‘Nature’ and its image
How to interpret and design landscape/nature/world to meet the great challenges posed by climate change? How do you create new ways of thinking for a sustainable society? These are the starting questions of the web project On things and thinking: design and nature. In the first instance we posed these questions from the perspective of the arts, as both of us are theory lecturers, affiliated to higher art education. Within our fields of expertise (art studies and philosophy) we are interested in (artistic) images and representation issues and in this project the focus is on the present-day visualization and conceptualization of ‘nature’. 
The depiction of ‘nature’ involves its visualization, but it is also based on how people think about ‘nature’ in relation to the knowledge they have about it. Therefore, we not only invite artists and designers within this website project. We also engage scientists, thinkers, and sociologists. Put together, the different specialisms help to determine how reality can be pictured and known in the present.
The image we are looking for is also political. After all, we explore how we can and want to imagine society. If mankind wants to find an answer to the huge (climate) challenges of the twenty-first century, it will have to redirect its political and economic actions towards new forms of sociality. Consequently, in this project we focus on the conceptualization and representation of future social thinking frames.
Contributions that belong to very different methodologies are displayed side by side on the website. Although all the participants respect the current scientific consensus, and take the climate crisis to heart, these contributions vary greatly. The participants think, experience and deal with the insights in a different manner. By bringing everyone and everything together in the same web space, we hope that the mixture of presentations will produce new interconnections and provoke promising interactions.
The search for new models in which knowledge, politics and multiple disciplines converge relates to a rich history full of beautiful, impressive examples. We refer to the French sociologist-philosopher Bruno Latour and the American biologist-philosopher Donna Haraway.
With the exhibition Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly Politics (2020-2021, ZKM Karlsruhe) Latour and the artist Peter Weibel offer an extensive reflection on the perception of our planet. This (online) exhibition does not present models that primarily zoom in on human actions. The human being is not the central focus. The project also cuts across the idea that man observes the world from a distance and controls the dynamics to serve his needs. (According to Latour, the modern conceptualization of the earth and its processes distorts reality, as it unifies everything quite easily). The earth as a Critical Zone consists of heterogeneous elements, discontinuity. Contemporary models should offer a stage to this diversity, according to the initiators of Critical Zones. 
The search for new narratives and models of representation also typifies the work of Donna Haraway. She shows how new scenarios come to the fore by paying attention to reality in a broader sense. Furthermore, she reveals how metaphors, and the invention of new words correspond to life attitudes and relationships.  She concentrates on overcoming oppositions, recognizing patterns across different realities, searching for possible points of contact with a vulnerable, disturbed reality, the question of habitability … In doing so, she transgresses borders between present, past, and future, between cultures, as well as between science and imagination … Feminism, SF, science and fabulation complement each other. According to Haraway, thinking itself is a materialistic practice. Building a narrative is not simply the construction of a tenuous tale to scare or entertain us. The stories that we tell are connected to the materiality of our reality. Therefore, changing our narratives implies a transformation of our reality, including ourselves.
Between imagination, matter, and reality
Latour and Haraway show how thinking is attached to matter, how it is always thing-related or in need of things in order to occur. Consequently, thinking also remains heterogeneous because it is determined by something other than itself. Also, it is susceptible to change because things evolve. This approach brings the concrete practices of the artist, the scientist, and the theoretician closer into view. We think of artists who realize encounters between things, animals, and people (Sarah Westphal), who write scenarios in which human and non-human behavior is exchanged (Luca Vanello), or who link new images to words and vice versa (Rutger Emmelkamp/Miek Zwamborn, Moya De Feyter), who use art as a practice of storytelling to transform reality (Mary Mattingly) … We are also thinking of scientists who interpret natural phenomena differently, by making things visible that were formerly invisible (Filip Volckaert, Eve Seuntjens). Theoreticians do not stand on the sidelines as detached observers but are engaged. They express the entanglement they experience for themselves (Lut Pil). Again and again, realities end up in newly ordered compositions. All contributions are incitements to new stories and realities.
The call for contemporary representations and new imaginations is a call for a reflection upon the way we can and want to stage our surroundings and ourselves in the present. The complexity of our condition requires research methods that create space for a multitude of perspectives, representations, trains of thought, stories, without the models and stories always having to be all-encompassing. Stories that include part of the problem are also relevant, for example because of their greater accessibility. Moreover, the whole issue of representation can be traced back to this: How to reconnect in an appropriate manner with the reality to which we belong?
This web project will last for at least three years. We hope to add more and more contributions. Furthermore, we hope that together with the number of contributions, there will occur a growing insight into our entanglement with the living and non-living reality.
|We put nature between quotation marks because of the complexity of the concept. We do not mean nature as something entirely distinct from culture. Rather, we refer to the present ecosystem.
|“Becoming terrestrial is a task of composing common ground. This agencement seeks to be done collectively with a multiplicity of voices and agents – humans and nonhumans. Therefore, we have joined forces with local initiatives (public and private actors, activists, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs) as well as the participants of the Critical Zones Study Group at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG), which ran for two years in order to co-prepare the exhibition. Together we have tried to find ways to build up assemblies and modes of becoming terrestrial, and we invite you to participate in this manifold process.” Fieldbook. Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly Politics, Karlsruhe, ZKM, 2020, VI. Becoming Terrestrial, https://zkm.de/media/file/en/cz_fieldbook_digital_en.pdf
|See e.g., Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham-London, Duke University Press, 2016.