Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life. E.O. Wilson, 1984

15 Jan 2012

Soundscapes and Songlines

I am enthralled, enraptured and enchanted by Jay Griffiths's "Wild: An Elemental Journey". Within, she documents her time spent in regions of wilderness, poetic prose metaphorically binding emotional sentiment and scientific precision along the way. She travels from the Amazon to the Arctic, Oceana to Outback constantly striving to define wilderness as interpreted by indigenous populations: "self-willed land does what it likes, untilled untold, a place and a whole way of being that has its own internal rules and habits." In particular she finds that the lives of those intertwined with wild spaces have laws under the guise of "myths and magic, tales and enchantments that make up a society's culture; ecologically informed, emotionally charged and morally binding"

Music plays a strong role in the interpretation of natural spaces. Canadian composer and environmentalist, R. Murray Schafer coined the term soundscape, music to reflect the sensation of immersion in an acoustic environment.  The “Listening” of Cree Indians, and the “Dreaming” of Aboriginals permit the creation of Songlines, inspired by the voices of the wind, trees, rocks and animals, and the trails of their spirits.  These pieces of music describe the lie of the land to such an extent that people upon hearing songlines are said to comfortably navigate unknown territories, not unlike reading a map. “The Dreaming is inside the land, latent as a dream lies in sleep”. Furthermore, by mapping the soul of a landscape, they reveal the past when development comes to desecrate natural spaces: “We still see the land. Beneath the concrete we know where the forest grows, where the kangaroos graze. We see where the Platypus digs her den, where the streams flow. That city there... it’s just a scab. The land remains alive beneath it.”

Amongst the Dreamtime work of artists at the Quai Branly in Paris lies a small, dark, and usually neglected room, but which to me is the strongest part  of the whole museum. This "music box" combines sound spatialisation which the projection of immersive images; the vivid green of a rainforest in Equador accompanied by the ululation of village women. The lure of the hymnal music transports you far away, and upon arrival you feel a sensation of having been here before.

La Clé des Champs: My Childhood in the Fields

La Clé des Champs was released late last year, whilst I was in the thick of exams, but I managed to see one of the last screenings yesterday. Using exquisite footage of a marsh microcosm, Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou capture the summer of a city boy spent at an abandoned marsh, a theatre of natural splendour, a stage of the mini-sagas of life. As a child, innocent, inquisitive and carefree, such natural spaces provide an unlimited source of joy.

My strongest memories of childhood are of exploring the backwoods behind our house, collecting frogspawn and tadpoles from the murky ponds and building houses for spirits. Over long summers in France with my family I would be shooed outside, commanded by my brother to construct dams. But whilst searching for perfect fitting rocks, I would end up distracted, fascinated by the caddisfly larvae casings on the river bed. Other times, we would collect woodlice, weave together twigs or race snails against one another. I have a vivid memory of catching an enormous cricket in my hands, running after my parents to show them, only to reveal a strong smelling yellow secretion but no cricket.

The freedom and fascination of youth is to be treasured, and I look back now with a deep longing when superficial day to day worries lodge in the back of my mind. The wilds were not an escape, or a release, but simply an immediate source of being, comfort, and revelation. Sheltered from suffering, loved by my family, the fields and forests were not a threatening unknown, but an inviting adventure, an eductation in understanding and a window to the wider world.

13 Jan 2012

Envol-Vert and the Fight for the Forests

The end of 2011, the UN's International year of the forests was met with a revving of chainsaws, and the thundering sound of yet another 130,000 km² worth of falling trees (annually according to the FAO). As we all know, developing nations are exercising their right to utilise their natural resources, fueled by those of us who have already exhausted our own. And yet, unfortunately at an unsustainable rate, this will have consequences for us all.

After having worked with WWF-France, Daisy Tarrier and Boris Patentreger decided to establish Envol-Vert, an organisation to help support local organisations across South America already engaged in sustainable alternatives to deforestation: agroforestry, ecotourism and reforestation. By providing administrative and budget support, Envol Vert helps local people to determine their own solutions to local problems. Last year, I signed up as a volunteer based in France, helping where possible in preparing funding applications, reports and translations, but we need more help!

Check out the website to get more details on the work they do, and opportunities to help both from home and abroad: (soon to be translated into English...)

Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation

For my readers in the Philippines, Russia, and Liberia amongst others who I havent had the chance to meet, here is a video discussing the research undertaken at Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation. I was lucky enough to work there a year ago, 3minues30 in you can hear me discussing my project. Enjoy!

6 Jan 2012

Nature in Motion: Kate MccGwire

Winter is well under way and darkness arrives earlier and earlier. By the time I leave the library and revision hell, the sky is already inky black and the streetlights are on. Rather than shut myself indoors to avoid the spitting rain and bracing winds, I cross the Seine. The surface is choppy, with flecks of foam and undulating currents giving the usually slow river a very different feel, one of life. As the rain reaches its heaviest, I force my way through the entrance of the Maison Rouge, into a lifeless clinical postmodern art gallery. I am here to see "Mémoires du Futur", a cabinet of curiosity curated by Thomas Olbricht, drawn once again by my fascination with alternate perceptions of nature. 

Walking around the galleries I could not help but be disappointed, for here was another stale gallery filled with gaudy plastic bling and in-trend ubiquitous skulls. So it was with a surge of joy when I turned a corner to spy a glass and mahogany cabinet of old, but bursting with life. Behind the glass, inanimate feathers arranged in a serpentine swirl of movement formed an endless knot. Relics of a once living creature, given a new lease in an otherworldly formation, the characteristic work of Kate MccGwire.

Lure 2011, Vex 2008, Gag 2009
For a long time, I have wanted to see this artist’s work. From her studio on the banks of another tumultuous river, MccGwire creates these flights of fancy, inspired by the surrounding forces of nature and their inherent “seething undercurrent”. Collecting feathers from disused warehouses, or from racing pigeon clubs, she breathes new life and creates motion, by arranging these in organic bodily forms devoid of a true reflection. Nature is represented here not in a controlled still, as in a painting or photo, but as a force of motion, a dynamic process and ultimately as an unknown.