The Great Conversation
Much of the artwork I make is a response to the flowing narratives of nature, and to the wealth of languages that nature has developed that tell us its stories. Thomas Berry, the cultural historian and philosopher of nature, wrote this inspirational text:
"We are in trouble because we do not have a good story. We are between stories. The old story ... is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned "the new story". We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual 'autism'.
"The universe story is the quintessence of reality. We perceive the story. We put it in our language, the birds put it in theirs, and the trees put it in theirs. We can read the story of the universe in the trees. Everything tells the story of the universe. The winds tell the story, literally, not just imaginatively. The story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story. If you do not know the story, in a sense you do not know yourself; you do not know anything."
An important dimension of Thomas Berry's philosophy grew out of his role as a monk, someone who committed much of his life to spiritual reflection. I don't share his Christian faith (although, being European, I swim in its sea) but I can see that humankind's distorted relationship with the universal order is an expression of our distorted relationships with our spiritual selves and with each other. I have come to believe that we human beings have obligations to give respect and honour to the larger forces that shape our universe, and that a sense of the sacred can help us connect to these responsibilities. Our sense of awe, our sense of oneness, our sense of gratitude, our sense of duty. These are words we might recognise from religious discourse but -for me, and for many others- it is not essential to believe in a prime mover beyond the physical universe to feel our need to connect with creation in all its unknowable diversity, to see ourselves as inseparable from it, reliant upon it, with obligations towards. It is, you could say, out true nature.
As an artist who, like most artists, deals with feelings and intangibles and the mysterious, I have a prejudice that scientific knowledge, economic arguments and political campaigns are vital, but they are not enough. I have come to believe that, as individual members of a global community, we shall not find the strength to give the ever-worsening environmental catastrophe the attention and action it demands until we engage with it at the deepest, most subjective, most personal, most essential level ... the point where our imagination, empathy and fellow-feeling come together. The point where we find love.
"It is time to invent moral reasoning of a new and more powerful kind, to look to the very roots of motivation and understand why, in what circumstances and on which occasions we cherish and protect life... We are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms ... they offer the
challenge and freedom innately sought. To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to
invigorate poetry and myth."
E O WILSON Biophilia
“I have no other wish than a close fusion with nature and I desire no other fate than to have worked and lived in harmony with her laws.”