After yesterday’s post about Trump, Ebell, and the question of education in the Anthropocene, it is somehow fitting that today I advance a few witness’s notes about children leaning about ecosystems.
Thursday November 10, 2016, while in Nantes for other reasons, I quickly visited the Jardin des plantes opposite the train station and happened upon Claude Ponti’s exhibition of strange things made of plants, “Le Jardin Kadupo,” such as the “Pontanpo,” a plant pot made of plant pots, showing “the life of pots” and the “Dormanron”! As well as the trees and plants with their Linnaean signs, there was thus also this throwing-up-in-the-air of that specifically modern attempt to classify and give order. And through the garden walked several groups of young children, out for a one-day mini-version of what the French call “une classe verte,” i.e. a class of hands-on exploration of the world of plants and minerals and suchlike. Each child had a little bag in which s/he collected leaves for future drying and placement into a herbarium—but what was just so fabulous was that, as they indeed learned to identify leaves and thus trees, to give order to what they were seeing, Ponti’s exhibition was also offering resistance, saying “No, there is no order!” Both parts of the lesson are so valuable—they feed each other.
This afternoon (Saturday Nov 12, 2016)—as the only non-accompanied adult in the theater!—I saw L’île aux vers de terre (Worm Island) by Cécile Fraysse of Compagnie AMK (Aérostat Marionettes Kiosque), again at Nanterre Amandiers as part of Philippe Quense’s “Welcome to Caveland.” It’s not a play “about” an ecosystem; it simply “is” an ecosystem into which the audience is invited. There’s a rocky-mossy island, on which live a young girl and her grandmother—and a lot of earthworms; and there’s thunder and lightening; and… but none of that captures it really. The program presents it (well) as follows: “Two puppeteers dressed in camouflage [and indeed they are! they look like big mossy mounds], a singing guitarist dressed as a seal, and strange pink earthworms that are both docile and worrying, busy in their work of hollowing out the insides of the scenery, all accompany the adventures of Nanouk and her grandmother. Within a lightscape that changes with the seasons, submerged within textiles and foliage, the island which gives its name to the play is an organism that breathes and crackles, a living compost-ground [un terreau vivant] shot through with tunnels and passages, secret jurisdictions as old as the world. The young spectators, to whom mini-telescopes have been given [little plastic tubes!], are invited to deliver their gaze unto this fictional and very real [plastique] matter. Through scalar games and purely bodily sensations, Cécile Fraysse questions our relationship to the world” (my translation; French here). I won’t spoil the story, but it’s not a particularly happy play or story, not an ecosystem that is miraculously saved, nor for that matter heinously destroyed by some big Anonymous Industry—no, it’s an ecosystem, with ups and downs and losses and gains and with humans and nonhumans assembling themselves, co-evolving; it’s an ecosystem in which no one is master.
P.S. Check out AKM’s other plays for young audiences: Iceberg; Gingko Parrot; and the others; check out their Youtube channel, and their blog; oh, and go see L’Île aux vers de terre if you’re in Paris, it’s on in various places through April 2017 (see here).
In other words: as I leave France (again), it’s with this memory of children learning about ecosystems, a very anti-Trump, anti-Ebell kind of thing to do.
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
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