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Art and/as Process – Biodiversity residencies (part4)

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Pachijal River

It was a Friday. Most weekends the volunteers at Un poco del Chocó took the opportunity to hit the road exploring Ecuador. To me, the weekends were hikes, watercolours, stair climbing, swimming in the river, and experimentations with cooking bananas. Mainly though they were a wonderful opportunity to train my eyes to see the forest as a living system. So basically they were like every day here with the added bonus of having the place to myself. This weekend even the co-founders Nicole and Wilo left intrusting me with the biological reserve in order to get some much deserved rest a few hours’ drive west in Canoa.

    I started by sweeping the volunteer house. It’s a ritual from my days at the Kensington market’s Extempore Studio, some years back. I found it to be a great way to reset the mind for something new, a practical meditation (and/or chore) practiced across cultures and worldviews. By the time I swept the house I had a plan in mind as to how I was going to proceed with the resto of my day. I started by feeding the chickens which proved eventful. After herding three hens back into the coop I faced off with the rooster having to go inside to fix the whole under the fence.  His attacks were strong, determined and frequent. Reasoning quickly failed and only foot shoves sufficed to give me enough reprieve to patch the hole.  Luckily, I managed to avoid getting pecked thanks to my baggy pants and came out of the coop with a new found respect for the rooster.  The fish and dogs were fed without incident.

    While chasing the other hens I made sure not to trample any plants in the nursery or herb garden. Wilo is growing a wide variety of edible plants like cacao, coffee, tomatoes, bananas, etc., he even has a rare lemon grass tree. Some of the fruit trees are planted in the forest, especially in light gaps where they can still get enough light to grow. It’s a challenging project to grow food in the jungle without slashing and burning the plants and trees to make room and open up sun gaps.

    With the custodian duties wrapped up I walked down for a much welcomed swim in the Pachijal River. Being the rainy season, its current was strong, murky and I loved it. The swimming patch is stretch of water, roughly the size of a tennis court, between a rocky rapid bending left from the upper part of the valley and funneling into a deadly canyon only a few meters down. It was risky and exhilarating to ‘swim’ in the current strong enough to easily keep me still. The stillness within the current of Pachijal; the massive amount of matter rushing past; its soothing effect and brute force; its winding, fluid path through a fragile yet resilient environment; it’s metaphorical richness. I took every opportunity to spend time in the current of Pachijal.

    The river helped me to understand Alfred North Whitehead’s idea of reality as lines of force where “no element is independent, affecting and affected by another in a continuing flow.” I came across it in my research for Fluidity (2015) and absorbed it into my developing philosophy and art style. In the classical view a line is a series of independent points, static and separated by some measure of space. Whitehead defines a line as a series of ellipses, one overlapping the next, each connected to the next in a stream – it is reality defined by its shaping. My Fluidity works are abstract representations of this dynamic view, looking at the world and events as a continuations of far reaching processes.

   Reality through the lens of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Philosophy is a river of mass and energy shifting form one state to the next, where beginning and end is subject to perspective. It’s a way of looking at existence where now is a veneer on a structure that reaches into infinity, the surface tension on an ocean wave.  Like a river, the jungle’s mass and energy is in a constant flux with things growing, falling, decomposing and fuelling other growth. In another way I thought of the roads as rivers to which the trails flow into, penetrating areas which were otherwise difficult if not impossible to reach reshaping them into farmlands, cities, reserves, etc., and eventually back into swamps, forests and jungles.  I was excited to be making these connections, taking a wider and deeper look at Chocó region and finding a cohesive way of channeling all my varied experiences and connecting them. I was already painting different aspects of the environment and all it would take is a certain perspective -a wide enough vista – to singe the connections.