Manifesto for a Museology of the Desert (brief statement on nature and culture, and working notes from Meditations at the threshold)
Text made during Materia Abierta 2021, "Ni apocalipsis ni paraíso: Meditaciones en el umbral"; summer school on theory, art, and technology curated by Mônica Hoff and Eva Posas. Photographs were taken during the Al Balad Artist Residency Program 2022 (by Saudi Ministry of Culture & Hafez Projects) and during expeditions of Stultifera Navis Institutom between 2018 and 2021.
“I saw that there is no Nature.
That nature does not exist.
That there are mountains, valleys, plains,
That there are trees, flowers, herbs,
That there are rivers and stones,
But that there is not a whole to which that belongs,
That a real and true set of things
Is a mere ailment of our ideas.”
— Alberto Caeiro
It is a statement that is not at all original and to which multiple voices in the area of science, the arts, the defense of the environment, and the rights of indigenous peoples have subscribed in recent decades. However, due to the evolution of our context, it is necessary to insist on: there is no such thing as a division between nature and culture.
The modern civilizational project has expanded throughout the different territories of the planet, imposing the notion of this division, conceptually separating human history from the ecosystems in which it occurs and imposing the reproduction of a certain mode of consumption on the rest of the subjectivities with which it shares the world. It has relegated the perspective of other animal species to “behaviors”, it has conferred on plants the status of decorative objects or biotic engineering tools, it has abrogated our own the right to destroy mountains or forests in order to produce “wealth”, and it has relegated the role of dreams to that of mere prospective reflections of the material world.
This condition concerns what we call culture. It concerns everything we value to the point of caring for it, of studying it, of exhibiting it in our best buildings and of preserving it so that it can be contemplated by future generations. It also concerns the subjects who enunciate and from where they do so.
If the union between nature and culture is decreed from the pulpit or the desk, the use of what these concepts intend to encompass is implemented: communities, ecosystems, ideas, languages. Enacting a piece of the city as a 'biocultural space project' is a promise about the future, but maintains the consideration among the “they" and the "us” (which regards non-humans as mere social devices) intact.
That conceptualization is not innocent. Whoever functionally disposes of humans and non-humans for the design of an exhibition space, carries out the same conceptual exercise as the organizers of the great colonial projects. We are able here to find that power promises to restore the non-existent split: it seeks to introduce trees, flowers, herbs, rivers, and stones, into its concept of history, and thereby subordinate them to its mandate. Tear them out of their ambiguity of trees, flowers, herbs, rivers, and stones, and impose its own mythology on them.
In such a context, a museography exercised over a forest is a totalitarian act.
The critique of the binomial nature-culture would be then a questioning about the construction and reproduction of museums and analogous institutions (galleries, artistic exhibition forums, and/or critical reflection); on the ethics concerning the exercise of museography and museology as practices in the context of the socio-environmental catastrophe of our time.
An urgent call to decentralize creative energy is revealed: to displace the gaze of hegemonic urban centers that —in their voracity— seek to expropriate the symbolic power of wild ecosystems.
If the new paradigm is the functionality of carefully designed green spaces, the rebellion in cultural terms will be in the interpretation of the uncertain that already exists far from the cities, in places with difficult urban emplacements, where overcrowding doesn't exist, where life is fruitful without human intervention, where settlements do not last long.
In this sense, the desert is the insubordinate territory par excellence.