‘If I smash a window of a multinational corporation, or burn down an animal testing lab, is that a way of connecting with the natural world? And is it art?’
These questions are posed by artist Jong Pairez, during a discussion on the topic ‘connecting with the natural world’ in the undergraduate art studio at University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts Diliman. I’ve been invited to present on this topic, and facilitate this discussion, as part of my speaking tour. The conversation has covered a range of themes: domination, death, activism, becoming animal, food, agriculture, technology, money and trade, health, disaster, mediated experience, art, liberalism, and now monkeywrenching.
The discussion is an element of CIV:LAB (The Civilization Laboratory), an art installation that is Jong’s thesis project. The concept paper for CIV:LAB states:
Human beings mostly cause the contemporary ecological predicament that we face today. We are too far out and arrogant that our habits disrupt the natural pattern of our ecosystem. This incompatibility is engendered by the insatiability of our industrial civilization to extract finite resources to the brink of our collapse. Should we just sit and wait for this fate to come?
CIV:LAB is a tactical social laboratory that aims to gather all individuals and groups who have a common ground in detouring the near apocalyptic possibility. Thus, CIV:LAB is dedicated to research and design on open access knowledge, sustainable life and living, disaster mitigation, and radical forms of social engagement that veers away from the destructive practices of industrial civilization. Furthermore, CIV:LAB is a social sculpture initiated by an undergrad thesis student in painting.
The reason behind converting the studio space into a laboratory is to pave the way for a more convivial manner of producing work because the key to solve our predicament lies behind collective action. As Karl Marx wrote, “Reality is none other than the result of what we do together.” CIV:LAB integrates this reality by reciprocating the ideal in social relations to create form.
Jong initiated this project as a result of his direct personal experience of the apocalyptic effects of industrial civilization. He was working in Japan at the time of the Fukushima disaster, which contaminated the surrounding land to a radius of 450 kilometers. He began to grow food hydroponically in his apartment, as food could no longer be grown in the soil. He has also spent time on the island of Marinduque, south of Manila, a large part of which became a dead zone after a leak from the tailings dam of a copper mine. The river now supports no life, and the entire island is suffering to the extent that it will probably never recover. Young people living on Marinduque have no concept of a healthy world. To them, a sickly green, dead river is normal, the way it has always been. With this direct contact with apocalypse, Jong can easily see how this ongoing disaster could quickly consume the whole planet.