One aspect of living in an urban environment is the vibrant cultural diversity that brings wisdom and meaningful exchanges that so mimic those also found in nature. We wanted to examine how people sense the environment. We asked three photographers to consider how they might approach making a musical playlist to inspire conscious reflection on how we hear the environment. One global trekker and editorial photographer showed us how we feel the environment through striking contrast of nature and our utilization of those resources. Another, inspired by the growth of plants themselves and reflective images of processes of light and movement remind us of how we can use our eyes critical to create narratives bringing life to our ways of seeing the environment. And finally a lifestyle and travel photographer revealed how we smell and taste the "environment" is often determined by the romantic moods of companionship and beauty. Our love for fragrance and food transcends sense in the simplistic manner and provokes deeper meanings of experiencing the environment. These images are intended to inspire a unique understanding of how you sense our environment in all of it's diversity.
As we began the process of designing this exhibition we had a recurring challenge confronting. Many people resist engaging with global and environmental issues because their seems to be a gap in the presentation of that information in the science communities and delivery to the communities that would most benefit from knowledge of these urgent socio-economic issues. We wondered if a way to bridge this gap would be to use the arts as a narrative to ease the transition into what can be alarming issues. We hoped science could become more accessible if we applied scientific concepts and methods to the narrative of how the arts help us fully sense the environment. On this page we will bring our efforts to create art that provides new points of view or revive old perspectives on how we can adapt to the changing environment around us. We will also provide examples of artists who embody this mission and whose work we think adds value to the culture of an eco-lifestyle. We encourage you to submit your picks and we will try to share those one our site.
A writer must truthfully worship silence above all. It is in this freedom of silence that we encounter what is often termed "natural."
The concept is, perhaps a foundational idea, that by observing nature and then reflecting one can retreat into the possibilities of thought, bringing us back into unity with nature, at least in our mind. In our modern world, both digital and global, this freedom of thought is more and more overwhelmed by the bombardment of noise in the public intellectual space.
The philosopher George Wilhelm Hegel reflected that it was this pursuit of unity that “is present here not as freedom but as necessity, since it is by compulsion that the particular rises to the form of the universality and seeks and gains its stability in that form.”
I beleive it is only in the awareness of my natural position in an order, however little I understand about that order, that I gain stability and so much better for the good of unity when that understanding occurs. The sombre realist, with a firm belief in a personal god, is demanding the freedom away from the disunity that manifests in varying conflicts emanating from an increasing disconnect between silent reflection and forced noise. I believe, though I can only verify it from my experience, that when we are in nature, disconnected from the unnatural, that we change paradigms, or mental models, that allow us to reflect in a way that raises the possibility of critical reflection. This shared knowledge is passed down from generation, to be utilized, or ignored, by the collective ecology, our human understanding of how we fit in the larger system. We are but one flower in an intricate root system, with an evolving eco-system, food supply, and relative comfort of living.
Thus the writings of 19th century romantic writer, Henry David Thoreau, boldly, possibly with extreme arrogance, exclaims, “ He who is only a traveller learns things second-hand and by the halves, and is poor authority. We are most interested when science reports what those men already know practically or instinctively, for that alone is true humanity, or account of human experience.” And in time and examination we have a dialectic of whether the ideal pursuit of existence is to understand and accept one’s place in this existence, that is to say, to ease into an ecological awareness in which one considers one's impact on a micro, perhaps nano-scale, or whether science that reports about the supernatural, spiritual, or physically untestable are most worthy ventures for public support. If one accepts one can document these processes we should consider, through dialogue, whether or not science has been misappropriated by certain less public minded interests, seeds of disunity and forced noise, is it because of a lack of advocacy on our own part? Are we not compelled yet do nothing, stuck in an unstable existence?
As a member of the so-called “milennial” generation, as an activist and educator, I seem to return to the same generational observation that a lack of imagination in a now tedious argument, better termed confrontation, is leading us nowhere and creating dischord and distraction.
Environmental activists seem stuck struggling to convince someone, perhaps themselves, that an egalitarian economy and equity agenda must prevail over the existing market-based liberalism.
Whatever the result of this now decades long struggle I am again struck that there seems to be far larger issues we confront than ideology.
To begin with, I challenge this notion that at present we have even the slightest notion of how to a) organize at a mass scale and b) make decisions thoughtfully as a collective. Whatever notions of democracy we hold true the reality of our global decision making processes are severely inadequate. In other words documenting agreement between disparate parties is not realistic at a mass scale making the arguments mute.
When I consider the dire warnings lobbied from tall ivory towers, detached from the “common man” I ask that one simply go about their “town” on a Friday night and observe milennials in action, as they scatter about, and ask for yourself, whether collectively this group is in any measurable way even aware of the daunting challenges to come. Do they act as if they are aware of climate change, diminishing bio-diversity, and the so-called growing inequity that will continue to divert more and more resources to those who can pay while those that cannot must adapt, beg, or vanish?
Whether an ecologically based discursive democracy is likely or even possible, there are those few out there in real places that can, and in many ways are, contributing to the collective natural knowledge without social consensus or direction. Political ecology must be more than advocating in the decision-making sphere on behalf of natural species and habitats. It is certainly more than observing suspected violators or lobbying for stricter regulations and laws. There must be an ecology of the mind and spirit. This unity must integrate theory with practice. The efforts can help bring self reliance, preparation, and emergency response skills to communities who need them most. One example I have had the good fortune of seeing firsthand is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin Texas.
I think it is important to remember for those of us who care about the environment and our human understanding of how we fit in the larger ecological system, that we need not prove that public interest science and research is better than all others, we just need to accept it is most useful now, for our pressing global and environmental challenges. This center brings the vision into focus. An ecologically reserved space that provides scientific research, scenic moments for visitors and artists, a well-managed use of land, and a space where everyone, regardless of identity, can come learn about their environment, interact with each other in the midst of natural landscapes, and communicate to one another about their ideas of what it means to be human.
With a dedicated and diverse volunteer staff, ranging in ages and stories, and with a partnership with the University of Texas, these "doers" cooperate and replace trees from a burnt out area devastated by wildfires regardless of their varying beliefs. Just years before this devastating blaze the parks ranger gathered some seeds, half-thinking about the future he secured them in a friends’ freezer, and later recalled he had done so when it was evident they would be needed as the Bastrop tree project was threatened. Through this space and collaboration humans from across roles and backgrounds are solving a challenge collectively and for the public good, using science.
Bridging the arts and the sciences through the humanities provides a narrative we all can relate to. How you sense the environment, with your hands, with your eyes, nose and ears, and most often, with your tongue, these senses are individual and special. But when combined they tell the story of us, not as isolated or disconnected, but as interdependent with each other and what we call nature, our ecological systems. These stories help us relate in ways that are playful and reflective while being educational.
We had happened upon a heavily attended event where children learned, while at play, the importance of ecology and the natural plant-life of Texas. Even more, parents were educated as well while they basked in the beautifully picteresque scenery of the landscaped gardens and grounds. Travellers are unreliable not because they have seen nothing, but because they do nothing. Changing pardigms often means changing environments. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provides the perfect opportunity for that kind of solitary silence that inspires and motivates unity and stability for our future.
Animation Design and Painting: