Deeply human expedition

Curated Expedition to the Baltic Sea, the last project by Capsula, finished in the end of 2011  within Turku2011, the Finnish Capital of Culture. The artworks created during 2010-11 are presented in Capsula Expeditions -website and little by little the pages will be updated with the rest of the material, documentation and texts. Some collegues and collaborators have contributed the website with texts, here the Deeply human expedition by Raquel Rennó, brazilian researcher and semiotician.

The Expeditions will continue after some time have passed for reflections, rest and new inspiration! Thank you for all that took part as artists, collaborators, funders, audience or/and friends.

Deeply human expedition

Since Plato´s Allegory of the Cave we search for a way to unchain men that have only seen shadows and echoes and take them to the light, where they can se “the real thing”. Beside philosophy, some believe that one of men´s greatest value, creativity, could be a path to take men outside the cave. Itsuo Sakane says: “in such society as ours, in which one tends to be unable to distinguish between reality and artificial reality and ends up chasing daydream, the healing power of art is most effective.”1 Nevertheless, wouldn´t it be a paradox to think that art (not only by the opposition nature vs. culture, but also based on the etymological meaning of art, the manifestation of human activity, as in artificial vs. natural) could help experiencing nature more deeply?

Maybe we should start by thinking that art, as we know it, is a recent concept. Before the Industrial Revolution, an artisan was an artist and vice-versa. With mass production we were able to separate the product from its value. We´ve created “Art”. Only a few experts called artists can produce a few pieces with high value for a “high culture”. Ancient tradition nowadays is often seen as inferior, less sophisticated if compared to art, again a result of our fragmented way of understanding the world. Curiously the very word sophisticated comes from the Greek sophists, which as the masters of rhetoric, were accused to teach how to reason falsely, to be unnatural, by being capable of elaborating a very complex discourse. Maybe being unsophisticated should be an interesting goal to pursue, then. As we can see in Mia Makela´s Green Matters by collecting natural elements (the algae), organizing and treating it she creates something new and yet still part of nature, based on Finnish handicraft tradition. Or as Bronowski points out: “we must understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye.” 2

The separation of the world in small non-connected areas creates schizophrenia where not only man and nature are apart, but man himself is made of body and mind, both parts acting separately. We constantly forget that the human body apparatus (that constitutes its memory) includes less rational ways of experiencing the environment than one would think. We are heirs of an evolutionary development that relates, for example, our sense of smell and vision with body regulation but also social functions. Research in neurobiology shows us that that two of the most human characteristics, the sense of self and body image, are built and maintained upon the mobilization of micro electric elements and a group of molecules made mostly of water. Tommi Paasonen´s and Tiago da Cruz´s performance puts together the human body and natural micro and macro elements of the Baltic Sea, creating a two-way communication system that exposes that both human body and water share a fragile and ephemeral condition.

If the human body depends and is part of nature, the creative process, either in science or in arts also relies on our natural context. There are limits to what we can do with science, although expanding these limits is part of a very human enterprise, one of our most important desires. Our body apparatus is limited, as much as the material or energy we can use to create machines that can challenge the second law of thermodynamic (here or in the outer space). We have to be humble and understand that neither science nor art products, no matter how precious they may be, can overcome nature. As commonplace as it may sound, instead of conquering by destroying, we should be able to expand our body and mind within nature, not despite nature, then maybe we‘ll find the hidden knowledge we´ve been looking for.

The introduction text in Curated Expedition to the Baltic Sea presents an important question: “How can you protect something you don´t experience other than through documentaries on television?” The division of areas in small compartments is a way to control information. It´s all labeled as politics, economy, culture, environment, etc. Nature is hyper-aestheticized and presented to us in touristic guides, TV programs and pictures on magazines in a limited way (we may say that traditional science also acts this way, compartmentalizing the world to understand it). This process allows us to take a distance from the real world. Everything becomes discourse from specialized areas; therefore, anything can be refused as an abstract idea, including the serious ecological issues we face nowadays. We´re losing about 30 thousands living species per year, an extinction process that is only comparable to the time when dinosaurs were vanished from earth, 65 thousands years ago. This extremely rational way of seeing the world hides the naïf idea that we´re not fully responsible for our planet, as someone, God or Superman, is going to rescue us in the end.

The Baltic Sea offers a possibility to escape from the hectic daily routine in Tommi Taipale and Teemu Takatalo´s Rescue Boat Baltic Herring, where they discuss capitalism, ecology and water itself. The catamaran built from waste materials sailing in the placid waters reveals what Flusser described as the human history that “happens in a circle that goes from nature to culture, then to waste and then back to nature.”3

Bronowski says: “in a sense, everything we discover, is already there. And in a sense, what a man discovers is unique. Discovery is a double relation of analysis and synthesis together. In analysis it probes for what is there. But in synthesis, it puts the parts together in a way in which the mind transcends the bare limits, the bare skeleton nature provides.”4 The same environment is explored in a much different way by Marianne Decoster-Taivalkoski, Hanna Haaslahti & Alejandro Montes de Oca. Sonic Seascape Terrace exposes a new reality in its search for sound and electricity that are hidden in the quiet view of the sea and may constitute a less known, but not less harmful kind of pollution.

One of the main achievements of art is probably the possibility to “reunite the Gordian knot” as Bruno Latour would say5, reconnect the parts that were presented as different and irreconcilable, to mix areas in a disrespectful way, to recover the sense of a whole. Unlike Sakane´s statement, it is possible to chase daydream and connect it to a strong and concrete experience, as shown in Antti Laitinen´s Bark Boat. The children´s toy as an inspiration to the boat that sailed 70 kilometres from Finnish coast, across the Gulf of Finland to the coast of Estonia, creates a connection between reality and the child´s dream of being sailing while playing with a boat.

Ernesto Sábato mentions that while Ortega and Gasset, thinks the proof of the dehumanization of art resides in the divorce between the artist and the public, it is in fact the audience, embedded in factories and offices who´s became dehumanized6. On the other hand, how can we be fully human without art? Curated Expedition projects are some examples of art that makes possible for us to reconnect not only with nature, but also with our own humanity.

1 Sakane, Itsuo (1998) “The historical background of science -art and its potencial future impact”. in: Art @Science (eds. Sommerer, Mignonneau), Springer, p.230.

2 Bronowski, Jacob (1973) “The ascent of Man”, London: BBC

3 Flusser, Vilém (2007) O mundo codificado. Por uma filosofia do design e da comunicação. Ed. Rafael Cardoso. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, p.61

4 Bronowski, Jacob (1973) “The ascent of Man”. London: BBC

5 Latour, Bruno (2007) Nunca fuimos modernos: ensayos de antropología simétrica, Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, p.16.

6 Sábato, Ernesto (1951) Hombres y Engranajes. Madrid: Alianza, p.53.

**Raquel Rennó is associate Professor at the Institute of Arts and Design, UFJF (Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Brazil) and consultant for the art, science and technology courses of UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). Digital art researcher at CNPQ (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, Brazil), member of the Institut Català D´Antropologia (ICA, Barcelona) and the International Center for Info Ethics (ICIE, ZKM, Karlsruhe). Holds a PhD in Communication and Semiotics . Currently is part of ZZZINC, a cultural association for cultural innovation and research in Barcelona, Spain.

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