Recent flooding along the Mississippi River has broken records first set 70 years ago. As always, it’s hard to attribute local weather to global patterns, but the heavier rainfall in the region is consistent with scientists’ predictions for global warming. While climate change may already be wiping out whole island nations in the South Pacific, it’s also indirectly responsible for a strange type of manmade atoll: the negative island. To greater or lesser success, some forward-thinking homeowners have constructed DIY levees to protect their houses from the overflowing Mississippi.
These tiny pieces of dry land are actually lower than the surrounding waters, going against the natural topographical order of higher-is-drier. Such single-serving levees can be seen as a sign of human hubris, the consequence of modernism’s belief that natural systems can be made rational, predictable, and safe. From another perspective, the anti-islands can be seen as a temporary river archipelago, an emerging next natural phenomenon. It’s a strange subversion of the modus operandi of suburban life: Don’t forget to stock the backyard feeder for the migrating fish, and remember to invite the neighborhood kids over for a stroll in the below-ground walking pool.
Images via Popsci.
Imagine your cruise to the Galapagos came with a ghoulish warning: “Your hair will fall out, your skin will blister, you’ll probably get cancer and your children’s children might be born deformed.” Not enough of a deterrent? How about “We’ll shoot you on sight”? If you’re a visiting tourist or a fisherman looking to poach some tuna or turtles, you might decide to hightail it back to the mainland.
Human culture normally creates areas amenable to other humans, but to few other species. Apartment blocks, parking lots, suburbs and Starbucks are pretty great for us, but miserable, even uninhabitable, to most creatures more specialized than a pigeon. ‘Involuntary parks,’ a term coined by Next Nature favorite Bruce Sterling, arise when warfare or industrial accidents upset the normal balance of human land-use. Soldiers shoot their enemies but not the birds. Radiation warnings will keep out the evacuated citizens, but not the bears and tigers.
What are those two green dots in the dusty landscape? Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe in preserving forests around their churches as living symbols of Eden. Since 95% of the country’s historical forests have been stripped for farmland and fuel, these ‘church forests’ are the last refuge for native plants, birds and insects. The church grounds frequently contain springs that serve as clean sources of drinking water for the surrounding community.
Yet even Eden needs a fence. Religious belief might have kept the trees, but locals are slowly chipping away at the margins of the forest to expand farming plots and to gather firewood. Clergy members use the trees to repair the church buildings, and sell forest plants for food and dye. Tropical ecologist Margaret Lowman is raising funds for a simple solution: building fences around the forest to keep livestock out, and to clearly demarcate the boundary between sacred and cultivated land.
What to do when you live in Hong Kong, a city where every square meter counts? You just have to get creative. Empty rooms are a waste of space anyway.
Quoted in a recent interview about his work, Landscapes without Memory, artist Joan Fontcuberta asked, “Could a natural nature exist? The answer is no, or at least, not anymore: man’s presence makes nature artificial.”
Often concerned with the ambiguity of truth, reality and virtuality Fontcuberta’s latest exhibition at photogallery Foam in Amsterdam consists of an expansive series of dramatic 3D landscapes. On first glance the images resemble something like eerie, almost empty Lord of the Rings stills. These aren’t photos but rather images produced by Fontcuberta using software developed for the U.S Air Force.
Originally cartographical data was fed into the programme to produce 3D landscape images, Fontcuberta however, fed the programme visual data – images from great masters like Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Turner – producing entirely unique 3D landscapes. (The image above was originally a Pollock). “The representation of nature no longer depends on the direct experience of reality, but on the interpretation of previous images, on representations that already exist. Reality does not precede our experience, but instead it results from intellectual construction.”
Language is communication technology. As Marshall McLuhan said, the spoken word was ‘the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way’.
Language not only describes, but also contributes to the social construct we call ‘reality’ and does so without any wires or silicon involved. When our physical environment takes up the shape of written language, it becomes something of a text to be read, as if our environment starts talking back to us.
Computers and software use the same graphic symbols – in the sense of programming language – as humans do, although in a somewhat different configuration, for communication. Most – if not all – contributors to nextnature.net, are advocates and critics of visual culture. But paradoxically, the tools that produce this visual culture, wouldn’t exist without written language. One tool that made an impact on how our worldview is constructed is Google Earth. It literally brings a new perspective to our world, and from this new perspective our world can be explored in a different way.