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When nature abuse becomes normal

True to Nature Edited
ECOLOGY / Naturtro opens with a journey through a Norway that has been taken over by wind farms and salmon farms. Has the weathering of nature become a normalized violence – in line with the logic of colonialism?


The rich and impressive release True to nature, edited by Nina Ossavy and Marius Kolbeinstvedt, springs from the artist collective CAN (Concerned Artists Norway). The book replaces an art festival planned for 2020 with the title Decolonizing nature, which was canceled due to the corona crisis. At the center is the decolonization of nature as a project, demands, problem and utopia. As a festival in book form, it is about something between an art book, full of poems and pictures, a collection of essays and a collective manifesto.

Every opponent stands as a kind of Don Quixote, fighting for unattainable and outdated ideals.

The pun in the elegant title True to nature refers to a fidelity to nature surroundings, an intimate contact and identification. The book shows a radical critique of prevailing representations of nature that dominate in practice: the colonizer's approach, where landscapes, animals and plants are considered pure property and mere resources.

Do we know nature?

Erland Kiøsterud's ambiguous and thought-provoking essay contribution maps a number of alternative ways of understanding nature, from different theorists and with reference to non-European traditions, such as Chinese Taoism. At the same time, he warns against romanticizing or seeing nature as an idyll; it can just as easily appear as a battlefield.

When the concept of nature is more controversial than ever, it becomes difficult to know what a decolonization of nature will mean. In a meditation on a shell she holds in her hand, Marit Ruge Bjerke asks: How do we decolonize Pacific oysters? As a so-called invasive species, this oyster is already controversial, it is not "natural" in Norway, it has "colonized" the coast itself. In Bjerke's faithfulness to the experience of nature may lie in that not to assume that we know – to leave the question of "nature's nature" open – this is an attitude that is repeated in many of the contributions in the book.

The wonder about the oyster's life cycle, about the animals' gaze or the secret insect life in a bush becomes in the book examples of what Arne Johan Vetlesen in his philosophical essay describes as the meeting. The dwelling on nature and the intimacy of experience is the condition for something other than man to emerge as something significant, as a subject – as something that in a double sense has something to say.

The fight against the wind turbines

In the text "We will never get the mountains back", Tove Karoliussen writes about how the fight for the climate has made it impossible to protect nature from the development of wind farms, which is perceived as an abuse of the landscape where people live. This colonization becomes possible because those who are deprived of land, landscapes and habitats face a superior power: the voice of the opponents in the local community is too weak, the animals are silent and give way quietly or die away. All appeals to justice or prayers for mercy seem as ineffective as they were to Indians and Tasmanians in colonial history.

It is a problem in itself that the fight against wind turbines seems so hopeless, so that any opponent is left as a kind of Don Quixote, fighting for unattainable and outdated ideals. Any reference to inviolable nature is dismissed as an idealistic illusion. In this context, it is exciting that the anthology has included a highly realpolitik analysis of municipal policy, of the responsibility of state administrators. It is not imperialist supervillains, but the everyday local political logic that leads to untouched nature gradually weathering in Norway, just like in all other countries in the world – power development is among the most drastic interventions.

Highly dramatic resistance struggle in Alta

Marius von der Fehr's interview with the Sami environmental veteran Niillas Somby from the protests against the former Alta development is a reminder that the fight against natural abuses in the name of energy policy – and within a postcolonial framework – has a strong and long history in Norway. It's amazing to read Somby's own account of how, in an attempt at a symbolic sabotage action against a bridge, he was thrown through the air by a charge that went off prematurely. He got his hand blown off and escaped from custody to indigenous groups in Canada, who taught him a lot about political resistance. The bitter conclusion of Somby is that we have learned far less than we should have done in the last 50 years.

The interview is followed by a conversation entitled "A conversation about blowing up a bridge". It is pointed out that respect for local communities and nature experts was, after all, far greater during the Alta development in the 70s than it is in today's neoliberal Norway, where politicians completely ignore researchers and demonstrators and override local opposition when it suits them. "It's just that it no longer helps to be right," says Trond Peter Stamsø Munch, who says that another and far larger action was planned in Alta two years earlier: Fossen bridge was to be blasted, and the explosive charge was actually placed. Had the plan been implemented, both construction work and the police would have been cut off from Stilla, Jotka and Sautso, which the activists defended. Presumably, the military would move in, and the consequence would be a kind of eco-civil war. Here one is close to the so-called red line between non-violent civil disobedience and terrorism.

Burning all bridges to cooperation and dialogue is hardly productive, and that is precisely why there was something poetic, almost touching in the choice of Niilla's Somby and his co-activists: to make a bomb composed of grenades: “there was no question of destroying anything. We were going to make an explosion that would illuminate… »

Poetry and life experiments

Editor, initiator and contributor Nina Ossavy explores eco-terrorism in her play Death does not come with laughter. Theater project built on the cottage life of Ted Kaczynsky – also known as the unabomber. As is well known, he crossed the red line and started his own personal war against the entire industrial civilization after a highway was built through the natural area he loved. The genius of the text excerpt we are served from the stage text in the book is that it does not depict Kaczynsky's aggression or readiness for violence, but an endless vigilance towards nature: “I follow the roots with my eyes […]. Care is the mantra of the roots […]. I see how care spreads beyond the forest floor […]. How the forest smells like care. ”

To run an artistic business that experiments with other ways of living.

The key contribution to the book is Marius von der Fehr's second interview – with JT Demos, who heads the Center for Creative Ecologies in Santa Cruz, California. With his book Decolonizing Nature (2016) he is a main inspiration for the project, which thus self-consciously joins a larger international movement. The anthology, with its rich selection of approaches, contributions and stories, lives up to Demos' call to create art that is not necessarily spectacular – that works created for galleries and the art market – but rather to run an artistic business that experiments with other ways to live on – which explores and develops other notions of ourselves, nature and the future.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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