Decomposition Project: Weaving a Garden As a Forest And a Forest as a Cemetery (work in progress)
After living in different neighborhoods of Brasília, I moved to Alto Paraíso de Goiás last Fall. Right in the heart of the Cerrado, it’s the second-largest Brazilian biome after the Amazon Rainforest. I undid my life in the Brazilian capital intending to move to Chicago. When I was prevented from going abroad due to the pandemic, I helped my mother to buy her house in this small town, with a good yard to create a forestry garden. When we arrived, the soil was damaged, not even the grass could grow. I have a background in agroecology, and hurried to intervene in the space by planting many species: native, non-native, fruits, vegetables, unconventional food – the greatest variety possible, to make sure to take advantage of the beginning of the rainy season. Initially I was reluctant to understand that my practice of transforming a landscape would be a new artistic project, but recognizing that I would be here indefinitely, I realized it was an opportunity to transform my confinement into an artistic residency. Bounded by the four corners of the new house, I wove alliances with visible and invisible beings, creating a heterogeneous and pluriversal yard.
I am borrowing the ecological concept “disturbance” to name the actions I have done in the space waiting for unpredictable results: what happens when I give a coconut flan to worms? What if I inoculate family photos with liquid fungi culture? To make art arise from ecological relations, for now, I am committed to developing two pieces: the first is a site-specific installation, called Tower: Vertical Perspective On Multispecies Relations; and the second is an experimental film, shaped as a twin piece (that may be a short and/or a video installation). Disturbance is a term commonly connected to demage, “but as used by ecologists, is not always bad – and not always human”, Anna Tsing says. Some disturbances are small: like the insertion of an exotic species tree. Some are huge: such as the burning of hundreds of hectares of Cerrado. What follows this last disturbance so common in the dry season is the exuberant regrowth of many plants that have deep roots and thick barks. Which attracts hungry herbivores who, before, fled the fire. Disturbance opens the terrain for transformative encounters, making new landscape assemblages possible. “Disturbance can renew ecologies as well as destroy them”. In the garden, many of the disturbances are being provoked by me, but I am excited to see the system being driven by other beings, independent of human action. In order to expand the idea of ecology, I propose that disturbance should be understood not only as changes brought about by ecological relations in the garden, but also those that alter the socio-political context. In our stories, disturbance is the element that makes the plot move forward, beat by beat until the climax is reached.
During the first few months here, I dedicated myself to activating the house, creating a system of production and consumption. We have a worm farm, another composter for food waste that the earthworms do not like, a reservoir of water discarded by the washing machine and a fire pit. Everything turns into soil, even the ashes. When we harvest from the garden, we are interested in discovering new recipes. It is a home inclined to agroecology because it retains the energy it produces. The techniques of this type of agriculture teach how to keep everything in the land. Prunings, branches and leaves all emphasize a subtle interval between life and death, composition, and decomposition. By cultivating the largest number of species, the need for pesticides against insects is suppressed, precisely because a chaotic forest dynamic is simulated in which hardly any species can overpopulate and become a pest. Such chaotic dynamics, in which several plant species inhabit the same bed (the opposite of a monoculture model), attracts many species of birds, insects, and fungi.
We are not used to reading stories without human heroes, Anna Tsing tells us in The Mushroom at the End of the World – On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. I’m bringing here one of her inquiries, word by word because it sums up a big question of the Decomposition Project: “Can I show landscape as the protagonist of an adventure in which humans are only one kind of participant?” How can I recognize other living beings as “persons,” that is, characters of stories? The story I want to tell identifies the webs that are woven in the backyard of the house that I live in with my mother, my boyfriend, my two cats and endless other beings. But it also includes the city and spreads throughout the countryside of Goiás State – agribusiness and its immense hectares of monocultures and cattle pastures. What could an agroecological garden mean in the middle of this “green desert”?
Tower: Vertical Perspective On Multispecies Relations has a four grounds structure that suggests the narrative of the twin film piece: the first floor is where the worms are, waiting for food offerings to the dead loved ones; the second is an altar which my mom customized with photos, rosary and other Catholic objects. The next is a solar power-based fountain that spreads humidity, attracting birds and butterflies. The last floor is a plate with fruits and seeds offered to the birds. I painted a blue triangle on the wall that would make it easy to change the background, putting the birds in other landscapes through chroma key effect. In addition there’s still a fifth act in the narrative, which is the fact that alongside the tubes that structure the piece I am growing bioluminescent mushrooms that, I hope, will glow green during the night, giving the installation a night version. To have mushrooms fruiting in the center of the garden is also a way of remembering that below the garden-forest ground, fungal bodies extend themselves in nets and skeins, binding roots, and mineral soils. The film narrates those multispecies relations in a vertical perspective and includes my mother as a character telling her own expectations to the garden. We hear her testimony offering each one of the plants she puts into the ground to one of her deceased loved ones. She is weaving a garden as a forest and a forest as a cemetery.Understanding that the Tower is a site-specific piece, it is limited to be experienced by those who can witness it in the pandemic context – the residents of the house, the birds that visit every day in search of food, insects, fungi, cats. The work cannot be physically transported to an art gallery, since it is activated by the ecological forces of a specific place. I propose the Tower as a piece that helps us to see the network of relationships that is established in the garden and beyond. Some species, such as fungi, grow in the structure, while others, birds and insects, are randomly attracted, increasing the indeterminability of the encounters. As much as I seem to be confined and alone, this is a collective and collaborative project. Not because I know who my collaborators are, but much more because I don’t know many of them who operate in this system. Because their presence is invisible, and sometimes even their work asks us to squint our eyes so that it is noticed. I believe that at some point I will need to think more about the idea of interspecies authorship. After months of interference in the space, I already recognize the recurring presence of certain beings, which I could call “oddkin”. The net is always growing, earthworms, caterpillars, ants and flies. I am going towards them, who don’t always run away. I already feel wanted too. We are drawn to each other.