Is the loss of nature a loss of proximity?

In the fast-paced modern world we have distanced ourselves from the natural. Forgotten that we are a part of a bigger whole. We look at our phones for hours each day. We cannot sleep at night, and other animals cannot either because of the extent of light pollution we see today. We bring tropical plants into our homes without questioning where they come from. We shape and affect the landscape around us; thus, we have become the landscape. There is a closeness that is lost. An imbalance that we humans have created that has to get back to balance.

The pandemic is linked to the way we treat other species. I am looking at this disconnection from nature in my master project Dear human. By asking “what if”, we can change perspective through design. By borrowing the voice of nature we can start a conversation about these relations that are lost. The world has failed to stop the destruction of landscapes, so we need to look from a different perspective to make an impact. The connectedness of everything to everything. Realizing that we humans are not separate from nature, but a part of a bigger system. We are all small fragments, and we need to be more aware of the proximity to plants.

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The pandemic has made us keep distance to each other, but this has also connected us more. A closeness to forests and mountains, has been particularly important for many. To seek to a different place to find calmness. This virus has made us see our own and nature's vulnerability. At the same time, we have met our own fear at the front door. Met an existential hopelessness for our own and other existence on Earth. We have been reminded of our connection to our surroundings. And maybe the world does feel different because we see it differently, and we see a change in where we need to focus. Maja Lunde writes in her article about how we need to hold on to the sorrow and fear that we are feeling and she concludes by saying: “What melting glaciers in fast speed, or huge forest fires have not managed, perhaps an invisible virus has caused; reminded us that we are connected to the world, that everything is connected to everything.” (Lunde, 2020)

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We have been reminded of our connection to our surroundings

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We need to be more curious about the small details in everyday life that we so often forget. Then, when we see those details from a different perspective, we explore something new. And then the world gets a different meaning. Everything has felt surreal, weird, and absurd. That has hopefully led to embracing more vulnerability and slowness. Where the situation can feel overwhelming for a little while, we see our vulnerability in humans and non-humans. In an existence that feels uncertain, silence can become valuable. Does nature bring us humans closer together? In the meeting point between humans and non-humans we seek to nature to calm down, in contrast to the messy busy everyday life. When reality has been turned upside down, we seek to a different place for a little while.

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As designers we can bring in new perspectives, possibilities, and intentions. We can speculate and start conversations about the natural world through design. We can bring in something new, and challenge, instead of accepting what is already established. Ask questions about the paradoxes on how we treat plants. Speculate on how we can listen to the living world, and through design give plants a voice. And  we can relate and have a dialogue to plants in a different way, where the goal is to create reflection, engagement, and reveal the invisible as visible through design. In his PhD, Reflective Roaming-Design, ubiquitous fantasy, everyday reality, Albert Tang writes about the critical designer: "After all, being critical as a designer means to be able to unlearn whatever normalized rhetoric or method imposed on design, critical or not." (Tang, 2018)

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In my project I start with the assumption that we have distanced ourselves from nature, and how we treat other living beings. We forget that a tree is alive. That the very plants in our homes are alive. And when that plant dies, we buy a new one to fill the blank space. The plant has also become a part of our everyday consumption. But why? What if design could make us speculate on a different path, that brings us closer to something as essential as our relation to nature? We try to control chaos, a system that should not be changed. It has always been evolving and changing, but the difference now is that it is changing too fast. By looking at the natural world from a different perspective we can question how we relate  to our surroundings.

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The photographs are a starting point for reflecting on our relation to non-humans, and to look at where nature and humans meet. To look at the disconnections and look at coexistence. A small amount of the land on earth is original today. Does all nature eventually become altered by humans? How can nature get a voice? How can design reveal a kind of wondering about the world? What do we want nature to look like in the future? How can design provoke critical reflection on our proximity to nature?

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Lunde, M. (2020). Fire dager i 2020. Klassekampen [online]Available at: https://klassekampen.no/utgave/2020-05-30/fire-dager-i-2020 [accessed 4.6.2020]

Tang, A. C. (2018). Reflective Roaming – Design, ubiquitous fantasy, everyday reality. Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design (KMD), University of Bergen

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