Against Nature?

[Winter 2022]

Par Jacques Doyon

The title might seem paradoxical, as the artists brought together for this issue’s thematic section are all defenders and lovers of nature and spend a good deal of time in it. But what their works reveal is a “naturality” thoroughly permeated by human activity and entirely shaped by it, implying that its fate is entirely in our hands.

Thomas Kneubühler’s Alpine Signals takes us to the hiking roads crossing the picturesque landscapes of the Swiss-Italian Alps. Natural sites stretch before us in all their splendour, though they incorporate buildings, structures, and developments for habitation, work, and recreation for residents and vacationers. However, another marker of civilization is present in every one of these images: tall towers that transmit digital signals. They are the material signs of an “immaterial web,” woven by human culture, that is gradually invading all those natural places that seemed, not so long ago, to be beyond the range of human influence.

In Mirement/Towering: La Ménagerie et l’Herbier, Geneviève Chevalier explores places, institutions, and practices that have shaped the foundations of the rational and scientific approach to natural phenomena. Her images portray majestic institutional sites surrounded by gardens that once hosted rare birds and animals imported from colonized territories. Undertakings intended to produce conquest and those intended to increase comprehension of the world were thus – and still are, all too often – combined. The issue, in the Anthropocene era, is to rebalance these undertakings with new forms of knowledge that more effectively explain the complexity of living ecosystems so that we can know more and know better how to live.

Andreas Rutkauskas’s project Refuge: After the Fire is part of a study on the impact of forest fires on the forest ecosystem. Fire has always been a means of controlling and managing forests. Today, however, we seem to dread these fires and be obsessed with preventive management of the forest in order to better control them. Rutkauskas’s images show the ravages of forest fires in British Columbia, dwelling on traces of the products used to suffocate the flames, but they also show how a ravaged forest can be a refuge for life and the beauty of a landscape in the process of regeneration.

So, against nature? Yes, in the sense of the prevalence of culture at a time when nature as a whole is affected by human activity and the fate of nature has become an issue of ethics. Rather than a lack of respect for nature, this is a statement about the importance of recognizing the ecosystems within which humans act so that they can fully flourish in harmony with an overall balance of life. Knowledge, technologies, and human practices, traces of which are found in the works brought together here, are essential components of a culture that historically defined itself in opposition to a “natural” state, but that today is realizing the need to redefine itself to include a share, heretofore neglected, of nature.
Translated by Käthe Roth

[ Complete issue, in print and digital version, available here: Ciel variable 119 – AGAINST NATURE ]
[ Complete article and more images, in digital version, available here: CV119 – Editorial + Introduction ]