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    Experiencing the Landscape

    The complexity of the term ‘landscape’ can best be understood through the concept of ‘experience’.

    Listenting to the Sourdough

    An interview with the artist and scholar Marie Preston on cooperative practice and including the more-than-human.

    Heidi 2.0

    The Alps and “proximity exoticism.”

    Common Dreams Panarea: Flotation School

    The video of the project Common Dreams Panarea: Flotation School.

    Vivre le Rhône: part 3

    River Guardians

    The Sacrifice Zone

    “One day, at the Ironbound Community Corporation, we smelled something pungent”.

    The Gesamthof recipe: A Lesbian Garden

    The Gesamthof is a non-human-centred garden, a garden without the idea of an end result.

    Vivre le Rhône: the podcast, part 03

    An audio project tracing the experiences of those who have come closer to the river by walking.

    Wild Bread

    An essay about the experience of hunger in Europe in the modern age.

    Vivre le Rhône: the podcast, part 02

    An audio project tracing the experiences of those who have come closer to the river by walking.


    A sci-fi essay and sex manual created by Rita Natálio.

    Vivre le Rhône: part 2

    When art meets law.

    Guardians of Nature

    An interview to Marine Calmet, lawyer specialised in environmental law and Indigenous peoples’ rights.

    Bodies of Water

    Embracing hydrofeminism.

    Intimity Among Strangers

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

    Vivre le Rhône: the podcast, part 01

    An audio project tracing the experiences of those who have come closer to the river by walking.

    A Sub-Optimal World

    An interview with Olivier Hamant, author of the book “La troisième voie du vivant”.

    Learning from mould

    Even the simplest organism can suggest new ways of thinking, acting and collaborating

    Putting Off the Catastrophe

    If the end is nigh, why aren’t we managing to take global warming seriously?

    A urge to do something

    An interview to climate activist Myriam Roth.

    Vivre le Rhône: part 1

    Meet the Rhône and Natural Contract Lab

    Experiencing the Landscape

    In everyday language, the term “landscape” encompasses a variety of notions: it can refer to an ecosystem, a beautiful view, or even an economic resource. However, the complexity of the term can be better understood and approached through the concept of “experience”.

    Experience is something that brings us into contact with the outside, with otherness: in this context, the landscape is no longer seen as an object, but rather as a relationship between human society and the environment. An experience is also something that touches us emotionally, that moves and transforms us. Viewing a “landscape” as such helps us realise how much it gives meaning to our individual and collective lives, to the extent that its transformation or disappearance leads to the destruction of sensitive markers of existence in the lives of its inhabitants. Experience can also be seen as a form of practical knowledge or wisdom. It is the kind of knowledge that is acquired by living in a place, which makes the people who inhabit a landscape its experts. Finally, experience is also a form of experimentation: this is the active aspect of our relationship with the world, enabling us to discover and create new knowledge and to bring to life what is yet only potential.

    We might take these reflections a step further and argue that human beings live off the landscape—a statement that may seem hyperbolic, but that makes sense if we pay close attention. Indeed, the landscape is the source of our food: we live in the landscape and the latter activates representations and emotions within us. Our relationship with the landscape is dynamic: by changing it, we also change ourselves. It is therefore impossible to avoid entering into a relationship with the landscape. The very choice of ignoring and not ‘experiencing’ a landscape can have practical and symbolic consequences.

    It is on the basis of these observations that Jean-Marc Besse wrote La Nécessité du Paysage (the Necessity of the Landscape): an essay on ecology, architecture, and anthropology, as well as an invitation to question our modes of action. In it, the French philosopher warns us against any action on the landscape: an attitude that places us ‘outside’ the said landscape, which, as mentioned above, is simply not plausible. Acting on a landscape means fabricating it, in other words starting from a preconceived idea that ignores the fact that the landscape is a living system and not an inert object. “Acting on therefore involves a twofold dualism, separating subject and object on the one hand, and form and matter on the other.”

    So how might we escape this productive yet falsifying paradigm? Besse suggests a change of perspective: moving from acting on to acting with, recognising “that matter is animated to a certain extent” and envisaging it “as a space of potential propositions and possible trajectories”. The aim, in this case, is to interact “adaptively and dynamically”, to practise transformation rather than production. Acting with means engaging in ongoing negotiation, remaining open to the indeterminacy of the process, and being in dialogue with the landscape: in a word, collaborating with it.

    Georg Wilson, All Night Awake, 2023

    Acting with the soil
    The “abiotic” dimension of soil is addressed, among other disciplines, by topography, paedology, geology, and hydrography. However, from a philosophical point of view, soil is simply the material support on which we live. This is where we construct the buildings we live in and the roads we travel on, and it is the soil that makes agriculture possible, one of the oldest and most complex fundamental manifestations of human activity. This “banal” soil is therefore in reality the focus of a whole series of essential political, social, and economic issues, and as such it raises fundamental questions. What kind of soil, water, or air do we want? The environmental disasters linked to the climate crisis and soil erosion or the consequences of the loss of fertility of agricultural and forest land call for collective responses that draw on both scientific knowledge and technical skills, as well as many political and ethical aspects.

    Acting with the living
    The landscapes we inhabit, travel through, and transform (including the soil and subsoil) are in turn inhabited, travelled through, and transformed by other living beings, animals and plants. In his essay Sur la Piste Animale (On the Animal Trail), philosopher Baptiste Morizot invites us to live together “in the great ‘shared geopolitics’ of the landscape”, by trying to take the point of view of “wild animals, trees that communicate, living soil that works, plants that are allies in the permacultural kitchen garden, to see through our eyes and become sensitive to their habits and customs, to their immutable perspectives on the cosmos, to invent thousands of relationships with them”. To interpret a landscape correctly, it is necessary to take into account the “active power of living beings” with their spatiality and temporality, and to integrate our relationship with them.

    Acting with other human beings
    A landscape is a “collective situation” that also concerns inter-human relations in their various forms. A landscape is linked to desires, representations, norms, practices, stories, and expectations, and it draws on emotions and positions as diverse as people’s desires, experiences, and interests. Acting with other human beings means acting with a complex whole that includes individuals, communities, and institutions, and drawing on the practical and symbolic—in a continuous process of negotiation and mediation.

    Acting with space
    Considered through the tools of geometry, space is an objective entity: its dimensions, proportions, and boundaries can be satisfactorily described. However, the space of the landscape cannot be reduced to measurable criteria. In reality, it is an intrinsically heterogeneous space: “locations, directions, distances, morphologies, ways of practising them and of investing in them economically and emotionally are not equivalent either spatially or qualitatively”. Interpreting the space of the landscape correctly therefore means remembering that “numerical” and “geometric” measurements are necessarily false, and that the set of geographies (economic, social, cultural, or personal) that make it up are neither neutral, nor uniform, nor fixed in time.

    Acting with time
    When we think of the relationship between landscape and time, the first image that springs to mind is that of the earth’s crust and the geological layers that make it up, or that of archaeological ruins buried beneath the surface. In short, we imagine a sort of tidy “palimpsest” of a past time, with which all relations are closed. The time of the landscape, however, should be interpreted according to more complex logics: we need only think of the persistence of practices and experiences in its context, and the fact that landscape destruction is never total: rather, it is transformation. What’s more, the time of the landscape also includes non-human time scales, such as geology, climatology, and vegetation. They are temporalities to which we are nonetheless closely linked. Thus, in reality, the landscape remains in constant tension between past and present.

    “Our era,” Jean-Marc Besse concludes, “is one of a crisis of attention. […] Landscape seems to be one of the ‘places’ where the prospect of a ‘correspondence’ with the world can be rediscovered […]. In other words, the landscape […] can be seen as a device for paying attention to reality, and thus as a fundamental condition for activating or reactivating a sensitive and meaningful relationship with the surrounding world”, in other words, the necessity of the landscape.

    Listenting to the Sourdough

    An interview on cooperative practices and how to include the more-than-human with Marie Preston, artist and lecturer at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis (TEAMeD/AIAC Laboratory). Her artistic work takes the form of research aimed at creating works and documents of experience with people who are not necessarily artists. In recent years, her research has focused on the practice of baking, open schools, and libertarian and institutional pedagogies, as well as on women working in the care and childcare sector.

    How do co-creative practices compare with political or social participation?
    According to philosopher Joëlle Zask, participation in politics should be a combination of taking part, contributing and receiving. Cooperative artistic practices open up spaces where experiences and opinions can be shared, something which is also common to politics. However, political participation aims for an explicit goal, unlike many cooperative artistic practices which are “indeterminate” at first and whose objectives can change through various encounters. This is very much the plastic dimension of the relational forms that are invented in these practices.
    Then there is the fact that these shared experiences are expressed in an artistic, tangible form, which is obviously a key difference compared to exclusively political or social participation. However, there is also another distinctive feature: groups are heterogeneous, and the practice only really works when the singularity of each voice in the collective emerges and reflects the group’s complexity. This is a real asset compared with other forms of participation.
    Why did you choose the term “cooperative practices”?
    Co-creation is a form of participation in which participants, who form a collective, run an artistic project in a cooperative manner and define from the outset what they are going to do together. The artist does not play a specific role in defining the action, whereas in cooperative practices, the artist is at the origin of the project even before the participants’ subjectivities are involved. In reality, however, it is never that simple: the two modes of participation are closely intertwined.
    Given that these are processes that unfold over a long period of time, with different levels of involvement, there are phases where the artist is in charge of the project and others where the group acts autonomously, and vice-versa. There is a form of mobility between the different levels of participation.
    Hence, I talk about cooperation, which allows the various voices and subjectivities to come to the fore at different times, rather than co-creation, which leaves less room for positions and functions to change and evolve.
    How does the recent awareness of more-than-human communities and subjectivities influence cooperative practices?
    Let us take the example of “Levain”, a collaborative research project in which I am involved as an artist and which brings together scientists, peasant bakers, craftspeople who do not produce their own wheat, and bakery trainers.
    Our group met to identify the impact of the environment and the history of bakery on sourdough biodiversity. We already knew that the sourdough produced by peasants and bakers was biologically rich, and that this richness was fuelled in particular by the tools and hands of the bakers who handled it. This is a truly sympoietic relationship, to use Donna Haraway’s term. The research consists of finding out how far the sourdough feeds to acquire this important microbial diversity.

    Fournil La Tit Ferme, 2022 © Marie Preston

    In the course of this research, did the question arise of how to gather the voice of the sourdough?
    Absolutely. However, before that, there was a whole process of reflection on how to build a common language between scientists, peasants, bakers, and artists, each of whom have their own specific vocabulary. After that, we tried to define how we related to this living entity. We were all aware that it requires special care. However, we soon realised that sourdough also takes care of us, i.e. that without sourdough, the bread we eat would not have the quality it has. Reciprocity – mutual care, as it were – is therefore very important.
    Then we realised that we could not make the leaven talk – it cannot actually speak. Instead, we tried to project ourselves: if sourdough were an animal or a plant, what would it be? In answering this question, each of us tells the story of how we see our own sourdough. The examples given reveal very different relationships: domestication for some, cohabitation or friendship for others. Projecting oneself also leads to forms of anthropomorphisation, which in a way reduces the distance between the person and the sourdough, even if this may appear problematic in certain respects.
    Finally, there is the question of how one listens and observes. In the animal world, we talk about ethology as the field of zoology that investigates the behaviour of non-human animals, but we can also speak of plant ethology, which in this case involves paying particular attention to how sourdough reacts. This type of listening focuses on the practice of living things, in this case the practice of baking. The scientific work consists of setting up experimental protocols to understand what some bakers know intuitively. In other words, our aim is not to get the leaven to talk, but to actively include it in our research.
    Is the growing interest in participative or co-creative practices linked to the need for new imaginaries? In a changing world, what is the role of co-creative practices?
    Cooperative artistic practices enable us to tackle societal and political issues in a different way, to open up our imaginations and to do so collectively. This collective act also helps to combat the feelings of anxiety that are generated when one is alone at home worrying about the climate crisis or the extinction of a species, and to become an actor rather than just an onlooker.
    What about the interest shown by institutions?
    Institutional interest in these practices is quite present in the criticism of cooperative practices, in that they might be said to contribute to legitimise the disengagement of the State from public services.
    The associations or art centres that support these practices can offer a response to this question of instrumentalisation that might help minimise or even prevent it by suggesting that the group itself should be in a position to “invent institutionally”.
    In other words, we can work on it by coming up with “counter-institutions”. I believe that cooperative artistic practices – because they are constantly reflecting on their own relational modalities – can also act on the structure that allows them to exist, if they have the will to do so.

    Image: Bermuda, 2022 © Marie Preston

    Public support for participatory practices, judged in ethical rather than aesthetic terms, is often justified in terms of social impact. What are the underlying risks of this approach?
    In 2019, we coordinated a book, Cocreation, together with Céline Poulin and Stéphane Airaud, in which we dedicate an entire chapter to the question of evaluating these practices. Just because a project is funded with the aim of having a social impact or to be exclusively artistic does not mean that it should only be assessed through this filter. Of course, artists are going to want to create art, researchers are going to want to find scientific answers, people in civil society are going to want to have fun, make art, or find scientific answers: it is essential to find ways of evaluating these practices with regard to the implications of the people who make up the group, i.e. ultimately, the evaluation takes place downstream and not upstream. Once again, this raises the question not only of the indeterminacy of the project itself, but also the limits of its instrumentalisation.
    Given your experience, what do you think are the important questions to ask yourself at the start of a cooperative practice?
    Pedagogue Fernand Oury used to say that the first question to ask yourself when you join a group is: “What am I doing here?” Cooperation puts your own vulnerability to the test: are you ready to question your habits, your ways of doing things, to be challenged by the collective and by all the affects that the collective will bring? Are you prepared to let yourself be carried along by what is going to happen? To accept improvisation? To let go of the control you sometimes feel the need to retain when a subject is close to your heart or when you are emotionally involved in the artistic project?
    How can one set up a co-creative practice in a community or territory other than one’s own?
    I am very interested in reflexive anthropology, i.e. a form of anthropology that questions its own methods of investigation and its relationship with the people it meets, and above all, that incorporates the subjectivity of the researcher. The most important thing, when working in a new place, with people whose practices you do not know, is to listen, observe, be with the people, and be respectful of their differences, ethically and scrupulously.
    Finally, you have to get involved and accept contradiction, which goes back to what we said earlier about the questions you need to ask yourself. I also think it is important not to arrive empty-handed: you have to be generous in your involvement and in every way you can.

    Heidi 2.0

    In 1668, Johannes Hofer described a curious physical and mental disorder that afflicted Swiss mercenaries in the service of French king Louis XIV in his medical thesis at the University of Basel. To this ailment, which has as its symptoms a state of afflicted imagination, crying fits, anxiety, palpitations, anorexia, insomnia and an obsessive longing for home, Hofer gave the name “nostalgia”: a term he coined by combining the Greek words nostos (homecoming) and algìa (pain). In later studies, the origins of nostalgia was ascribed to alleged brain damage caused by the sound of cowbells on the necks of grazing cows or to the effect of listening to mountain songs that threw young Swiss men who were far from their native soil into a prostrating state of delirium melancholicum.

    The fact that the invention of the word “nostalgia” occurs precisely in the Swiss context is no coincidence: indeed, the Alpine valleys have been suffering a phenomenon of emigration and depopulation since ancient times and on several occasions, with different causes and intensity depending on the historical period. It is only in the post-World War II period, however, that the migratory phenomenon became first customary and then a real haemorrhage. The cities offered more stable employment, independent of weather conditions and seasonality, and a range of services and opportunities unparalleled by life in the valleys and the meagre income from mountain products. Local administrations saw no alternative: the choice was between investing in profitable hospitality activities linked to ski tourism, or depopulation. And with ski tourism came the rapid process of urbanisation that reshaped the mountains.

    In the 1960s, therefore, an uncontrolled rush of construction of ski resorts, hotels and second homes began, responding to the conquest of the new dimension of consumption and leisure by the urban middle classes. It is precisely the relationship between the increasingly unliveable city life and the idealised representation of the Alps that drove this movement: Switzerlandalready presented itself to the first British and American tourists in the 19th centuryfrom this perspective, as evidenced by the arcadian atmosphere of Heidi, Johanna Louise Spyri’s novel which was published in 1880 and left a lasting mark on Alpine imagery. While Spyri’s novel took a complex look at the changes in Alpine ways of life as a result of industrialisation, the dominant narrative around the figure of Heidi focused on an unresolved tension between the city and the mountains, portraying Heidi’s life as healthy and “natural” when compared to the one of her sickly cousin Klara, trapped in the artificiality of urban habits. This misinterpretation reflects a distinction between nature and culture that has profoundly damaged the ability to realistically address development models in the Alps.

    Alongside the concrete pouring of accommodation facilities, new asphalt roads proliferated, which, as a first consequence, reduced the capillary mobility that for centuries had united the smaller places in the valleys. As Marco Albino Ferrari recounts in his Assalto alle Alpi (Assault on the Alps), “the car, paradoxically, has made the mountains less habitable and more remote. The widespread life on the slopes has been squeezed down along the axes of the main road system, in a linear urbanism where everything must be within reach of the motor. […] The centre becomes the valley floor, next to the regimented river to prevent flooding and reduce the unusable areas of the floodplains. And it is in this mental geography, reversed with respect to previous centuries, that the valley slopes have become increasingly wild, unknown and distant. The mountain internally separates and loses those slope sides. Those mid-altitude spaces that in the indigenous experience constituted the heart of the mountain system become synonymous with high-altitude lands, where the snow allows the playful consumption of the territory vertically.”

    Taking a leap forward some fifty years, we realise that the hoped-for redistribution of opportunities and prosperity over the local communities was actually a mirage destined to be reversed within a few years. The ski capitals that polarise the gaze of the general public are but a minority portion of the 6,100 municipalities in the Alps: a handful of names among an often-unknown multitude of towns and villages marked by isolation and oblivion. The depopulation that was to be avoided has taken on the dimensions of a veritable exodus. In some inland valleys, the birth of a child or the relocation of a young couple becomes a news story.

    EPFL, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Alps model, Lausanne, Switzerland. Still from the film Alps. © Armin Linke, 2001.

    On the other hand, even the most famous ski resorts are no longer safe. The glacial mass of the Alps has shrunk by 50% since the beginning of the 20th century, snowfall is increasingly sparse, and temperatures are rising. The shifting of the snow line has left the smaller, low-altitude ski resorts in a state of neglect and depression, to which they are still reacting with palliative works such as moving ski lifts a few hundred metres higher up, or the proliferation of artificial snow cannons. If operations of this kind are only palliative measures intended to plug a gap for a few more seasons, we even reach grotesque gestures such as digging a ski trail in a glacier, as recently happened at the Theodul glacier in Zermatt for the Ski World Cup. The crisis in the ski industry is being responded to with outright therapeutic overkill rather than by offering alternatives.

    For the past two decades, the economy based on winter sports and or blanc (white gold, i.e. snow) has been going through a crisis, along with urban-based consumption models that underpinned it. A new approach to the mountains is emerging, that of “Alpine minimalism”, which prefers the frugality of the mountain hut and so-called slow tourism in an often anti-modernist key to the high-altitude resort. While this new transformation has the merit of avoiding the dysfunctions associated with the sharp division between high and low season, once again it is a distortion. The appearance of old farm implements on the facades of chalets (not always locally sourced), copper cauldrons hanging in restaurants, traditional clothes to dress waiters, what the anthropologist Annibale Salsa has called “proximity exoticism”, is born, or rather a posturing and anti-technological form of authenticity—Heidi 2.0.

    This approach is paradoxical even at a brief glance. In Fragments d’une montagne, Nicolas Nova describes the landscape of Conches, in the upper Valais: “In this corner of the Alps, where the Rhône is still no more than a small river close to its source, the valley is criss-crossed by a host of networks: overhead electricity cables, roads, tunnels and a summit track that is only accessible in summer, the Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn railway (which carries both passengers and vehicles to avoid the Furka Pass), cross-country ski trails or snowshoe trails studded with orange Swissgas signs indicating the presence of the underground gas pipeline. It’s as if we’re looking at a machine-mountain, with a technical framework that transforms the environment into a productive infrastructure. A Victor Frankenstein-style hybrid of geology and electricity pylons, cavities, rails, dams, bunkers of varying degrees of strength, cable cars, pipes, roads, mobile phone masts and rivers with rectified courses. The mountain-machine, a recurring motif in the Alps, with watercourses, valley bottoms and reliefs covered with all this equipment”.

    The anthropization of the Alps is not a new phenomenon: for thousands of years the human species has inhabited this mountain range, ingeniously coping with the scarcity of resources and the complications of life on the slopes, finding specific solutions to coexist in symbiosis with the other species in its ecosystem. Today, due to the thinning out of traditional farming and animal husbandry practices in favour of tourism, the extent of wilderness in the Alps is as great as it was in the Middle Ages. But in spite of this, the balance of the past has broken down, if the public narrative is at the service of those who are convinced that the Alps need to be “valued”—and are not a value in themselves. How can we once again look at the mountains honestly and realistically? How can we return to inhabiting rather than exploiting them? If a path is not walked, it disappears within a short time. The degradation of trails is not caused by overuse, but by oblivion.

    Common Dreams Panarea: Flotation School

    Common Dreams Panarea: Flotation School is a project that focuses on survival, the commons, and hopes and strategies for addressing climate change and the Anthropocene. The video, crafted by the students at College Sismondi under the guidance of Carlos Tapia, documents the co-creative process led by artist Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, which resulted in the construction of a “floating island” on the waters of Lake Geneva.

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    Vivre le Rhône: part 3

    River Guardians

    In July 2023, as part of Vivre le Rhône project, NLC and least organised in Geneva a three days series of events to expand a legitimate community acting on behalf of the river. A video by Carlos Tapia shows how it all unfolded.
    Click here for part 1.
    Click here for part 2.

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    Maria Lucia Cruz Correia - artist
    Marine Calmet - rights of nature
    Floriane Facchini - artist / director
    Vinny Jones - sensorial scenography
    Felix Küchler - doctor, climate activist
    Emma-Louise Lavigne - Association id-eau
    Gilles Mulhauser Canton de Genève - Office cantonal de l’eau
    Laurence Piaget-Dubuis - eco-artist, graphic designer, photographer

    The Sacrifice Zone

    “One day, at the Ironbound Community Corporation, we smelled something pungent. Wherever you pass over the Ironbound, the main sight will be smokestacles. My whole life, I had smelled this smell. My colleagues said we had to call it in to the Department of Environmental Protection. That was when I started realising that I’ve known that smell my whole life but never thought of it as a problem. That smell made me realise the difference between neighbourhoods like Newark and the suburbs, where there are all these trees and the air actually smells clean. Racial justice has always been a part of my life, but at that moment I realised how insidious environmental racism truly is”. These words were written by Maria Lopez-Nuñez, a Honduran-American activist who has been fighting for years for environmental justice in the Ironbound district of Newark, New Jersey. The neighbourhood is infamously known for its “chemical corridor”, a one-mile stretch where “you pass a natural gas plant next to a sewage treatment facility next to an animal fat rendering plant next to a series of ominous looking chemical storage containers behind acres of fencing. Airplanes pass overhead every two minutes, their engines rattling windows, while a putrid smell wafts from the open pools at the sewage treatment plant.” The area is inhabited by Portuguese, Brazilian, Central American, African American and low-income white people: their fight to “break the cycle of poor communities of colour serving as dumping grounds for our consumer society” is the subject of 2020’s documentary The Sacrifice Zone: Life in an Industrial Wasteland.

    The notion of “sacrifice zone” dates back to the Cold War, when the nuclear arms race between the US and USSR left behind a scourge of territories – many of which inhabited –contaminated by nuclear testing and uranium mining. In recent years, the term “sacrifice zone” has been circulating within environmental activism to the point of being included in a major UN report in 2022 “on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment”. In this document, sacrifice zones are defined as “extremely contaminated areas where vulnerable and marginalised groups bear a disproportionate burden of the health, human rights and environmental consequences of exposure to pollution and hazardous substances”. But why use the very word “sacrifice”? And the burden that communities have to bear is “disproportionate” to whom?

    The issue at stake in these zones is not only the contamination of populated territories but the fact that communities living in these areas pay the price for a form of consumerism and lifestyle that they cannot access and that is enjoyed by privileged groups of people who live in other areas, without having to pay the consequences themselves; a price in terms of health and human rights that mirrors the disparities of class in the globalised world. From the unbelievable levels of pollution due to oil and gas flaring in the Niger Delta, to the unregulated landfills that are spread all over the world, to the emissions of the Ilva steel plant in Taranto, the UN report recounts a widespread and desolating phenomenon that underpins our economic system.

    This situation does not, as mentioned, only concern the Global South, but also the weaker communities of the Global North which marginalisation, racialisation and media disregard keep at a distance from any form of protection. The most heavily polluting and hazardous facilities, including open-cast mines, smelters, petroleum refineries, chemical plants, coal-fired power stations, oil- and gas fields, steel plants, garbage dumps and hazardous waste incinerators, as well as clusters of these facilities, tend to be located in close proximity to poor and marginalised communities. When an industry with a heavy environmental impact seeks an area for the construction of a plant, on the one hand it will come up against the “not in my backyard” of the wealthier and more influential communities, while on the other hand it is likely to find acceptance in economically disadvantaged areas due to the promise of job creation and development.

    A barrier to opposing these exploitative practices is the fact that soil, water and air contamination and their impact are often not immediately visible. As in Lopez-Nuñez’s account, certain conditions are not perceived as dangerous but rather as normal. Sometimes, people only begin to worry after years of exposure to environmental hazards – when industrial pollution-related diseases start to spread – and it is often too late for reparation. In his book Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States, Steve Lerner describes the feeling of powerlessness of one of these communities: “Once fenceline residents begin asking questions about the extent of the contamination, they frequently report that they get the run-around from officials and are rarely given straight answers or comprehensive information. They often later learn that both government and corporate personnel withheld the bad news about the extent of the contamination out of concern that it might create a panic. This deceitful, paternalistic behaviour makes it impossible for local residents to make timely and informed choices about whether to move immediately (if they can afford to), stop drinking water from wells, keep the windows closed, send their children to live with relatives in other neighbourhoods, prohibit their children from playing outdoors, avoid gardening or eating home-grown vegetables, or take other protective actions”.

    The most dramatic contradiction, indeed, lies in the workers’ dilemma between keeping their jobs and risking their own and their families’ lives, or choosing to demonstrate for their rights, risking the relocation of toxic industries to other, perhaps less regulated areas. But both health and salary are needed to survive: unacceptable blackmail that is being played out on the shoulders of the weakest for the welfare of the most privileged. Nonetheless, de-industrialisation, i.e. the progressive reduction of employed people, is a tangible risk, which has left territories such as the Ruhr region in Germany in the grip of structural economic weakness without having initiated effective clean-ups or redevelopment operations – a fate shared by many heavy-industrial areas since the 1980s.

    Eventually, Maria Lopez-Nuñez’s tireless advocacy and the collective efforts of the Ironbound Community Corporation have achieved a significant milestone in the fight against environmental injustice. The S232 Bill, hailed as a robust environmental-justice measure, stands as a beacon of progress in safeguarding communities facing intolerable environmental burdens. However, the struggle is far from over, as the insidious, structural nature of environmental disparities persists globally. As outlined in the UN report, “shareholders in polluting companies benefit from higher profits, while consumers benefit through lower-cost energy and goods. Prolonging the jobs of workers in polluting industries is used as a form of economic blackmail to delay the transition to a sustainable future, while the potential of green jobs is unjustifiably discounted. The continued existence of sacrifice zones is a stain upon the collective conscience of humanity”.

    The Gesamthof recipe: A Lesbian Garden

    Hedera is a collective observation of the overlap between postnatural and transfeminist studies.
    Each volume gathers insights related to these topics in the form of conversations, essays, fiction, poetry, and artist content. Hedera is a yearly publication, and its first volume features “The Gesamthof Recipe: A Lesbian Garden” written by artist Eline De Clercq.

    The Gesamthof is a non-human-centred garden, it is a garden without the idea of an end result and it is about working towards a healthy ecology. This recipe shares how we garden in the Gesamthof.

    Rest, observe.
    Start with ‘not a thing’, it is the quietude before one begins. Rest as in ’not to take action yet’. I find this a good begin, it has helped me many times. When I plan to work in the garden I put on my old shoes, take a basket with garden tools and the seeds to sow, and I open the gate and step into the garden and - stop. Not to act at once, but to wait a moment before beginning gives me time to align myself with the soil, the plants, the temperature, the scents, images and sounds. I look at the birds, the snail, the beetle on a leaf. I walk along the path and greet the plants and stones. Like me, in need of a moment, they too need to see who entered the garden. I know the plants can see me because they can see different kinds of light and they grow towards light and they see cold light when I stand in front of them casting my shadow on them. They can see when the sunlight returns and I moved on. This is the first connection with the garden: to think like a gardener-that-goes-visiting. Donna Haraway writes about Vinciane Despret who refers to Hannah Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy; ‘She trains her whole being, not just her imagination, in Arendt’s words “to go visiting.”’ all from the book Staying With The Trouble (see the reading list below). Sometimes it is all I do, and time passes, for an hour and more I feel truly alive with listening, feeling, scenting and seeing. I can taste the season.

    Your senses & your mind.
    To feel as well as to think along with nature. This is perhaps the hardest to explain, but this is the way I learned to garden from when I was helping as a volunteer in the botanical garden in Ghent. While there is a lot to learn and to remember: you can look it up most of the time. There are plenty of books on what kind of plant likes to live in what kind of conditions. Those facts are easy to find. For me, the rational explanation comes in the end, like a litmus test to see if a theory works. I like to begin with experiencing things: feeling the texture of a leaf, noticing the change in temperature when it’s going to rain, comparing soil by rubbing it between your fingers, smelling soil, plants, fungi and so on. Senses connect us to all kinds of matter in a garden and they help one to become part of the garden. Donna Haraway writes about naturecultures, an interesting concept to rethink how we are part of nature and how the dichotomy of nature and culture isn’t a real contradiction. It is an argument to stop thinking as ‘only human’ and start becoming a layered living togetherness. It’s in our best interest to feel nature again with our senses. At the same time, be aware that many plants are poisonous and/or painful, they might hurt you so don’t trust your instincts too much without consulting facts.

    Gesamthof, a non-human-centred garden.
    The patch of soil I consider as the shared garden, the Gesamthof, is part of a planet full of bacteria, protista, fungi, plants and animals and all of these enjoy being in the garden too. I try to give the fungi some dead wood to eat, and I don’t use herbicides and pesticides while caring for the plants. This is kind of obvious, it’s basic eco gardening, but it also concerns the benefit of the entire garden. The important question is: who is getting better from this? When I count in birds, insects, plants and fungi and the needs they have to survive in a city, then a small garden is for the benefit of all of these and the ruined artichoke isn’t much of a disaster, many big and small gardeners enjoyed being with the artichoke, drinking the nectar, eating the leaves, weaving a web between the dried stalks. Thinking of all us gardening together changes the purpose of the garden, it’s no longer focused on humans only. Often I see a seedmix for bees in the garden centre, but every garden has a different relation to bees, sometimes with solitary wild bees living of a single plant species not having any interest in a human selected seed mix with a colourful flowers display. The question “Who is getting better from this?” stops me buying things for my pleasure and teaches me to be happy when a healthy ecology is establishing.
    Thinking like this has made me question the situation of indoor plants. If they could chose between living inside a house in a cold country or being outside in a warm location, wouldn’t they prefer to sense the sunset and feel the wind in their leaves? Am I keeping plants in the house for my own benefit? Would plants grow in my house if I didn’t water them and look after their soil? Should I put plants in places where they naturally wouldn’t grow? I have decided not to buy new plants for in the house, I will care for the ones I am living with as good as I can. Does the garden end at the door? Or do I live in the garden too?

    The diversity of city life in a garden.
    The opposite of local wild nature is not a foreign plant, but a cultivated plant. The garden combines native plants from many continents, I grow African lilies next to stinzen flowers and local wild plants; they get along well. I’m not a puritan who wants to grow only one colour of flowers or only authentic plants, I see the garden more like a city where we arrive from all corners of the world. Plants don’t know borders, they don’t care for nations, if they like the place they’ll grow happily. But humans don’t always know what they are planting and we build so much & take away so many plants and replace the green in our gardens with other varieties, often cultivars that don’t interact with local species. A cultivar is the opposite of a wild plant, a cultivar is selected for a quality liked by humans but not always in regards to the ecology with other species. Some cultivars are great plants, they are strong and beautiful and interact in symbiosis with the rest of nature. But some cultivars blossom at the wrong time to attract insects, or they don’t provide anything for the others to interact with. In other words, they are planted to be pretty and not to take part of a wholesome nature. Because of these cultivars we are rapidly losing authentic genomes of plants that are important to preserve nature. When you have a garden that is designed and planted with only these kind of cultivars you don’t invite nature in. You might just as well have plastic flowers. The opposite is to care very much for the diversity of ‘pocket’ nature, what was growing in this pocket of the world, and to try to find old species specific for this area that have been around for thousands of years, and have become an important sustainable link within the local ecology of insects, plants, fungi and other living beings. I let the weeds grow in the garden to support the network of insects needing those plants, and birds needing the insects, and local plants needing these insects and birds as well and so on and so on. The gardens in a city are like corridors, they connect insects, plants and fungi into a greater network that is necessary to sustain these species. While we see walls and hedges around a garden, and we might think of it as our island, it is part of a larger green archipelago where plants, birds, insects and others are not hindered by walls. Every city has only one garden made up of all these green islands just a few streets apart.
    We shouldn’t break this chain of connected nature by losing our interest in local wild plants, often seen as uninvited weeds and taken for granted, they are very important in a diversity that expands with every living species. Since we’re living in a time of mass extinction & losing multiple species every day, all the things we can do count and in a garden we can let nature in. Sometimes I buy organic local plants from small nurseries to support their effort for conservation. But there is very little money involved in the Gesamthof. When I started to work in the garden I got many plants, seeds and cuttings for free and in return I also like to give away sister-plants so the Gesamthof lives on in other gardens. This is how plants from all over the world became part of the Gesamthof, and they all are very important in the diversity of the garden. There are Spanish bluebells and a Chinese Wisteria that were planted by the monks from the monastery a long time ago, they survived decades of neglect, there are Evening Primroses that most probably arrived on the wind from neighbouring plots and there are colourful tulips, both wild and cultivated that attract all kinds of human and non-human visitors.

    The garden will help you.
    This is the strangest thing, but since I’m working in the Gesamthof, plants have arrived from all kinds of places, they have often been given to me for free. Also garden materials, pots & books seem to come without much effort. They arrive from lots of generosity from others. I work in the garden, but not to create ‘my garden’, I see the garden as its own entity and I’m ‘the one with arms and legs’ who can help where needed. Many other living things help as well. Wasps have been eating the aphids, Cat’s Foot (Glechoma hederacea) is keeping my path free from weeds and the Titmice eat the spiders that make a web on the garden path (thank you, I don’t like walking into spider webs). I’m one of the garden critters (a word I borrow from Donna Haraway, critter isn’t as attached to creation as creature is) and I love seeing the other critters thrive at their work. I’m not doing this alone. While I do put in a lot of work, I see it as a part of my artistic practice. Gardens are often not seen as an artwork, but to do research, to add a different perspective, to engage with the soil, water and living beings, to build a different kind of place and share this as a public work is very much how I see art work. Art can be more than making and showing things, it can be interaction, awareness and sharing too. The Gesamthof works without a financial set up, it is thriving by generous neighbours who share their plants, seeds, helping hands and advice. This garden is giving more than it costs.

    Don’t make a garden design.
    This might sound counter intuitive, but being in the garden very often, one should know what the garden needs and that should be enough of planning. The usual garden plan is often seen as to give shape to the idea of an ideal garden, with a sketch of what to plant where, what colours to combine, where the path should be and in what material and so on. It would mean to put oneself above all else as the creator, and it means setting oneself a goal to work towards, with in the end a ‘beautiful garden’. I don’t think gardens should be ‘made’ beautiful, just like women shouldn’t be judged on a scale of beauty. It’s a binary opposition, a way of thinking that leads to a lot of suffering both in and outside of the garden. Instead let the garden take the lead and follow in its steps. You find a plant that likes a sunny area, put it in the sunny part of the garden and it will thrive. Do you have a lot of bare soil in the shady area and you don’t know what to do with it? Look up shady plants, find a nice variety and let it grow in your garden. Do you need a path between the plants? Add the material that works best in that place (for instance a forest kind of material would be tree bark, and recycled materials also make excellent paths). This way you’re growing a cultivated wild garden that will be beautiful all by itself just like nature is. Use creativity in how you arrange stones along a path, in how you support plants that will fall over, in how to add water and feeding stations, in creating fine labels, in making drawings that will later on help you to remember what you planted where… there is lots of room for creativity.

    Intersectionality & botany.
    The connection between botanical classification systems and people classification systems illustrates how the same mode of thinking is applied to both our gardens and us as people. Botany is full of anthropocentrism and it is not bad to be aware of this, the lesbian garden reframes this use of gardens. Suddenly the invisible norm of who usually benefits from gardens is no longer in place. ‘Lesbian’ means nothing if it is not connected to racialized people, to class differences, to living with disabilities, to age and all the other aspects gathered in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectional theory. To put intersectionalism into practice means asking the ‘other question’: who benefits from this garden?

    • Bees opens up the discussion on native plants, their genomes and diversity in gardening.
    • Plants opens up the discussion of the colonial past, systems of economics, and who has a ‘right’ to extract.
    • An audience that visits art spaces (the Gesamthof is accessible trough the Kunsthal Extra City) opens up the question of class, inviting the ‘other’ in, lgbtqi+ friendly spaces etc.
    • Me opens up the question of access & responsibility that comes with privilege.

    To ask the other question means that we are aware of others. Is the Gesamthof appropriate for children? Should it be? Should we take out all the poisonous plants, the pond, the bees hotel etc if we want children to be safe? There is a fence around the Gesamthof to keep wandering people out, because the garden is certainly not safe for everyone and not everyone is safe for the garden.

    Atemporal gardening.
    Every place carries a past into its future. The past is not a distant island, it’s very much with us in this thick present (again Donna Haraway’s words, the thick present is like a composted layered presence). In my garden I don’t want to be blind for what is present from the colonial past. It takes effort to find out how all of this is linked, how the history of botanical gardens is woven into to the need for classifying. It is hard work to learn about colonialism and gardening because it’s not as clearly visible as for instance plantations and slavery are linked to cotton and coffee. A garden is often more like a collection of plants bedded into a designed space and the colonial past is not a comfortable topic in garden programs. It takes visiting the past to find out what is here today. For me it meant going to the botanical garden in Meise and looking at the plants brought back from colonies. It also meant digging in the past of the Gesamthof’s location in the monastery, who was gardening here before me? How can I work with ecology towards a better understanding?

    Note: People suffer from plant-blindness (J. H. Wandersee and E. E. Schussler, publication ‘Preventing Plant Blindness’ from 1999), it means we don’t see the plants that we don’t know and by giving garden tours one can share the awareness of this cognitive bias. In a lesbian garden the cognitive bias rings a bell, without representation people have a hard time discovering what is different about them. Many lesbians don’t know that they are a lesbian when they grow up, and they see themselves through the norm of a heterosexual society while a part of who they are remains empty for themselves. Like plant-blindness, this abstraction of a norm can be countered by looking at the differences as positive characteristics.

    Ongoing change.
    A garden is a nice form of art & activism, it is a healthy activity that helps to relieve stress and anxiety. It is working towards change by educating one’s self and each other, it is becoming aware of nature and changing our way of thinking. It is pleasant: the scent, the view, the touch, the sound, it’s a nice place to be. I become very aware of the moment when I sit in the Gesamthof. Time passes differently for all the inhabitants and visitors, and some of us spend a lifetime in this garden (most of the pigeons do) while for me it is very temporary. I will miss the Gesamthof when the new owners arrive in the monastery. But it doesn’t make it less worth it, on a larger scale gardening means ongoing change, and we can enjoy every moment of it. Never is a garden a fixed thing, it is never finished and there is no ‘end’, it just moves into different places.

    Stills from Gesamthof: A Lesbian Garden, Annie Reijniers and Eline De Clercq, 2022.

    Vivre le Rhône: the podcast, part 03

    Vivre le Rhône: a podcast by Audrey Bersier and Martin Reinartz

    Dear listener,

    Since June 2022, the Natural Contract Lab and least have been deploying practices of walking-with, collective weaving, healing rituals, somatic experiences and restorative circles, all of which have enabled us to rethink our relationship with the Rhone.

    What you are about to hear is the final episode in a three-part series, recounting the experiences of those who have grown closer to the river through these walks.

    Although this episode marks the end of a collective journey between us and the Rhône, it is not the end of the adventure, because water has no beginning and no end, and the Rhône flows through each and every one of us.

    To listen to this podcast, I would like to invite you to connect with water. Head to the bank of your favourite river, walk in the rain, look out at the sea or pour yourself a glass of water and drink it with awareness. Enjoy!

    Vivre le Rhône: the podcast, part 03

    0:00 /

    Listen to part 01.
    Listen to part 02.

    Vegetaltrout by Maud Abbé-Decarroux.

    With texts inspired by Marielle Macé’s Nos Cabanes.

    *Every effort was made to obtain the necessary permissions and to trace the copyright holders. However, we would be happy to arrange for permission to reproduce the material contained in this podcast from those copyright holders that we could not reach.

    Supported by Fondation d’entreprise Hermès and Fondation Jan Michalski.

    Wild Bread

    Il pane selvaggio (Wild Bread, 1980) is an essay by Italian philologist, historian and anthropologist Piero Camporesi about the experience of hunger in Europe in the modern age. Hunger in the Global North may appear to be a distant issue, but access to adequate, healthy and affordable food is still affected by profound inequalities both across the world and within single communities.

    The “wild bread” to which the title refers describes the bread of the poor, who, to cope with grain shortages in times of famine, began to grind flour from roots, seeds, mushrooms—anything that could fill their stomachs and could be gathered freely on the limited non-private land available. The end product was stale, toxic and non-nutritious bread, which often also caused hallucinatory states.

    The educated, rich and powerful men who reported the history of famines had the option of neglecting the experience of the most fragile people. Camporesi has therefore traced the accounts of those who could never aspire to a piece of white bread on their table in folk literature, as in the 16th-century song Lamento de un poveretto huomo sopra la carestia (Lament of a Poor Man Over Famine).

    A bad thing is famine
    that causes man to be always in need,
    fasting against his will,
    Lord God, send it away…

    I sold the bedsheets,
    I pawned the shirts
    such that now my uniform
    is that of a rag-pedlar,
    to my suffering and greater distress
    only a piece of sackcloth
    covers this flesh of mine.

    And even more it pains my heart
    to see my child
    say to me often, from hour to hour,
    ‘daddy, a little bit of bread’:
    it seems that my soul leaps out
    at not being able to help
    the little one, oh terrible fate!
    A bad thing is famine.

    If I leave my house
    and I ask a penny for God
    all say ‘get some work’,
    ‘get some work’; oh proud destiny!
    I don’t find any, despite all efforts
    so I stay with head bent low,
    oh fortune, cruel and evil
    A bad thing is famine.

    I have no more covers in the house
    the pots I have sold
    and I have sold the pans;
    I am clean through and through…

    Often my bread is made from
    the stems of plants,
    In the earth I make holes
    for diverse and strange roots
    and with that we grease our snouts:
    and if there were enough for every tomorrow
    it wouldn’t be so bad
    A bad thing is famine.

    Image: Luca Trevisani, Ai piedi del pane, 2022.
    Oplà. Performing Activities, curated by Xing, Arte Fiera, Bologna.

    Vivre le Rhône: the podcast, part 02

    Vivre le Rhône: a podcast by Audrey Bersier and Martin Reinartz

    Dear Listener,

    Since June 2022, Natural Contract LAB and least have been developing accompanied walks, collective weaving, healing rituals, somatic experiences and restorative circles—all practices that have helped us rethink humans’ relationship with the Rhône.

    What you’re about to hear is the first episode of a three-part podcast, retracing the experiences of those who have grown closer to the river by walking.

    I’d like to give you a few tips before you start listening to this podcast.

    If you can, head to Vernier Village in the Geneva countryside. Take some good headphones with you and your water bottle with water or your favourite herbal tea. Once you’ve arrived, start playing the audio.

    You can then walk down to the river and take the Chèvres footbridge, as shown on the map below.

    Or you can simply sit down in a spot that you like. And close your eyes.

    Enjoy the podcast!

    Episode 02

    0:00 /

    Listen to part 01.
    Listen to part 03.

    Map by Maud Abbé-Decarroux.

    *Every effort was made to obtain the necessary permissions and to trace the copyright holders. However, we would be happy to arrange for permission to reproduce the material contained in this podcast from those copyright holders that we could not reach.

    Supported by Fondation d’entreprise Hermès and Fondation Jan Michalski.


    Spillovers by Rita Natálio intertwines performance and writing, imagination and somatic experience using transfeminism and ecology as their tools. It is an unusual text, a sex manual, a sci-fi essay on water and pleasure that offers a reinterpretation of Lesbian Peoples: Material For A Dictionary (1976) by Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig.
    Spillovers, an excerpt of which follows, represents a glossary defining sensorial and choreography protocols as tools for deciphering and understanding human/non human grafts. Movement is the matter that forms her writing and gathers archives of images and books about ecofeminist theories and practices.

    In 2020, a book was found in a well. This well, as many other of life’s cavities, was contaminated by superficial practices of intensive monoculture. Its water, having turned unsanitary, had then dried up for quite a long time. It was inside this hole, then, dried up yet viscerally imprinted by the memory of water, that a translation of Lesbian Peoples: Material for a Dictionary, written in 1976 by Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig, was found. Back then, this book could have been read as a manual or a foundational text for a certain kind of religious cult or spiritual ritual. Much later we learned that it was a diary where the fleeting transformations of transcorporeal and elemental language were recorded, as well as an archive of practices which assembled and connected descriptions of objects, figures, problems and politico-affective strategies that the community of Spillovers (at that time simply called “lovers”, or “lesbian women”, plain and simple) had tried to implement in their lives in the face of the growing aggressions from turbo-capital and the modern science of separations. See, for example, the dictionary entry for Circulation, on page 31 of the English translation:

    Physical process of intermingling two bodies. Given two bodies full of heat and electricity released from the skin through every pore, if these two bodies embrace, vibrate and begin to mix, there is a circulation and conduction reaction which causes each pore to reabsorb the energy that it had previously emitted in another form. This phenomenon, by the rapid transformation of heat and electricity into energy, produces an intense irradiation from those bodies which are practicing circulation. It is what the companion lovers mean when they say, “I circulate you,” or “you circulate me.”

    In the book, one came to understand that lovers perceived themselves as membranes of sorts, seeking to relate to one another through their own ecology of connections and its limits. Yet, in 1976 many of us were only 2 years old or had just learned how to use a ring or a Y-shaped stick to locate water. And the problem was that we did not know whom we meant when we said “we”, as one of us said at the time(1). The plural personal pronoun was a practice that merely allowed us not to disappear into other pronouns that overlooked our lives, even though we did not know exactly who we were.

    “Lesbians” or “women” were container-words that seemed inadequate, ill-suited. In 1976, we also knew very little about water-witching, hydrofeminism or the flow of water through different scales, bodies and genders. To balance ourselves on 2 legs was something we could do without a hitch, as was reading, though certain constraints of vision and verticality prevented us from touching the irradiation of energy in more complex ways. The search for water with a stick demanded an initiation, a special care, and the use of the antennae shared by the webs of lovers was a technology not (yet) easy to access.

    The glossary presented here proposes a continuity with Wittig and Zeig’s clairvoyance, by elaborating further on the rings and fiction bags(2) that Spillovers must touch and weave in order to tangle the times and produce water. No need to fear getting wet. And much less feeling pain when drinking dirty water, or watching a water-tap blazing with methane gas released from fracking. All these dimensions, painful though they are, organise love among Spillovers. And although at times one can dispense with the centrality of the eyes and reading, images and conversations with indigenous film practices, radical poetry and counter-colonial philosophies are invoked here. They call for simple enough things: that, in the beginning, worlds were created and lived through these references, from Dionne Brand to the Karrabing Film Collective, from Astrida Neimanis to Ursula K. Le Guin. This is the necessary and anti-heroic gesture of 2020: to forget and to cut off all communication with the anthropocenic elites, all the while carrying water for those in need. As a Zen proverb says: “Before enlightenment (…) carry water. After enlightenment (…) carry water.”


    1. Spillovers
    To be a lover means, always, to be a Spillover. The “spill-over effect”, which leads to the spillage of liquids and intentions, is the primary condition for the multi-species and intersex amorous cooperation, whether these liquids are genital, lacrimal or jet-pumped from less obvious parts of the body, such as the elbows or feet. Water is produced at the encounter of 2 or more entities and, if properly placed in bags, it can mutate into the condition of amniotic fluid, which has strong amnesic properties, and can gestate other entities. It is not common for amniotic fluid to be ingested, except when a Spillover is buried under dry soil, a practice that aims to generate water in periods of severe shortage or contamination. Spillovers are all those who, in a life without protagonists, wish to overflow, to spill over and out of themselves, and thus cross the soft borders between peoples, territories and landscapes.

    2. Bags
    Bags are Spillover technologies with a multitude of functions. Bags can generate and carry babies and can be swapped from body to body regardless of gender. Bags can carry water. Bags can carry amniotic fluid and they can also carry ideas or stories. They are self-healing and biodegradable and yet there is a limit to their use, they are not disposable. Bags do not simply generate human babies, they may also create vegetable or mineral kinship and that’s why one sometimes says that a baby plant or a baby rock was born. Bags also serve as a strategy of resistance in the case of severe groundwater contamination (as shown in the film “Mermaids or Aiden in the Wonderland”, by the Karrabing Film Collective from 2018). In emergency situations, they can break through hard borders such as those that divide today’s nation states. They are tools for the migration or transmigration of bodies which have the temporary ability to deactivate passports.

    3. Iris
    It is said that a long time ago Spillovers experimented with carrying water, and then experimented with words, in the above-mentioned bags, thus supplying multi-species societies with unexpected and opaque bonds. Since then, whenever the water touches a word inside the bags the latter may split it into pieces: this happened, for example, with the words clitoris (clito-iris) and iridescent (iris-descent), instruments of emotional concentration and unfolding. Since then, when 1 or more Spillovers manage to carry a bag full of water into a territory ruled by monoculture, the Spillover’s iris swells up like a clitoris, thus generating a highly-hydrating golden shower followed by a multicoloured rainbow (an iridescent rainbow) in the sky. This event provides an intense pleasure, but one cannot call it heroic, or confuse it with the male tendency to worship singular phallic figures. In fact, as Spillover K. Le Guin puts it, “…it’s clear that the Hero does not look well in this bag. He needs a stage, a pedestal or a pinnacle. You put him in a bag and he looks like a rabbit, like a potato.”(3)

    (1) Adrienne Rich, “Notes towards a politics of location”, 1984.
    (2-3) Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”, 1986.

    Vivre le Rhône: part 2

    Who has the legitimacy to speak for the river?

    Vivre le Rhône’s initiator Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, environmental lawyer Marine Calmet and least’s artist-in-residence Martin Reinartz talk about rights of nature and river stewardship. June 2023.
    Click here for part 1.
    Click here for part 3.

    0:00 /

    Guardians of Nature

    Trained as a lawyer, Marine Calmet specialises in issues relating to the protection of the environment and indigenous peoples. She is also president of Wild Legal, an association dedicated to the recognition of the rights of nature, and the author of Devenir Gardiens de la Nature (Becoming Guardians of Nature), which inspired her battles in French Guiana against illegal gold mines and the oil and gas industry. She is part of Vivre le Rhône’s Natural Contract Lab team.

    When it comes to the rights of nature, a question often arises: who is in a legitimate position to speak on behalf of an ecosystem?
    I think it’s very much linked to the idea that, in our societies, we have specific roles and statuses. Personally, I like to turn the question on its head. It’s more a question of asking ourselves what we live for and what our mission is in our society. I think that we can all legitimately represent natural entities, quite simply because of the responsibility that comes with living on this planet, in a living environment, and therefore being able to have a more or less strong relationship with a river, a forest or a mountain. For me, legitimacy comes from the bond of empathy, of love even, that exists between us and the environment in which we live and with which we interact. My aim is to deconstruct the myth that we don’t have the legitimacy or the capacity to speak on behalf of nature by asking the following question: what nature are we talking about? Are there not ecosystems to which we are so close and whose interests we feel a responsibility to defend?

    What is the role of rights of nature in river governance from your point of view?
    The aim of the rights of nature model is to prevent humans from viewing elements of nature as objects, which leads us to objectify our relationship with them and consider all beings around us as exploitable resources and goods that we can also destroy, and from which we can benefit for human progress and for society. The aim is also to challenge this relationship of objectification by considering elements of nature as subjects, legal subjects even, i.e. subjects who are protected or who should be protected and benefit from fundamental rights inherent in their status as subjects. This is where the law comes in, to clarify these relationships which, in truth, for many of us have never really been specified.
    The law of nature tells us: “We’re surrounded by subjects to whom we also owe a certain form of respect and with whom interactions must be protected so that the habitability of ecosystems is preserved and this living space of ours remains serene and harmonious”.
    In this governance that we’re calling for – this governance of the living – the aim is therefore to integrate other-than-humans, so that, instead of a dialogue strictly between human beings, we can open up the debate to non-humans and integrate them into our models of representation. This will enable us to emerge from what’s known as the Anthropocene – an Anthropocene that is nothing more than human self-segregation – and to integrate non-humans into this governance. This can only be done by recognising nature and all its elements as subjects in their own right and not as objects, because you can’t talk with objects.

    You, as a lawyer, cooperate with artists: how can these two seemingly distant perspectives come together in a positive way? How do they impact each other?
    What I find fascinating about the interaction between art and law is the similarities that emerge. As a lawyer, I work on what is known as “prospective law”, i.e. law that anticipates the future. I write law, I invent law, based on what I observe in nature and the needs or crises that I observe. As a lawyer, I therefore also work with fiction, writing something that I imagine or that I consider desirable. I’m acting like an artist who projects their vision of the world onto a canvas or a stage, but I’m doing so within a specific circle, i.e. the law. The law, like art, is therefore a set of fictional works that relate to a form of aestheticism. I consider myself to be more of an artist than a lawyer, because I’m in the creative process, a form of free creation that leads me to follow my instincts.
    What I really like about working with Maria Lucia Cruz Correia and Natural Contract Lab is that she often points me in directions that I hadn’t thought of, or that I perhaps sometimes tended to think of in too legal a way, too focused on what already exists, on what we call positive law, i.e. what’s already there, instead of thinking outside this framework, taking inspiration and creating differently. Very often, this allows me to make huge leaps forwards in this profession of mine, because it allows me to open doors that I hadn’t imagined.
    There’s a very strong link here. Just as artists are capable of thinking things that were previously unthinkable, in the legal world this allows me to make enormous progress. It’s also a way of making the law accessible to everyone, which is more in keeping with the artistic perspective.
    It’s also interesting to get a message across. People see what the law is. Sometimes they’re a bit afraid of it and using it in an artistic perspective is an interesting way of linking it to a political context and a vision, that of building a new ideal. So I think there are some really interesting bridges between art and law, particularly through the pleadings we build together. Pleading is rhetoric, and rhetoric is the art of convincing others. Whether in the theatre or in the courts, we’re also here to convince, in a way, and to get our message across. There are inherent, very strong links between artists and lawyers that allow us to mutually enrich one another.

    Bodies of Water

    The transition of life from water to land is one of the most significant evolutionary milestones in the history of life on Earth. This transition occurred over millions of years as early aquatic organisms adapted to the challenges and opportunities presented by the terrestrial environment. One of those was the need to conserve water: living beings, in a way, had “to take the sea within them”, and yet, although our bodies are composed mostly of it, biological water actually counts for just 0.0001% of Earth’s total water.

    Water is involved in many of the body’s essential functions, including digestion, circulation and temperature regulation. Nevertheless, our bodily fluids, from sweat to pee, saliva and tears, are not just contained within our individual bodies but are part of a more extensive system that includes all life on Earth, blurring the boundaries between our bodies and more-than-human organisms, connecting us to the world around us. Scholars described this idea as hypersea: the fluids that flow through our bodies are connected to the oceans, rivers and other bodies of water that make up the planet and are part of a larger system that connects all living beings together.

    Recognising the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and the role that water plays in this interconnected web can help us better understand our place in the world and the importance of working together to protect and preserve this precious element. However, to fully grasp the consequences of this perspective, it is necessary to consider some significant issues addressed by scholar Astrida Neimanis, the theorist of hydrofeminism, in her book Bodies of Water.

    One of the main contributions of hydrofeminism to the discussion on bodies of water is the proposal to reject the abstract idea of water to which we are accustomed. Water is usually described as an odourless, tasteless and colourless liquid and is told through a schematic and de-territorialised cycle that does not effectively represent the ever-changing, yet situated, reality of water bodies. Water is mainly interpreted as a neutral resource to be managed and consumed, even though it is a complex and powerful element that affects our identities, communities and relationships. Deep inequalities exist in our current water systems, shaped by social, economic and political structures.

    Neimanis shares an example explicitly related to bodily fluids. The Mothers’ Milk project, led by Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook, found that women living on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation had a 200% greater concentration of PCBs in their breast milk due to the dumping of General Motors’ sludge in nearby pits. Pollutants such as POPs hitch a ride on atmospheric currents and settle in the Arctic, where they concentrate in the food chain and are consumed by Arctic communities. As a result, the breast milk of Inuit women contains two to ten times the amount of organochlorine concentrations compared to samples from women in southern regions. This “body burden” has health risks and affects these lactating bodies’ psychological and spiritual well-being. The dumping of PCBs was a human decision, but the permeability of the ground, the river’s path and the fish’s appetite are caught in these currents, making it a multispecies issue.

    Hence, even though we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. The experience of water is shaped by cultural and social factors, such as gender, race and class, which can affect access to safe water and the ability to participate in water management. The story of Inuit women makes it clear how water, even if it is part of a single planetary cycle, is always embodied, and so are bodies of water with their complex interdependence. While hydrofeminism invites us to reject an individualistic and static perspective, it also reminds us that differences should be recognised and respected. Indeed, it is only in this way that thought can be transformed into action towards more equitable and sustainable relationships with all entities.

    Neimanis also approaches the role of water as a gestational element, a metaphor for this life-giving substance’s transformative yet mysterious power. Like the amniotic fluid that surrounds and nurtures a growing animal, water can support and sustain life, nourish and protect, and foster growth and development. In this sense, water can be seen as a symbol of hope and possibility, a source of renewal and regeneration that can help us navigate life’s challenges and transitions. Like a gestational element, water has the power to cleanse, heal and transform. While seeking to find our way in a constantly changing world, we can look to water as an inner source of strength and inspiration, a reminder of life’s resistance and adaptability and the potential that lies within us all.

    Image: Edward Burtynsky, Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station, Baja, Mexico, 2012. Photo © Edward Burtynsky.

    Intimity Among Strangers

    Covering nearly 10% of the Earth’s surface and weighing 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.

    Vivre le Rhône: the podcast, part 01

    Vivre le Rhône: a podcast by Audrey Bersier and Martin Reinartz

    Dear Listener,

    Since June 2022, Natural Contract LAB and least have been developing accompanied walks, collective weaving, healing rituals, somatic experiences and restorative circles—all practices that have helped us rethink humans’ relationship with the Rhône.

    What you’re about to hear is the first episode of a three-parts podcast, recounting the experiences of those who have grown closer to the river by walking.

    I’d like to give you a few tips before you start listening to this podcast.

    If you can, head to the Seujet dam, in downtown Geneva. Take some good headphones, writing materials and a bottle filled with water or your favourite herbal tea. Once there, start the podcast.

    It’s up to you whether you choose to stay on the dam or walk along the river, towards Pont Butin for example, as shown on the map below.

    Or you can simply sit down in a spot that you like. And close your eyes.

    Enjoy the podcast!

    Episode 01

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    Featuring texts freely inspired by Corinna S. Bille’s L’inconnue du Haut-Rhone and Les Soeurs Caramarcaz, as well as Alexandre Dumas’ Voyage Suisse.
    Map by Maud Abbé-Decarroux.

    Listen to part 02.
    Listen to part 03.

    *Every effort was made to obtain the necessary permissions and to trace the copyright holders. However, we would be happy to arrange for permission to reproduce the material contained in this podcast from those copyright holders that we could not reach.
    Supported by Fondation d’entreprise Hermès and Fondation Jan Michalski.

    A Sub-Optimal World

    Olivier Hamant is a transdisciplinary biologist and researcher at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE) in Lyon, and is engaged in socio-ecological education projects at the Michel Serres institute.
    His book “La Troisième Voie du Vivant” envisions a “sub-optimal” future to survive the environmental crisis: in this interview, he promotes the values of slowness, inefficiency and robustness, and invites us to embrace a certain degree of chaos.

    Authors and philosophers have always been inspired by the observation of nature to speculate about reality and society, but often with an instrumental approach. You too are inspired by nature, but from your point of view as a biologist, you come to some conclusions that challenge our prejudices on how nature works. How did your questioning begin?
    During my PhD I worked on plant molecular biology, looking at genetic control and information. It was a clear example of an industrial framework transposed to biology: we used organigrams, we drew cascades of genes, we discussed “lines of defence,” “metabolic channelling” … Such semantics implied that life is like a machine. When I finished my PhD, I decided to try out a more integrated and interdisciplinary approach to get a more systemic view of biology. This confirmed that what I thought I knew was wrong: I’d been polluted by the concept of living beings as machines, and that’s where I started to deviate.

    The book is, in fact, a real lesson in “unlearning,” as you overturn some contemporary concepts that may seem positive but ultimately aren’t, such as “optimisation.”
    Optimisation is the archetype of reductionism: to optimise, you first need to reduce a given problem in order to solve it. When we solve small problems, we usually create other issues elsewhere. Take the Suez Canal for example: that’s a form of optimisation, of sea transport here, that makes us very vulnerable. A single boat gets stuck across the canal, and that’s it, you can’t send anything between Asia and Europe.

    What about “efficiency”?
    Photosynthesis is probably the most important metabolic process on Earth: it has existed for 3.8 billion years, and it’s the root of all biomass and civilisation. The “performance” of photosynthesis is usually less than 1%: plants waste more than 99% of solar energy. They’re really, really inefficient. Plants are green because they don’t absorb all the light; they absorb the red and blue sections of the light spectrum (the edge of the spectrum) and reflect the green part. Why do they waste so much energy? It’s now recognised that this is a response to light fluctuation. Light isn’t stable and capturing the red and blue sections allows plants to face such fluctuations. Plants manage variability before efficiency. They build robustness against performance.
    Today, we see that the world is unstable, and it will become more so in the future: we shouldn’t be focusing on efficiency but on robustness. When we look for inspiration from biology, we often focus on circularity and cooperation. It’s a good start, but if we overlook robustness, it won’t work. For instance, if we come up with a form of efficient circularity, we won’t have enough wiggle room for extreme events, and we’ll exhaust the available resources anyway. If we make cooperation efficient, the win-win result will be counterproductive, and some will be left behind. Thus, robustness is the most important principle because it makes circularity and cooperation operational.

    The most substantial criticism in your book concerns performance, drawing a parallel between violence against the environment and burnout.
    Performance generates burnout—it’s a typical effect. Burnout applies to a person or an ecosystem. The path towards burnout is sufficient to condemn “efficiency at all costs,” but performance is also counterproductive in many other ways. A typical example is sports competitions: you want to be number one, you’ll do anything, including doping or cheating. That has nothing to do with sport and it’s detrimental to your health and career.

    You also take concepts we interpret negatively and explain how they are actually positive, such as slowness or hesitation…
    Slowness and hesitation are the keys to competence, as might be illustrated by stem cells. Biologists have focused on these cells for a long time because they’re extraordinary: they can renew all kinds of tissues. For a long time, we thought this was all controlled by a tidy organigram. It turns out that one of the key elements is that they’re slow: they hesitate all the time, and because they hesitate, they can do anything. Delays give some breathing space. I would actually go one step further: slowness is an essential lever for transformation. To change, you first need to stop. It’s like being in a car at a crossroads; if you want to change direction, you need to stop, indicate and turn. If you don’t stop, you won’t change.

    Change is the keyword here. Hard science, numbers and prediction systems often lack the ability to consider contingencies or change, giving us the illusion that we have some form of control over reality.
    Thankfully, we’ve made progress and now we use numbers to understand the unpredictability of the world (instead of using numbers to control it). For instance, in the lab, we’re working on the reproducibility of the shapes of organs. In a tulip field, all flowers look alike. You could think of an IKEA-like process: building things in the same way also makes them replicable. But this isn’t the case for living systems: when a flower emerges, some cells divide, others die, molecules come and go… Basically, it’s a mess. In the end, the miracle is that you get a flower with the same shape, colour and size as the neighbouring one. We showed that the flower uses and even promotes all kinds of erratic behaviours, precisely because they provide valuable information, to reach that reproducible shape. Once again, they build robustness against performance.

    So, a certain degree of chaos should be embraced?
    Sociologist Gilles Armani once told me a story about how to deal with impetuous rivers. The Rhône has all these swirls: if you don’t know how to swim through them, you might get trapped and drown. When people were used to living with rivers, if caught in the water flow, they wouldn’t fight it: they’d take in some air, let themselves be taken down by the swirl and the river would then let them out somewhere else, until they reached the shore. In a fluctuating world, the aim is no longer reaching one’s destination as quickly as possible, but rather viability, something which should be based not against, but on turbulence.

    Image: Boris Artzybasheff.

    Learning from mould

    Learning from mould

    Physarum polycephalum is a bizarre organism of the slime mould type. It consists of a membrane within which several nuclei float, which is why it is considered an “acellular” being—neither monocellular nor multicellular. Despite its simple structure, it has some outstanding features: Physarum polycephalum can solve complex problems and move through space by expanding into “tentacles,” making it an exciting subject for scientific experiments.

    The travelling salesman problem is the best known: it’s a computational problem that aims to optimise travel in a web of possible paths. Using a map, scientists at Hokkaido University placed a flake of oat, on which Physarum feeds, on the main junctions of Tokyo’s public transportation system. Left free to move around the map, Physarum expanded its tentacles, which, to the general amazement, quickly reproduced the actual public transport routes. The mechanism is very efficient: the tentacles stretch out in search of food; if they do not find any, they secrete a substance that will signal not to pursue that same route.

    We are used to thinking of intelligence as embodied, centralised, and representation-based: Physarum teaches us that this is not always the case and that even the simplest organism can suggest new ways of thinking, acting and collaborating.

    Putting Off the Catastrophe

    If the end is nigh, why aren’t we managing to take global warming seriously? How can we overcome the apathy of our eternal present? The following article is taken from MEDUSA, an Italian newsletter that talks about climate and cultural changes. Edited by Matteo De Giuli and Nicolò Porcelluzzi in collaboration with NOT, it comes out every second Wednesday and you can register for it here. In 2021, MEDUSA also became a book.

    There is no alternative was one of Margaret Thatcher’s slogans: wellbeing, services, economic growth… are goals achievable exclusively by doing things the free market way. 40 years on, in a world built on those very election promises, There is no alternative sounds more like a bleak statement of fact, a maxim curbing our collective imagination: there is no alternative to the system we’re living in. Even when we’re hit by crisis, in times of unrest, exploitation and inequality, the state of affairs finds us more or less defenceless. There’s no escape – or we can’t see it: our room for manoeuvre has been fenced off.

    Why can’t we take global warming seriously? Because it’s one of those complex systems that operate, as Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams affirm in their Inventing the Future, “on temporal and spatial scales that go well beyond the bare perceptual capacities of the individual” and whose effects “are so widespread that it’s impossible to exactly collocate our experience within their context”. In short, the climate problem is also the result of a cognitive problem. We are lost in the corridors of a vast and complex building in which we see no direct and immediate reaction to anything we do and have no clear moral compass to help us find our way.

    It was to pursue these issues further that I decided to read What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming (hereafter WWTAWWTNTAGW) by Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes, a book I’d been putting off reading for some time for a series of reasons that turned out to be only partially valid. First of all, there was my vaguely scientist prejudice: despite being interested in the issue, I find that the back cover of WWTAWWTNTAGW sounds more like front flap blurb for some self-help publication rather than for a serious work of popular science. I quote: “Stoknes shows how to retell the story of climate change and at the same time create positive, meaningful actions that can be supported even by negationists”. Then there was the title, WWTAWWTNTAGW, a cumbersome paraphrase of a title that is already, in itself, the most ferociously paraphrased in the history of world literature. And lastly — still on the surface only – there was the spectre of another book by Per Espen Stoknes, published in 2009, the mere cover of which I continue to find insurmountably cringeful: Money & Soul: A New Balance Between Finance and Feelings.

    Laying aside, for the moment at least, the prejudices that kept me away from WWTAWWTNTAGW, I discovered a light-handed book that raises various interesting points. In short: why does climate change, our future, interest us so little? Why do we see it as such an abstract and remote problem? What are the cognitive barriers that are sedating, tranquillizing and preventing us from having even the slightest real fear for the fate of the planet? Stoknes identifies five, which can be summed up more or less as follows:

    Distance. The climate problem is still remote for many of us, from various points of view. Floods, droughts, bushfires are increasingly frequent but still affect only a small part of the planet. The bigger impacts are still far off in time, a century or more.

    Doom. Climate change is spoken of as an unavoidable disaster that will cause losses, costs and sacrifices: it is human instinct to avoid such matters. We are predictably averse to grief. Lack of practical solutions on offer exacerbates feelings of impotence, while messages of catastrophe backfire. We’ve been told that “the end is nigh” so many times that it no longer worries us.

    Dissonance. When what we know (using fossil fuel energy contributes to global warming) comes into conflict with what we’re forced to do or what we end up doing anyway (driving, flying, eating beef), we feel cognitive dissonance. To shake this off, we are driven to challenge or underestimate the things we are sure about (facts) in order to be able to go about our daily lives with greater ease.

    Denial. When we deny, ignore or avoid acknowledging certain disturbing facts that we know to be “true” about climate change, we are shielding ourselves against the fear and feelings of guilt that they generate, against attacks on our lifestyle. Denial is a self-defence mechanism and is different from ignorance, stupidity or lack of information.

    Identity. We filter news through our personal and cultural identities. We look for information that endorses values and presuppositions already inside our minds. Cultural identity overwrites facts. If new information requires us to change ourselves, we probably won’t accept it. We balk at calls to change our personal identities.

    There are obviously hundreds of other reasons why we still hold back from a strategy to mitigate climate change: economic interests, the slowness of diplomacy, conflicting development models, the United States, India, sheer egoism, “great derangement” and all the other things we’ve come to know so well over the years. But Per Espen Stoknes empirically suggests a way forward. Catastrophism and alarmism don’t work. We need to find a different tone to dispel the apathy of our eternal present.

    Image: The Grosser Aletsch, 1900 Photoglob Wehrli © Zentralbibliothek Zürich, Graphische Sammlung und Fotoarchiv/ 2021 Fabiano Ventura – © Associazione Macromicro.

    A urge to do something

    Can you briefly tell us something about you, and how you became an eco-activist?
    I wouldn’t say I’m an activist. Apart from my role as co-president, I’m an elected representative in the parliament of my city. I’ve also created an ecofeminist collective with two friends in Biel, called “La Bise”. And I earn my income as an early childhood nurse. Shortly before I turned 18, I felt a strong urge to do something. Or at least to try. I can’t really say what triggered this need to act. I started my political involvement in a small group of young greens. Then one day things just happened. I was asked if I wanted to join an electoral list. I accepted, and I was elected. This event helped me to network and find people with whom I could exchange, militate, and initiate new projects.

    What is the state of health of Swiss glaciers? And why is it important to take care of glaciers in particular?
    The state of the glaciers in Switzerland is disastrous. With the melting of the glaciers, Switzerland is losing (among other things like its biodiversity and its snow in winter) an important water reserve which, according to estimates, could guarantee the consumption of its population for 60 years.

    Part of the resistance to revolutions such as abandoning fossil fuels is linked to economic interests. Let’s play a game of scenarios: with and without fossil fuels, in the short and long term.
    Growth can’t be infinite; it leads to our own destruction. Independence from fossil fuels requires support for other forms of energy sources. In Switzerland, electricity is mainly generated by hydroelectric power plants (62%), nuclear power plants (29%), conventional thermal power plants and renewable energy plants (9%). By producing our own energy, we’re no longer dependent on other countries. This is an opportunity for States to become pioneers and create jobs in new areas. So it’s also good for the economy.

    Environmental protection is a complex subject – sometimes to fix one mistake you make another. What is your strategy for dealing with this complexity?
    I think if you keep thinking about what you’re going to do wrong, you don’t move forward with strategies that have a real impact. You can’t always do everything right. But you can put in place things that have a strong impact for long term change. Like long-term independence from imported energy sources that are harmful to the planet.

    Solastalgia is the distress caused by the impact of climate change on people, often involving the feeling of loss of a beloved landscape. Do you feel that you’re suffering from solastalgia? And what’s your experience of this issue in Swiss communities?
    Solastalgia is a relatively unknown term. But by talking to people living in wilder and alpine regions, solastalgia for a disappeared or changed landscape can be identified. Sensitivities to climate change are as diverse as the regions of Switzerland. The place of origin of a person influences the way he or she reacts to the consequences of this change. It seems natural to be more affected by the lack of snow in winter or the melting of glaciers if you live or grew up in an alpine environment. People who live in cities, for example, are more aware of urban heat islands and increasing suffocation in summer. At the moment, I think I suffer more from eco-anxiety than from solastalgia.

    You’re part of the eco-feminist collective La Bise: can you tell us about the activities of La Bise and what eco-feminist instances contribute in particular to the general fight against the climate crisis?
    La Bise is a collective that tries to bring struggles together. The collective was created almost five years ago. Talking with two of my friends about what animated or annoyed us in feminist and ecological struggles, I felt like bringing the three of us together. The idea of creating a caring and inclusive space to talk about our commitments was at the heart of our draft project. At first, we were mobile, we didn’t have a place. Then we were able to create our ecofeminist library. The library contains books in several categories. Feminism and gender, sexuality, children’s books, comics. We have an ecofeminist library, but we also organise more or less regular events that link the fight for the protection of the planet and the fight for gender equality.
    Several studies show that women and gender minorities are among the human beings most affected by climate change. To give an example: women and gender minorities are frequently forgotten during natural disasters – often because it is these same people who actually take care of others.

    Vivre le Rhône: part 1

    “What stories are already there?”

    A video by Carlos Tapia featuring the Rhône river, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, Vinny Jones, and Lode Vranken. February 2023.
    Click here for part 2.
    Click here for part 3.

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    «Vivre le Rhône», a civic and artistic initiative

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    A floating school to rethink our relationship with the climate and the environment

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    least, an association that wants to save the planet through the arts

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    Permaculture, the ecological model to reinvent culture

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    Explore tomorrow, at the heart of public debate

    Tribune de Genève, 04/22/2024


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