Whether it is the familiar environment of the city, that us as 21st century city dwellers know best - or the unknown environment of the forest with all it’s beasts, shadows, colours, noise and fear - it seems vital to reflect on our presence in the environment.
Our presence in the forest demands that the animals retreat. Our brightly coloured synthetic clothes bears evidence to the true forest dwellers - the insects and birds, the big cats, boar, reptiles and amphibians that inhabit the holes and caves - that an imposter is in their midst.
Is our presence in the forest really us… with the fears, desires, longings, betrayals and friendships, all that makes us human? Or are we infact a projection of ourselves, playing a part for the trees and wildlife to respond to? In turn does the forest become the stage for that which is unseen, the animals blinking in the shadows? Does that which we fear and seek to understand become our audience or the spectacle that we hope to transmit? By removing ourselves from the forest and transmitting data can we truly sense the forest without our presence in it?
Renato said the Mata Atlantica is in a silent war. You can feel it, on Monday we visited the Euclyptus farms and the way they are ripping the land of everything, leaving dead, dry soil below, the uniform rows of trees are interpspersed with protected forest near to the water springs that are now being loked after by the government, the contrast within two steps between the dried, empty earth of the euclpytus and the fertile buzzing forest of the Mata Atlantica is as acute as the difference between the forest and the city.
Today we have returned to visit some primary forest. Our conversations with Paula who is managing the education elements of the Dark Forest project here in Sao Paulo has led us to explore the 3 stages of forest - primary (ancient and untouched), secondary (regrown) and tertiary (parks and managed areas). These link to our themes of the past present and future of the forests - the forests of our times, the myths and legends of the forest and the forest of our imagination. It also leads to the next nature debate - if this is where we are now how do we protect, develop and sustain the forests we desire and need for the future?
The one thing that has been going through my mind is the idea that these forests are the lungs of our earth. You feel it, they breathe, they are living, real, growing and changing. It is this vitality that I hope that we can interpret and transmit.]]>
Finally we are in the Mata Atlantica and the work starts. I can’t imagine better work.
We took the journey from Sao Paulo to Mogi das Cruzes, Biritiba Mirim in Paulo’s car, along the river through the suburbs, favelas and along the road shared by loggers. As we got close to the farm the road became more and more of a dirt track and we entered the farm, in the Brazilian forest called the Mata Atlantica that once covered most of Brazil, they say there is only 7% left, which is very close to the story of our forests in the UK. This is a cloud forest and close to the sea, as the wind comes from the sea it turns to mist, which in turn turns to rain as it hits the city of Sao Paulo. This forest is new, only 30 years old, regrown from when it was originally cut down for charcoal for the Sao Paulo’s industries. This forest tells the story of Sao Paulo’s massive development.
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The farm is stunning, owned by Marcelo’s good friend and his family. Set in amongst the trees and landscaped with waterfalls, lakes, flowers, herbs. Ducks, geese and heron surround us. Right now the volume of sounds from the forest are intense and so are the mosquitos, buzzing around the computer screen.
Today we walked with the sensor kit up to the mountain top, the frog rock, from where on a clear day you can see the Atlantic ocean to one side and Sao Paulo to the other. Today the mist had come down. From the top you can see Renato’s neighbours Euclyptus farm. This is destroying the indigenous forest with its aggresive growth. Renato tries to manage the forest by cutting the Euclyptus down which also provides them with firewood and protects the new growth of the forest. Beyond Frog Rock remains some old forest but so little is left.
I am battling with my city girl fears of the unknown in the forest and in particular my phobia of snakes which they all find very amusing.
We are being treated like kings here with the most amazing food, swimming in the man made waterfall and trying to absorb where we are, sensing the forest through our equipment but also trying to think how the forest can be interpreted, visualised and eventually connected to our own Sherwood Forest. Renato’s family are wonderful and we having very good conversations about the ecology of Brazil, the guerilla opportunities of new technologies being used to connect people and the reality of the expedition.
Tomorrow we will try and find a place to put the sensor kit and capture some static data to compare to data collected by the Twisty oak tree in Sherwood.
The Paralelo workshop has helped us to think beyond the forest that we see, but I don’t think I will be able to fully absorb this first step until I return home.
Reflections on Paralelo Conference Sao Paulo
The conference here has finished and I have found it very difficult to write anything until now. I feel that the contrasts and often very disparate content of a lot of the panels has made it difficult to come to any broad conclusions. But I think a number of issues have come up for me. Some related to art and some to the environment and the economic global crisis - The big picture which seemed to hangover the event like an urgent, yet unspoken feeling.
Modernism vs Pastoralism
There appeared a certain divide in the group between 2 stark positions which is relevant both to art and science - the issue of whether we should take inspiration from our heritage, find refuge in the romance of the natural world or whether we should re-embrace the linear progression of modernism, with it’s adherence to the notion that what we have started should be finished.
Early on in the week, I started to feel slightly angry with some of the ideas that seemed to point to a return to a simpler life to re-connecting to a primitive self. In fact one of the speakers continually refereed to the beauty of the indians and their traditions. Which pre-supposed that they were somehow different from our selves, an archaic colonial notion. Also the post-modern notion of a disconnection between ourselves and the nature we have emerged from, and desire to return to it, feels to me an anathema. This disquieted feeling (which is essential for a good workshop) made me realise that we must reconcile this difference by seeing the world, both the man-made and the natural, as a continuum. We should invite nature into our cities and our bodies and accept the advantages our technological society has brought us. As artists we should intervene in this human society to continually find poetic moments of re-integration.
The modern project as a social and psychological project is flawed but the inventions and process are still relevant. We should not be afraid to walk to the future proud of our science, the medicine that lets us live beyond childhood, the machines that let us move around the planet to understand ourselves as a whole, and the knowledge of our micro world. In the latter, the secrets of the atomic we may yet find a way to fund our future selves beyond the need to burn stuff and rely on centralised means of production.
The salient lesson of modernism is not to see ourselves and our world as one linear narrative that should be applied to all but as a more fuzzy interconnected whole. We as artists should also run towards new thinking in science which is opening up new avenues for optimism, where are futures could be fulfilling and creative ones. If imagination of the world cannot imagine futures that aren’t apocalypses or primitive then we are not doing our jobs. Why is the optimistic future still stuck in the retro chique of the plastic wearing, pill’s for dinner, Jetson world of the fifties and early sixties. I can see a world where the individual is perfectly connected to every other member the planet, were personalised transport is clean and freed from the privilege of status. Where we can live freed from the shackles of exchange economies by the perpetual energy of stars. Where our time freed from market forces can be devoted to re-integrating ourselves with natural systems.
This is the world I want to invite people into and if we can imagine it we can build it.
Responsibility and Data.
As data collection and manipulation is becoming a larger and larger part of out lives, it is beginning to inform all areas of the decision making process. Governments increasingly use statistics and focus groups to form judgements on issues at global and national scale. We as artists (specifically media artists) are using data to inform and create our work. Unlike scientists we are using it in different ways. In his panel Rob la Frenais referred to a conversation he had with Donna Haraway. Who described scientists as using Blackbox Data, whereas artists used Trigger Data. Artists are triggered by the value of a piece of data to frame it in a way that suits their poetic process. This process unlike the massaging of data used by politicians and policy makers is less about hiding but more about revealing. An editorial decision to bring something more to the fore.
I was struck by something Rejane Spitz showed in her presentation, a website that showed realtime located updates on crime in Berkeley, California. The site used google maps to position crime as it happens. This struck me as a strangely reckless activity. For whom was this site intended. It seemed to be a way of perpetuating a culture of fear by focussing on the most negative aspect of urban life. As if old ladies weren’t frightened enough! The data could have been reversed to show how safe areas of the city were. Which brought up the responsibility that is inherent in the use of data. However suspicious a lot of people are with the modern world we all seem to trust data as proof of a phenomenon, but we often forget that it is the framing that is most important.
This often leads us down blind alleys where we are no longer sure of the veracity of the data purely because of the context. Its seems to me that art can regain this social trust through playful, humorous interpretations of information where the audience is not necessarily asked to come to conclusions from the data, but rather to question it.
As we live in increasingly data rich environments, where our very presence in the world generates data on a continuous basis. We must accept it’s existence and evolve our thinking about how we can manipulate this data for ourselves, see it as a connection between ourselves and everyone in it. We should start to understand it draw up new futures where we can situate ourselves at the centre of the data. Know how it works and how it can be interpreted and misinterpreted. We shouldn’t run away from it as it will only catch us.
Something else that occurred to me after Wapke Feenstra presentation of her artwork and specifically the work she had been doing with her brother on his horse milk farm, (Yes it’s true we saw a video of someone actually milking a horse!) many of the discussions had been about the city vs the forest. But the missing element in all this was the farmer. The missing agent between industry and nature. There was something hypnotic about watching a man who is undertaking a task that he knows so well even if it is bizarre to us. There is a knowledge embedded here. Often loathed by city folk, especially in the UK as the repository of conservatism and stasis. They still represent the best conduit to traditional knowledge about ecology and the state of nature, as well as its technological future.
Paralelo has been very intensive and exciting. Full of heated discussions, fascinating presentations and giving us a big leap forward with ideas for the Dark Forest.
On Sunday we were introduced to the open workshop process, it is quite basic and in some ways a bit too “free” as some things dont ever happen or get missed out, but in fact it has provided fantasic opportunities to hear about the other projects and artists work as well as discuss some key topics. I kicked off by joining the “How to Love the Future” discussion about what positive approaches artists can have for the future and how maybe it doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom. The is quite a challenging view amongst people here, of accepting were we are and how the environment will be destroyed and looking towards creating “new nature”, how we live in this changed place. It is interesting and fits into the way people appropriate technology to work around changes but I am not ready to admit defeat for nature as it should be as opposed to how we have changed it and I also feel it is difficult in some ways to discuss without ecologists and I am slightly surprised about how few artists are here from a more rural background, particularly amongst the brazilian artists and think these discussions are difficult without this representation.
I wont describe too much more of the discussions as they will be documented elsewhere.
In the evening at the last minute Paulo invited us to go to a launch of the Insitituto Claro. A very strange experience. Me and Dominic went and Matt stayed for the the talks at Paralelo. I was totally under dressed and unprepared for this incredibly smart event in the new museum in the train station, a museum of the Portuguese Language. We walked in and it felt like the scene from Batman when Bruce Wayne hosts a civic event for all the rich people of Gotham City. I kept on expecting the joker to appear, although felt like maybe that was me, standing in the middle of this elegant place in jeans and flip flops. The Minister for Art, Technology and Culture and the Mayor of Sao Paulo were there. We were introduced to lots of important people (including the Minister) and by coincidence had our sensor kit with us so we tested it there and also showed people the funny prototype in a box file (as it is now). Everyone infact appeared very excited about the project and we have 2 meetings next week to present the project in more detail.
Yesterday was mainly spent preparing for our presentation in the evening in the public programme. I took part in one workshop based on the Dutch artists Edo and Luna’s ideas they call conditional design. Their work looks very beautiful and the practical activity was good fun.
The presentation went pretty well I think, although with a restriction of 8 minutes it was hard to talk about anything in any depth. Dominic did a very concise presentation about MRL’s collaborations with artists and then we presented Heartlands in terms of how we work with the academic partners and then build towards engaging public audiences.
After the presentation our exhaustion was transformed by a VJ mix by a Brazilian performer/VJ that was great and firmly put me back into the real world with some banging techno and hilarious mixes about british people celebrating climate change because it will give us a warmer climate, soft porn, pac man, a mix for cockroaches and germany in 1945, random and funny.
Today despite a late night I have still managed to see Esther’s performance tracking cows and cowboys, which was really nice and also we hosted a session on sensors and interpreting data which sounds dry but wasnt at all mainly because Gisella, Fillipe and Wapke were good fun and had some great ideas. And I drunk Horse Milk!!! Wapke Feenstra’s work looks at farming and villages and her family have a farm producing horse milk that is meant to be good for health, so she gave me some to drink to help my hangover. Strange, a bit like chewing on a piece of grass.]]>
The Dark Forest and BR163 Expedition is an interactive documentary in two parts. The Dark Forest senses and documents an expedition along a road that is being built through the heart of the Amazon and connects the tropical forest to Sherwood Forest in the UK - through a new interactive artwork and schools exchange.
The project brings together a team of film makers, artists and technologists utilising mobile, location and sensing technologies - to create a documentary film, website, and a new artwork.
A collaboration between newTV production company, Mobilefest – International Festival of Mobile Art and Creativity and Active Ingredient, in partnership with the Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham
With support from the Arts Council England, Nottingham Trent University, UKTI, British Council and Nottinghamshire County Council