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<nettime> Real Nature is not Green
Mieke Gerritzen on Tue, 29 Apr 2008 06:01:12 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Real Nature is not Green


(see below: announcement Next Nature event May 17 Los Angeles)

REAL NATURE IS NOT GREEN
by Koert van Mensvoort

At the edge of the woods along the motorway near the Dutch town of =20
Bloemendaal, there stands a mobile telephone mast disguised as a pine =20=

tree. This mast is not nature: at best, it is a picture of nature. It =20=

is an illustration, like a landscape painting hanging over the sofa. =20
Do we have genuine experiences of nature any more? Or are we living =20
in a picture of it?

In the Netherlands, every square meter of ground is a man-made =20
landscape: original nature is nowhere to be found. The =20
Oostvaardersplassen =E2=80=93 which make up one of the Netherlands=E2=80=99=
 most =20
important nature reserves =E2=80=93 were, after the land was reclaimed, =20=

originally an industrial site; they were only turned into a nature =20
reserve later. Even the =E2=80=98Green Heart=E2=80=99 at the center of =
the most =20
densely populated part of Netherlands is in actual fact a medieval =20
industrial area, which was originally reclaimed for turf-cutting. =20
Our =E2=80=98nature reserves=E2=80=99 are thus in fact =E2=80=98culture =
reserves=E2=80=99 =20
shaped by human activity. =E2=80=9CGod created the world, with the =
exception =20
of the Netherlands. That the Dutch created themselves=E2=80=9D=C2=9D, as =
=20
Voltaire put it in the eighteenth century. And ever since, we have =20
been doing everything we can to live up to his pronouncement. Today, =20
we even actively design and build nature in the Netherlands. =20
Prehistoric forests are being planted in locations designated by =20
bureaucrats: our image of Nature is being carefully constructed in a =20
recreational simulation (a =E2=80=98regeneration of our lost =
heritage=E2=80=99, as =20
the nature-builders call it themselves [1]). Traditional cattle =20
breeds are even being placed in this so-called =E2=80=98new nature=E2=80=99=
 [2]. =20
The original wild ox unfortunately became extinct in 1627, but the =20
Scottish Highlander is an acceptable alternative. These cattle know =20
what they=E2=80=99re supposed to do: graze, under orders of the forestry =
=20
service. Thanks to them, the landscape stays clear instead of =20
becoming overgrown (we find this attractive, as it reminds us of =20
famous 17th-century landscape paintings). In theory, the animals are =20
supposed to look after themselves, but in winter the forestry service =20=

is willing to give them a bit of extra food. It also removes dead =20
animals, lest walkers be offended by a cow rotting on the footpath. =20
In our culture, nature is continually presented as a lost world. It =20
is associated with originality, yet appears only once it has =20
disappeared. Our experience of nature is a retro effect [3].

It is a widespread misconception that nature is always calm, peaceful =20=

and harmonious: genuine nature can be wild, cruel and unpredictable. =20
Our contemporary experience of nature is chiefly a recreational one =20
[4]: Sunday afternoon scenery; Disneyland for grown-ups. Indeed, lots =20=

of money is required to maintain the illusion. But nature is also a =20
terrific marketing tool: there are Alligator garden tools, Jaguar =20
convertibles, Puma trainers. Natural metaphors give us a familiar =20
feeling of recognition. In commercials cars always drive through =20
beautiful untouched landscapes. Strange that in this make-believe =20
countryside there is not a billboard in sight, while logos and brands =20=

are so omnipresent in our environment, we can probably tell them =20
apart better than we can bird or tree species. In my neighborhood, =20
four-wheel-drives have become an integral part of the street scene. =20
These SUVs (sport utility vehicles, previously known as Jeeps or all-=20
terrain-vehicles) have formidable names like Skyline, Explorer, =20
Conquerer and Landwind. Luckily, you can buy spray-on mud for =20
spattering your wheel rims, since SUVs rarely go off road. There are =20
no hills around here, nor snow or other weather conditions that could =20=

justify a four-wheel-drive. It=E2=80=99s merely cool to join the urban =20=

safari. [5]

NATURE BECOMES CULTURE

The dividing line between nature and culture is difficult to draw. =20
When a bird builds a nest, we call it nature, but when a human puts =20
up an apartment building, suddenly it=E2=80=99s culture. Some try to =20
sidestep the problem by claiming that everything is nature, while =20
others claim that nature is only a cultural construction. It=E2=80=99s =20=

tempting just to lump the two together and give up thinking about it.

The word =E2=80=98nature=E2=80=99 is derived from the Latin word natura. =
This was =20
a translation of the Greek physis. Natura is related to Latin terms =20
meaning =E2=80=98born=E2=80=99 (and the Greek physis to Greek words for =20=

=E2=80=98growth=E2=80=99). By the time of the ancient Greeks, the =
distinction =20
between nature and culture was already considered important. Various =20
things have changed since then; nature in the sense of physical =20
matter unaltered by humans hardly exists anymore. We live in a world =20
of petrochemical cosmetics, microprocessors and synthetic clothing =20
(all things whose conditions of existence I know nothing of). New =20
shower-gel scents are put on the market faster than I can use the =20
stuff up. Shopping centers, websites and airports dominate our =20
environment. There=E2=80=99s precious little nature left that has =
remained =20
untouched by humans: perhaps a bit here and there on the ocean floor, =20=

the South Pole, or the moon. Old concepts like nature and culture, =20
human and animal, and body and mind seem inadequate for understanding =20=

ourselves and the technological society we live in [7]. Cloned =20
babies, rainbow tulips, transgenic mice afflicted with chronic cancer =20=

to serve medical science: are they natural or cultural? In an =20
evolutionary sense, every distinction between culture and nature has =20
something arbitrary about it; both have been part of the same =20
evolutionary machine since Darwin=E2=80=99s day. When we speak about =
nature, =20
we are always in fact talking about our relationship with nature, =20
never about nature itself. Nature is always =E2=80=99so-called =20
nature=E2=80=99 [8]. The terms =E2=80=98natural=E2=80=99 and =
=E2=80=98cultural=E2=80=99 are usually =20
deployed to justify one position or another. In the thirteenth =20
century, Thomas Aquinas (the Christian father) believed art imitated =20
nature, because human intellect was based on all things natural. =20
Oscar Wilde (the homosexual), on the other hand, claimed that nature =20
imitated art [9]. =46rom this thought, it is only a small step to the =20=

idea that nature exists only between our ears and is in fact a =20
cultural construction. Jacques Lacan (the postmodernist) claims that =20
we cannot see nature [10]. A moderate constructivism is currently =20
widely accepted among philosophers and scientists. Our image of =20
nature has changed greatly over the centuries. It is likely that in =20
the future we will adapt it further. This does not release us from =20
our need to keep looking for nature. The manner in which we =20
distinguish between nature and culture remains relevant, because it =20
says something about the human perspective: what is our place in nature?

An alternative approach is to distinguish between natural and =20
artificial processes. Some processes can take place as a result of =20
human action; others cannot. For example, a room can be lit through =20
the flick of a switch or a sunrise. Sunrise is a natural process; =20
flipping a light switch is an artificial one. In this view, cultural =20
processes are the clear consequences of purposeful human action, and =20
culture is whatever human beings invent and control. Nature is =20
everything else. But much of the =E2=80=99so-called nature=E2=80=99 in =
our lives =20
has taken on an artificial authenticity. Genetically manipulated =20
tomatoes are redder, rounder, larger, and maybe even healthier than =20
the ones from our gardens. There are hypoallergenic cats, and nature =20
reserves laid out with beautiful variety. You can buy specially =20
engineered living beings in the supermarket. Human design has made =20
nature more natural than natural: it is now hypernatural.[11] It is a =20=

simulation of a nature that never existed. It=E2=80=99s better than the =
real =20
thing; hypernatural nature is always just a little bit prettier, =20
slicker and safer than the old kind. Let=E2=80=99s be honest: it=E2=80=99s=
 =20
actually culture. The more we learn to control trees, animals, atoms =20
and the climate, the more they lose their natural character and enter =20=

into the realms of culture.

CULTURE BECOMES NATURE

Thus far I have said nothing new. Everyone knows that old nature is =20
being more and more radically cultivated. However, the question is: =20
is the opposite also possible? I think it is. In contrast to =20
optimistic progress thinkers who believe human beings=E2=80=99 control =
of =20
nature will steadily increase until we are ultimately able to live =20
without it, I argue that the idea that we can completely dominate =20
nature is an illusion. Nature is changing along with us [12].
It is said Microsoft founder Bill Gates lives in a house without =20
light switches. His house of the future is packed with sensors and =20
software that regulate the lighting. Nature or culture? The average =20
Dutch person worries more about mortgage interest deductions than =20
about hurricanes or floods. Do you control the spyware and viruses on =20=

your computer? In their struggle against nature, human beings have =20
become increasingly independent of physical conditions, it is true, =20
but at the same time they are becoming more dependent on =20
technological devices, other people, and themselves. Think of the =20
dependence that comes with driving a car. We need motorways, for =20
which we pay road tax. A supply of petrol must be arranged. Once =20
you=E2=80=99re on the road, you have to concentrate so you won=E2=80=99t =
crash =20
into the guardrail. You must take account of other road users. You =20
need a driving license. All this is necessary in order to get your =20
body from point A to point B more quickly. Along with physical de-=20
conditioning comes social and psychological conditioning.

I believe the way we draw the boundary between nature and culture =20
will change. The domain of origin, of =E2=80=98birth=E2=80=99, =
previously belonged =20
to nature, while culture encompassed the domain of the =E2=80=98made=E2=80=
=99. =20
Thanks to developments in science and technology, this distinction is =20=

blurring [13]. Origin is playing a smaller and smaller role in human =20
experience, because everything is a copy of a copy. Insofar as we =20
still wish to make a distinction between nature and culture, we will =20
draw the line between =E2=80=98controllable=E2=80=99 and =
=E2=80=98autonomous=E2=80=99. Culture =20
is that which we control. Nature is all those things that have an =20
autonomous quality and fall outside the scope of human power. In this =20=

new classification, greenhouse tomatoes belong to the cultural =20
category, whereas computer viruses and the traffic-jams on our roads =20
can be considered as natural phenomena. Why should we call them =20
nature? Isn=E2=80=99t that confusing? We allot them to nature because =
they =20
function as nature, even though they=E2=80=99re not green.

Human actions are not nature, but it can cause it; real nature in all =20=

its functioning, dangers and possibilities. In spite of all our =20
attempts and experiments, it is still hardly practicable to mold =20
life. Every time nature seems to have been conquered, it rears its =20
head again on some other battlefield. Perhaps we should not see =20
nature as a static given, but as a dynamic process. It is not only =20
humans that are developing; nature, too, is changing in the process. =20
Thus, I am proposing a new approach to distinguish nature and =20
culture. At first=E2=80=93 as is usual with paradigm shifts =E2=80=93 it =
takes =20
some getting used to, but after a while things become clear again. =20
Real nature is not green.

References

[1] www.nieuwenatuur.nl, Stichting Duinbehoud Leiden=E2=80=99s website.

[2] Metz, Tracy (1998). New Nature: Reportages over veranderend =20
landscape. Amsterdam: Ambo, 1998, ISBN 90-263-1515-5.

[3] Wark, McKenzie (2005). =E2=80=9CN is for Nature=E2=80=9D, in Van =
Mensvoort, =20
Gerritzen, Schwarz (Eds.) (2005), Next Nature, BIS Publishers, ISBN =20
90-636-9093-2, pp. 128-134.

[4] Metz, Tracy (2002) Pret! Leisure en landschap. Rotterdam: NAi, =20
2002, ISBN 90-5662-244-7.

[5] Catlett Wilkerson, Richard (2006). Postmodern Dreaming: =20
Inhabiting the Improverse (www.dreamgate.com/).

[6] Bacon, Francis (1620). =E2=80=9CNovum organum=E2=80=9D, translated =
by James =20
Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis and Douglas Denon Heath, in The Works =20
(Vol. VIII), published in Boston by Taggard and Thompson in 1863 =20
(www.constitution.org/bacon/nov_org.htm).

[7] Haraway, Donna (1994). =E2=80=9CEen Cyborg Manifest=E2=80=9D, =
translated by =20
Karin Spaink (A Manifesto for Cyborgs, 1991), Amsterdam: De Balie, 1994.

----------------------------------------------------

On May 17 in Los Angeles, Dutch and Californian artists, scientists, =20
film makers and designers will present their statements about Next =20
Nature!

THE BIGGEST VISUAL POWER SHOW LOS ANGELES
Next Nature 2008

Saturday MAY 17 | 8:00 pm =E2=80=93 10:00 pm
MILLION DOLLAR THEATER, 307 South Broadway, CA 90013 Los Angeles
Ticket $ 15

http://www.nextnature.net/powershow

Presenters & Contributors (More to follow)

Manuel Castells - Globalism & Network Theorist, USC (Spain/US)
Kevin Kelly - Senior Maverick at Wired magazine (US)
Quirine Rack=C3=A9 / Helena Muskens - Hyperreal Film Directors / Artists =
=20
(NL)
Erik Davis - Author of Technognosis & Visionary State (US)
Floris Kaayk - Science Fiction Film Director / Artist (NL)
Peter Lunenfeld - Media Philosopher, author USER:InfoTechnoDemo (US)
Rene Daalder / Folkert Gorter - Space Collective (US/NL)
Luna Maurer / Roel Wouters - Virtual Physical Design Blenders (GM / NL)
Michiko Nitta - Green Guerillia Rebel - Royal College of Art, London
Julian Bleecker - Design Technologist, Near Future Laboratories (US)
Arnoud van den Heuvel - Gatherer of Stuff & Designer of Plastic Cars =20
(NL)
Sunny Bergman - Challenger of the Beauty Industry, Film Director, (NL)
Tinkebell - Pink Provocateur & Animal rights Artist (NL)
Casey Alt - Designer - Slightly Sociopathic Software CEO, UCLA (US)
Selby Gildemacher - PIEK Artist (NL)
Karl Grandin - Hunter of corporate animals, Designer (SE)
Judith de Leeuw - Sportshoe Archeologist- Sandberg Institute (NL)
David Kremers - Biological-Artist-in-Residence, CalTech (US)
Rob Schr=C3=B6der - World Critic, Film Director (NL)
Hendrik-Jan Grievink - Brandalizer, Designer, Editor (NL)
Christian Bramsiepe - Intelligent Designer, Film Director (Germany)
Susana Soares - Genetic Trace Designer- Syracuse University New York =20
(US)
Joris van Gelder - Magical Interaction Technology - TU Eindhoven (NL)
X=C3=A1rene Eskandar - Tentative Architecture - UCLA (US)=


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