The routine aesthetics of ecological recovery (order, position, repetition, confinement, clearly defined boundaries) are becoming more prevalent in urban and non-urban landscapes globally. As we continue this trajectory of orderly nature-orientation, what influences do these aesthetic outcomes have on ecological memory? Further, what is the role of art within this paradigm of ‘nature’?
At sites where human-driven ecological recovery/rehabilitation is undertaken, natural, cultural and aesthetic outcomes converge to forge new ecosystems that are shaped by deliberate human choices and composed of elements with varied ecological memories (life-history, cycles of water and nutrient availability, experiences of disturbances in varying degrees etc.). If we consider that ecological memory is “maintained by two types of legacies – information and material” (Johnstone et al. 2016) then art’s ability to positively contribute to successful environmental reclamation projects becomes clearer.
If a rehabilitated site is populated by humans using trees grown in an external ecosystem (i.e. embodying a different ecological memory and life-history relative to the site being rehabilitated) then humans must also take responsibility for harmonising the newly introduced information and material aspects of these trees with the site being rehabilitated. Art in the expanded field can play a key role in this mechanism.
A fantastic and ethereal example of art in the expanded playing a key role in environmental equilibration can be seen in ‘Curse Mantra: How to Kill Factory Owners’ an exhibition featuring photographs by Mitsutoshi Hanaga curated by Koichiro Osaka. This exhibition focuses on the efforts of a small collective of Buddhist monks who used ceremony and ritual to bring justice to vulnerable people affected by environmental pollution in Japan in the 1960s. ‘Bingham Copper Mining Pit—Utah / Reclamation Project’ (1973) by Robert Smithson is also a great example.