When we claim to protect nature we are actually protecting ourselves, but does nature need our protection?
The Maldives is an extraordinary place with a unique history. It was and still is a country of a transitional nature and culture. Throughout history, the Maldivians (350.000 people today) changed or expanded their believes, habits and traditions. Their culture dates back 2000 years and their heritage is a mixture of East African and South Asian influences.
The country – or the islands – is situated on the trading route that connects Dubai and Singapore. The Maldives is known to be the romantic dream for tourists seeking exotic destinations. Through its history, the Maldives has always described itself as the emerging and submerging islands.
After being a Portuguese, Dutch and later a British colony, the Maldives gained its freedom in 1965 and has been a republic since then.
The Maldives is surrounded by water and everything there is about seawater, ecology and climate. It is the planet’s lowest country, rising an average of 1.5 m above the ocean surface, and it has the lowest natural highpoint in the world of 2.4 m. A 60 cm raise in sea levels would see the entirety of the Maldives smothered by the ocean and make the Maldivian population probably the first refugees of global warming.
Nature as Guide
The position of nature is often determined by the contexts within which non-human entities are integrated into human cultural understanding. And because our ability to value the non-human world surrounding us is mediated by this understanding of what nature is or can be, a set of environmental ethics would direct our awareness to the social and political milieu within which human beings become aware of that world.
Human intervention in nature constantly leads to new interpretations of nature and the natural. This interventional contact often reveals new human thoughts and cultural values and a new codes and ethics, which can be constructive and destructive at the very same time.
According to Roger J. King, nature cannot be assumed from the way nature itself is. It all depends on the place, which nature has acquired in our discourses with each other. Therefore nature cannot be independent from our culturally based interpretation and understanding of what it is. This makes nature not something in itself, but rather a conceptual artifact of human cultural existence.
Before we can pose the moral question of our obligations towards nature, we inevitably bring before us a particular conception of what nature is. To state that nature is an artifact is to say that we have no access to nature in itself or as it is, but we can gain partial access to it through heritage and knowledge of what we call the original.
Our interpretation of nature can never be independent of the intellectual, artistic, emotional, and technological resources available to us. These resources constitute the prism, or context, within which what we call nature appears to us and within which we interpret our experiences of the natural world around us.
In order to make nature our guide in matters of intellectuality and morality we have to understand what nature is. Not by applying yet again our mechanical codes but by referring to measurements of nature itself. This may seem more problematic to comprehend than many in environmental ethics assume.
Our understanding of nature is still the product of cultural institutions and the multiplicity of interpretations of the natural world. Before we can make nature our intellectual and spiritual guide, we must ask how our present understanding of nature was constructed and how it has led us on to the particular path of environmental destruction we currently follow. The question is, can the human culture stop short from disciplining and moralizing Nature, and if we do so can Nature still remain our guide?
Disappearance as work in progress – approaches to Ecological Romanticism
The art collective Chamber of Public Secrest (CPS) is appointed to curate the Maldivian Pavilion at the 55th Venice biennale in 2013. This is the first time the Maldives participates in the Biennial.
The history of the artistic aesthetics of the Maldives is not widely documented as the Island is not known for its visual arts activities but rather for the supreme beauty of its ocean, ecology and environment. CPS intends to combine the two aspects by treating the culture and nature of the Maldives as our central subject.
The Maldives Pavilion is an eco-aesthetics space, a platform for environmental campaigners, artists and thinkers. Through inviting artists and contributors to the Maldives Pavilion our intention is to provide a meaningful aesthetical experience and extensive knowledge of the concept of Contemporary Environmental Romanticism in relation to the nature and culture of the Maldives. That way, audiences may apply their knowledge and daily experiences to the understanding and appreciation of this particular environmental case. Consequently, we are looking for an unusual treatment of the Maldives Pavilion, something in the direction of how Contemporary Environmental Romanticism underlines the interpretation of nature as a source of aesthetic experience.
Being Europeans and Arabs the appointed curators wish to partially capitalize on their diverse cultural identities (West and East). On the one hand Western thoughts concerning nature have been marked by dualism, the notion of the opposition of nature and culture. On the other hand Eastern thoughts consider nature a guide / source of intellectual and spiritual inspiration, because in the Eastern thoughts the natural world simply “is” the law, and human activities are adjusted according to its mechanisms.