A review by An-Katrien Callebaut
CHAPTER 2: SYMPOSIUM/ROOTED ENCOUNTERS – AFTERNOON SESSION
Nov 8, 2022 – Luca School of Arts, Brussels
The afternoon session started with a virtual lecture by Paco Calvo. He explains his research as combining plant biology and cognitive sciences. During the talk, the same message of empathy towards the non-human was raised. When the question ‘Are plants intelligent?’ gets asked, he warns us about projecting anthropomorphic ideas in search of an answer. Plants generate information in another way, but that doesn’t mean they are not smart. Speculation and imagination are essential here. It is the first step in reaching out and connecting with the more-than-human. Through imagination, we can attempt to put ourselves in their place. That active building of empathy with one another is vital for future living since it also enables us to explore other kinds of knowledge.
The following presentations prepared us for the next day. Political scientist Rachel O’Donnell introduced her research on plant-based contraceptives in Highland Guatemala. This is knowledge coming from indigenous women that, she argues, has been ignored for centuries. As one of the guides of the Fieldguides for a Preternaturalist, her essay was also read aloud during the Gathering in Middelheim Museum Antwerp the following day.
Art historian and curator Catalina Valdés spoke from Brazil on how she reflects on the Anthropocene and its ruins. During the 14th Biennale of Medial Arts in Santiago, Valdés sent visitors to drift through different spaces in the city in search of Gilles Clément’s ‘Third Landscape’. These are neglected or abandoned urban spaces where many plant species have taken refuge and flourish. As a curator, she asks if art can restore attention to these areas.
The call on the possible contribution of art as a practice and medium can be extended to the other presentations. Can art bridge the gap between human and non-human? Point at other knowledge and perspectives? Can art help us to keep going? These were the thoughts I took with me the next day to the gathering in Middelheim Museum Antwerp.