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Gemma Copeland

Tag “nature”

 — All lichen, all coral

I’m currently in northern Wales, doing a lot of walking and also reading Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet.

It’s a collection of essays about geology and biology, shared histories and unstable futures, nature and the Anthropocene, featuring many of my favourite writers: Anna Tsing, Donna Harraway, Ursula K Le Guin. It’s split in two halves – Ghosts and Monsters:

Ghosts and monsters are two points of departure for characters, agencies and stories that challenge the double conceit of modern Man. Against the fable of Progress, ghosts guide us through haunted lives and landscapes. Against the conceit of the Individual, monsters highlight symbiosis, the enfolding of bodies within bodies in evolution and in every ecological niche. In dialectical fashion, ghosts and monsters unsettle anthropos from its presumed centre stage in the Anthoropocene by highlighting the webs and histories from which all life emerges.

A rock covered with lichen and moss, found on the mountain Cadair Idris in Wales

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A steep, mossy slope leading down to a clear, still lake

A very misty Llyn Cau, halfway up Cadair Idris in Wales.

We hiked most of this trail through low clouds. We noticed it getting warmer as we got closer to the peak, and then suddenly we were above the clouds and in brilliant sunshine.

We made a last minute decision to spend a month on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands. After six months of rarely travelling outside north London, it feels surreal to be in such a different environment*.

The island is small, roughly circular and very mountainous. This weekend we went for a hike in Garajonay National Park, which was such a contrast to the valley where we’re staying.

The mountains catch the clouds blown in by the trade winds, which means the centre is covered in subtropical forest, called laurisilva. This is the largest remnant of the type of forest that once covered much of Europe and North Africa. It’s quite amazing to wander through… the trees are dripping with lichen and water droplets.

Clouds moving across a forest-covered mountain

*This is also the closest you can get to the antipodes of Queensland, so I feel right at home.

As of this week, I’m living in Vilnius for a few months while HM does the Rupert residency. Feeling very lucky and inspired.

I’ve been drawing lots of Major Arcana cards, which indicates deep shifts and changes. Feels apt.

A desk and two chairs in front of a tall window, looking out into snow and pines, next to The Moon tarot card

I’m simultaneously reading a few books that feel interconnected:

The Ministry for the Future

I really enjoyed Kim Stanley Robinson’s writing style in Red Mars, but felt a bit conflicted reading it because I hate the frontier mentality and techno-solutionism that usually comes along with the idea of colonising Mars.

This book is a near future science fiction novel focused back here on Earth. The eponymous ministry was set up to advocate for the world’s future generations of citizens as if their rights are as valid as the present generation’s. Similar to the seventh generation principle of many indigenous cultures.

As Prem Krishnamurthy summarises in his latest newsletter:

It uses the space of fiction to produce a polyphonic, multi-scalar, politically-essential, and thoroughly engaging thought-experiment: a playbook of prototypes for concrete steps to work against climate catastrophe now.

I haven’t finished it yet but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Particularly how Robinson weaves together scientific and economic ideas for mitigation and adaptation with compelling human stories.

Parable of the Talents

I just finished Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. I guess you could say I read a lot about climate change and societal collapse. It’s the sequel to Parable of the Sower, which I read about a year ago and loved, but needed a bit of a break before continuing in that world. Butler’s dystopia is so gut-wrenching and horrifyingly prescient.

I saw that adrienne maree brown and Toshi Reagon have a podcast solely focused on the two books, but haven’t listened yet.

Pharmako-AI

An exchange between K Allado-McDowell and GPT-3. Together they muse upon climate change and cybernetics. Some passages are really eerie, and of course the whole time you’re wondering about what consciousness or intelligence (or even authorship) actually means.

When I look at an animal, that’s what I see: intelligence about a biome, compressed and extracted by evolution into a living form. It takes millions of years for life to coalesce in this way, which is why it’s so tragic when species are lost, that the latent space of ecological knowledge is degraded in this way.

We need to save those aspects, those smarts, the way we do when we save books, before they are lost forever. We need to save them in some kind of ‘intelligence library’ somewhere, along with the ocean’s memory of its place in a stable equilibrium with all other life on this planet. And from that place we can construct a new kind of science, one that is closer to the lessons that living things teach us about themselves, and about life on the planet , Gaia, than we have ever gotten before.

I was originally interested in this after reading The DOOM! Report from Nemesis, which is written in the same way and gives a taste of what this book is like. I find Pharmako-AI much more readable and poetic than that essay, though.

I’m also dipping in and out of the Atlas of Anomalous AI, also published by Ignota and edited by Ben Vickers and K Allado-McDowell. I love anything that references the Mnemosyne Atlas.

An ink drawing of the Tibetan god Yama holding the wheel of life, from the Wellcome collection

Interdependence 40 with Audrey Tang (digital minister of Taiwan)

I was so excited when I saw that the latest Interdependence was with Audrey Tang. This is one of their best episodes so far, imho.

I’ve been so interested in Audrey’s work since reading this article last year. She’s an organiser, coder, politician and poet. Every conversation she has is recorded and published into the public domain. Her approach to politics and what she’s achieved so far is astounding. This episode also really made me want to visit Taiwan.

Some interesting thoughts about how to give non-human entities a say in politics, which reminded me of some of the ideas in Ministry for the Future and also Regen Network.

She mentioned so many interesting things, it was hard to keep up. Including this report from the UN: The Age of Digital Interdependence. I hate reading PDFs on screen but this one looks pretty interesting, if a bit too human-centric.

Going Horizontal

A book about creating non-hierarchal organisations, which we’re reading as part of the inaugural Common Knowledge book club!

Entangled Life

Because I love thinking with mushrooms! They never cease to amaze me. So far, it’s an enjoyable and fascinating book.

A still from Studio Ghibli's Princess Monoke, showing the forest spirit, a giant blue creature made of stars

10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki

A documentary about Miyazaki’s creative process. It’s interesting to see that his talent seems both innate and a lot of hard work. He can capture the energy of an entire story or character in just one sketch, but also has days or weeks where he hates everything that he makes, continuously throws everything out and begins again, or just avoids working all together.

 — Weaving webs of reciprocity

This week I’m thinking a lot about Braiding Sweetgrass, because the forest floor is now covered in purple and yellow flowers (ground ivy and yellow anenome, I think).

A forest in Lithuania with purple and yellow flowers everywhere. In the background is tree covered in moss and lichen.

That September pairing of purple and gold is lived reciprocity; its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other. Science and art, matter and spirit, indigenous knowledge and Western science—can they be goldenrod and asters for each other? When I am in their presence, their beauty asks me for reciprocity, to be the complementary color, to make something beautiful in response.

I really liked the book’s focus on reciprocity as a core principle of nature and means of collaborative survival and much else besides.

How do we refill the empty bowl? Is gratitude alone enough? Berries teach us otherwise. […] They remind us that all flourishing is mutual. We need the berries and the berries need us. Their gifts multiply by our care for them, and dwindle from our neglect. We are bound in a covenant of reciprocity, a pact of mutual responsibility to sustain those who sustain us.

A couple of months ago, we decided that all co-op members should move to a four-day week at no loss of pay. We think it’s a really important demand, an idea whose time has come, and we wanted to try it out for ourselves. So far, it’s been super successful. We all feel happier and like we have a better work-life balance, yet we’re just as—if not more—productive. I’ve written a bit more about why we did this over on the Common Knowledge blog.

For myself, I wanted to have a day off for my own practice, to write and to relax. I also thought that I could use the time to get more involved in the climate justice movement. I immediately went along to a few different remote organising meetings, but they just made me feel even more burnt out. It was too close to my day-to-day work, and I just didn’t have the energy to spend my free time sitting on the dreaded Zoom.

I started looking for an alternative way to spend my day off. I’ve always loved growing plants, and for a while I’ve been trying to learn more about regenerative farming, foraging and food sovereignty. I looked for a community garden near me and found the Golden Hill Community Garden. Luckily, their volunteer day falls on a Wednesday, which I’d already decided would be my day off.

The Golden Hill community garden, with a polytunnel on the left. The photo has been highly edited to make it teal and pink, but you can make out some people standing around and some leafy trees.

Spending some time helping in the garden has been so restorative for me. I joined in late summer so I got to share in the abundant harvest: each week we harvest some of the veggies and take them home afterwards. They taste so much better than anything you can buy. I (really) love weeding, I love being outside all day, I love learning about all the different plants and how to care for them.

One day Lucy, the community project worker, was talking about how much she likes to flip through the daily log from the previous decade, because she can read about her and the volunteers doing the same activities they do every year: harvesting this plant, maintaining this part of the garden. There’s something reassuring and beautiful about having deep roots in one place, knowing that the same cycle will repeat year after year. It probably seems obvious, but as someone who moves around a lot, I’m really starting to see the appeal in this.

There was actually an article about Golden Hill in The Guardian the other day, about the rise of community gardens. Lucy describes community gardens as “revolutionary in a quiet way”. Lately I’ve been thinking about this a lot — how important it is to find the right type of activism.

I spend everyday at work thinking about grassroots activism (or organising or social change or whatever you want to call it) in some form. Yet for some reason, I always feel guilty, I worry that I’m not doing enough or that I’m a fraud… all that good stuff. I have a lot of eco-anxiety. And I’ve read about how eco-anxiety is problematic and white, so now I have guilt about my my anxiety too. Unsurprisingly, this is exhausting and completely unsustainable. At best, it’s silly, and at worst, it’s counterproductive. You can’t contribute to a movement if you’re burnt out.

A bucket of sea buckthorn, sitting on a wooden table.

Helping out a community garden helps me recalibrate, slow down, spend time away from my computer and see things from a different perspective. In some ways, it feels like an antidote to thinking and reading and talking and worrying about climate change on a daily basis. Rather than thinking about global crises, economic levers, parts per million, I’m thinking on a hyperlocal scale, about the soil and plants right in front of me.

There is such urgency in the multitude of crises we face, it can make it hard to remember that in fact it is urgency thinking (urgent constant unsustainable growth) that got us to this point, and that our potential success lies in doing deep, slow, intentional work.

— adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

Freshly picked flowers from the garden.

With something as unimaginably huge as climate change, the only viable response is through collective action. However, this can take so many different forms, not just direct action or lobbying. This isn’t to say those things aren’t vital – they are. But everyone can find a role that suits their own particular skills, interests, capacity and strengths. Each role is just as important as the next.

Lots of people have made different attempts at categorising these different roles. In The Shock Doctrine of the Left, Graham Jones describes a four-part framework of mutually reinforcing organising strategies: Smashing, Building, Healing and Taming. Similarly, Bill Moyer identifies four roles in his Movement Action Plan: Helper, Organiser, Rebel, Advocate. I think I’ve always been most interested in contributing by “building” viable alternatives like cooperatives and community groups.

We can do, be, and create whatever we want to see, knowing ours is one effort in the midst of many, and the multitude is where our power lies.

— adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.
— David Graeber

Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative

Last weekend we visited How We Live Now at the Barbican, an installation exploring the work of the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative.

Matrix was a women-led worker co-op that existed in London from 1980–1994. They challenged patriarchal norms and worked in a way that would still be seen as radical today.

They worked in collaboration with people who were usually excluded from the design process, on buildings that were usually ignored by male architects: women’s centres, childcare groups, housing co-ops. They also conducted research, ran a book group and a support group, and educated women in skills like technical drawing, building law and construction practices.

All this while Thatcher was prime minister! So impressive.

A promotional poster for Matrix, printed in black and red ink. It's composed of a grid of hexagons, some containing images, some with handwritten text and some with illustrations.

— Poster (1979), from the online archive of Matrix’s work

We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself

We also went to the launch of a new book called We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself: Entangling Art, Activism and Autonomous Zones. The two authors, Isabelle and Jay, coordinate the art activism group The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (among many other things) and live within the ZAD de Notre Dame des Landes.

A black and white illustration from the inside cover of the book. It looks almost like a tarot card. There are stars in the sky and a foreboding owl infront. In the foreground, a woman with a gas mask on is emptying a bucket of water into a stream while she looks up into the distance. There are two figures in the background passing another bucket between each other.

— Illustration by Amanda Priebe

The ZAD NDDL is an autonomous zone that begun to protest a new airport that the government planned to build on agricultural land. Activists and environmentalists started to squat in the area, alongside local farmers, and gradually built an entire self-organised community.

Over the years there have been several attempts by the state to evict the people living there and destroy their buildings, but this has been met with lots of resistance and solidarity from all over France. The airport plans have now been cancelled: a huge victory, although very hard won. They seem to now have reached an uneasy truce with the state – they’re negotiating for legalisation so they can stay on the land in perpetuity.

Isabelle and Jay told us about their practice and how they ended up at the ZAD. They were working in London (as academics, I think) and doing their art and activism on the side. They don’t see art and activism as two separate things. In their practice, they worked with both, in a participatory and pedagogical way.

At some point, they realised that they couldn’t live in the city any longer. They felt that cities are designed to keep us all divided from each other. They quit their jobs and travelled around Europe for a while, visiting communities and co-living projects throughout.

They settled in northern France for a while and began a housing co-op, but later realised that they still had a mindset of always travelling and moving around for their art practice. They needed to become more grounded into one place, and wanted to find a way to connect art, activism and everyday life. “Why can’t life be art?”

A hand-drawn map showing the various collectives, buildings and animals within the ZAD
Map of the ZAD

They ended up at the ZAD. They shared stories of the repeated attacks on the ZAD by the state, and the messy, complex, everyday reality of building a commons. You can watch two short documentaries that they made about the history and one about the how people there live now.

They see creation and resistance (yes and no) as two interlocking strands, like DNA. You can’t have one without the other. The counterculture of the 60’s was just about “dropping out” of society and alternative living, which made it easy for Silicon Valley to appropriate its ideals to capitalist ends. This made me think of my post about community gardens. They even said something like “if we don’t resist the extractivist death drive of capitalism, your community garden is going to be underwater.”

Excited to read the book!

Edgeryders

Finally, the other day I came across The Reef, a communal living project in Brussels initiated by Edgeryders. I really hope they succeed! I want to live somewhere like this so much.