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Column: Talking to Mother Nature

21 October 2021

6 min. to read

Bio Art Laboratories | photo by Nick Bookelaar
Designers are abolishing a perspective in which human needs are more important than those of plants and animals. Back to nature is taken very literally this Dutch Design Week. Celebrate carnival with a lizard, become friends with algae and nest like a starling. Better still, get a scales transplant and breathe underwater like a fish.

Column by Jeroen Junte | 

Listen to me. That's what the living tree at the entrance of the exhibition It's in our nature in the Klokgebouw seems to be saying. In its crown are an antenna and a scanning device. The branches are decorated with lights and meters. Around its trunk hangs a box with a digital screen. On the soil at its roots lies a suitcase with, undoubtedly, more devices to deliver the message of this Autonomous Tree. That message is pretty strict, by the way. It is more like the stern words of a police officer than the generous, wise words you would expect from a tree. The tree speaks for all of nature, and even hands out fines as punishment for the collective damage humans cause.

Now it is indeed time that we learn to listen to nature. The exhibition It's in our nature - also one of the three subthemes of this DDW - shows examples of the role that design can play in this. A condition is that we abandon the human-centred approach. Design must be positive for planet earth, with all its living creatures. That is why this exhibition includes a protocol for designers who work with living materials. Is the organism killed? Or is the organism harmed in some other way? Improve the world, start with yourself - that also applies to bio-designers.

But maybe listening is not enough, and we must become one with nature. Job Oort graduated from the KABK with the project The Unleashing Animalship with the Cormoradeship Collection, which you can view at the collective exhibition of the Dutch design academies in Klokgebouw, Class of 21. By behaving like an animal, you can become friends with a bird or a fish. For this purpose, Oort designed an instruction sheet to make a giant nest out of a children's trampoline. Also fun: a do-it-yourself pattern for a beach cape that dries if you spread your arms like the wings of a cormorant.

Active participation is key to this DDW. Everywhere, visitors are asked to fill in questionnaires or to undergo a simulation. So why not celebrate with nature? You could try marrying a fungus, as curator Arne Hendriks of the Hara Hachi Bu village did. At his village, you can also shake hands with algae using an ingenious construction. A great way to offer your thanks and appreciation for this sustainable raw material.

Better still, sacrifice yourself for nature. The speculative project The Community of Symbiosis by Loes Voermans proposes that people are given artificial skin so that they can breathe underwater. This would make people better able to take care of weeds and other aquatic plants. The project can be seen at Design United, the joint presentation by the TUs in the Klokgebouw.

Is having a scaled skin a little too radical for you? Then invite an elephant or a baboon for carnival. In the Natlab, Mediamatic's Inhuman Carnival Party is a week-long project to create exuberant masks to wear during carnival. On Thursday afternoon, a festive parade walked across Strijp-S to get a taste of the actual carnival. Equally festive is the performance Deform by Iris Woutera, also in the Natlab. In a flexible construction of hard plastic and stretchable textile, a person dances a special choreography. The human being transforms into an animal being. The best way to return to our true nature. 

Want to read more observations on this years DDW?

Check out Jeroen's previous column: Death to algorithms, long live the witches!

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