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Structure and Dynamics

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Public Culture and Sustainable Practices: Peninsula Europe from an ecodiversity perspective, posing questions to Complexity Scientists


This is the second of Structure and Dynamics’ thought-provoking series on potential impacts of iconic representations in communicating and helping to implement sustainable human practices. This discussion focuses on ways to expand broad cultural dialogs on solutions to sustainability. The definition of sustainability that is employed here insists that cultural behaviors as they work out in the landscape behave in manners similar to those of natural systems. The complexities and instabilities of ecosystems in relation to anthropic climate change are represented through use of eco-systems theory as subject matter in art-making. They describe and instantiate this in a series of museum installations and dialogs intended to catch the attention and engage scientific researchers, planners, policymakers, and the public in rethinking sustainability. Part I, “Peninsula Europe: The High Ground”, begins by the rethinking of clean-water sourcing, maintenance of ecosystem diversity, reconceptualizing the role of mountain high grounds and river systems as regional Trans-European identities. This then is the basis of interdependencies expressed between cities, agriculture, and industry. Part II, “The Rising of Waters, the Warming of Lands,” brings these issues and dialogs into proactive alignment, sketching the imperative to fund and form grounded thinking-acting groups that would take up the broadest range of issues and proposals, and offer possible solutions as human responses to the cultural and ecological shockwaves that will be coming upon us as outcomes from global warming. Part III discusses the public-dialog ecological art projects leading to "Peninsula Europe" and assesses the impact of these museum installations on the regions and the cultural practices that are envisioned in the work.

Each of these expressions show, from the perspective of publicly-engaged ecological artists, how icons and other text/image strategies can act as compact representations of complex interactive systems and how they can be used to address the unsustainability that has resulted in global warming. First, both the iconic images and the text image ensembles that are too particular to be iconic but emerge out of dialogues focus upon regional cultural and ecological issues and on fundamental concepts and processes for reorganizing human beliefs and practices. These dialogic formations open up both figurative and literal grounds for thinking about alternatives that are broader and more proactive than those that rely primarily on market forces, technological “fixes”, and top-down or bureaucratic planning. Second, the imagery evolves and matures through an image/text oscillation, alternating the adjustment of the icons with the investigation of the messages conveyed to various segments of the communities. This evolution of an icon, text, and image as a strategy is particularly important. When they are adjusted to challenge entrenched beliefs and practices within industrial markets and governments that maintain the current path toward ecological disaster. Third, mature, functioning icons, i.e., the shape of a drain basin where in an instant all can see and know it as their place and their responsibility (see text: The Santa Fe Watershed: Lessons from the Genius of Place). Icons, text, and image have functioned in this way in the context of the disappearing forests of the northwest U.S. Moreover, they suggest iconic forms that might function in Europe although the look and text and proposed outcomes might differ considerably.

What are less obvious here, perhaps, are the roles that anthropology and complexity studies must play in this great effort. Both fields are vital to the description and evaluation of the impact of this iconic approach and narrative. The identification of cultural values and beliefs is clearly the province of anthropology and the identification of the complicated networks of intra- and intergroup and interspecies relationships is clearly the work of complexity studies. There is, consequently, a call to action here for both of these areas of study to contribute to reaching the goal of universal ecological sustainability. Structure and Dynamics hopes to act as a medium of that call to action and encourages contributions that bridge ecological and cultural issues.

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