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This image along with several others by Orin Langelle are part of the exhibition Visual Natures at the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) in Lisbon, Portugal. This research project surveys political, social and cultural forms of collective agency that, over the course of the last one hundred years or so, demonstrate how the transforming human understanding of “nature” – philosophical, biological, economic – informs the ways in which we organise, sustain and govern our communities as an expanding planetary construct, both in concept and practice.
More information on Visual Natures at the MAATis after the other eight photographs by Langelle.
Product of more than two years of critical investigations around climate science, creative practices and eco-politics, Visual Natures is a continuation of the journey started in 2021 with the data-driven installation Earth Bits – Sensing the Planetary and the public programme Climate Emergency > Emergence, curated by the first maat Climate Collective.
This research project surveys political, social and cultural forms of collective agency that, over the course of the last one hundred years or so, demonstrate how the transforming human understanding of “nature” – philosophical, biological, economic – informs the ways in which we organise, sustain and govern our communities as an expanding planetary construct, both in concept and practice. The resulting mapping cross-references four subjects of analysis – artistic production and cultural events, technological innovations and scientific findings, social movements, and deliberations of global governance – loosely following a chronological order from the 1950s until today. The presentation defies the challenge of its encyclopaedic character by way of a thematic organisation along three main concatenated clusters – Deep Ecology (1950–1980), The Planetary Complex (1990–2010), Multinaturalism (2010–2020) – each converging around expanding meanings of ‘ecology’ and environmentalism that from the 1960s onwards have grown central in international public debate, as phenomena of global growth, natural resource scarcity and pollution became provenly intertwined.
Deliberately appropriating an expression by architect and artist Paulo Tavares (member of the maat Climate Collective 2021), “visual natures” points towards a post-anthropocentric, non-hegemonic politics and aesthetics of environmentalism to emerge as a democratic and egalitarian paradigm of coexistence within nature that transcends human-centred worldviews and refuses the ecological violence of extractivism.
Commissioned to the Brazilian architect Carla Juaçaba, the spatial design in which the research is presented aptly takes inspiration from The Conference of the Birds, a Sufi parable written in the 12th century by the Persian poet Farid al-Din ‘Attar – a moral allegory of sovereignty and truth-seeking through shared sacrifice. She states: “The exhibition design is a ‘conference space’ in which we are birds discussing a new ordering between nature and man and between science and democracy, while redefining the idea of progress. It is a political space, since the discussion is about coexistence and to ‘find the right way to compose a common world, the kind of world the Greeks called a cosmos’ (Bruno Latour).”
The research contents are presented in a custom digital interface designed and developed by the studio dotdotdot in a continued collaboration with the museum since the 2021 installation Earth Bits. Visitors can browse the multimedia contents – images, videos, texts and audios – following the three main thematic chapters distributed chronologically across the 45-seat assembly designed by Juaçaba, each provided with a touchscreen through which scrolling the interface vertically allows to compare findings across the four subjects of analysis, while swiping horizontally moves through time.
The exhibition includes a Climate Library, a reading area incorporated in the installation where a vast reference list of books and publications pertinent to the various subjects addressed in the research is made available as a digital catalogue and partially in physical form.
The main body of the installation Earth Bits from 2021 is also being presented once again featuring the CO2 Mixer console and a new version of the video Planet Calls.
A series of articles and contributions extrapolated from the research will appear at maat ext. over the course of the exhibition.
Visual Natures and Earth Bits are both made possible thanks to the partnership and continued support of Novo Verde and ERP (European Recycling Platform) Portugal.
Art Director: Beatrice Leanza
Research and Curatorial Team: Beatrice Leanza, Nuno Ferreira de Carvalho, Rita Marques, Camila Maissune, Maria Kruglyak, Amir Halabi, Bárbara Borges de Campos
Interaction design by: dotdotdot (Alessandro Masserdotti, Laura Dellamotta, Fabrizio Pignoloni, Giovanna Gardi, Nicola Buccioli, Mariasilvia Poltronieri, Davide Bonafede, Simone Bacchini, Nicola Ariutti)
On the morning of 16 April in Washington, DC, early morning blockades, like the one above, prevented hundreds of delegates from attending the meetings
Installation Design: Carla Juaçaba
Visual Identity: Lisa H. Moura (maat)
Production: Francisco Soares
Partners: Novo Verde e ERP (European Recycling Platform) Portugal
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By Don Corrigan
Trees have never been so important as now. Stands of trees can help counteract harmful climate change. That’s, in part, why a national and local fight continues to halt destruction of old growth forests.
Residents interested in the fight for trees may want to attend the film, “Shawnee Showdown: Keep the Forest Standing.” The documentary will show at 7 p.m., Feb. 18, at Winifred Moore Auditorium on the campus of Webster University.
It documents a past battle in the 1980s and 1990s, when a dedicated group of activists fought on the ground and in the courts to stop clear-cutting, oil and gas drilling, and ATV use in the Shawnee National Forest located in Southern Illinois.
Karla Armbruster, an English and Sustainability Studies professor at Webster University, was instrumental in bringing the documentary to campus. She cited some photos in the film that were taken by world-renowned photographer, Orin Langelle, who honed his talents in Webster’s media studies program.
“I associated this kind of protest with the Pacific Northwest and was thrilled to learn that it happened here in the Midwest,” said Armbruster. “It sounds like more activism of this kind is needed now to keep our forests healthy.
“This film offers not only a history lesson but also encouragement that ordinary people, who care, can really come together and make a difference,” she added.
Armbruster is making a difference off-campus as an ad hoc member of the Webster Groves City Sustainability Commission. She is pleased to see more people getting involved in different ways to help the environment.
“This film is a wonderful example of ‘getting involved.’ It lets us know we can never become complacent,” she said. “Preserving our national forests, deciding what ‘preservation’ means, figuring out who gets to use public lands for what purposes – it’s an ongoing task every generation needs to take up.”
The film slated for Feb. 18 presents tough questions about public land use. Should our public land be degraded to generate commercial profit for a few? Will state and national treasuries take a hit from regulations?
With the effects of climate change intensifying and the knowledge that mature forests sequester more carbon, should forests be protected as regional carbon sinks? How can the forest remain a healthy habitat for struggling forest species like migratory songbirds?
Steve Taylor has been asking some of these questions for years. He attended St. Louis Community College (SLCC) at Meramec in Kirkwood before taking advanced degrees for teaching at Jefferson College and in the SLCC system.
“I recall my dad taking me along to his Sierra Club meetings when I was very young where I would fall asleep listening to people talking,” Taylor said. “We also spent most weekends camping and floating the rivers.
“I think all that got me very attuned to natural treasures around me,” Taylor said. “Later, when I learned of plans to clear cut the Shawnee National Forest, it was a natural step for me to become involved.
Taylor joined the forest encampments and protests of 1990 and 1991. He makes several appearances in the film at the 79-day blockade of timber-cutting equipment. He has stayed in touch with demonstrators from that time.
“The film interviews intensively those who live in Southern Illinois, including my good friend John Wallace, who currently heads the Shawnee Forest Defense group,” said Taylor. “There will always be a special bond among those of us who lived at the blockade.”
“Cade Bursell, who is a professor of cinema and photography at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, did an excellent job with the film,” added Taylor. “She took on a formidable task finding archival footage from various news outlets to put it together.”
At a fall screening in Carbondale, Taylor said a panel discussion included forest advocates John Wallace, Rene Cook and Deborah Button, as well as Cade Bursell. Former Congressman Glenn Poshard also participated as he was a big woodlands supporter and was actually at forest protests.
The Battle Continues
“Our protests and lawsuits put a stop to this deforestation,” said Taylor. “But the movement was a victim of its own success in the sense that most people in the region take protections for granted. Now that the moratorium is ended, there is hope this film will be a reminder of what we still have to lose.
“Climate change is an existential threat now,” Taylor added. “When you look at the dubious techno-fixes to address it, such as carbon capture or geo-engineering, it makes even less sense to cut down these old-growth forests.”
Webster University’s Armbruster finds that college students are again being drawn to campaigns like the Keep the Forest Standing movement. With wildfires and extreme weather, they see what climate change is doing to their planet and their future.
“Clear cutting is pretty much what you would think – cutting down everything in a forest indiscriminately, whether you can use it or not, leaving a ‘clear’ space – completely destroying forest ecosystems,” said Armbruster.
She said animals that survive it, have nowhere to go. The soil is no longer anchored by the roots of healthy trees and so erodes into waterways. In hilly and mountainous areas, the erosion can lead to landslides.
“Now we know about climate impact as well, since trees take in carbon dioxide and store carbon that we are putting into the atmosphere,” she said. “There are alternatives to clear cutting, such as selective logging.
“When trees are cut down selectively, leaving the rest of the ecosystem intact, they are able to replace themselves over time,” Armbruster explained. She said humans must be smarter about what they are doing to forests and the planet.
(A similar article by Don Corrigan was published by the Webster-Kirkwood TIMES on February 7, 2022)
This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” at noon Monday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.
When Missouri Rep. Doug Clemens (D-St. Ann) heard that President Biden’s recently passed infrastructure legislation included a $1 billion investment in a backlog of Superfund site cleanups, he was thrilled. Two of 49 sites across the U.S. that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified for accelerated attention as part of this first wave of funding are in Missouri.
But Clemens said the EPA’s plans in Missouri — which include volatile organic chemicals in soil and groundwater in the southwest St. Louis County municipality of Valley Park and the Ozark foothills town, Vienna — still fall short of what is needed in the region.
“We have a TCE [trichloroethylene] site not too far from where I live, in [my] neighboring district, off of Page Boulevard, which they have been remediating for decades,” Clemens said of the ongoing need. “We are sitting with areas in north St. Louis that have not begun remediation. … And it’s interesting how areas that are predominantly African American seem to be left out of the equation — that somehow life is not valued as high as it is in the suburbs.”
In its Dec. 17 announcement, the EPA noted that one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site across the U.S. The release also said the EPA is “committed to carrying out this work in line with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative by advancing environmental justice and incorporating equity considerations into all aspects of the Superfund cleanup process.”
Clemens said he hopes the new influx of funds can help ensure “things are equitable” going forward. Longtime St. Louis environmental activist Steve Taylor shares some of Clemens’ concerns, telling St. Louis on the Air he thinks there’s much more to be done in a region that has seen “decades of negligence” as well as little transparency.
“There’s a long legacy of contamination in this region,” said Taylor, who now works as the the press secretary for the Global Justice Ecology Project. “And EPA wants to get it off the books — wants to get it off the rolls and wants to clean up. But are the cleanups sufficient?”
On Monday’s show, we’ll hear more from Taylor, who will join an on-air conversation alongside Bruce Morrison, president of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. They’ll discuss some key Superfund sites in the St. Louis region, digging into what cleanups look like and why progress is often slow.
Do you have a question about one of the Superfund sites in our region, or about the long legacy of contamination? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to [email protected] or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.