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We Are the Loop: Feel Its Tug and Pull

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We are the loop. And we love the loop, don’t we, particularly the delusional but understandable idealism that is applied to how we buy and use objects, stuff, all the many things we tote around. Late-Capitalism has us in a very fast loop now and we buy, consume, and discard at a rate that boggles zee mind. Except that it doesn’t really boggle our minds — that is, create a sense of marvel (and if you spell “boggle” with one “g” it means demon or phantom, which I secretly love.)

The thing is, there are people in the world who know this is a real problem, all this buying and trash sorting and not using things for more than five seconds. The thing is we are the loop and we can create some friction to slow it down. How do we do this? Through words and symbols. Through creating processes to slooooooow things dooooooown. Through pausing with people, known and strange to us, to talk about how we feel about it all. Every time we pause to speak to this, read to this, write to this, we slow down the loop.

I gave a talk at the Maldives National University on July 24, 2019, about the ECOPOESIS Movement, which I founded with Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, and a loop image-object came along for the discussion.

But not any old loop: This is the loop we humans were gifted in 1970, to describe structured reintegration of our waste, through industrial systems, and then back in new and exciting forms. We were not creating too much, for instance, plastic. We were energizing the loop.

ECOPOESIS wants to react to many things: The dearth of language, our need for new signs, the instantiation of ecological discussions in science/political/philosophical circles — often feeling far from the rest of us humans and non-humans. The speed of the loop.

Some of the words I said: “We are also reacting to the current state of ecological messaging and symbols, which we feel are out of date. For example, this ubiquitous American recycling symbol that proposes our plastics are in a perfect loop of reuse. One swim in any of the world’s oceans proves this wrong in the 21st century.”  Gary Anderson, then a 23-year-old student at USC, submitted this design in 1970 for a contest run by the Container Corporation of America — and the brief was to illustrate the path for recycled paper.

I then took off one of my shoes, designed by Rothy’s here in SF, that used re-cycled plastic as its material. I feel good about myself for buying shoes made from plastic (a fantastic material, by the way, which we choose to falsely deify and then demonize to keep Sauren’s Eye off of us as individuals? Perhaps?) To make this point: There is a loop, it is not one that is over there — a glyph to assuage feelings of guilt about your stuff.

You are the loop and the loop is you.

My next post is going to talk about my own love affair with plastics.

 

 

 

But How Do You Feel? July 10, Ganges, France

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***This is the third 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?

We are in Ganges as the huge heatwave (round 1) begins to abate. But. It is still stifling and so most days we work in the early hours, thinking largely about large-scale, participatory design projects — from edible forests, to refugee resettlement, to urban food systems. My own contribution to this conversation is ECOPOESIS.

My own thinking about this movement is being nudged along by the brilliant John Thackara and Kristi Van Riet, who once ran Doors of Perception out of Amsterdam. A lot of their insights will serve to up-end my internal gyroscope about how people come together.

They are at home now in Ganges, in a 17th-century manse with many nooks for gathering and talking. The idea of ECOPOESIS is to create dialogue around climate change — and what we are finding is that people are eager to share their feelings about this. There are so many feelings to feel. There are so many ways to come at this — philosophically etc. One evening in Ganges, I presented the project rather informally to a group that included Danish technologists. The group was quite intent on trying to understand what ECOPOESIS is — and really helped me learn that I need to use words like “process” and “solution” (we are a process, we are not trying to be a center for creating solutions) — and I felt a moment of almost cartoonish “DOH!” Why? Because it is so easy to get caught in the rabbit hole of the process, entangled in larger aspirations, and to use language that does not necessarily warm and draw in the listener. Which is particularly odd because the project is about dialogues, which means hearing. How did I not hear the lack of accessibility in our language? I also started to think about, based on John and Kristi’s insights — that we might be slightly off our mark in how we initially designed ECOPOESIS. That is, how can we have more events with fewer people — rather than one event, as we did April, 2019, with a few dozen people and a specific intellectual “thought leader” — offering us guiding principles? We have an opportunity to better understand what it means to have feelings about ecologies — and climate change — across smaller-scale events, largely located outside, en plein air. This shift fascinates me, as a writer. One of our goals is to have publications emerge from our work — so if that is the case, then why not meet more frequently, in a more scaled way?

One fascinating thoughts  we all share and come back to — how we can get to talking about ecologies and all the tentacles, economic justice, misogyny, racism, outside of the halls of privilege — like the Academy, like San Francisco, like a design retreat in a small market town in France? Back in SF, we are being crushed by gentrification and economic warfare against all but the extremely wealthy. Gentrification cannot be “conquered” but we need to look at the bizarre irony of being in a place long known for its innovative and discursive cultures and what we have now.

So. One of the insights is that in order to make this movement, this ECOPOESIS, we need to stay in motion, we need to stay vulnerable, and we need to stay close to the edge of hope. And we have to deliver better words. We need better words to better describe what it means to be human (and non-human) in these times.

 

ECOPOESIS Goes Global in the Maldives, July 2019

 

Dhangeti Island, The Maldives
ECOPOESIS at MALDIVES NATIONAL UNIVERSITY – my talk starts around the 8 minute mark
Hiiiiii — As many of you know, I founded the ECOPOESIS Movement with my colleagues from California College of the Arts, Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers (both teach in Architecture). I was invited, as part of the Architectural Ecologies Lab (Adam is a founder at CCA, with faculty members Evan Jones and Margaret Ikeda) on the 2019 expedition/site visit/research trip to the Maldives. Margaret and Evan teach an Architecture studio at CCA that prototypes buoyant housing and non-human habits as solving towards rising seas. Rising seas are at the front of the mind in the Maldives, where the 1,000-mile long string of atolls all sit at sea level. As they say, there are no hills in the Maldives. 
On July 24, we were invited to the Maldives National University to give talks about our respective projects — ECOPOESIS and BUOYANT ECOLOGIES.
It was a beautiful evening — more than 150 people attended, including the “Island President,” the brave and inspirational Mohammed Nasheed, who was elected president of the Maldives after years as a political prisoner and life in exile. President Nasheed played a crucial role at the Copenhagen climate talks. His brilliant mind and presence are beautifully portrayed in the documentary, The Island President (2011.) The former president continues to work towards climate solutions for his country. At the end of our lectures, he was invited to the stage and you can hear his electrifying discussion of how the Maldivian people will fight on and survive. Let me know what you think and where the ECOPOESIS Movement might pop up next. We are happy to travel to your place to share this dialogue, making, and writing about climate change.

 

 

 

 

Antarctica: Historic Boy-town Imaginary

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I like how the Adelie penguins are spaced out in their walk and how they act like I am not there. 

What is it about Antarctica?

You know one of the things I have always avoided in my 30-year love affair with the place? The “I always wanted to go there” story. This story, which has a sub-genre big in the UK that begins, “Since I was a young boy…” and then proceeds to the end where the speaker/writer winds up dead of cold and hunger on The Ice (the poles are littered with the bodies of British naval officers who failed to learn from Inuit wisdom about staying alive in extreme cold), is woven into most of the Boy Books about Antarctica. And if you do research around the Heroic Age of Exploration — yes, some English Boys made that moniker, too — as I do, you are reading Boys’ Life accounts, from letters to diaries, etc. And they all weigh in on this idea that when they were five, they got it into their heads that they wanted to go to Antarctica.

This is weird. You know why this is weird? No? Then I shall tell you: When these chappies were five, no one had ever been to Antarctica. It was more mythos than “place” to “go.” So it would be like your five-year-old son saying, hey, I want to go to this Exoplanet that NASA is writing about on the JPL blog. Maybe we will go there one day, but no one has been there yet so why would someone who is five dream of it? Were these English households so packed with conversation about terrestrial exploration, of the unknown, of the last great continent to be colonized. Maybe. But maybe not.

Why do I muse about this? Because I am writing my next Antarctic book and I am rolling over in my mind what we say when we talk about The Ice — both now and then. It has changed in very few ways, the whole gallantry and hero vibe. I wonder what that means for us as it continues to melt and break up? There are 26-million gigatons of ice in Antarctica, give or take a few.

File this under late-night pensees, in re new book, Antarctica Poetica.

7 July, Ganges, France…

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***This is the second 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?

7 July, Ganges, France

This is the night of the Women’s World Cup Final and we watch the match on television in the Thackara home — Autourdethackara on Instagram — a 17th-century construction that invites many comments about all of the humans and their lives before us — the births, the celebrations, the deaths — it is also said to be the locus of a Dumas novel. So the place reverberates with the noise of history.

It has been deadly hot in France, the red map of the country projected across Twitter feeds to show the temperature. But the color red does not help with understanding the feel of the heat. The heat feels like my afternoon nap, the 20 minutes I need to get my breath back — or the feels of sliding into the River Viz each afternoon, the cold mountain water stinging the skin as this mountain water offers a respite for hot skin.

We sit on couches and the fans blow and the windows are open and we are from the Netherlands, England, Sweden, and the one non-human, Rita, is an Italian breed whose instinct is to herd. Everyone, save me, is on the side of the Dutch team, who arrives in Lyon to face Rapinoe et al as the 24 teams winnow down to two. They are tall, these Dutch footballers, and they play a physical game. Rapinoe had noted in a much-earlier interview, casually, while tying her shoes in a locker room, that if they won it all, she would not be going to the “f***ing White House. This comment was picked up, the viral thing, during the actual competition. The only piece of this that I take exception to – because it was such a powerful, informal moment that resonated for so many Americans — is that we not allow the symbol of the White House to stand in for the person who currently makes his residence there. I would prefer that we name him and say, we do not want to visit with him, rather than making the architecture — an important one symbolically — part of the problem. But that’s not my point.

My point is that we are all women watching the game and we are all talking about equal pay and dirty hits and engaged with these two squads as they slam back and forth across the field. We are in different fields, from medical, to engineering, to web development, to writing and we all know about unequal pay and what happens in the workplace. In one exchange, we watch players’ heads bash together trying to get to the ball. Both of the players appear to be knocked out on the field. Someone says: That’s life for you.

We sit and eat tapenade and salads and the heat is omnipresent. This is the time when we are coming off the 40-degrees days. I imagine how things must feel on that field in Lyon. And as the game ends, with the American side victorious, the crowd does this remarkable thing, they start chanting about equal pay.  Then someone — I don’t recall who – says, “There is another way to fix this wage problem. Pay the men what the women are paid and with the savings, fund some climate change initiatives.”