Journey into Fragility is an itinerant project conceived by the artist Maria Rebecca Ballestra, and inspired by Carta per la Terra e per l’Uomo – the Manifesto for the Earth and the Human Being conceived and created by Massimo Morasso. The Manifesto’s twelve theses have inspired twelve different projects in as many countries around the world (February 2012 – December 2013), with the aim of developing an active dialogue on the environment and on the value of life on Earth.
Report first step: Ghana
The first step of my itinerary project Journey into Fragility in Ghana was a great, intensive and interesting experience! I spent two week in the rural village Abetenim, three miles away from Juaben in the Ashanti region. The village has a population of about one thousand five hundred people, with majority of the population falling below the age of 20. The main occupation of the people of the village is farming, but with small number of people involved in palm oil extraction and other business. Long time ago, Abetenim was also known as the largest slave camp in the Ashanti region where all slaves were sent to be sold. My project was focused about memory and environment. I made a series of interviews to the oldest people of the village, asking them to tell me about “taboo” (ancestral knowledge, disappeared after the Christianization of Africa), and particularly about the taboo concerning the Man and the Nature. The final video installation will be show the interviews realized in Abetenim village and an interview to a neuroscience expert talking about how works long and short memory, and about the collective memory. I’m also in touch with the Head of the department of African Culture at KNUST (University of Science and Technology ) of Kumasi, for a more scientific knowledge about taboo.
Report second step: Switzerland
The second stage of the project Journey into Fragility has just completed. Inspired by the Manifesto’s first thesis “a relationship with the earth also includes responsibilities and duties”, me and Luca Coclite have investigated the role of politics in the global interconnected world of today. Can we still consider politics just a system of administration and organisation of society, as expression of one country or another’s national interests? Or can we imagine a new political approach, able to discuss the interests of man as a species to preserve its continuity and safety?
Since the Swiss Confederation has a long history of neutrality and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world, for this reason was the perfect place to start a discussion about our planet as a common good of the human being. We have realised a series of interviews to artists and politicians, looking for a dialogue to build for a new social model for the future. A special thanks to Mr. Martin Dahinden, Director General - Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA - Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC and Mr Hans-Peter Egler - Head Trade Promotion - Federal Department of Economic Affairs FDEA- State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO who have granted interview and to Mr Thomas Kalau and to his Platform for Contemporary Art, Kalart, for all the support who gave to the project.
Report third step: Madagascar
The third stage of the journey taked place in Madagascar from 20th to 30th April 2012. There, Rebecca reflected on the Manifesto’s sixth thesis - that the interruption of natural equilibrium is a problem which doesn’t only concern nature, but also involves mankind – and created a photographic work to document one of our planet’s richest and most threatened ecosystems. In fact, thanks to its isolation from the rest of the world, Madagascar has retained great biodiversity, and a large number of endemic species: more than 200,000 known species have been found in Madagascar, of which 150,000 do not exist in any other part of the world. In spite of this, its ecosystem is one of the most at risk on the planet: the area of felled forest is greater than 80% of the total area, half of which has occurred since 1950. Rebecca’s work followed an itinerary which allowed her to reach and document three parks: Ranomafana National Park – a fluvial forest in the centre of the country; Isalo National Park, featuring great rock formations and situated in the central-south, and Zombitse-Vohibasia Park, a tropical forest that is home to many species of rare and indigenous birds. During this stage of her journey, Rebecca worked with the local humanitarian association Un seme per Crescere.
Report fourth step: UAE
The fourth stage of the project Journey into Fragility was realised in UAE and it was curated by the French-Algerian curator Mamia Bretesche. Inspired by the Manifesto’s eleventh thesis “Before the growth of global homologation as much as of politics based on particularistic, nationalistic, ethnicistic issues, rediscovering and setting off the differences, and developing a locally-based logic, has become a primary need”, Maria Rebecca Ballestra realised a photographic work based on the visionary idea of Masdar in Abu Dhabi. As the first major hydrocarbon-producing economy to take such a step, Abu Dhabi has established its leadership position by launching the Masdar Initiative, a global cooperative platform for the open engagement in the search for solutions to some of mankind's most pressing issues: energy security, climate change and the development of human expertise in sustainability.
One of Masdar's initiative is Masdar City, the most ambitious sustainable development in the world today. It is the first city to zero-carbon and zero waste in the world, powered entirely by renewable energy sources. Masdar City is also an open technological platform that provides its partner companies with the unprecedented opportunity to develop, test and validate their technology on a large scale and in a real environment. Masdar has also appointed the bidding consortium of Total and Abengoa Solar as a partner to own, build and operate Shams 1, the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant and the first of its kind in the Middle East. Shams 1 will directly contribute towards Abu Dhabi’s target of achieving 7% renewable energy power generation capacity by the year 2020. The joint venture between Masdar (60%), Total (20%) and Abengoa Solar (20%) will develop, build, operate and maintain the plant which will be located in Madinat Zayed, approximately 120 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi. Shams 1 will be the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, extending over an area of 2.5 km², with a capacity of approximately 100 MW.
Report fifth step: China
The fifth stage of the project Journey into Fragility was completed in Sunhoo Industrial Design Innovation Park, Fuyang, (Hangzhou, China). A relevant part of the meaning in life consists of finding, acknowledging and expressing the connection between life itself and nature. I have realised a site specific installation based on the perception of Nature in traditional Chinese Culture, Philosophy and Arts compared with the contemporary urban development of the area. The natural world has long been conceived in Chinese thought as a self-generating, complex arrangement of elements that are continuously changing and interacting. Uniting these disparate elements is the Dao, or the Way. Dao is the dominant principle by which all things exist, but it is not understood as a causal or governing force. Chinese philosophy tends to focus on the relationships between the various elements in nature rather than on what makes or controls them. According to Daoist beliefs, man is a crucial component of the natural world and is advised to follow the flow of nature's rhythms. Daoism also teaches that people should maintain a close relationship with nature for optimal moral and physical health.
Thanks to the Creatives in Residence Program I have had the opportunity to stay in Fuyang, a famous city for its water and mountain landscapes. Fuyang is also crowned to be the national garden city, national sanitary city, China’s excellent tourist city and national model city of environmental protection. Fuyang is located in the west area of Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province and its political, economic and cultural center. With enchanting natural beauty and abundant cultural heritages, Hangzhou is known as 'Heaven on Earth' and is one of China's most important venues. The West Lake, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List is the most renowned feature of Hangzhou. The West Lake landscape has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the 9th century and it is an exceptional testimony to the very specific cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of 'pictures' that reflect what was seen as a perfect fusion between people and nature, a tradition that evolved in the Tang and Song Dynasties and has continued its relevance to the present day. The Tang and Song culture of demonstrating harmony between man and nature by improving the landscape to create pictures of great beauty, captured by artists and given names by poets, is highly visible in the West Lake landscape, with its islands, causeways, temples, pagodas and ornamental planting.
In Hangzhou I have also visit the Xixi Wetland National Park, created during Han and Jin Dynasty, one of the most important protected wetland area in China. China has also the most massive programme of wetland restoration and conservation in Asia. The site specific work realised in Sunhoo Industrial Design Innovation Park and the documentation of Art Sowing on demand in collaboration with Microcollection are on the website in the section works and portfolio.
Report sixth step: Singapore
The sixth stage of the project in Singapore marks an important moment of Journey into Fragility: we are in the middle of the project!. The eighth thesis of the Arenzano Manifesto has inspired this important stage: respecting local differences and their defining characteristics is compatible with economic development. « Singapore - Rebecca tells - is a small country with few resources: until the 1960s it was one of the countries with the greatest problems of fresh water supply and waste water disposal. Fresh water was provided from public wells while the contents of cesspools and privies was collected by the night soil men. Since the 1970s Singapore has invested huge resources in research and technology. In 1974 PUB (the national water agency) carried out the first pilot project to collect waste water and convert it into drinking water, but it was only in 1998 that technological progress allowed production costs to be lowered. In 2002 NEWater was established: a system which collects and purifies all the city’s waste water. A good 65,000 tests have been carried out to guarantee the absolute purity of NEWater’s end-product water. However, for Singapore “water” also means urban upgrading, improving the territory and its citizens’ quality of life by creating gardens and fresh water reserves, with the aim of finally transforming the city of Singapore into “The Water Garden City». With the event in Singapore, Journey into Fragility has reached its halfway point! Thanks to the help, commitment and precious work of so many friends, partners and associates I have managed to carry out the first six stages of the project, reflecting on and analyzing significant aspects of global environmental issues, among which:
- Collective Memory and Environment (Abetenim Village - Ghana) in association with NKA Foundation
- Politics and Environment (Bern - Switzerland) in association with Kalart
- Biodiversity (Madagascar) in association with the NGO Un seme per crescere - A Seed for Growing
- Solar Energy (Abu Dhabi - UAE) in association with Total and Masdar City
- Demographic Growth and Urbanization (Fuyang - China) in association with Sunhoo Industrial Design Innovation Park
- Water recycling (Singapore) in association with NEWater