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Nature Is Everything We Have An Interview with the Curator of the “Nature Is My Homeland” Project

Nature is My Homeland” was an attempt to deal with the challenging question of how to make the public aware of the extremely poor conditions that the natural environment is in. The initiative was international and its participants included: artists, scientists, and those with a passion for nature. Workshops, meetings, and lectures served as an occasion for them to analyse the existing models of interaction between humans and nature and take a closer look at how these interactions are represented in art. The project also facilitated a discussion on the possible ways we could utilize the power of art to transform reality, in order to promote behaviours beneficial for nature as well as inspire people to change their attitudes.

I talked to Marta Bożyk, the coordinator of this project, on how such an idea originated, how artists reacted to such formula, and about conclusions drawn from this weighty initiative.

Marta Bożyk, photo by Edyta Dufaj, courtesy: Nature is My Homeland

Anna Dziuba: “Nature is My Homeland”, just like other initiatives of this kind, is hugely important and has a potential to be a turning point in the area in question. Artists play a crucial role here because they are the ones who translate raw scientific data into the language of emotions. Thanks to them, the message is better understood by the public. I suggest that we start from the very beginning. Tell us how did it come about that you worked out this particular project?

Marta Bożyk: For a long time, I have been dreaming of hosting students and artists from several other countries in Poland for a specific occasion. I very much wanted to unite amazing, positive people around some idea. The project we are discussing was an opportunity for this dream to come true. During the first meeting with a group of my colleagues, artists, and university teachers, we came to the conclusion that nature is a topic which is vital and attractive for us all. We want to speak about nature because it has to be protected. My friends and colleagues are environmentalists by avocation, some are even activists. One of them won a case in court which subject was the quality of air in Zakopane. He got poisoned by smog when he spent his winter holidays in this town together with his wife and children. He had to pay a climatic charge during his stay, but proper air quality was not in place. The quality of air in Krakow, where we live, is also very bad, and we constantly fight for it to improve.

Artists indeed are the ones who point out our mistakes and show us what is going to happen with the Earth, our common home, in the near future. The exhibition Vistula is Burning, organized as a part of the project, included interesting works by artists from different parts of the world, which depicted their perspective on nature and threats to the environment. In a performance by Luka Cvetković firefighters were serving glasses of water during the vernissage. Artificial rain by Johannes Vogl was drizzling lazily onto the gallery windows from the inside. In a film by Tijana Petrović two orange suns never set.

The Elements was the exhibition where we presented prints created by professors from Belgrade and Krakow. These prints show riddles of nature in connection with activities of human beings. They are sort of interpretation of nature from the perspective of humans. Our planet is seen as if we only have just arrived here and notice what aliens would have noticed. On the prints there are no real-looking flowers or beautiful forests. Instead, we see plundering and humans, as perpetrators who only acknowledge the surroundings for the expected profits and benefits. We see what humans do to the Earth. They cause forest fires, compare underground routes to rivers, cannot imagine rivers and their mouths without human intervention. We see how they perceive different seasons, and how they persuade themselves that the 90⁰ angle is the right angle. They treat fish as food only, consider animals a threat and admire plants only when presented as still life, just like Tito used to watch the relay.

I think that the “Nature is my Homeland” project is what we needed. We wanted to fix our gaze on nature and be all ears to hear what it has to say. We wanted to think about nature and philosophise about it a little. As it turned out, we only managed to touch upon the topic. There is so much to discuss, and it is hard to exhaust the subject. It is just the beginning. I am already thinking about the next initiative, it will be about the Earth. Let us hope we get funding for it! I just have such a strong wish to learn something new about nature again.

AD: You invited a big group of individuals interested in nature to participate in your project. The participants came from different countries and circles. Such great diversity must have inspired numerous discussions. What conclusions did you draw closing the project?

MB: What we were most interested in were different approaches to the motto Nature is my Homeland. We wanted to listen to specialists from different fields, get to know what they know, and how they interpret the topic. We invited Bartosz Płachno to participate in our project. He is a professor of biology, specialising in plant anatomy, cytology, and embryology, particularly electron microscopy. Also, he is an employee at the Faculty of Biology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Płachno told us about plant migration and about the influence of climate change on plants and animals. He explained what kind of home for fauna and flora the Earth was millions of years ago. Professor Płachno took a group of Serbian and Polish artists on trips to the Herbarium of the Institute of Botany in Cracow and to the botanical gardens in both countries, where he showed them curiosities and peculiarities of plants. Herbarium is where for many years plants have been collected and dried, put between sheets of paper and labelled. You can, for example, hold a fern, picked in the 18th century and labelled in a neat handwriting. We were very surprised with this collection, but apart from that we admired this wonderful idea and the application of very classical techniques of storing collected plants. A lot of information which Bartosz Płachno shared with us was startling. In a publication, which resulted from this endeavour, we included articles by several specialists for others to familiarize themselves with these extremely interesting pieces of information related to the world that is not so easy to access.

“…The very first flowering plants appeared on the planet around 250 million years ago (the oldest pollen assumed to have originated from flowering plants is as old as 245 million years), so at the same time as dinosaurs and long before bees. The first pollinators were beetles, thrips and groups of insects which already became extinct. In the case of certain plants, the plant-pollinator interactions turned out lasting – for example in the case of magnolias, which to this day are being pollinated by beetles…”

(Nature is my Homeland, published by ASP, 2021)

Another person invited to participate in the project was a specialist in cultural anthropology, Marysia Galbraith from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama. Her scientific interests are mainly focused around national identity, post-communist heritage, memory, and the situation of Jewish community in Poland. She delivered two interesting lectures. The first one was delivered to students participating in workshop sessions in the Sub-Tatra region, its topic were trends in Arts and Crafts and the Japanese concept of mingei. Both topics were inspired by nature and changed the general approach to design by focusing on craft and utility, so in this respect they got us much closer to the design of today.

Soetsu Yanagi (1889–1961), “…developed the Mingei concept. The name relates to folk art, health, naturalness and beauty, at the same time emphasizing the importance of simplicity, honesty and imperfection, referred to as wabi sabi. The Mingei movement put on a pedestal works which had been ignored before by followers of the main trend in art. It focused on handicraft created by anonymous craftsmen who had been continuing old traditions for years. Yanagi did not differentiate between ‘fine art’ and functional objects and emphasized that things we are surrounded with every day deserve out respect and love.” (Moeran, 1997, p. 20–44)

Professor Galbraith told us stories about love for the Earth, about people who escaped from their homeland because of war. She explained what homeland means to her in the context of her family history and the history of war.

AD: The project was also discussed in a very interesting way with amateurs and nature lovers. Can you tell something more about it?

MB: The stories they told are touching and make us aware of a parallel world we do not normally notice.

Urszula Zajączkowska – a scientist, professor, but also poet, writer, and film-maker presented to us a film she had been working on. It was extremely nice to see that a scientist can look at plants just like a poet would, guess their yearnings and record their movements. Professor Zajączkowska made us aware that we think about ourselves in a wrong way, that there is no “Us vs Nature”. Nature is us; we are an inherent part of it. Nature is us, altogether, animals, plants, and humans.

When interviews with naturalist were being recorded, film-makers visited a forest where they had an opportunity to see magical meeting spots of deer. Marcin Kostrzyński, who has a passion for forests and animals, told us about mysterious behaviour of deer. They have been coming to the same spot for years and been making strange “dancing” movements. Just as if they were paying a tribute to something. There is a lot of secrets in nature to be discovered. It would be fantastic if more people were interested in discovering what the nature world has been hiding from us.

We also invited artists – Diana Lelonek and Krzysztof Maniak – to join our project. Diana works with nature, whereas Krzysztof – within nature. Diana looks for pieces of art made of rubbish left behind in the woods by humans and appropriated by nature in an attempt to utilize it. Nature as an artist creates fantastic objects in this way. In contrast, Krzysztof meets the woods. He fits into places in a forest, which look as if they were made especially for him. He squeezes himself under the roots of trees, stands surrounded by bushes and becomes just a part of them for a short moment, he stays silent listening to the woods intently and becomes a part of what surrounds him.

“Green Guerillaz” were workshops with invited guest artists from Hungary and Finland. We wanted to get to know what they did in the field of activism and performance to fight for nature, get closer to it and understand it better. There is a lot of thoughts following the project. We are much more curious about nature. It is definitely more familiar to us, and we are more eager to care about the environment.

AD: Nowadays more and more people are very interested in ecology. An increasing number of people is engaged in various activities for the benefit of nature. How did the invited artists react to this topic?

MB: All artists really liked the main topic. They said that they had been planning to address it in their creative activities for quite a long time. All participants of the project (scientists, teachers, artists, students and us – the organizers) fight on the same side of the barricade, wanting to protect nature. This unites us and makes us a real community. The project made us all realize how rapacious and greedy humans are. What little respect we have for nature, and how we recklessly destroy it. How little we actually know about it. Naturalist and those who deal with nature as their profession also know just a small part of it. They do not know all the answers. Nature is still a huge mystery to humankind. The project made us realize that we do need nature, and we must save it. We will begin from changing ourselves and our near surroundings. This ecology-themed idea has really implanted itself in our outlook on life. We are also hungry for knowledge. We want to know more about nature.

Exhibition view: Nature Is My Homeland, Photo Edyta Dufaj
Exhibition view: Nature Is My Homeland, Photo Edyta Dufaj

AD: Art is born out of creativity, engagement, and the need to communicate a certain message to the world. In itself, it is very powerful in influencing the audiences. How could we utilize the power of art to transform reality, in order to promote behaviours beneficial for nature as well as to inspire people to change their attitudes?

MB: This is a responsibility not only of artists but of teachers as well. We have to teach why and how to respect nature. The starting point could be encouraging people to observe the environment. They could very well get back to the primary ways of such observation, such as nature studies in a form of drawings or paintings. This would be the first step to getting deep into nature and watching it carefully. The second step would be enjoying nature. Creating on the open air, lying on the grass. As inhabitants of cities, we definitely do not value nature enough. We are constantly working in front of computer screens, and at the same time, we breath in too little scents of the forest. Thanks to observation and through pleasure, we feel in the woods, we start loving it deeply. We miss it, and we miss greenery. The more you sense what nature has to offer and the more you know, the more you can share. Art comes from the need to share a thought, a sensation, an experience, or a concept.

The language of painting is a tool for an artist. Everyone can draw inspiration and knowledge from nature. It is literally an endless source of inspiration. We just need to make a step in the right direction, read something, get deep into it and wish to know more. This is when ideas are born. Our project made a small group of students aware how many topics nature had in store for us, and how we can draw inspirations from the natural world. I am sure that all participants fell in love with the environment and learned something about themselves as well. A lot of works and paintings were created during the project, but I think they are less important than the awareness of the need to protect nature and to learn how to do it right. Unfortunately, globally there are very little good examples of proper attitude and awareness among those in power.

read also For Forest, Klagenfurt, Photo: Patrycja Głusiec

“For Forest” When the vision of an artist transforms into reality

Patrycja Głusiec Sep 30, 2019

 Swiss artist, Klaus Littmann, is the one who came up with the idea of this intriguing project. His inspiration came from a drawing by Max Peintner. Assisted by Enzo Enea, a renowned landscape architect, Littmann masterfully combined art, nature and architecture. Fruitful cooperation of the duo gave an unbelievable result – in the enormous Wörthersee football stadium in Klagenfurt mixed forest is growing that has as much as three hundred living trees. 

AD: The artistic circles, while playing with our senses, should make us aware of climate change but also make us feel and see with our own eyes what is really happening to the environment. Which one of the activities conducted during the project is, in your opinion, the most influential? Which of them does make us take the existing problems to heart?

MB: I would like everyone to see the film prepared by Krakow Film Klaster. It is so full of valuable and innovative philosophical content. Thanks to it, we see humans at a different position than they are normally seen. The bees and birds in this project also show us the right way. Where pesticides are spilt, bees die out. Humans learn how to save them and save themselves at the same time, by building beehives in the cities. As it turns out, honey from the cities is free from pollutants. Bees can survive in a city but die out because of poisonous substances thrown around in the fields. We need to change that. Climate change is also caused by humans. By our rapacity. Let us want a little less. Let us minimize our needs and stop being aggressors. Because we also lose and destroy humankind.

During the workshops led by Elżbieta Wysakowska and Bogdan Achimecu, students were supposed to prepare a piece of art using exclusively natural materials and materials which they created themselves. Paper made of grass, flower pigments, etc. This was supposed to convince them that using natural resources is a lesser evil than mass manufacturing of plastic and similar artificial materials. We can make everything on our own, but unfortunately, we lost this habit. The reason is that we are lazy, love comfort, and we always want very quick results. But you can do a lot on your own, even glue out of rice. If we were buying less, we would not have to save our planet. During workshop sessions in the Sub-Tatra region, two German artists showed students how many treasures and artefacts they can find while removing rubbish from rivers. We later had fun giving funny and unique, Dadaist names to what we had found. We made coal drawings on canvass, which was also nice. We spent time working on the grass. The traditional open-air sessions were so much more enjoyable to us than working in a studio.

AD: To conclude, I would like to hear your own interpretation of the “Nature is my Homeland” motto. What does it mean to you? How do you understand it?

MB: Nature is a home to me. I am part of it, and I accept it. I love and respect everything that surrounds me. Nature is us all, including: bacteria, fungi, animals, plants. Nature is everything we have.

AD: Thank you very much for answering all my questions. I hope that similar projects will raise awareness of the public and make them realize that we cannot survive without nature.

 
Financed by the National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA)
Organiser: the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
Project Partners:

  • HS University of Applied Sciences & Design Trier, Germany
  • University of Alabama College of Arts and Sciences, New College, USA
  • Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Arts in Belgrade, Serbia

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About The Author

Anna
Dziuba

Content manager and graphic designer at Contemporary Lynx. Studied history of art at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and completed postgraduate studies in e-commerce and social media. She is interested in art and culture of the 19th century.

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