***This is the first in a series of posts tracing some thoughts and notes from my July 2019 trip around the world. I stopped for two weeks in France followed by two weeks in The Maldives. Very different ecosystems, very different vibes. Many moments of clarity and feelings — about ecologies, climate change, life with other humans and non-humans. One of the best things I heard came from a Swedish designer at the residency in France, as our group, up late, talking, talking, talking in the still (heat-wave) night: “But how do you feel?” What do we feel as we head deeper into the sixth mass extinction, sitting in a very old market town in the Cevennes, in baking heat? How do the rest of us talk about being ecological — away from theory, science, philosophy, technological solutions, ecological artists? What does it mean to be human in these times? Is it a scream? A dance? A long, loud laugh?
1) 2 July, Ganges, France
Writing is a series of marks on a page. Climate change prompts me to want to make more marks – not in the spirit of *holy sh*t!* — here’s another revelation from Antarctica of our imminent doom! Or here is another revelation about the biology and ecology of our world, some hideous mutation that we all need to stare at before we go back to hacking out our existences?
I am attending a Design retreat in the Cevennes, in the town of Ganges, with John Thackara and Kristi Van Riet, they of Doors of Perception. (They continue these intimate Design meet-ups in their 17th-century home over the next year and I highly recommend.) There are designers from across Europe and North America who have traveled to spend a week talking about diverse projects — the edible forest, how to better address refugee needs, urban food systems, and my own work, ECOPOESIS.
Each morning, we meet with John for 30 minutes solo and then all together to crit and review work. I am here to test some ideas about how to grow ECOPOESIS, a movement and project I founded at California College of the Arts with Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, designed to build dialogues, messaging, and forms about how people feel about the world in times of climate change — as ecologies change and how ecologies are changing us, as humans and non-humans — changing our relational identity to places that once felt more familiar.
Gathering people to talk, to create a process for talking, messaging, and form making around climate change is the mission of ECOPOESIS. Our first gathering of 36 humans came together in April, 2019, in San Francisco, and we centered our discussion on the work of ecological philosopher Timothy Morton, who crystallized a lot of our thinking; his brilliant idea of hyperobjects, these inchoate but massively distributed things like plutonium and Styrofoam, these ideas of otherness and uncanniness, these ideas of weirdness.
However, there has been an issue with the Ganges gang around the language I use when I talk about our movement. I am stuck a bit in the “straight outta Compton” speak of Academia. Thackara is teaching me how to make this less mind-boggling and more focused on our goal: To get all people talking, regardless of age, discipline, politics — to get away from less-accessible theory and into more legible contemporary discussion. To have a process for looking at how we feel about climate, racism, speciesism, misogyny, and economic justice. We want to create a dialogue that does not require a lot of “pre-knowledge” of Heidegger et al.
We are part of the zeitgeist of these 21st century philosophical ideas and yet we need to be a tendril that explores in the way we think as artists and designers and architects — through prototyping forms.
When this work with Thackara ends each morning, the de-Academizing of this ECOPOESIS chat towards more accessibility, I find myself sitting in a large book-filled room, hearing my next Antarctic book. It has a name, Antarctica Poetica, and it has a form, a series of Signal Years. It pours out of me — after many years of slowly whispering its goals and intentions to me. I don’t know now but what I will learn is that there are about 12,000 words that will emerge in France. And I will share some of them here.