laboratoire écologie et art pour une société en transition
Vivre le Rhône
Created by least together with Natural Contract Lab, Vivre le Rhône features an ongoing artistic practice led by Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, that advocates an ecology of repair based on dialogue with bodies of water in profound ecological transformation.
The places identified along the Rhone become sites of regenerative encounters between humans and more-than-human communities. Here, practices of walking-with, collective weaving as proof of evidence, rituals of care, somatic and audio scores, and grief circles come to recognise the Rhone river’s rights. The project’s aim is to implement a protocol of reciprocal care inspired by restorative justice practices in order to counteract the ecocide of aquatic life and (re)connect with the power of water.
The project unfolds through a phase of transdisciplinary research and a series of residencies, artistic practices and workshops characterised by regular exchanges of ideas between the artistic team, participants and local communities involved in the creative process.
what we did
Since the summer of 2022, three residencies have already taken place in Geneva. The artists began their research by looking at the urban characteristics of the Rhône. They met with scientists, professionals and local actors who are linked to the river in different ways. In December, the first walks and collective restorative circles were organised. Alongside this, an in-situ weaving practice is being tested.
what we’re doing
We are currently designing the next steps of the project, fostering new encounters with local actors and creating the dramaturgy of future public walks. Residents, walkers, users and families are all invited to participate. We are also working on broadening the experience through a video project by Carlos Tapia and a podcast by Audrey Bersier.
From the end of the summer of 2023, research on the Rhône will shift from its characteristics on the Geneva route to its meanders in Valais. Five more residencies will take place until the summer of 2024. Walking and weaving practices will continue, with a particular focus on ecocide and restorative justice.
17 may and 13-14-15 july 2023
Would you like to become a guardian of the Rhône? Join us for a walk for the Vivre le Rhône project. By walking with the river we will interweave practices of rights of nature, ecological grief and restorative justice. The walks will take place in Geneva on 17 May and 13, 14 and 15 July. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discover more.
All participatory actions, locations and walks will be communicated on our website and via least’s newsletter.
NCL founded in 2021 by the artist Maria Lucia Cruz Correia in collaboration with a multidisciplinary group:
Marine Calmet - rights of nature
Brunilda Pali - restorative justice
Lode Vranken - design / philosophy
Vinny Jones - sensorial scenography
Evanne Nowak - ecological grief
Margarida Mendes - research / sonic guidance joined the collective in 2022
Maud Abbé-Decarroux - cartography / design
Audrey Bersier - podcast / sound
Martin Reinartz - artist-in-residence at least
Carlo Tapia - video
least would like to thank all the people that contributed to the project by sharing their time, knowledge and resources:
Tony Arborino (water and sustainability engineer and consultant) / EPFL – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; Philippe Benetti and Gaëlle Cervantes / Centre de compétences pour déficits visuels; Mathilde Captyn / Association éco-impact; Armelle Choplin (geographer) / Université de Genève ; Laure Delory (activist) / Association suisse pour la protection du climat; Alain Dubois and Pierre-François Mettan / Association Fêtes du Rhône; Luca Ferrero (fisherman); Sylvie Fischer / Association F-information; Sophie Frezza; Stéphane Genoud (energy engineer and management) / HES-SO Valais-Wallis; Zhara Hakim (ceramic artist); Kimberly Hirsch; Anne Mahrer / Aînées pour la protection du climat; Gilles Mulhauser / Canton de Genève – Office cantonal de l’eau; Frédéric Pitaval (engineer) / Association id-eau; Michel Porret (historian) / Université de Genève; Emmanuel Reynard (geographer) / Association mémoire du Rhône; Philippe Savary (fish warden) / Association des gardes-pêches de Suisse romande; Marie-Thérèse Sangra (geographer) / WWF Valais; Mara Tignino (water rights, researcher) / Geneva Water Hub – Université de Genève.
Vivre le Rhône: trailer
Meet the Rhône and Natural Contract Lab
Learning from mould
Even the simplest organism can suggest new ways of thinking, acting and collaborating
Intimity Among Strangers
Lichens tell of a living world for which solitude is not a viable option
Vivre le Rhône: trailer
“What stories are already there?”
A video by Carlos Tapia featuring the Rhône river, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, Vinny Jones, and Lode Vranken.
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.
Intimity Among Strangers
Covering nearly 10% of the Earth’s surface and weighing 130.000.000.000.000 tons—more than the entire ocean biomass—they revolutionised how we understand life and evolution. Few would probably bet on this unique yet discrete species: lichens.
Four hundred and ten million years ago, lichens were already there and seem to have contributed, through their erosive capacity, to the formation of the Earth’s soil. The earliest traces of lichens were found in the Rhynie fossil deposit in Scotland, dating back to the Lower Devonian period—that of the earliest stage of landmass colonisation by living beings. Their resilience has been tested in various experiments: they can survive space travel without harm; withstand a dose of radiation twelve thousand times greater than what would be lethal to a human being; survive immersion in liquid nitrogen at -195°C; and live in extremely hot or cold desert areas. Lichens are so resistant they can even live for millennia: an Arctic specimen of “map lichen” has been dated 8,600 years, the world’s oldest discovered living organism.
Lichens have long been considered plants, and even today many interpret them as a sort of moss, but thanks to the technical evolution of microscopes in the 19th century, a new discovery emerged. Lichen was not a single organism, but instead consisted of a system composed of two different living things, a fungus and an alga, united to the point of remaining essentially indistinguishable. Few know that the now familiar word symbiosis was coined precisely to refer to this strange structure of lichen. Today we understand that lichens are not simply formed by a fungus and an alga. There is, in fact, an internal variability of beings involved in the symbiotic mechanism, frequently including other fungi, bacteria and yeasts. We are not dealing with a single living organism but an entire biome.
Symbiosis’ theory was long opposed, as it undermined the taxonomic structure of the entire kingdom of the living as Charles Darwin had described it in On the Origin of Species: a “tree-like” system consisting of progressive branches. The idea that two “branches” (and, moreover, belonging to different kingdoms) could intersect called everything into question. Significantly, the fact that symbiosis functioned as a mutually beneficial cooperation overturned the idea of the evolutionary process as based on competition and conflict.
Symbiosis is far from being a minority condition on our planet: 90% of plants, for example, are characterised by mycorrhiza, a particular type of symbiotic association between a fungus and the roots of a plant. Of these, 80% would not survive if deprived of the association with the fungus. Many mammalian species, including humans, live in symbiosis with their microbiome: a collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and enable the assimilation of nutrients. This is a very ancient and specific symbiotic relationship: in humans, the genetic difference in the microbiome between one person and another is greater even than their cellular genetic difference. Yet the evolutionary success of symbiotic relationships is not limited to these incredible data: it is the basis for the emergence of life as we know it, in a process described by biologist Lynn Margulis as symbiogenesis.
Symbiogenesis posits that the first cells on Earth resulted from symbiotic relationships between bacteria, which developed into the organelles responsible for cellular functioning. Specifically, chloroplasts—the organelles capable of performing photosynthesis—originated from cyanobacteria, while mitochondria—the organelles responsible for cellular metabolism—originated from bacteria capable of metabolising oxygen. Life, it seems, evolved from a series of symbiotic encounters, and despite numerous catastrophic changes in the planet’s geology, atmosphere and ecosystems across deep time, has been flowing uninterruptedly for almost four billion years.
Several scientists tend to interpret symbiosis in lichens as a form of parasitism on the part of the fungus because it would gain more from the relationship than the other participants. To which naturalist David George Haskell, in his book The Forest Unseen, replies, “Like a farmer tending her apple trees and her field of corn, a lichen is a melding of lives. Once individuality dissolves, the scorecard of victors and victims makes little sense. Is corn oppressed? Does the farmer’s dependence on corn make her a victim? These questions are premised on a separation that does not exist.” Multi-species cooperation is the basis of life on our planet. From lichens to single-celled organisms to our daily lives, biology tells of a living world for which solitude is not a viable option. Lynn Margulis described symbiosis as a form of “intimacy among strangers”: what lies at the core of life, evolution and adaptation.