Ellie Davies, “Between the trees. Fires 9, 2018”
The British artist Ellie Davies talks about her work: I have been photographing UK forests for 9 years. These altered landscapes operate on a number of levels. They are a reflection of my personal relationship with the forest, a meditation on universal themes relating to the psyche and they explore the concept of landscape as a social and cultural construct. The idea is to attract the spectator to this space and make them think about how the landscapes we live in shape our identities.
Upon receiving the Princess of Asturias award in 2019, the biologist Sandra Myrna Díaz described nature as the tapestry of life upon the Earth we’re a part of, which weaves us together and pierces us.
Rachel Sussman has been photographing The oldest living things in the world for many years. In her series by the same name, she wonders: What does it mean to stand, as a 30-year-old organism, in front of another organism which precedes human history and which, with a little luck, will outlive us all and reach future generations?
The words of these women invite us to reflect on three concepts: values, identity and stories. Three terms we’re obligated to rethink and redefine because of the current ecological-economic and social crises.
Rachel Sussman, The oldest living things in the world, 2004-ongoing
Identity, values, and accounts/stories
As a professional in the cultural and non-formal educational sector, I have witnessed the transformational power that the combination of these two sectors can achieve. They play an essential role in the disruptive change of values, accounts, and identities, today more than ever.
Identity is who we are individually and as a society. It is constructed by the surroundings we grow up in, by the experiences we live through, and by the relations with other beings. If we understand the culture, not as a static place you visit sometimes, but as an ecosystem made up of different elements –values, traditional wisdom, education, material and immaterial heritage, natural heritage- then it is this cultural ecosystem that provides us our identities. There exist a variety of cultural ecosystems: local, regional, national and global. Just like the natural ecosystems, the cultural ones are losing their diversity and are homogenizing.
We could say that the global culture in which we’re absorbed has a clear anthropocentric vision; leaving other creatures with a passive and minor role. For example, we talk about Nature in the third person, as if we were not a part of her. It is also a producer-consumer culture, based on material success, in which our identities are defined by what we consume, as mentioned by Sholeh Johnston in this interview (starts at 07:44). Johnston states that the transformation wanted by the Sustainable Development Goals is one towards a culture that recognizes we’re all profoundly connected with the health of the environment and that we depend on all of us equally achieving happiness and prosperity.
However, for this change to occur, it is necessary to take on certain values which are the essence of the SDG’s: alliances, solidarity, respect for diversity, equality, feeling like a part of a whole in this holistic vision that the SDGs provide, since – as we already know – everything is connected. In short, a culture that values the intangible.
Human beings have always created, told, and believed in stories as a way to understand the world. The current stories tell us that, to feel happy and complete, we need to have things, go fast; they encourage immediacy and individuality. Culture and education are places for reflection and learning. From within these places, it is necessary to create new stories, because the current ones have failed.
Philosophers, thinkers, pedagogues, and humanists have already started to reflect and construct new alternatives to these identities, stories and values which dominate the world today. Jorge Riechmann maintains that the eco-social crisis could be an opportunity to live better. It demands we fully change and advance towards ecological ethics with values such as cultural and biological diversity; the sense of restraint, simplicity, functionality, singularity, sustainability in consumption; the enjoyment of beauty or the construction of solid bonds with our congeners (human beings or other). José Albelda, for his part, points to an ecological transition whose characteristics are the re-evaluation of our relationship with nature, the understanding of nature as “free” and devotion to an untouched nature, austerity as a way of life or the politics of the common. All of these elements are the essence of the Agenda 2030. For this necessary and urgent change of direction, we have a compass, agreed upon by 193 countries of the world. A shared yearning which reflects the wish for a better humanity.
So, shouldn’t the Sustainable Development Goals be the new global cultural identity?