Monday, March 31, 2008
ISLAND Influences: Michael Pollan at TED
It's not always easy to explain what ISLAND is doing or where we're going (particularly when talking with potential grant makers or other large institutions). We often tend to fall back on some simple(r) answers: an arts residency program, workshops in green building, putting up solar panels, etc.; these answers never really give the full picture, and rarely illustrate the connections between these solitary bits of our mission.
Even so, the term "residency program" often needs further explanation (no, it's not a colony for artists; no, it's not a collection of classes; no, it's not an intentional community) as do terms like "permaculture," "ecological design" or "connection to place."
For example, there are a whole slew of ways to think about a tree - as something pretty, as lumber, as something that could fall on your house, as a source of fruit or nuts, as something to get rid of, as a guiding spirit, as a great spot for a tree house, as a symbol of trees, as something to protect, as an ecological component, as protection for the surrounding soil from erosion, wind and sun, and on and on and on... If you look at a tree differently than I do, much of our conversation about the forest is going to be lost, or even potentially offensive, even though we may both believe that we're talking about the same thing.
With that in mind, I think it's worth directing those of you that care about our work to some of our influences. Not only do these folks' ideas shape the way we approach our work at ISLAND, they shape the way our minds work: how we conceive of ideas, how we parse information and how we relate to the world around us. While watching this video of Michael Pollan at TED, I realized not only does he speak with great precision about the kinds of ideas we hold, he also talks about the fundamental assumptions that are required to hold those ideas.
The video is here (18 minutes and worth it!): http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/214
Listen for this: "the real literary conceit is that nature is opposed to culture."
Like a good number of ecologists and ecologically-minded designers, ISLAND works to think in a non-Cartesian way. We fail, consistently, but through patient and thoughtful observation of the land where we're based, we begin to understand the role that the land is asking us to play. That sounds like a new-agism, but it's not. It's just better science. The section of Pollan's talk on Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms gives a clear, practical example.
Finally, at ISLAND, we tend to use the term "ecological" more than "environmental." Often the environment is seen as the object to be protected, exploited, visited or considered by us, the thinking, cognitive humans. We prefer to think of the ecology: the connection of all the components, including the biological us. John Muir says "Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe." This is also the key conceptual component of Permaculture.
We'd love to hear from you about this post - is it useful? Does it make sense? Do you want to see more like it?