least

laboratoire écologie et art pour une société en transition

ECSCo

Since 2023, least has been involved in ECSCo, a transdisciplinary research project launched by HES-SO, in collaboration with HEPIA, HEAD – Genève, and the OCAN (Cantonal Office of Agriculture and Nature).

The aim of this research is to evaluate the commons of Parc Rigot through past actions and to develop the long-term management of the site by the new user communitý (IHEID, Collège Sismondi, CHC collective accommodation centre, Rigot Hospice général, etc.).

The research team will analyse the joint planning processes and the impact of the actions carried out in the park area and will directly involve users in defining the expected services and creating adaptable tools, in particular through participatory workshops.

In addition, the project will seek to develop critical methodological avenues for disseminating these experiments to other areas and neighbourhoods in the Greater Geneva area, with the aim of encouraging the development of a thriving, sustainable city.

what we’ve doing

With the help of experts and researchers, we are analysing the environmental and anthropological context of Parc Rigot, focusing on past actions to support, protect, and maintain the park’s commons. From the very first meetings between the entities involved, it appeared necessary to build a common, developing vocabulary in order to better identify the key themes and shared perspectives of the project.

Inspired by this analysis and research, we are now developing the project’s specific vocabulary, paying particular attention to the inclusion of the more-than-human dimension. This work has enabled us to select, question, and broaden the meaning of certain concepts, such as the subsoil, the rhythm of plants, inter-human and inter-species cohabitation, and the commons.

what’s next

Each entity involved will organise a number of actions (surveys, workshops, artistic performances, etc.) that will reveal different aspects of the site’s commons and will invite the communities that gravitate around Parc Rigot and various users to test them in a sensitive and embodied way, thereby strengthening their interconnection and participation in the evaluation process.

These experiments will be included in a series of interdisciplinary publications that will mark the progress of the project and broaden theoretical and site-related reflection on the issue of the commons and their long-term management.

media

Ô noble Green

The « Ignota Lingua » by Hildegarde of Bingen.

Intimity Among Strangers

Lichens tell of a living world for which solitude is not a viable option

Ô noble Green

O noble Green, rooted in the sun
and shining in clear serenity,
in the round of a rotating wheel
which cannot contain all the earth’s magnificence,
you Green, you are wrapped in love,
embraced by the power of celestial secrets.
You blush like the light of dawn
you burn like the embers of the sun,
O most noble Viriditas.

This magnificent hymn to the creative power of “green” is a responsory written and set to music by one of the most brilliant minds of medieval Europe: Hildegard of Bingen, a Christian saint and mystic who lived in the Rhineland in the early 12th century. The tenth daughter of a noble family, from an early age Hildegard was subject to visions and migraines, and for this reason she was destined for the convent already at the age of thirteen. She would only confess and publicly describe her visions at the age of forty-three, prompted by a divine order; a few years later, she founded the monastery of Bingen, of which she was abbess.

Hildegard’s merits are countless: she is the first Western female composer of whom we have written testimony, and her body of music is the most substantial of the era in which she lived to have come down to us. She was an excellent naturalist: her mighty treatise Physica includes 230 chapters on plants, 63 chapters on elements, 63 chapters on trees, and many more on stones, fish, birds, reptiles, and metals, enriched with indications of their medicinal properties: for this reason, some consider her the founder of naturopathy. Her homilies and speeches, imbued with a form of revolutionary vitalism that was unknown to the ecclesiastical thinking of the time, were encouraged and even published with the support of powerful popes and prelates such as Bernard of Clairvaux – a truly exceptional fact in the profoundly misogynistic context of medieval Europe.

Hildegard, however, encountered some difficulty in describing her visions: “In my visions, I was not taught to write like the philosophers. Moreover, the words I see and hear in my visions are not like the words of human language but are like a burning flame or a cloud moving through the clear air.” How do you convey something that cannot be spoken? How do you give voice to new concepts, unknown to the theologians and wise men of the time? How do you criticise the very structure of current thought? Hildegard did not choose the easy way, but decided to invent a new language, which she called Ignota Lingua and which is considered one of the first “artificial languages” ever created (Hildegard is in fact considered the patron saint of Esperanto). Her “dictionary” is actually a glossary of 1011 words, mostly transcribed into Latin and medieval German with the help of a scribe.

Image: Hildegard of Bingen, The hierarchy of angels, sixth vision of the Scivias manuscript.

Among many wonderful linguistic inventions, the concept of viriditas recurs in her writings. Scholar Sarah L. Higley attempts a translation: “viriditas, ‘greenness’ or ‘greening power’, or even ‘vitality’, is associated with all that partakes of God’s living presence, including blossoming nature, the very sap (sudor, ‘sweat’) that fills out leaves and shoots. It is (…) closely associated with humiditas, moisture. Hildegard writes (…) that ‘the grace of God glitters like the sun and sends forth its gifts variously: one way in wisdom (sapientia), another in viridity (uiriditate), a third in moisture (humiditate). In her letter to Tenxwind she compares the virginal beauty of woman to the earth, which exudes (sudat) the greenness or vitality of the grass. The Virgin Mary, of course, is viridissima virga, the ‘greenest branch,’ in Hildegard’s Symphonia. Aridity, on the other hand, represents incredulity, a lack of spirituality, the abandonment of the virtues in their greenness: that which withers and is consumed at the moment of Judgement.

For the inner eye of the mystical naturalist, capable of scrutinising the invisible in the visible, the whole of creation is a flow of divine, gushing green sap. Hildegard attached great importance to the colour green, a symbol of vigour, youth, creative power, efflorescence, fructification, fertilisation, and regeneration. Celebrating greenness for Hildegard is recognising that we are part of a whole, without separation, and serves to maintain the cohesion between soul and body. This radical thinking requires new words, new ways of thinking: inventing a language is an act that helps us understand that everything can be called into question, everything can be imagined from new premises.

Below is a selection of words of the Ignota Lingua from the chapter on trees (translated to English by Sarah L. Higley): an invitation to (re)think everything, starting with the most common words.

Lamischiz — FIR

Pazimbu — MEDLAR

Schalmindibiz — ALMOND

Bauschuz — MAPLE

Hamischa — ALDER

Laizscia — LINDEN

Scoibuz — BOXWOOD

Gramzibuz — CHESTNUT

Scoica — HORNBEAM

Bumbirich — HAZEL

Zaimzabuz — QUINCE

Gruzimbuz — CHERRY

Culmendiabuz — DOGWOOD

Guskaibuz — WINTER OAK

Gigunzibuz — FIG

Bizarmol — ASH

Zamzila — BEECH

Schoimchia — SPRUCE

Scongilbuz — SPINDLE-TREE

Clamizibuz — LAUREL

Gonizla — SHRUB?

Zaschibuz — MASTIC

Schalnihilbuz — JUNIPER

Pomziaz — APPLE

Mizamabuz — MULBERRY

Burschiabuz — TAMARISK

Laschiabuz — MOUNTAIN ASH

Golinzia — PLANE TREE

Sparinichibuz — PEACH

Zirunzibuz — PEAR

Burzimibuz — PLUM

Gimeldia — PINE

Noinz — CHRIST’S THORN

Lamschiz — ELDER

Scinzibuz — SAVIN SAVINE

Kisanzibuz — COTTON TREE

Vischobuz — YEW

Gulizbaz — BIRCH

Scoiaz — WILLOW

Wagiziaz — SALLOW

Scuanibuz — MYRTLE

Schirobuz — MAPLE

Orschibuz — OAK

Muzimibuz — WALNUT

Gisgiaz — CALTROP

Zizanz — BRIAR

Izziroz — THORN TREE

Gluuiz — REED

Ausiz — HEMLOCK

Florisca — BALSAM

Intimity Among Strangers

Covering nearly 10% of the Earth’s surface and weighing 130.000.000.000.000 tons—more than the entire ocean biomass—they revolutionised how we understand life and evolution. Few would probably bet on this unique yet discrete species: lichens.

Four hundred and ten million years ago, lichens were already there and seem to have contributed, through their erosive capacity, to the formation of the Earth’s soil. The earliest traces of lichens were found in the Rhynie fossil deposit in Scotland, dating back to the Lower Devonian period—that of the earliest stage of landmass colonisation by living beings. Their resilience has been tested in various experiments: they can survive space travel without harm; withstand a dose of radiation twelve thousand times greater than what would be lethal to a human being; survive immersion in liquid nitrogen at -195°C; and live in extremely hot or cold desert areas. Lichens are so resistant they can even live for millennia: an Arctic specimen of “map lichen” has been dated 8,600 years, the world’s oldest discovered living organism.

Lichens have long been considered plants, and even today many interpret them as a sort of moss, but thanks to the technical evolution of microscopes in the 19th century, a new discovery emerged. Lichen was not a single organism, but instead consisted of a system composed of two different living things, a fungus and an alga, united to the point of remaining essentially indistinguishable. Few know that the now familiar word symbiosis was coined precisely to refer to this strange structure of lichen. Today we understand that lichens are not simply formed by a fungus and an alga. There is, in fact, an internal variability of beings involved in the symbiotic mechanism, frequently including other fungi, bacteria and yeasts. We are not dealing with a single living organism but an entire biome.

Symbiosis’ theory was long opposed, as it undermined the taxonomic structure of the entire kingdom of the living as Charles Darwin had described it in On the Origin of Species: a “tree-like” system consisting of progressive branches. The idea that two “branches” (and, moreover, belonging to different kingdoms) could intersect called everything into question. Significantly, the fact that symbiosis functioned as a mutually beneficial cooperation overturned the idea of the evolutionary process as based on competition and conflict.

Symbiosis is far from being a minority condition on our planet: 90% of plants, for example, are characterised by mycorrhiza, a particular type of symbiotic association between a fungus and the roots of a plant. Of these, 80% would not survive if deprived of the association with the fungus. Many mammalian species, including humans, live in symbiosis with their microbiome: a collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and enable the assimilation of nutrients. This is a very ancient and specific symbiotic relationship: in humans, the genetic difference in the microbiome between one person and another is greater even than their cellular genetic difference. Yet the evolutionary success of symbiotic relationships is not limited to these incredible data: it is the basis for the emergence of life as we know it, in a process described by biologist Lynn Margulis as symbiogenesis.

Symbiogenesis posits that the first cells on Earth resulted from symbiotic relationships between bacteria, which developed into the organelles responsible for cellular functioning. Specifically, chloroplasts—the organelles capable of performing photosynthesis—originated from cyanobacteria, while mitochondria—the organelles responsible for cellular metabolism—originated from bacteria capable of metabolising oxygen. Life, it seems, evolved from a series of symbiotic encounters, and despite numerous catastrophic changes in the planet’s geology, atmosphere and ecosystems across deep time, has been flowing uninterruptedly for almost four billion years.

Several scientists tend to interpret symbiosis in lichens as a form of parasitism on the part of the fungus because it would gain more from the relationship than the other participants. To which naturalist David George Haskell, in his book The Forest Unseen, replies, “Like a farmer tending her apple trees and her field of corn, a lichen is a melding of lives. Once individuality dissolves, the scorecard of victors and victims makes little sense. Is corn oppressed? Does the farmer’s dependence on corn make her a victim? These questions are premised on a separation that does not exist.” Multi-species cooperation is the basis of life on our planet. From lichens to single-celled organisms to our daily lives, biology tells of a living world for which solitude is not a viable option. Lynn Margulis described symbiosis as a form of “intimacy among strangers”: what lies at the core of life, evolution and adaptation.