I went to PICNIC 08 today, a three day conference on media technology, entertainment, art and science at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam, where I attended the presentation All Media on which I wrote the following review.
Today’s themes in the E-Art Dome – presented by Virtueel Platform – are ecology, online life/social networking and mobility. The second presentation of the day is All Media, by Mieke Gerritzen and Koert van Mensvoort, which definitely fits those descriptions. Koert van Mensvoort starts off his presentation with a video of a bird making incredible sounds, some sounding not unlike a car alarm. He stresses that this video ‘is not media art, it’s an actual bird’. Next, is ‘the biggest visual power show’, an intellectual show that’s posed as a visionary statement, where the next nature is presented. Meaning that nature is increasingly controlled by man. Van Mensvoort calls this ‘a culturally emerged nature.’
Van Mensvoort says that our relation with nature is changing. Nature and culture are increasingly blending. He illustrates this with a few examples, like a picture he took on a nature walk of an odd looking tree, that actually turned out to be a cell phone antenne disguised as a pine tree. Or the fact that some people buy land from farmers and make this land look like it would have looked two thousand years ago. Nature becomes culture, and it’s also becoming progressively more of a product.
Later on in the presentation Van Mensvoort brings up several concepts like biomimic marketing and visualization. He claims that scientists these days are doing a lot of interesting things, like creating non-allergic cats or ‘victimless meat’ (meat grown in lab dishes). We are reshaping nature for commercial objectives. We are creating our own mix between nature and culture.
Van Mensvoort: ‘The born and the made are fusing. The born were already there, the made is what we are creating. We’re all messed up on our concepts nowadays.’
Then he comes with a proposal: a fresh definition of nature and culture. Being: culture is what we control, nature is everything that’s beyond our control.
We cause the rise of a ‘next’ nature. An example of this is the mobile phone. Without it – if we accidentally left it at home for instance – we feel like we’re missing an extension of our body. If we go back to get it, we feel whole again, like we’re complete.
He concludes by saying that ‘real nature is not green’. On the All Media website he writes about this: ‘Human actions are not nature, but it can cause it; real nature in all its functioning, dangers and possibilities. In spite of all our attempts and experiments, it is still hardly practicable to mold life. Every time nature seems to have been conquered, it rears its head again on some other battlefield. Perhaps we should not see nature as a static given, but as a dynamic process. It is not only humans that are developing; nature, too, is changing in the process. Thus, I am proposing a new approach to distinguish nature and culture. At first– as is usual with paradigm shifts – it takes some getting used to, but after a while things become clear again. Real nature is not green.’
Even though Van Mensvoort raises interesting questions about the difference between nature and culture, he doesn’t quite seem to make a clear point on this. His presentation is somewhat vague and rushed and he has difficulty answering questions from the audience. Furthermore, is what he is saying right? Is culture actually what we control? And is nature everything that lies beyond our control? I for one, am not sure of nature being everything beyond our control. Perhaps it can very well be within our control, just as culture can be out of our control. Where are the boundaries, and how are they blurring? We should try to find concepts of nature and culture, but maybe the main focus in this question should be on the implications it might have.
This review is also posted on the Masters of Media blog.