, comprises an artificial floating island on the river Daugava assembled from 2,000 pine logs. In her work, Lina Lapelytė criticises modern hierarchies and power structures through installations and sound performances. She invites professional and amateur singers to participate in her projects, mixing up various genres from pop music to opera. In Currents, the artist brings into focus the destruction of Latvian forests and the ideology behind the policy of natural-resource consumption: the enormous log formation tells about the times when Riga supplied Western Europe with timber for buildings and ships.
Lina Lapelytė and Mantas Petraitis
Currents, 2020. Image courtesy of RIBOCA2.
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As a mode of transportation, thousands of these logs would be brought together on the water, forming immense drifting rafts carried by the strength of the currents and guided by raftsmen. These raftsmen learned to cohabit with the river, working with or against the current, and as water carried wood, the human collaboration with one natural element helped them to capitalise on another. The Daugava, referred to as the "highway of rafts", was central to this practice until priorities shifted and the river was dammed to build Riga's hydroelectric power plant in 1974. The logs brought together for Currents form an island stage, an autonomous space of creation and self-determination. This "world in itself" is activated throughout the Biennial by a sound work which is a combination of poetry and singing that flirts with traditional raftsmen's songs. The logs are brought back into a cycle of life, as the raft is conceived as an evolving sculpture which will in due course be reclaimed by nature. Through construction and song, the physical movements inherited from capitalist industry are restaged on water, drawing attention to the frameworks of power that economical systems impose on bodies and beings. In a gesture of recalibration, Currents delivers new sentiments on the floating remnants of man's past relationships with the environment.[2]
[2] Project description from the Riga Biennial website
John Akomfrah
Purple, 2017.
© Smoking Dogs Film, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
The interaction between art and nature can be detected in yet another way – through the lens of new forms of environmental art and the 'environmental turn' that has taken place over the past decade when an entire generation of artists, from John Akomfrah to Martha Rosler and Hito Steyerl, who had previously ignored the climate crisis, began to visualise the impending disaster. In contrast to the didactic and usually straightforward activism, these artists' approach suggests a more poetic tone, empathy, and aesthetically balanced strategies. Many environmentally oriented artists build on a 'performative' understanding of the future, the one that is put together by us now and depends on our actions in the present. In his article 'Art After Nature' (2012), the author of the crucial book Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology[3] (2016) art historian and cultural critic T.J. Demos pointed out:

Just as nature can no longer be understood as a pristine and discrete realm apart from human activity, art's autonomy is all the more untenable when faced with ecological catastrophe.

What does 'decolonising nature' stand for? Colonialism is built on the subject-object relationship between the individual and the world around them, i.e. on power-enabled domination and appropriation, if we use Michel Serres's terminology. Decolonising nature as a whole implies the termination of subject-object relationships in the social and natural environment, the abolition of violence that binds these relationships on many levels, and the abolition of domination and appropriation.
[3] T.J. Demos, Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (Berlin, 2016).
Part 2
Oceanic Thinking
Many artists follow a broader understanding of ecology, which implies close ties between biological, technological, social, and political ecosystems. At the same time, ecology is seen as the continuous interaction between man, inanimate nature, and other biological species, i.e. performatively, as 'ecology in action'. These trends are evident in the practice of Joan Jonas, an American artist and pioneer of environmental feminist performance and video art, who has been active since the 1970s to this day. Her project Moving Off the Land II[4] was presented at the 2019 Venice Biennale at Ocean Space, an institution advocating the scientific and artistic study of oceans. In the course of the performance, Jonas showed slides and videos of seascapes, proposing new strategies for becoming good neighbours and friends with aquatic animals, and pointing us towards the news about rising ocean levels, which will result in Venice being one of the first cities to be fully submerged. Dressed in white that has become a signature look for her stage persona since the 1970s and using various props, Jonas interacted with the animals on the screen, and made schematic drawings of sea creatures that could fit in a magical ritual devised to establish new non-verbal communication between people and other life forms and serving as an indicator of other ways to exist beyond the anthropocentric worldview.
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Joan Jonas
Moving Off the Land II, 2019. Performance with Ikue Mori and Francesco Migliaccio. Image courtesy of the artist and Ocean Space, Venice. Image: Moira Ricci.
Joan Jonas
Moving Off the Land II, 2019. Installation view at Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, 2019. Image: Enrico Fiorese. link

Water resources are momentous to the well-being of our planet, and their lack is one of the direst threats to humankind. The oceans regulate the global carbon cycle, support the resilience of ecosystems, and provide livelihoods for many communities. Water allows us to feel our connection to the outside world – we live near bodies of water, we drink water and our bodies are mostly made up of water – all these factors set the direction for studies in posthuman feminist phenomenology. This discipline considers the human body as being fundamentally part of the natural world and not separate from it or privileged to it.

One of the champions of this approach is Astrida Neimanis, a professor at the University of Sydney and lecturer at the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies. Her book Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (2017), highly influential in the art world, has inspired many art projects over the past 5 years, and was selected to provide the conceptual framework for the 2021 Shanghai Biennale. The curators of the main project – Bodies of Water – Andrés Jaque, Marina Otero Verzier, Lucia Pietroiusti, and You Mi focused on bodies of water as fragile ecosystems that sustain each other, and in a similar fashion, on people who also depend on other living beings. The Biennale's team and participating artists proposed to reflect on new connections and new forms of interspecies collectivity, precisely because ultimately, living and nonliving, we are made of water.
Armin Linke
Prospecting Ocean, 2018. Mixed-media installation with videos, lecture, and research, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist. Image: Sahir Uğur Eren.

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The oceans, although recognised as the guardians of the planet's health, are under threat today – in part because the growing demand for minerals is spurring the expansion of deep-sea mining. Artist and filmmaker Armin Linke views this as a watershed in marine ecology, and documents the seafloor using the equipment for deep sea exploration, mapping, and deep sea resource exploitation. In his pictures, modern technologies bring together charm, intensity, and destructive power. Linke's largest project to date, Prospecting Ocean (2018), reveals the inconspicuous interconnections between scientific research, industrial exploitation, and trade in ocean-related goods. Linke explores International Maritime Law, draws on the legacy of Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (the 17th-century Bolognese scientist is considered one of the founding fathers of modern oceanology), speaks at international conferences on the future of the oceans, and talks to activists, and as a result, the oceans in his films are presented as a battlefield of transnational corporations and sovereign states.

Linke's main objective is to expose hidden economic processes as well as seabed mining technologies that destroy the oceans and could spark resource wars in the near future. In 2020, MIT Press published a book by curator Stefanie Hessler with the same title, Prospecting Ocean[5]. Drawing on Linke's artistic research, she takes the subject much further, merging scientific and philosophical analysis with descriptions of artistic projects dedicated to decolonising the ocean, demonstrating that visual culture can offer its own ways to overcome environmental disaster. Together with scientists Elizabeth DeLoughrey and Philip E. Steinberg, artists and curators Stefanie Hessler, Armin Linke, Julien Creuzet, and SUPERFLEX are developing an entirely new scientific direction of critique – blue humanities.
[5] Stefanie Hessler, Prospecting Ocean (Cambridge, MA, 2019).
Superflex
Dive-In, 2019. Commissioned by Desert X in collaboration with TBA21 Academy with music composed by Dark Morph (Jónsi and Carl Michael von Hausswolff). Courtesy of Desert X. Image: Lance Gerber.
Part 3
The Landscape of the World Beyond Human
Humans do not merely exploit all living things over the course of their existence but their own bodies as well, which act as zoos with billions of coexisting bacteria and microorganisms. We can go as far as to say that human life is in fact a process of interspecies cooperation, of overseeing relationships within a conglomerate of living beings. Art projects that offer viewers a different, non-human experience or the experience of shifting themselves from the centre of the world to its margins comprise a search for ways to live better and more responsibly in a more-than-human world, an attempt to resist the logic of the Anthropocene.

All of the above is carried out by Biennale Gherdëina that first started off as one of Manifesta's parallel projects in the Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige in 2008. Throughout the fifteen years of its existence, it has been developing various strategies for artists' interaction with the folklore of the Val Gardena valley in South Tyrol, and in 2022 the organisers devoted the 8th iteration of the biennale – Persones Persons – to non-human life forms, recognising their agency and personhood. The curators Lucia Pietroiusti and Filipa Ramos believe that this approach will serve the common good, and allow all of the valley's inhabitants to reclaim their agency. They also believe that in our social and cultural life weshould envisage things not in terms of a white cube, laboratory or even a city but in terms of forests, mountain ranges, oceans, and continents.
Opening of Biennale Gherdëina ∞, 2022.
View of Vallunga, Selva Gardena. Image: Tiberio Sorvillo.
The 8th Biennale Gherdëina explored 'the ancient and future memories of pathways of people, animals, plants and matter across systems of migration, seasonal displacement and transhumance, in the region and resonating landscapes', and, at the same time, brought about a new wave of seasonal migration with the influx of art lovers to the valley. One of the most prominent works of the 8th edition – SENTIERO (2022) by artist, poet, gardener and choreographer Alex Cecchetti – is a hike across the Gherdëina/Val Gardena valley by exploring it through the realm of spells, legends, and poetry, a path laid out in collaboration with non-human beings. Hiking along the mountain trails offers the viewer a range of experiences, from mystical to sensory, associated with local food, smells and sounds. Cecchetti suggests that visitors set out on this walk unaccompanied so that it becomes a private experience of encounters with animals, medicinal herbs, and minerals, as well as with the cultural heritage of the region, which will help the traveller see the world through non-human eyes and change their perspective.
Alex Cecchetti
SENTIERO, 2022. Project supported by the Italian Council (10th edition, 2022) by the Directorate General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Culture. Image: Tiberio Sorvillo.
Artist and writer James Bridle, whose works demonstrate how technology is shifting our perception of the landscape, recently published his book Ways of Being: Beyond Human Intelligence in which he suggested that the very fact that we acknowledge the existence of non-human worlds helps us navigate the bigger world[6]. The threats that lie in this path are anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism. If anthropocentrism makes us believe that we are at the centre of everything, anthropomorphism suggests that by trying to access non-human experience, we turn it into a pale imitation of our own. In addition to acknowledging that humans are not the centre of the universe, we must accept that the plant and animal kingdoms are unknowable and must be regarded on their own terms.

Artist Barbara Gamper, too, creates her work in collaboration with living and non-living species that inhabit the Alpine valleys. Somatic encounters / earthly matter(s) You Mountain, You River, You Tree is a series of audio recordings that invites the Biennale visitors to walk around the Vallunga valley and, in the process of walking, become conscious of the fact that to exist means to be in relationships with others.
[6] James Bridle, Ways of Being: Beyond Human Intelligence (London, 2022).
Barbara Gamper
Somatic encounters – earthly matter(s). You Mountain, You River, You Tree, 2022. Performance at Vallunga, Selva Gardena. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina. Image: Tiberio Sorvillo.
It must be noted that the Biennale's public programme almost entirely consisted of various forms of collective meditation. However, their objective was not to recreate lost connections with one's body and spirit but to bridge the gap between humans and non-human species and nature as a whole. The Ignota collective's Memory Garden comprised a ritual healing space built in a circle next to a medieval tower and symbolising the lunar cycle that was activated by the group's meditation by the fire. A performance piece for two voices, four woodwinds and a conductor by the Hylozoic/Desires group titled an omniscience: an atmos-etheric, transnational, interplanetary cosmist bird opera spanning seven continents and the many verses, invited viewers to a session of experimental birdwatching that focused on collectivity, social practices, and non-linear modes of existence. Greek artist Angello Plessas conducted Meditation of All Beings – a set of rituals that included breathing practices, drinking a healing elixir, and various psychological techniques that help establish a unique relationship between the meditation participants, the Earth, and the Cosmos.
Ignota
Memory Garden, 2022. View at Castel Gardena, Selva Gardena. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina. Image: Tiberio Sorvillo.
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Better ways of interacting with other animal and plant species and developing ethical norms for the technologisation of the natural landscape are becoming the major subjects of artistic and scientific research and conferences, including The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, as well as long-term programmes, such as the Serpentine Gallery's General Ecologies and Back to Earth. Wildlife monitoring and tracking technologies, wildlife cameras and other tools for collecting animal big data, the exponential increase of which makes them a new technological add-on to any natural landscape, logically introduce a certain colonial view in relation to other species and nature and lay the groundwork for a speculative project on an interspecific distributed network of Animal Internet: Nature and the Digital Revolution by German author Alexander Pschera. His project is based on the collection of information using wildlife cameras, special sensors, and digital technologies that bring nature back into everyday life through an interspecies social network. In recent years, Pschera's ideas have received wide support among international experts, from musician Peter Gabriel to dolphin language researcher Diana Riess to one of 'the fathers of the Internet', co-developers of the TCP / IP protocol stack and Google's vice president Vint Cerf, who believes that the main outcome of Internetization will be the full integration of nature into all human activities.

According to Pschera, the 'transparent' nature of the future is the space of free interaction between humans and animals assisted by technology[7]. It is time to include animals in the communicative field created by humans as they already have their own system of communication that is superior to ours – and their famous 'sixth sense' that even helped the ancient Greeks to predict droughts and hurricanes. Some changes in this direction are already taking place today with the introduction of programmes that allow us to monitor individual species and even help them.
[7] Alexander Pschera, Animal Internet: Nature and the Digital Revolution, tr. Elisabeth Lauffer (New York, 2016).
Emilio Vavarella
Animal Cinema, 2017. HD video, 12:12 min, aspect ratio: 16:9, colours, sounds.
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There is also a standalone matter of whether the ties that these technologies establish with animals and plants are ethical. This question is raised, for instance, by Italian artist Emilio Vavarella who put together his first film Animal Cinema (2017) using fragments of footage shot by animals autonomously operating stolen GoPro cameras. Vavarella explored the possibilities of a non-human film narrative constructed outside of anthropocentric logic and demonstrating the first-person view of the natural landscape through the gaze of other animal species. The video gets us so close to the animal that we virtually find ourselves in its mouth or tentacles, sensing the world through other people's skin, eyes, and ears.

The crucial reference point for Vavarella is the concept of Dziga Vertov embodied in the film Cine-Eye, where he suggests an understanding of montage as a mechanism that carries 'perception into things'. According to Deleuze, who had analysed the director's artistic method:

Vertov's non-human eye, the cine-eye, is not the eye of a fly or of an eagle, the eye of another animal. Neither is it – in an Epsteinian way – the eye of the spirit endowed with a temporal perspective, which might apprehend the spiritual whole. On the contrary, it is the eye of matter, the eye in matter, [...] a machine assemblage of movement-images[8].

Projects like these that include images created by non-humans are usually designed to challenge human perception and clichéd thinking. One can but agree with Deleuze and Guattari, who, in their essay titled 'What is Philosophy?', stated that 'one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think – an animal, a molecule, a particle – and that comes back to thought and revives it[9].'
[8] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image, tr. Hugh Tomlinson, Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis, 1986), 81.

[9] Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, tr. Hugh Tomlinson, Graham Burchell (New York, 1994), 43.
Jakob Kudsk Steensen
Berl-Berl, Halle am Berghain, 2021. Courtesy of Light Art Space and the artist. Image: Timo Ohler.
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Criticising modern technologies that alienate man from nature, artists offer new ways that would allow us to start a conversation with the outside world and take us back to nature. For example, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, an artist working with VR and AR, explores how new technologies can make us more empathetic towards animals and plants, and make us feel mutual dependency with other species. The artist calls himself a 'digital gardener', and his tactics – working with slow media; in his installations he recreates entire ecosystems that have been destroyed or are under threat of extinction. Steensen creates imaginary spaces where technological and environmental aspects intertwine. The artist invites the visitors on a meditative journey, trying to guide their senses with the help of virtual reality, and letting them experience the sense of belonging with other living species. Steensen believes that technology and nature are transforming exponentially faster than it is possible to comprehend, and therefore today it is more important than ever for us to reconnect with the impulses and energies of the Earth.

In 2020, Jakob Kudsk Steensen won the London-based Serpentine's augmented-reality architecture competition. His work Deep Listener comprised a VR-assisted tour of Kensington Gardens. The artist invited the park's visitors to walk around the well-known area in order to listen to the calls of bats, parrots, and azure damselflies living there, but also the sounds of plane trees and reeds. The mechanics of interacting with nature was based on the principles of 'deep listening', formulated in the early 1990s by Pauline Oliveros, a well-known composer and a central figure in the development of post-war experimental music and a co-founder of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s. In 1985, Pauline established a foundation of her own, now called Deep Listening Institute, and launched courses and annual retreats in Europe and the US dedicated to 'unleashing creativity through active listening to environmental sounds and meditative music, composed by the Deep Listening Band and performed in resonant or reverberant spaces such as caves, cathedrals and huge underground cisterns[10]. 'Following Oliveros's principles, Steensen recorded the sounds in Kensington Gardens and then let the audience regulate the playback speed. By slowing down or speeding up the recording, visitors were able to discover new tones of wildlife sounds and engage in active interaction with the natural world inside their city.
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Jakob Kudsk Steensen
The Deep Listener, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, London. Image courtesy of the artist.
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One of Steensen's latest projects, Liminal Lands, commissioned by the LUMA Arles art centre in France that opened in June 2021, is a multiplayer virtual reality experience that brings together a 5-metre LED wall, a sound system, sea salt, and algae spread across the gallery floor. The artist spent two years (2019 and 2020) in an artist residency in the Camargue, the wetlands of the Rhone delta, and the area of the Salin de Giraud at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, where freshwater and saltwater mix in a never-ending dialogue. Weekly, Steensen recorded the slightest changes in the environment, the smallest events in the life of the inhabitants of the rivers and the coastal zone. Some environmental shifts are visible to the human eye, while others go unnoticed yet change the world we live in. And we are unable to comprehend the infinite number of natural processes that unfold around – and affect us. The artist focuses on a landscape that was formed 7,000 years ago and transformed in the 19th century due to the industrial cultivation of salt in the Camargue, but the energies of the ancient sea are still felt there. Steensen documented the life of the reserve, the processes of crystallisation and the emergence of a salt mantle, with algae, bacteria and other microorganisms as active participants. He likened salt to digital media, as it stores and transports knowledge about the structure of this world, it preserves life and destroys life. Crystals generate different patterns and visual effects depending on the wavelengths of light.
Jakob Kudsk Steensen
Liminal Lands, 2021. Multiplayer room-scale VR, LED. Video wall, spatialized sound system, natural limestone, sand, and pigment composite, 18:00 min. Commissioned by LUMA Arles. Image courtesy of Luma Arles and the artist. Photo: Marc Domage. © Marc Domage/ Jakob Kudsk Steensen.
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Part 4
Art in the Anthropocene
The Anthropocene[11],the geological epoch in which humanity becomes the main force behind environmental changes and irreparable and large-scale shifts, has become the subject of many artistic studies dedicated to the transformations of the natural landscape over the past centuries, and the role that civilisation has played in these transformations. For instance, Feral Atlas Collective, comprising more than a hundred scientists, artists, anthropologists, and humanitarian specialists, suggests methodologies of its own. Its founders, visual anthropologists Jennifer Deger and Victoria Baskin Coffey, architect Feifei Zhou and anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, study the most unexpected consequences of human activity on the environment. They pick various infrastructures such as plantations, waterways, factories, dams, power plants, and drilling rigs and use them as an example to demonstrate how the environment changed following their construction, whether it is a mud volcano that grew next to a drilling rig in Indonesia, or water hyacinths that transformed the Bengal Delta as a direct result of the 19th-century railroad construction, or underwater noise pollution in the Arctic, or microplastics in the Pacific.
[11]Scientists date this period differently: according to some, it began 12 thousand years ago, others believe it started in the 1960s.
Feral Atlas Collective
Display view at the Painting and Sculpture Museum of the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, the 16th Istanbul Biennial, 2019. Courtesy of the 16th Istanbul Biennial. Image: Sahir Uğur Eren.
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Feral Atlas Collective's research optics is unique, even if it utilises the strategies of scientific analysis and investigative journalism. The members discover new eco worlds that spring up at the point when the natural world comes into contact with human infrastructure. They also teach us to recognise and pay attention to ecosystems that appeared due to human activities, but developed outside his control. This method sheds light on the world where many living species paradoxically build their systems around the waste and rubbish created by human activity. Feral Atlas Collective consider cooperation a crucial principle of coexistence. They firmly believe that every event in human history has been more-than-human. Interspecies cooperation is not limited to the activities of gut bacteria that allow us to digest food, but for many people today this fact is far from obvious. It all boils down to the mindset, and Feral Atlas Collective aims to change it. Armed with digital technologies and the analysis of big data, the collective raises complex political and economic issues in a gamified way.
Posthuman Studies Lab
After Petropolitics: The Politics and Economics of the Coming World, 2019. Image courtesy of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.

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The Russian independent curatorial and educational initiative Posthuman Studies Lab[12] works in a similar vein. The collective consists of Ekaterina Nikitina, a researcher in the field of post-humanities and animal studies, and Nikita Sazonov, a philosopher who works in the field of speculative philosophy, posthuman politics, and transdisciplinary research and thinking. They bring together researchers across different research fields, media artists and designers to explore the relationship between nature and technology together. In a practical sense, Posthuman Studies Lab (PhSL) explores abandoned factories, power plants and other industrial ruins in the post-Soviet space, which now belong to flora and fauna and form the basis for the blossoming of new ecosystems.

The PhSL members believe that plants and animals that inhabit abandoned spaces form worlds that are as fascinating and rich as the world inhabited by humans. Instead of making futile attempts to fight these derivatives of nature and technology, artists invite us to take a closer look at their ways of surviving in these complex environments. One of their projects, Russian Ferations, is an 'interactive map of creatures and objects, the heirs to Soviet culture and industry, which continue to live autonomously on the periphery of modern civilization. The term ferations (derived from "feral") refers to a network of self-organising ecosystems within abandoned industrial spaces across the former Soviet Union. PhSL sees such ecosystems as hybrids of Ivan Michurin's agrobiology, Soviet mechanical engineering, and cosmonautics, which have returned to the wild and formed their own political alliances, and against which human statehood is engaged in a struggle[13].'

Posthuman Studies Lab's views are consonant with those of George Monbiot, environmentalist, activist and columnist for The Guardian. In his book Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life[14], Monbiot describes ecosystems returning to their original state after human intervention and resuming their ecological processes, sometimes for the first time in millennia. The term the author uses – rewilding – dates back to the eponymous movement that appeared in the 1990s. Its proponents advocate returning nature to the state in which it was before cultivation. However, Monbiot believes that the correct strategy would be to bring back the memory of the original landscapes as opposed to reconstructing them – to recreate the sense of wildness, to reintroduce missing plants and animals (which implies culling some particularly invasive exotic species), to take down the fences, and cease commercial fishing and other forms of exploitation. The restored ecosystems would be best described not as wild but as self-governing, existing outside of the will of man.
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[14] George Monbiot, Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life (London, 2013).
Hicham Berrada
Présage, 2007–ongoing. Video 4k, variable duration. Chemical landscape in glass tank. Courtesy of the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London. Image: Laurent Lecat.

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Abstract projections of natural landscapes of the future are synthesised – in a manner of a Petri dish – in the installations by the French artist of Moroccan origin, Hisham Berrada. His background in science has been a major influence on his artistic methodology: all of his projects are based on the reconstruction of chemical reactions and experiments. His best-known series of works, Présage, is a film following the reactions of transforming microcosms. The work's evolving forms are generated by an interaction of scavenged local substances, including residual materials from buildings and industrial sites and other naturally-occurring minerals found in Riga and its surroundings like silica and calcite. As the artist states, "our cities constitute abnormally high concentrations of materials that have been refined by humans. In a relatively short amount of time, cities will return to dust, passing through a state of ruin, that symbol so dear to art history." Bringing together the precise material elements present in Riga's natural and man-made surrounds, Présage presents the vision of a very possible future, long after those city ruins have disappeared. At first glance, Berrada's worlds could equally evoke a prehistoric landscape or a futuristic nature. Between distant past and future, the short existence of the exhibition and the long-term scale of geology, Présage provides a paradoxical experience of projection, where our sense of time is disturbed by the accelerated phenomenon of mineral worlds developing in front of us. Every object in nature is destined to disappear. However, some systems fight against the entropic condition, mutating as a strategy of survival. The ecosystems generated by Berrada follow from this logic, presenting scenes where natural and artificial substances blend together into complex organisms. Built from the remains of a 'man-made' world, these microscopic universes are a glimpse of a planet to come in a million years, when the one we know has collapsed. A world where the distinctions between mineral and vegetal, living and nonliving, might be less evident[15].
Hicham Berrada
Présage, 2007–ongoing. Video 4k, variable duration. Chemical landscape in glass tank. Courtesy of the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London. Image: Laurent Lecat.
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The Anthropocene reinforces the global similarity engendered by global capitalism at the atmospheric, geological, and metaphysical levels (in this respect, the term the Capitalocene coined by Andreas Malm may be even more appropriate). Indeed, things no longer seem distant – save from the stratosphere, – and the very concept of 'distance' seems to have been irretrievably lost. The ongoing processes can be described as intense proximity – the title of the main project of Paris's La Triennale 2012 curated by Okwui Enwezor (although Enwezor picked the name without explicitly referring to the problems of the Anthropocene but rather as a reference to the reduction of distances between peoples and cultures). Borders have become translucent, a distant point on a map may be closer than a suburb just a few miles away, and chaotic 'butterfly effects' are multiplying in the planet's economy and causing unexpected climate shifts. Contemporary art becomes 'catastrophic' by nature, since it documents the spatial-temporal processes whose coordinates do not match the coordinates of the classical Euclidean space. Mathematician René Thom called any mutagenic elements of morphology 'points of catastrophe'. When morphology is examined with the naked eye, everything is calm. But as soon as one examines something from their environment under a microscope, things start to move, and, apparently, a certain point becomes the threshold of catastrophe, because it is located on the border of a new field. Thom's mathematical theory challenges binary thinking: object/background, form/content, open/closed – these concepts are becoming more problematic than ever before in the face of global warming. It appears that artists across the globe are learning their lesson from the environmental catastrophe by inventing catastrophic (in the mathematical sense) ways of representing it. Objects merge with their background, forms and content are juxtaposed with each other; no space seems perfectly airtight anymore. On a more general level, the topology of the world is separated from its geography: two distant points on the map can now coincide, as if both globalisations, economic and climatic, have twisted the entire planet in an unexpected way (like a Möbius loop) and created folds never seen before. The Anthropocene creates ripples in the smooth image of our planet, which no longer seems such a plain form, and people, machines, bacteria, fungi, animals, and plastic are intertwined in the catastrophic Anthropocene choreography.
Dora Budor
Origin I (A Stag Drinking), 2019
Installation view of Dora Budor's I am Gong exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel, 2019. Pictured here are Origin III (Snow Storm), 2019, and Origin I (A Stag Drinking), 2019. Courtesy of Kunsthalle Basel and the artist. Image: Philipp Hänger / Kunsthalle Basel.

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New York-based Croatian artist Dora Budor designs her work as complex ecosystems in which all elements depend on each other. Her three works from 2019 – Origin I (A Stag Drinking), Origin II (Burning of the Houses), Origin III (Snow Storm) – comprise a series of devices that record the sounds of the urban environment outside of the exhibition space walls and broadcast them inside special environmental test chambers, filled with dust, organic and synthetic pigments, diatomaceous earth and silicon compounds. This creates a post-apocalyptic landscape. The soundscape activates air currents, as well as small geysers located at the bottom of the chambers, and make dust particles, suspension and pigments rise from the bottom and circulate in the tank. The unstable images that transpire are reminiscent of the work of British romantic landscape painter William Turner. According to historians, he was the first to capture changes in the Earth's atmosphere caused by industrial emissions and volcanic dust. We now know that the romantic concept of nature proved to be as short-lived as many of the pigments used by Turner and his contemporaries. In an ironic gesture, Dora Budor shows us how the sounds of the urban environment trigger dynamic landscapes. As in a gigantic Petri dish, whirlwinds and tornadoes appear shaping the landscape of the Anthropocene spring up amidst the exhibition space.

The very concept of art, articulated by Aristotle in the 1st century BC, is undergoing a radical revision in the Anthropocene. If in the past art was seen as a juxtaposition of the form (morphe) and the background (hyle), contemporary artists no longer separate the two. Seeing anything as a background in contemporary art would be tantamount to denying the fact of the Anthropocene itself. A contemporary artist depicts a space with no more hierarchies between different states of matter, between humans and non-humans, between subject and object. The contemporary mentality is manifested in the convergence of areas previously considered unrelated to each other, in a previously impossible combo of plant and machine, animal and mineral, molecular and social. The human status no longer confers either a privileged position in relation to nature or its former scale: the human figure can no longer be presented as a protagonist, front and centre, against the nebulous, blurry backdrop.
Sofya Skidan
Transverse Hyperspace, 2018. Installation, video-essay, UV-print, photo-sculpture, installation, smells, texture, mirror. Images courtesy of Fragment Gallery and the artist.

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Young Russian artist Sofya Skidan explores the concepts of 'corporeality' and 'identity' in the tech-driven contemporary culture, amidst the climate crisis and environmental instability, i.e. in the conditions that theorist McKenzie Wark described, borrowing Karl Marx's term, as a metabolic rift. A professional Hatha yoga instructor, the artist forges a unique connection of her own between Eastern spiritual practices and modern critical theory.

The starting point for the new works presented within the exhibition was the artist's reflections on how the ways of thinking, the work of memory, and the perception of temporality, the body and identity have changed in the era of circulation and the continuous production of information. Inspired by the ideas of Donna Haraway, Eugene Thacker, Timothy Morton and Rosi Braidotti, Skidan attempts to set up a laboratory study of a new kind of physicality that seeks to erase gender boundaries and the alienation of the virtual body from its physical carrier. The artist harnesses representations of sexuality as a means of eradicating identity and the projection of a unified structural memory. The artist builds her video works through the medium of live broadcasts and "stories." This tactic constantly reinscribes her within the digital landscape of the Instagram social network, thus alienating her from her physical body and generating a new image of sexuality, while at the same time uncovering the potential for interaction between several body-avatars, freed from a defined gender identity and engaged in new processes of self-knowledge[16].

Born and raised in Ukhta, Skidan incorporates natural artefacts from her native tundra into her installations that portray the transitional state of culture on the way to a dystopian world of the future no longer inhabited by humans. The artist displays the ruins, and scraps of the past world left behind after an unknown catastrophe, in order to depict the forthcoming world and offer her own strategies for orienting in it. Embedded in Skidan's installations, aromas act as potent catalysts for personal memories, while photo sculptures with deformed images of northern landscapes, and immersive video environments recreate speculative memories of the artificial intelligence of the future recalling the 'lost paradise' of the nature of the past.
[16] From the Transverse Hyperspace show description. Fragment Gallery, 2018. Curated by Alexander Burenkov.
Part 5
Down to Earth
Over the past three decades, no sociologist or anthropologist has had a greater impact on contemporary art than Bruno Latour, the scientist who founded a new academic discipline – Science and Technology Studies, curated exhibitions and biennales across the globe and eventually tried on the role of a performance artist. His performance Moving Earths, broadcast in museum spaces as well as theatres, is intended to illustrate the Actor-network theory (ANT) that he first introduced. According to ANT, artefacts, technical achievements, objects, plants and animals ('non-humans') are equal participants of social hierarchies.

The genre of Moving Earths would be best pigeon-holed as a stage lecture-conference or a performative lecture, in which Latour personally shows the audience a number of geographical maps, natural landscapes, and abstracts written in chalk on a blackboard, draws a comparison between the two scientific revolutions and their social consequences – the discoveries of Galileo in the 1610s and the much less well-known but more recent discoveries of James Lovelock, who formulated the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1970s, which is now used by climate scientists across the globe. Lovelock developed ultra-sensitive devices to monitor the minutest chemical changes in the composition of the atmosphere. His research was used by the intelligence services of different countries as well as the NASA space agency. Together with microbiologist Lynn Margulis, Lovelock formulated the idea that our planet is surrounded by a thin layer fit for living – a 'critical zone' or a 'dynamic physiological system', that has been self-regulating for three billion years with the help of plants, animals, and microorganisms. That is, the Earth is painted as a single living organism. The expansion of an economic system based on the consumption of hydrocarbons has thrown this system out of balance, and its metabolism has accelerated[17].

Latour calls the ongoing global changes a 'New Climatic Regime', in which people are no longer the centre of the Universe, therefore wildlife must be allowed subjectivity, and its agents (including viruses and microbiomes, which coexist with humans in symbiosis, essentially turning into a conglomeration of life forms) must be allowed political representation: Latour is not the only thinker to develop such ideas but is probably the first to come up with the idea ofpopularising them through theatre[18].
[17] Kamila Mamadnazarbekova, Наука и театр защитили права «нечеловеков» ('Science and Theatre Defend the Rights of non-humans'), Ведомости (Vedomosti) (2020).

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[18] Kamila Mamadnazarbekova, Наука и театр защитили права «нечеловеков» ('Science and Theatre Defend the Rights of non-humans'), Ведомости (Vedomosti) (2020).

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Bruno Latour and Frédérique Aït-Touati
Moving Earths, 2021. Lecture-performance. Production: Zone Critique; coproduction: Centre Pompidou, Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers. With the help of NA Fund, Fondation Carasso and DICRéAM. Image courtesy of the artists.

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The focus of Latour's Down to Earth[19] is 'the current political situation in the world and, above all, in Europe, as well as the factors that dictate it. Latour considers the main factor to be the New Climatic Regime, without realising the reality of which we will not be able to find political guidelines and land on solid ground, which is currently giving way beneath our feet as a result of globalisation[20]' and climate change denial.

The new force entering politics is the Terrestrial, and the Earth itself has become a political agent and has ceased to be a 'natural environment' – an object of exploration, a provider of resources and a backdrop against which the history of mankind unfolds. It has become a participant in response to human actions. This has always been the case but now this participation can no longer be ignored. The most obvious example would be the waves of migration caused by natural disasters. The appearance of the Terrestrial on the political scene requires a revision of the entire political structure, and with it the very idea of the world we live in. Politics ceases to be a matter of human – power, industrial, and national – relations, as seen by both the left and the right. Proponents of the Terrestrial offer a new network of relationships and solidarity between different political forces, both human and non-human[21].

In the summer of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing, Latour's book laid the groundwork for the eponymous exhibition project at Berlin's Gropius Bau, bringing together artists and environmentalists to create a horizontal open space for all living beings. The museum even kept the windows in its exhibition halls open for the duration of the show and gave up the use of air conditioning and other electronic devices. The project comprised panel discussions, lectures, performances and music sessions, all of which were intended to set the stage for a conversation between man and nature. Some works specifically focused the viewers' attention on the shifting nature of modern man-made landscapes. One of them was Absorption by Asad Raza, which displayed several tons of soil: organic and inorganic materials, including sand, silt, clay, phosphates, lime, spent grain, cuttlefish, pulses, coffee, and green waste.
[19] Bruno Latour, Down to Earth. Politics in the New Climatic Regime, tr. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: 2018).

[20] From the annotation to the Russian edition of Bruno Latour, Down to Earth. Politics in the New Climatic Regime (St Petersburg, 2019).

[21] From the annotation to the Russian edition of Bruno Latour, Down to Earth. Politics in the New Climatic Regime (St Petersburg, 2019).
Asad Raza
Absorption, 2019. The Clothing Store, Carriageworks. Kaldor Public Art Project 34. Image: Pedro Greig.
A compelling example of an earth-friendly art space is the AMAKABA healing centre in French Guiana that was founded by artist Tabitha Rezaire. Through her works, Rezaire conveys her take on racial issues through post-cyberfeminist optics, intermingling her art practice with teaching kundalini and Kemetic yoga, spiritual practices and being a doula. However, instead of healing people, Rezaire chose to heal the planet and founded a 'place for the arts and sciences of earth, the body and the sky' where she is planning to set up a cacao farm and a natural dye garden. Together with the centre's visitors, the artist practises yoga amidst Amazonian forests, spotlighting the tragic consequences of human activity on the ecosystem, relaying ancestral wisdom, and looking for ways to lead a more conscious and responsible lifestyle as well as for solutions to the spiritual and environmental challenges of our age. The farm is designed as a closed, fully self-sufficient system, with the plan to build an observatory and a planetarium for observing the stars, meditating and worshipping the ancestors and spirits of the forest, and conducting rituals associated with the equinox and solstice. The concept of the spiritual centre is built around the feeling of disappointment in the Western idea of progress, its anthropocentric logic, and the artist's desire to learn the wisdom of indigenous peoples accumulated over generations.
Tabita Rezaire
AMAKABA, 2021. Introduction video (still) courtesy of Amakaba.

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In the spring and summer of 2022, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris hosted a landmark group exhibition titled Reclaim the Earth, which brought together artists examining the links between body and land, including all things it nurtures, the extinction of certain species, the transmission of indigenous histories and knowledge, collecting and assembling, and the issues of social justice and collective healing. These artists demonstrate that we do not merely 'come face to face with a landscape' or just 'live on Earth' but are all part of the great 'soil community', as Rachel Carson, a pioneer of the environmental movement, stated in her speeches in the 1950s. According to the exhibition organisers, 'the Earth is neither a natural reserve, nor an agricultural resource, it is a skein of relationships between minerals, plants, animals and humans'[22],so we must leave behind the outdated model of extractivist and colonial relations built on human superiority and subordination, and put humans back in their place: no longer individuals separated from their environment but relational entities[23].

Another group show, Rethinking Nature, that ran at the MADRE Museum in Naples from December 2021 to May 2022, demonstrated that contemporary artistic practices do indeed contribute to 'rethinking the ethical underpinnings of existence in the world and underline the forms of interconnectedness that bind the entire planet'[24].The project called for radical changes in our values and relationships in order to address the cumulative crisis that has long existed in many geographies. In his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016), Indian writer Amitav Ghosh reminded us that 'indigenous peoples have already experienced the end of the world and found ways to survive', noting that farmers, fishermen, Inuit, indigenous peoples, forest peoples in India, have all experienced the climate crisis first hand and have already had to adapt, mainly through displacement and by finding new livelihoods.

Contemporary artists literally and metaphorically explore the most remote corners of the planet, spotlighting and even reinventing narratives that have been forgotten or hushed up for a long time, thus emphasising the need for making reparations to the damaged indigenous cultures, and for the care and healing of the communities diminished by colonialism. Giving up the Eurocentric lens, artists think up new connections: with the land, with our ancestors, and with human and non-human life.
[22] Barbara Glowczewski, Réveiller les esprits de la terre (Bellevaux, 2021), 266.

[23] Arturo Escobar, Sentir-penser avec la terre. Une écologie au-delà de l'Occident (Paris, 2018), 136.

[24] Project description
Megan Cope
Untitled (Death Song), 2020. Drills, oil drums, violin, cello, bass, guitar and piano strings, natural debris, iron thread, metal, rocks, gravels. Stereo sound. Acknowledgment: Hoshio Shinohara. Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery (Brisbane). Seen on the walls are paintings on textile by Judy Watson.
Part 6
Deep Into the Earth
Russian artists peer deep into the Earth, sometimes arriving at paradoxical links with natural hyper-objects. Dmitry Morozov's Geological Trilogy is a series of three works united by a common design principle and their method of development and implementation: ::vtol:: (as Morozov calls himself) creates an installation, with takes him to the place that the project explores or is dedicated to, after which the artist films a documentary or takes pictures of the entire experience, and exhibits the assembled artefacts as part of the final project. Geological Trilogy was titled after major natural or anthropogenic planetary/geological phenomena: the 12 262 project examines the Kola Superdeep Borehole, Guest explores the fall of the Sikhote-Alin meteorite, and Takir is dedicated to the drying up of the Aral Sea.

Each of these projects also refers to the notion of deep media. Researcher and curator Dmitry Bulatov defines deep media as a very actively evolving area of research today, which is being developed at the intersection of contemporary art, philosophy and science. Deep media focus on the encounter with the impact of the earth's physical components, water, and atmosphere (in particular magnetic, electric, and gravitational fields), as well as the substrate elements of modern technology (metals, salts, crystals, etc.). Compared to traditional media art that works with screen technologies, deep media art appears before us as a new type of vision, allowing a deeper technological mediation of matter. For example, whereas media art deals with the production of computer images, deep media art considers these images from the point of view of the geological elements that make up the hardware, such as gold, copper, lead, and barium[25].
Dmitry Morozov aka ::vtol::
Geological Trilogy, 2018–2020. Installation. Images courtesy of the artist and Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. Images: Daniil Primak.

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12 262 is a multimedia installation dedicated to the legendary Soviet SG-3 (СГ-3) project – the Kola Superdeep Borehole, located several kilometres away from the city of Zapolyarny, Murmansk Region, inside the Arctic Circle. When the Soviet Union collapsed, this purely research-oriented borehole was the deepest in the world, with its depth reaching 12,262 m. Like many other monumental projects of the era, after the operation stopped, the borehole was abandoned and plundered, and its ruins became almost inaccessible to occasional pilgrims. [...] Its operation and inner life were shrouded in legend, mystery, and hoaxes.

Some speculated that the borehole was a part of the seismic weapon project of superior destructive capacity, while others believed that the Soviet Union wanted to drill a hole into hell. In the 90s, an audio file appeared on the web – with horror-like sounds allegedly recorded by the borehole. Numerous acoustic research projects were, indeed, conducted at the borehole – Earth vibrations and wave propagation attracted researchers no less than the geology did. This is one of the main reasons why sound is the main element of this work. Several years ago I visited the borehole and found a roll of punched tape in rusty water in one of the ruined laboratories. This roll, extracted from a computer at the station, became the starting point for this work.
The project is a sound installation that uses data decoded from the punched tape in real-time. It is unknown what exactly is encrypted on the tape – it can be a record of research data, a programme for controlling equipment, or a report on the work that had been carried out. Today, it is impossible to find a system supporting punched tapes adapted for modern computers – so for this work, I have designed a digital optical system, capable of reading encrypted data either at a very fast or at an extremely slow pace. That said, computer punched tapes are similar to punched tapes used by the early 20th-century player pianos and music boxes, which was an extra incentive for converting the data into sound. The installation's master controller, directed by a special algorithm, gradually deciphers the tape and gives commands to five kinetic sound generators that comprise miniature drilling mechanisms. After receiving a command, each of them starts drilling small samples of the stone core from the borehole. Over the course of the station's existence, tons of core samples were extracted from it to be used for research. For several years, the artist bought these samples at auctions and from collectors – they became valued by geology lovers after the station shut down. The sound of drilling small fragments that have broken off from such cores is amplified and processed and thereby forms the basis for an infinite-loop sound composition created by the object.'[26] Morozov sums up, 'It can be said that the whole installation is a kind of a drilling rig model, an artwork that combines media archaeology and geology, kinetic art and myths of a collapsed empire, sounds of mechanisms and darkness from great depths. In July 2018 I went to visit the station to resume the drilling process after 28 years of inactivity[27].

Another project of the trilogy – Takir – examines a completely different landscape – the deserted dried-up basin of the Aral Sea.

Once the world's largest saline endorheic (closed) lake, the depth of the Aral Sea began to decline sharply in the 1960s due to anthropogenic and natural factors. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, it had almost completely disappeared. This is one of the largest environmental disasters caused by human activity and the inept distribution of resources in the Soviet Union. Alongside the drying of the sea, a desert gradually emerged on its surface, which completely changed the landscape of the sea relief and the region's ecological map.

This hybrid installation is a system that simulates the process of transforming the seabed into a desert, a takir relief. Takir usually forms in flat basins. After a shallow layer of water dries up, the viscous, muddy bottom is exposed, and the surface layer dries and decreases in volume, forming a crust broken by cracks into separate polyangular slabs of various shapes and sizes. The surface area of these slabs depends on the composition of the bottom sediments (takir soils), the degree of salinity, the way in which it dries, etc. Takirs are formed when the groundwater horizon is more than 1.5 m. Under such conditions, the salts enter the groundwater and return through the capillaries.

Takirs are typical of the deserts of the Eurasian Subboreal Belt. The area of individual takirs is determined by the area of the internal-drainage basin. It is the bed of the drying lake that forms the takir, and it can measure tens of square km. Similar processes are now taking place in the basin of the dried-up Aral Sea, to which this work is dedicated.

Every year, the water either fills the lower parts of the bottom or completely dries up, depending on the flow of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. Year after year, such fluctuations transform the surface of the dry sea from a desert to a seabed. These processes are currently the subject of active study by ecologists, geologists, and oceanographers since they allow scientists to trace a number of phenomena that occur during such rapid metamorphoses.

The operating principle of the installation repeats these oscillatory processes. Samples of the clay bottom are either transformed into a liquid mass or dried out under hot air blown from special compressors. The dried substance cracks and forms a micro-model of the takir terrain. The cameras installed above the containers with the substance record the ongoing process, and a special algorithm turns the resulting cracked pattern into soundscapes. After some time, the containers are filled with water again, the 'bottom' is stirred into a homogeneous mass by a special robotic system, and the cycle repeats itself.
Like the other two projects in the trilogy (12 262 and Guest), the completed installation was supposed to travel to the Aral Sea and be installed on the former seabed. However, the pandemic prevented these plans from being carried out. The Executive Board of the International Fund for saving the Aral Sea was ready to support the trip, which was conceived as a joint expedition involving a large group of environmental scientists to the most complex and interesting locations of the seabed[28].
Katrin Hornek
A Landmass To Come, 2020. Installation. Support: Phileas, Federal Chancellery Republic of Austria. Courtesy of the artist. Image: Toms Majors.

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Registers of geological sensitivity and level of engagement with historical memory actualised by haptic interaction with the soil can vary greatly. For example, Katrin Hornek's work 'engages with the paradoxes and convergences of living in the age of the Anthropocene – an epoch in which capitalist, colonialist and extractivist activities have had an impact so great that terrestrial ecosystems have been profoundly modified. From collections of body stones to the solidification process of CO2 to the use of Earth's geological strata as musical scores, Hornek's works examine the relationship between human beings and their mineral environment.

'Her artistic practice asserts an understanding of the entwinement of nature and culture, implicitly arguing for more complex formulations that reflect the ways in which our bodies, cultures, materials, and thoughts are all composed of other presences that make up our world,' writes philosopher Heather Davis. As an artist-researcher, Katrin Hornek also takes part in The Anthropocene Surge, a project led by the University of Vienna and the University of Applied Arts Vienna that maps the material influence of human activity on the city's underground. Her artworks are poetic reflections on natural resources that foster more desirable futures[29].

In 2020, a landscape of clay emerged in a former industrial building of Andrejsala. Shaped collectively by a group of teenagers, A Landmass To Come is the result of a guided meditation session bringing the participants on a journey through the Latvian soil. Starting from the ground, a voice takes listeners deep inside the Earth before returning them to the surface with imagination techniques. Together with this meditation, the clay becomes a mediator between subterranean worlds and individuals who themselves are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The guided meditation speech is made available for visitors to hear, framing the clay gestures in a story of changing states; Katrin Hornek's piece explores both earthly and mental strata.

A Landmass To Come is a speculative tale, a mental tour of the Latvian geological landscape and the industries that flourished thanks to it. From natural gas stores and massive clay fields to fertiliser companies and industrial buildings, Hornek writes new narratives of entanglement and coexistence: 'I'm very interested in those changing constellations, where the relationship between all the connected parts has to be rewritten and newly imagined.'[30] Appealing to multiple senses, she invites visitors to see, smell and touch the clay and, through listening, looks to arouse an ASMR effect – tingling body sensations in response to sensual stimuli.

Enabling access to the inner self, meditation also helps to develop consciousness of oneself within the world. Hornek's work is conceived to raise awareness of the physical impact of extractivist activities on Earth. Moulding the landmass also forges a connection between human cells and clay, known to be the initial cell membrane of the Earth. Clay has existed for 419 million years, and manipulating it by hand evokes what Hornek calls mineral memory. Clay is the witness of long transformations of our planet, holding the memory of the past but also welcoming the future, 'ready to host the emergence of new forms of life' as the meditation guide suggests. A Landmass To Come acts as a metaphor of care towards the Earth, physically reconnecting the human body to its host and encouraging broad attention to the connected universe in which we are enmeshed[31].
En-Man Chang
Ungrounding Land – Ljavek Trilogy, 2018
Three-channel video installation, 13:09 min. Courtesy of the artist.Image: Sahir Uğur Eren.

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Referring to the evolution of anthropological discourse over the past decades, philosopher Patrice Maniglier uses the term the geological turn. He believes that anthropology should not be mere knowledge that is generated based on the differences between us and other individuals within humanity. These differences must be immediately perceived as different ways of occupying the Earth, that is, being caught 'red-handed' in the imminent global ecological catastrophe. In this case, the term catastrophe is to be taken in its literal meaning: its Greek etymology suggests 'a turn' but also 'an ending; a resolution'. Caught up in the disastrous landscape of the Anthropocene, artists are now asking themselves whether there are ways to inhabit the Earth based on our differences: Should we follow natural flows? Should we migrate or create zones for sustainable development? Should we produce even more new objects or reuse and recycle the existing ones? Should we distribute products freely or attempt to analyse the materials and fabrics they are made from? The title of the symbol of the revelation, brought about by humankind's awakening to the consequences of the Anthropocene, can rightfully be claimed by the Seventh Continent, a gigantic mass of floating plastic debris drifting in the Pacific Ocean. Cotton swabs, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and all sorts of rubbish drifting around the globe over the past decades, starting from the 90s, have been collected by ocean currents into a huge whirlpool of non-biodegradable garbage, also known as the Plastic Soup and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It can be argued that this new island, born of overproduction, industrial surplus and planet-unfriendly lifestyle, with its weight estimated at 7 billion tons, and an area five times the size of Turkey or six times the size of France, is a solid reflection of the Anthropocene: a pure product of the human activity, and in particular one of the main features of the world economy – the mass production of disposable items. This continent has virtually been formed during the past few decades due to humankind's inability to process its own waste. As a new, totally uninhabitable post-natural landscape, which, paradoxically, is a reflection of the older, less and less habitable world, the rubbish continent created by people embodies the subject of new anthropology, at least on a symbolic level – The Seventh Continent has become the main theme the 16th Istanbul Biennial held in 2019 under the creative direction of Nicolas Bourriaud.

Landfills and wild patches littered with the waste of modern civilisation often serve as a metaphor for the imminent post-apocalypse as well as turn into a memorial to the lost harmony between man and nature. In his work Monochrome, Turkish artist Ozan Atalan shows what humanity pays for the endless expansion and destruction of primordial nature. Created for the Istanbul Biennale curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, the main theme of Atalan's project was the destruction of home ranges of water buffalos around Istanbul. The endemic species were forced to leave their habitat due to the construction of a new airport and a third bridge across the Bosphorus. The installation, consisting of a skeleton of a real water buffalo laid out on a concrete platform (it is important for the artist to emphasise that Turkey is one of the top five concrete manufacturers in the world) surrounded by branches and stones, included a documentary that showed buffalos in their natural environment, and footage of urban interventions that led to its destruction.
Ozan Atalan
Monochrome, 2019. Installation. Courtesy of the 16th Istanbul Biennial and the artist. Image: Sahir Uğur Eren.

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Part 7
The Landscape Shift
Artists working in the realm of public art often turn to the same strategy – they move objects from one terrestrial ecosystem to another to draw attention to environmental issues and consequently achieve amazing success in attracting the public to their projects. A recent example is Maya Lin's gigantic Ghost Forest installation opened to the public in the spring of 2021 in New York's Madison Square Park to draw the attention of residents to the problem of white cedar forests dying due to threats from climate change, a phenomenon that usually remains hidden from the general public.

The installation features 49 dead Atlantic white cedars, which are becoming a symbol of the devastating effects of climate change. The project reflects Lin's position as both an artist and an environmental activist: she became famous for her 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., but for decades she has been raising questions about the fragility and vulnerability of our ecosystem in her works. The height of each tree is about 12 m, so a person who finds themselves inside the installation feels small and defenceless in the face of the impending environmental disaster.

The term 'ghost forest' is used by biologists to refer to forests that died due to rising sea levels and salt water inundation. Atlantic white cedar populations on the East Coast of America are at risk of extinction due to historical forestry practices, as well as climate change that leads to salt water inundation, hurricanes, fires and other extreme weather events. The trees in Ghost Forest were all slated to be cleared as part of regeneration efforts in the fragile ecosystem of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The soundscape for the project was composed by the artist in collaboration with the Macaulay Library sound archive of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Upstate New York and featured the sounds of some of the native species of animals once common to Manhattan that became endangered or extinct.
The project, which was originally scheduled to take place in the summer of 2020, was to feature a grove of dying cedar trees that have been in decline since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But with a year's delay, Lin had to find new trees, to ensure she was using green wood that wouldn't rot or risk becoming a safety hazard. [...] Debuting as New York City looks to rebound from the pandemic—as well as in the wake of Lin's own personal loss, with the death of husband and noted photography collector Daniel Wolf of a heart attack in January—Ghost Forest has also taken on added meaning since its initial conception[32].

The artist sees an obvious 'parallel between a global pandemic and climate change which is also a global threat to humanity. By 2100, 50 percent of all species may go extinct due to climate change[33].'

Lin finds it imperative to speak about climate change, offering solutions, and believing there is hope we could turn this around. Besides, she also kept track of carbon emissions related to the project over the past three years, including her own travel and the work of landscape contractors. The resulting 5.3 tons of carbon will be offset thanks to 1,000 trees and shrubs being planted across the city in the fall. "[Those plants] will absorb 60 tons of carbon over the next ten years," said Lin[34].

When rethinking the meaning of forests, the vast majority of international artists and researchers in one way or another turn to post-structural anthropology. In his seminal book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (2013)[35],based on many years of ethnographic observation among the indigenous Runa people of Ecuador's Upper Amazon, Eduardo Kohn seeks to show that the analytical approach of modern sociology and cultural anthropology remains largely anthropocentric and needs to be criticised. The author proposes to go beyond what he calls the limited concepts of human culture and language and move on to the creation of an 'anthropology beyond the human', which recognises non-human living beings as possessing semiotic agency. Kohn hypothesises that all life forms, not only humans, are involved in semiosis, and therefore are capable of thinking and learning. He argues that not only humans, but any life form that communicates by means of signs, can be considered to have the characteristics of a person, and derives from this premise a complex 'ecology of selves', which includes humans as well as other life forms[36].

Kohn states that we all have different selves, referring to the work of Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.
[32] Sarah Cascone, 'I Call Them My Gentle Giants: Why Artist Maya Lin Planted 49 Towering Cedar Trees in the Middle of New York City', Artnet News (2021). link

[33] Sarah Cascone, 'I Call Them My Gentle Giants: Why Artist Maya Lin Planted 49 Towering Cedar Trees in the Middle of New York City', Artnet News (2021). link

[34] Sarah Cascone, 'I Call Them My Gentle Giants: Why Artist Maya Lin Planted 49 Towering Cedar Trees in the Middle of New York City', Artnet News (2021). link

[35] Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (Berkeley, CA, 2013).

[36] From the description of the Russian translation of the book on the publisher's website: link
Vladimir Chernyshev
Bus Stop, 2020. Installation in Nizhny Novgorod Region. Concrete, gas silicate blocks, wooden planks, tar, asphalt. 2.3 x 5 x 3.7 m. Image courtesy of the artist.

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The practices of 'going into the forest' popular among Russian authors are instructed by an entirely different goal. For example, Vladimir Chernyshev, one of the leaders of the young Nizhny Novgorod wave that formed around the Tikhaya workshop, leaves the city to create land art that does not require an audience.

The interest in the cultural borderline space – seemingly removed from current social agendas, where the result is by design inferior to practice, and where there is no viewer as such – is not accidental. Such spaces give the artist an opportunity to rethink the presence or absence of value in a work that disguises itself as part of the environment and operates on the principle of alibi, i.e., rejects any concrete historical attribution and accepts its continuous variability[37].

The main part of Chernyshev's land art projects, united under the title Suburban Practices, are

mostly located near Nizhny Novgorod in a largely abandoned unnamed summerhouse community. All drawings and installations address, in one way or another, the ongoing disappearance of a cultural landscape; many of the works themselves have already disappeared too. Suburban Practices is not a project but rather a process, focused not so much on the result as on the observation of life and changes in the completed works.

The overall framework of the works is built in close connection to the environment, unencumbered by any prominent cultural context. Most buildings and structures in the summer gardens have a practical purpose: low barns, tool sheds, occasional country houses, and empty buildings with just one window and a door – are not marked with direct references to a particular architectural style or a historical era. These buildings share an important attribute, dictated by their function – they are temporary. The same attribute is shared by the drawings, with the first ones done here in 2013, and installations scattered throughout the gardens.

The narratives draw from several multicultural codes, each related to a different undefined and barely readable mythologem: arch, stars, shadow, rainbow, butterfly, flame. The installations are made of a combination of locally found and specially sourced materials (primarily tar). As a rule, they do not have a final version and are gradually decaying[38].

In the 21st century, planting a forest to restore historical justice seems unthinkable without appeals to future generations and a futurological perspective. For example, for her Future Library (2014–2114) project, artist Katie Paterson every year asks one of the world's most popular writers to donate their book to the project. According to the artist's concept, all these works should remain unread and unpublished by anyone until the year 2114. A forest of 1,000 spruce saplings was specially planted for the project in Norway's Nordmarka region, and it is planned that in 100 years the 100 resulting manuscripts will be printed on paper made from these very trees. The Guardian rightly called it 'the most secret library in the world': the manuscripts will be held in trust in the 'silent room' on the top floor of the new Oslo Public Library (Deichman Bjørvika). The 'silent room' itself was built using the trees felled when clearing the area to plant the new forest for the project. One thousand certificates, giving the right to receive the complete anthology of 100 books in 100 years, are being sold by three galleries: Ingleby Gallery (Edinburgh), James Cohan Gallery (New York) and Parafin (London). Criticism of the project is related to the author's vaguely articulated ecological position, the fact that the artist deprives several generations of access to books by popular writers, including Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, and that the price of the anthology allows only privileged readers to read the novels.
Katie Paterson
Future Library, 2014–2114. Image courtesy of the artist.
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Contemporary environmental activists insist on strengthening natural protection.

Forests store and regulate water. Wetlands prevent floods and provide water for farmers and cities. Coral reefs are home to the fish that coastal communities depend on for food. But these and other natural defenses against climate change are rapidly disappearing[39].

In How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (2021), which quickly became a global bestseller, Bill Gates draws attention to the fact that restoring ecosystems has a huge payoff. Water utilities in the world's largest cities could save $890 million a year by restoring forests and watersheds. [...] Here's some more low-hanging fruit, so to speak: mangrove forests. Mangroves are short trees that grow along coastlines, having adapted to life in salt water; they reduce storm surges, prevent coastal flooding, and protect fish habitats. All told, mangroves help the world avoid some $80 billion a year in losses from floods, and they save billions more in other ways. Planting mangroves is much cheaper than building breakwaters, and the trees also improve the water quality[40].

The search for creative ways to talk about environmental issues becomes a challenge in itself. Writer Amitav Ghosh in the already mentioned book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable argued that 'climate change casts a much smaller shadow within the landscape of literary fiction than it does even in the public arena[41].' In the modern world there is still a lack of serious literary novels dealing with the problem of climate change, and the cli-fi genre remains a niche trend in science fiction, which makes the release of every new novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (New York 2140) or Diane Cook (The New Wilderness) a significant cultural event. Such an imbalance is not observed in the visual arts, where climate change has become almost a mainstream subject of research for artists hailing from every corner of the globe. Climate activists often talk about the need to give the crisis a visual dimension and to find emotionally powerful imagery, because graphs and charts turn the most powerful and irrefutable data into an abstraction, making them distant, incomprehensible and seemingly unreal. The mass extinctions of insects can be recorded in the most serious mathematical calculations, and every inch of glacial retreat is carefully documented, but few of these changes are visible in everyday life, which makes it difficult to convince people to change their daily routine, let alone to advocate the need for political measures that could really mitigate the catastrophic consequences of the environmental disaster.
[39] Bill Gates, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (New York, 2021).

[40] Bill Gates, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (New York, 2021).

[41] Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago, IL, 2016).
Olafur Eliasson

Ice Watch, 2014. Installation. Blocks of glacial ice. Installation view: Bankside, outside Tate Modern, London, 2018. Courtesy of the artist. Image: Justin Sutcliffe.

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In 2014, Olafur Eliasson left twelve blocks of Greenland ice to melt in Copenhagen City Hall Square. Later, the Ice Watch project was repeated in London and Paris. The artist's goal was to 'raise awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality of melting Arctic ice[42].' Eliasson deliberately drew the attention of citizens to the contrast between the natural world and the bustling centre of Denmark's capital. The shock that a passer-by experiences, when confronted with a block of ice in the centre of the city, is due to the fact that usually the natural and the human worlds are set apart. Three days later, when the ice melted, city life returned to normal, but Eliasson made many aware of the reality of the impending environmental disaster.
[42] link

Part 8
Landscape as Metaphor
Landscape as a genre of fine art may seem outdated today, but even in the 21st century it often turns out to be the most appropriate medium for the contemporary agenda. In the past few decades, artists offer new strategies for the relationship between man and landscape, and show the landscape through a non-human gaze, excluding people from the environment according to the worldview of modern philosophy. In his book Landscape and Memory (1995), art historian and Columbia University professor Simon Schama wrote that 'the landscape may indeed be a text on which generations write their recurring obsessions.' Artists and writers write and rewrite this text to this day, trying to overcome the anthropocentric role in relation to the environment, other living species, nature and the place of humans in it.

Marshes and swamps become a metaphor for an unstable world order in the Swamp School project by Lithuanian artists and MIT professors Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas, presented at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. The artists chose the swamp as a specific type of natural landscape, whose constant properties – instability, lack of clear boundaries and solid ground underfoot – correspond to the characteristics of our time, an era of turbulence, military threats and environmental disasters. That is why the Urbonas made the swamp an object of comprehensive study, a basis for the development of experimental educational methodologies and new types of thinking. As a result, the Lithuanian pavilion turned into a cross between a class and a military camp, an unsteady, appearing and disappearing structure in the urban and natural environment of the Venetian Lagoon.
Vivian Suter Above the crater Stephano end of October, 2016. Pigment and oil on canvas, volcanics, earth. 200 x 352 cm. Nisyros, Greece.
Vivian Suter Nisyros, 2016. Seventeen canvases. Installation view: Filopappou Hill, Pikionis Paths and Pavilion, Athens. documenta 14. Image: Stathis Mamalakis.
Vivian Suter Nisyros (Vivian's bed), 2016–17. Various materials. Installation view: Glass Pavilions on Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse, Kassel. documenta 14. Image: Fred Dott. link
Swiss-Argentinian painter Vivian Suter also creates works in collaboration with the environment. In the 1980s, she made her home in the tropical forests of Guatemala, and her paintings can be seen as casts of the rainforest, rains and winds, they literally become part of the landscape. For example, Hurricane Stan in 2005 and Hurricane Agatha in 2010, brought down streams of mud on the artist's finished paintings, but she perceived the natural disasters as the final 'finish'. Suter recalled that when the mud-covered canvases began to dry and change colour, she realised that she had to work together with nature, not against it. She started leaving her paintings outside to be finished by rain, wind, mud, and jungle, for dogs to walk across them with their muddy paws, so that the resulting work would become part of the local ecosystem. In his interview with Vivian Suter that Daniel Birnbaum took for Artforum, he noted that her works 'are not about ecology. They are ecology[43].' Suter's works are a physical representation of the place where they were created: the subtropical landscape of the Panajachel region in Guatemala. At the same time, they do not depict the landscape but are created in a long and intimate conversation with it – with its moisture, soil, animals, and plants. Birnbaum even claims that the landscape is the real painter in Suter's works, and abstraction is not a characteristic of the image, but a tool for deep immersion in nature and communication with it.

Suter's technique curiously echoes the creative strategy of Russian artist Ivan Novikov, who views abstract painting as an opportunity to talk about the Anthropocene and a deepened understanding of nature. His projects, e.g. Sincerely Yours (2017/2020), Novikov dedicates to Southeast Asia, as he explores the sociopolitical context of Vietnam and Cambodia, treating paintings as elements of a tropical Asian landscape. In Perverted Basket (2015/2020) the abstraction conceals a series of photographs of the Khmer Rouge uprising – armed teenagers, leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and children exploited in the fields – and right in the middle of the gallery tropical passiflora sprouting from the Soviet ZiL refrigerator celebrates the symbolic victory of nature over civilisation. The unframed, medium-sized rectangular canvases, made by the artist using a tedious process of coating them with synthetic tempera washes, when compared with photographs of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge Regime, allude not only to tropical rains but also to the page in history when the Khmer destroyed museum canvases with alkali. Flowing water, soaking into the canvas and washing out some of the pigment only to pool it in another place or distribute it in a trickling irregularity, forms a kind of film on the surface, similar to a chalked texture of a light terracotta colour, not unlike the devastated landscapes of cut-down relict tropical forests. It is as if Novikov were trying to wash away a layer of academic traditions acquired while studying at the Moscow State Surikov Academy of Fine Arts[44], ritually returning the eternally dying and now reborn medium of painting, 'cleansed' of everything superfluous, into the canon of contemporary art. At the same time, Novikov puts paintings and photographs in conversation with plants: tree branches, sprouts and large passion flowers suspended on threads in a pot placed in an old ZiL refrigerator broken by the artist – it was manufactured the same year the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Treaty was signed. Tropical plants also sprouted in Novikov's other installations – in Liên Xô, plant parts were fixed on a 'pallet' alongside abstract drawings and objects of traditional Vietnamese life. In the Umwelt solo show, Novikov went even further and compared plants with abstract canvases and even covered them with paint, forcing the viewer to look at the political as an ecological decentralisation of agency, in order to look at the painting from the point of view of non-humans – soil and plants.

Chinese artist Zheng Bo, who has recently become a star of various biennales, regards the natural landscape as an experimental platform for playing out alternative scenarios of the relationship between man and nature. In his projects exploring weeds and ruderal species, he raises the subject of merging with other species – via sexual intercourse. In fact, this trend was started by artists and ecosexual activists Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, who urged us to stop thinking about nature as a mother and start seeing it as a lover in their performances. Zheng Bo expands on the same subject, for example, in trying to portray a romantic and sexual relationship between a human and a fern in one of his most famous series – Pteridophilia (2016–present), which includes videos, performances and choreographic interventions. The artist believes that our relationships with other species may be based on mutual attraction, pleasure, passion, and not the logic of consumption – ferns are widely used in Asian cuisines due to their antioxidant properties. By embedding plants in a well-rounded social life, and suggesting bodily communication as opposed to verbal one in the spirit of queer ecology, Zheng Bo talks about the transformation of the very concept of 'pleasure' and its inclusion in the conversation about posthumanism and interspecies care, as well as touches on the subjects of power, domination and submission.
[43] link

[44] link
Zheng Bo
Pteridophilia III, 2018. Film still from 4K video, colour, sound, 15:00 min. Courtesy of the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
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The artist has been exploring the subject of equality from the very start of his career: in 2004, alongside migrant workers in Hong Kong, he carried out the Happy Meal project, in which five Filipino and Indonesian housekeepers took turns telling jokes. In 2013, Zheng filmed a sequel, Sing for Her, in which Filipino cleaners and social workers sang 'O Ilaw' in the Hong Kong centre to draw attention to their rights and political demands. From marginalised communities, the artist moved to marginalised species and started developing new forms of collaboration with them. These days he seeks advice from botanical scientists and describes his practice as 'new public art'.
Precious Okoyomon
Angel of the earth; Resistance is an atmospheric condition, 2020. Image: Axel Schneider.
Precious Okoyomon
Open circle; Lived Relation (detail); Resistance is an atmospheric condition, 2020. Image: Diana Pfammatter.
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Nigerian-born artist Precious Okoyomon plants gardens and forests in exhibition spaces around the world, from Luma Westbau in Switzerland to Performance Space in Australia. Yet they do not design their works according to the principles of landscaping – but as extremely personal spaces for solidarity with nature. Their projects grow, with snails, butterflies, and mould settling in. The artist works with stones, water, wildflowers, snails, and grapevines, as well as kudzu vines (also known as Japanese or Chinese arrowroot). Kudzu is an extremely invasive species, comparable only to hogweed in its impact. This vine was brought to the United States from Japan for the 1876 World's Fair in Philadelphia and was later used to recultivate the lands of the South ruined by cotton and sugar cane farming and to strengthen soil against erosion. The vine quickly took over the southern states – and turned into a convenient symbol for a wider narrative about American colonialism, racism, slave labour, and how cleverly someone or something can be demonised.

Precious Okoyomon plants kudzu in museums as an act of protest against colonialism. Their installation To See the Earth before the End of the World (2022) was showcased at the end of the Arsenale display as part of the main project of the Venice Biennale 2022. Precious Okoyomon's frightening sculptures, reminiscent of ancient totems made of wool, mud and blood, are set among an artificial stream and tangles of kudzu and sugar cane, which the artist's grandmother grew in her backyard in Nigeria. Like kudzu, sugar cane has become a symbol of the long history of the slave trade. Despite the gravity of the subject and the artist's calls for environmental rebellion and revolution, their works are designed to include game elements and are suffused with irony, a sense of human warmth, and love. The artist's gaze is always optimistic: even kudzu serves not only as a metaphor for the colonial past but also as a way to glorify nature's ability to adapt, survive and thrive in the face of global technological crises. Precious Okoyomon's projects are not straightforward activism – they are more like poetry.

For American poet and artist CAConrad, poetry serves as a portal to the space between body and spirit. Their (Soma)tic poetry rituals introduce alternative scenarios for coexistence with the earth and instructions for reuniting the human body with nature. Their poem (Soma)tic 23: Study for Shopping Mall Trees[45] starts like this,

'Go to a shopping mall parking lot with trees and other landscaping growing between the parked cars to create this poem. Find a tree you connect with, feel it out, bark, branches, leaves. Sit on its roots to see if it wants you OFF! These trees are SICK WITH converting car exhaust and shopper exhale all fucking day! Sit with your tree friend. Don't pay attention to the cars coming in and out of the parking lot, you're here to write poetry, not to worry about what a lunatic you appear to be.'

In print, CAConrad's somatic rituals take on a variety of geometric forms, alluding to the early poetic experiments of the early 20th century. Creating such texts is fuelled by violence against nature, modern identity politics, and tragic personal circumstances, but their goal is to immerse the reader in a Zen-like state of being in the present, to liberate them from the past trauma as well as constant fears and worries about the future.
[45] CAConrad, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)Tics (Seattle, WA, 2012).
CAConrad
KARMA HARVEST: A (Soma)tic Poetry Workshop, 2017. Performance. Courtesy of the artist.
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It is safe to say that in the light of the 2020–2021 pandemic, we have been undergoing a 'spatial awakening' – a new heightened perception of urban public spaces and the natural landscape. Rethinking ourselves in space, depending on its safety, size, organisation and visual characteristics, has become the main focus for many contemporary authors[46]. Solitary city walks were one of the few activities allowed during the first lockdown, and many artists saw them as a way to slow down and engage in introspection, likening this experience to meditation even if they hadn't practised it before. At the same time, distances between people are not always a hindrance – they often become the starting point for experimentation: for example, in the spring of 2020, Russian-born London-based walking artist Alisa Oleva conducted a series of remote performances exploring the landscape of Turkish cities during lockdown. She carried out the Walking Home project from Istanbul using Skype and other electronic means of communication.

A walk can take many forms: a poetic experience, a theatrical performance, a spiritual experience, an adventure novel, a way to read, perceive and observe the urban environment, an occasion for deep reflection, functional endurance training, tactics for a new understanding of the urban system, exploration of the soundscape and smells, subversion, intervention, a symbol of the city's mobility, a game, a way of participating in the public space and a chance to come into contact with 'otherness', a psycho-geographical drift, or a cultural experience ranging from solitary wandering to a group day-trip. The art of walking as well and moving in space sharpens our senses so that we can be more attentive and receptive to our environment or challenge the principles according to which it was designed. Today, in the overwhelming majority of cases, artists use the practice of walking to take care of the mental and bodily health of a person, as well as to focus on the subjectivity of the bodily experience of space exploration in the context of constant redefinition of the role of public spaces on the one hand, and the protocols of social interaction in conditions of the looming threat of lockdown and new waves of the pandemic on the other.
[46] link
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