© Henriikka Kontimo 2020

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What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Nature

2017

participatory installation
plywood box, paper, plastic, pencils
Fiskars, Finland

The work consists of a wooden box that contains questionnaire forms and pencils. The audience is encouraged to open the box, take out a questionnaire and fill it in, and take it with them.

The work draws parallels with how we talk about nature and how we talk about our romantic relationships. Our relationship to nature, as well as to our partners or lovers are social narratives that reflect the norms of our societies. Even tough a one's relationship to nature isn't a relationship between two beings, it's hard for us as narrative creatures not to think of nature as a being. We easily give it nature human qualities and see our relationship to it as a relationship between two clearly definable, separate beings. The way we perceive and talk about our partners or lovers tells more about us than it tells about our partners. The same is true for the ways we talk about nature.

How did nature look like the first time you met each other? What is nature's favourite color? Where does nature see itself in five years? Does nature believe in god?
The audience is asked to answer these questions with their own words, as well as to estimate how true some statements are in their relationship with nature: I'm satisfied with the way nature looks and the way I myself look when I'm in nature. I feel no one else has such difficult time in nature. There are nights when I'm lying in nature crying while nature around me is asleep. The questionnaire contains 34 questions and statements.

In making the work, I looked into what kind of self-help/therapeutic relationship evaluation questionnaires are readily available online, and what kind of views regarding relationships they offer. Every questionnaire is always normative: in between the lines they tell us what things we should hold as most important ones within the topic. I'm interested in how these relationship questionnaires, as a part of the current therapeutic relationship ethos, affect our ways of thinking about our relationships.

In the post-industrial society romantic love develops increasingly not firstly in marriage but in a relationship. The form of the relationship has become less important than the content, which has brought new kind of freedom but also led in case of many people into constant insecurity about the stability of the relationship and thus created a constant need to nurture and develop the relationship. Current therapeutic relationship ethos is based on this idea of the constant need for developing and maintaining our relationships: in the therapeutic ethos, a relationship is seen as a mechanical thing that is either working or not working and as a result of that, as something that needs constant maintaining. Keeping up the relationship becomes the most important thing in the relationship, and the two people in the relationship are reduced to relationship caretakers. Being exposed to the therapeutic relationship ethos is hard to avoid, and it affects the way we see and value our relationships.

In my opinion our relationship to nature has been though a similar shift: in our relationship to nature we are also often expecting new kinds of constant, personal rewards and assurances because our relationship to nature is often in state of re-evaluation and constant insecurity. In addition, based on the mechanistic relationship discourse the value of the nature, as well as a romantic relationship is thought to be meaningfully measured and graded.

The way we talk about nature has meaning. How we relate to nature is the base to how we act towards it. Currently our ways of talking about nature are often scientified: nature is seen as an environment or as an ecosystem. But the scientific way of talking about nature doesn't always touch people on the emotional level. The role of a nature-person or a nature-lover might feel tight, and nature might seem distant or boring. One's relationship to nature might feel primarily as a moral obligation instead of a pleasure-bringing relationship. I'm interested in trying to figure out how nature could be discussed in art - besides talking about it scientifically - in a more emotionally affected way.

The questionnaire gives the audience a different kind of opportunity to reflect on their own relationship with nature. Everyone can decide for themselves if this way can be any use, and in what way.

Thank you: Anna-Kaisa Koski, Viivi Koljonen, Kanerva Matveinen

Supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland