“Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another”
(Decimus Junius Juvenalis)
For many years now we have been speaking of ecology and sustainability as urgent and pressing needs for both the planet and human beings. But beyond economic or social measures, the best way to live in perfect harmony with our planet is through a deep connection with nature that generates respect for the profound knowledge and wisdom it affords us. Unfortunately, that is not so easy. The words of South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han in his book Praise to the Earth speak of how humanity has gradually and unconsciously severed its connection with nature, to the extent of not feeling the painful price of its absence. We live remote from nature, denying its rhythms and processes in ourselves.
For the first time in my life I have dug into the ground. I dug deep with the shovel in the soil. The grey, sandy earth that then emerged was strange, almost sinister even. Its mysterious gravity amazed me. When digging, I came across many roots, which, however, I could not assign to any plant or tree nearby. Thus, there was a mysterious life down below that until then I had remained unaware of.
[The earth] is magic, enigma and mystery. When it is treated as a source of resources to be exploited, it has already been destroyed.
Today we have lost all sensitivity to the earth. We no longer know what it is. We only think of it as a source of resources that, at best, must be treated sustainably. Treating it carefully means giving it back its essence.
Lucid observations like these, uttered by philosophers, scientists and artists, give voice to a clamour which does not always receive the media coverage it deserves and is often lost among more prosaic, less existential topics.
In the year 2000, the scientist Paul Crutzen (1933−2021), winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, coined the term “Anthropocene” to describe a new geological era characterised by the capacity of humans to generate a significant and global impact on Earth’s ecosystems. Never before in history have human actions had such immense power to transform and alter nature. This new concept not only surprised everyone but provided an undeniable and painful diagnosis about the need to discuss and take urgent measures to curb global warming and the loss of biodiversity, to name but a few topics that have marked a turning point in the goals and objectives pursued by the governments of the world.
There is no doubt that we must continue our efforts to create sustainable companies, processes and products, but citizens will not internalise any of this unless we make them understand that every human being needs to establish a bond with nature; until we all genuinely feel a tree, ocean or mountain as an integral part of our own biology. Our actions stem from our internal experiences. That is the key. That is why there can be no real journey without this internal transformation. And in this respect art has a lot to offer us.
It is those values and observations that gave rise to Hábitat comensalista [Commensal Habitat], a floating installation that aims to raise public awareness about all of these issues by creating a living habitat as an example of the bond between humanity and nature.
Among many other things, commensalism is a form of biological interaction studied in science in which members of one species gain benefits from the members of another species without causing them any harm. This close, perfectly harmonious relationship is found in both animal and plant species. In our case, we found it in the Tillandsia species, the protagonist of this piece. Tillandsias are a clear example of commensalism. They are plants that grow on trees or rocks, benefitting from the shade and moisture provided by these but never becoming parasites. They offer a splendid example of coexistence.
It is astonishing to discover that there are thousands of examples of how the animal and plant worlds relate and coexist while providing mutual benefits: established biological interactions between organisms that not only demonstrate efficient operation and cooperation but exemplify the balance that is absent from human interactions.
Once again, we see the need to learn from nature, which is an inexhaustible source of truth, generosity, wisdom and balance. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to achieve a perfect symbiotic relationship between humanity and nature?
All of this inspired me to look for a way of implementing this goal in the sector I know best and work with: textiles. As we all know, this is not a sector renowned for its sustainable practices. Fortunately, recent years have seen a growing awareness within the industry, and nowadays many brands are implementing more sustainable materials in their production and supply chains, as well as introducing a more equitable distribution of social benefits and labour. Fashion has an enormous impact on society and the planet, which means that even the smallest change in this industry will generate an enormous impact in favour of this sustainability. It would be a huge mistake not to exploit this opportunity.
Since the beginning of time, the textile world has been inevitably linked to sustainability through farmers, craftsmen and women and artists, whose work is manifested in the beauty of clothing, whether by cultivating certain fibres, using natural dyes or searching for new patterns.
All of this speaks of the need to go back to the origin, to the essence: the need to rediscover the way to do things at another pace, much slower and much more conscious, and therefore with another value. Viewing these practices as a way of “naturalising” the industry is something I find genuinely inspiring, and it is what guided me in the creation of this piece.
I set out to represent the symbiosis between fashion and nature: my vital aim and my principal contribution to changing this industry. To make Hábitat comensalista, I wove stems of the air plant Tillandsia usneoides, also known as Spanish moss, to create a series of floating pieces which, although they may not seem so at first glance, are living and can even bloom: a hanging web of natural, textile and plant fibres.
I end these words by sharing an extremely valuable vision of nature and the planet which I discovered through the Q’ero people. Descended from the Incas, these Indigenous people withdrew to the mountains of Ecuador to live away from civilisation. For them, the knowledge and connection with nature are sacred. Every seed, every centimetre of earth, every drop of rain and every animal sound contains a message about how they should act and live. They speak about the arrival of the “Guardians of the Earth”, people who “must rebuild the relationship with the earth”, as midwives of a new way of thinking, of being, of a way of relating to nature and other living beings that redefines relationships and spirituality while honouring this lifestyle.