Naturecolony — an exhibition-led inquiry into the colonial history of the market
In layers of history, layers of biology, layers of naturecultures, complexity is the name of our game. We are both the freedom-hungry offspring of conquest, products of white settler colonies, leaping over hurdles and crawling through tunnels on the playing field.
— Donna J. Haraway
When it colonized countries and cultures of the world, Europe first colonized nature. The metamorphosis of the perception of nature during the scientific and industrial revolutions is illustrated by the fact that the European way of thinking saw “nature” not as an inherently organized living system but merely as raw materials, which needed to be administered to be exploited by Man.
— Vandana Shiva
Among her many pathbreaking concepts, the renowned feminist philosopher of science Donna J. Haraway introduces readers to the theory of “naturecultures” in her influential 2008 publication When Species Meet. For Haraway, there can be no articulation of nature that does not rely on a corresponding culture, and vice versa. From this perspective, it is necessary to understand various “naturecultures” as localized, historical entanglements that weave together the affordances and contingencies of nature and the innovations and speculations of culture.
The exhibition Naturecolony recognizes the importance of Haraway’s concept of “naturecultures,” while also drawing on the work of Indian scholar and environmental activist Vandana Shiva to attend more thoroughly to the colonial-scientific will to knowledge that has radically transformed the apparent natures of the Anthropocene. Stimulated by an ongoing engagement with contemporary art practices, the curatorial strategy of Naturecolony works to activate both aesthetic and scientific perspectives that reveal the colonial “Plantationocene” as a necessary point of departure for understanding current ecological crises.
Naturecolony poses fundamental questions about care, compassion, and collaboration in times of unrelenting ecological violence. Through a program of exhibitions, screenings, discussions, walks, and workshops, addresses a diverse group of audiences while also encouraging conversations and encounters among often isolated publics, including scientific researchers, environmental humanities scholars, ecological and climate change activists, and contemporary visual artists, among others. The project aims to grow a deeper acknowledgement of the complex extractivist entanglements that mediate human experiences of nature in colonial-modernity.
With a site-sensitive focus on conditions in Canada, Naturecolony opens a space for a continued, sensitive, and actionable conversation. How can we increase our awareness about the role these Northern ecologies play in maintaining a habitable climate for the entire planet? What are durable, respectful cultural literacies to discuss and respond to the environmental crises of our time?
The juxtaposition of existing and newly commissioned works of art—presented alongside relevant scientific specimens, artifacts, and facsimiles—will create a unique setting within which to discuss the world we live in and increase the possible ways to understand and care for it. Applying a transdisciplinary curatorial strategy committed to provocative encounters and epistemic promiscuities, Naturecolony demonstrates the multiplicative potential of artistic practices as a cultural lens through which a plurality of perspectives on colonial-scientific history and environmental violence can reorient our comportment to the global climate crisis.
Naturecolony was planned to open at the Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto Mississauga, in the Fall 2020; after over two years of curatorial research in anticipation of the exhibition, the Blackwood was forced to call it off in Spring 2020 due to the extended campus closures during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Luckily, one artistic position—by Martina Pozzan—was produced to be displayed in the outdoor area of the university campus as a solo installation. With her research project “Musa × paradisiaca L.,” Pozzan explores the messy space between natural and artificial dimensions of botanical collecting. In vitro propagation methods, seed banks, and both cryogenic and living collections operate at the intersection of technoscientific research and the market-driven commodification of life itself. The photographic series displayed focuses on techniques of biological multiplication in the service of capital accumulation.
The remainder of the curatorial research, as well as a more thorough engagement with Pozzan’s pathbreaking documentary photography, are currently being developed for the forthcoming book-as-exhibition Productions of Nature.