Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Homage to the plastic bottle - Hatto Fischer

                        Sculpture in sand by Hatto Fischer           2011

When looking at this image of a face drawn in the sand, it appears as if the sun has been brought down to the ground and not only. For the face seems to look up in reverence to the plastic bottle which has been stuck onto a bamboo stick! If there is any need to recognize the new deity of modern civilization, then this is it.


     Jakobs passing by the sculpture


Nowadays people drink constantly water out of plastic bottles. They are so easy to be taken with one when going on a trip or else when just walking through the city on a hot day. In short, plastic bottles filled with water have become a symbol of modern life. Their only disadvantage is that once used, people tend to discard them just like what smokers do with their cigarette buts. They are simply thrown away. Hence plastic bottles can be found nearly everywhere whether now behind bushes, in dried out river beds or else when in cities especially down staircases leading to closed cellar doors. It is as if some human wreckage has taken place and left a distinct trail.

The art work besides the Loutanis river on the island of Rhodes is called 'homage to the plastic bottle'. It was created on the first day of an action which took place on the island of Rhodes in 2011 under the theme: "Imperishable water and the open question of development" and documented under Biotope of ideas.


                     Insa with net to collect plastic bottles


Inspired in part by the land artist Insa Winkler and her focus on plastic bottles becoming litter everywhere, the plastic bottle at the end of a bamboo stick seeks to give an answer to her double question: why nature is constantly mistreated as if just a wastage bin and why people do nothing about it, although they experience development as a loss of their creative potentialities?

The seriousness of this can be outlined briefly. For once people are no longer creative, they risk to become increasingly so irrational. It is already irrational to remain in a situation when negative. While many see what is happening around them and to themselves, they seem  unable to get out in time. It is as if they have become entangled in all kinds of contradictions. Even worse there are many kinds of advocates who prefer that people stay entangled rather than be tempted by some 'radical' solution. As such they put themselves increasingly so and especially their health at risk. No wonder that they end up mistreating nature as well. And irrationality becomes most explicit when people use up all natural resources, water included, despite them being scarce and survival depending upon them.

Every day it can be seen how people waste water. They wash not only extensively their balconies or cars, but very often the entire pavement in front of their houses. Naturally they think in this way they can fight dirt. After all water stands for cleanness but if used extensively due to extreme cleansing habits, waste of water becomes a huge problem. One solution would be, therefore, to use water economically when doing some cleaning operation. During a drought people would shower themselves in a basin and use the residue to water the flowers. While water consumption in the United States is extremely high compared to the rest of the world, there prevail as well extreme regional differences. For instance, Israelis use by far more water per day compared to the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Therefore, 'economy of water' has to mean as well equal access to water, in order to ensure a fair distribution. Also there are many simple measures by which water can be saved, all it needs is a bit of imagination and a follow-up in practice. As one child put it during the action on Rhodes even when brushing one's teeth, it is possible to close the tap to save a drop of water.

Yet there are so many other irrationalities being practised and which are in need to be challenged. Take, for example, farmers who remove the worn out plastic sheets from their green houses and discard them simply in the dried out river bed at the end of their fields. They seem to forget or do not foresee that when it rains, all the water sweeping through the river bed shall be highly polluted once it enters the sea. There prevails an even greater irrationality when it comes to the ratio natural land versus covered ground by streets, parking lots and other build over surfaces. It has become already a real problem in Greece, namely that not enough rain water can sicker into the ground to feed the underground water reservoirs. This tendency to pave or cement everything over is explained by people preferring not to walk over bare ground as that is deemed to be dirty. Again it shows that cleanliness, once taken to its extreme, can be the reason why people do not see the damage they create to nature and to natural resources.

Negative consequences of individual behaviours and habits become only visible when everybody does the same and once the impact thereof is seen as a result of a collective action gone badly wrong. Along with these bad habits goes a cheating when it comes to building regulations. Too often they are circumvented when building on a plot of land. For instance, Greek law stipulates that at least 20% of the ground must be left free; still they go ahead with a construction which covers 100% of the land and only afterwards a fake kind of garden is added. Despite of having planted there trees and other plants, still it makes a clear difference for now no more rain water can sicker any more at that spot into the ground.

Many more examples can be added to a growing list of unresolved problems. Many cities incur a huge loss of water due to defunct water pipes never repaired. That goes hand in hand with the need for a better water management system. Sometimes the loss of water due to a faulty system amounts to nearly 60%. The other main source of demand upon water are the farmers. Of interest is that some regions have started to forbid the construction of more swimming pools but such a policy of constraint is only an example. A lot more needs to be done in order to attain a healthy balance between water consumption and what the earth can supply.

Most of the time irrationality is fed by wrong beliefs which hinder a wise use of resources. It is also driven by the illusion that it is desirable to gain so much in wealth that both people and cities no longer have to face limitations since everything seems then to be 'unlimited' i.e. can be wasted. Although Keynes had warned not to forget to think 'economically' even when well off, current society based on consumption has become dependent upon the illusions of needing endless economic growth if to survive under non economical terms i.e. in luxury. These illusions are further promoted by basing everything on technology and which is being extended by the concept 'economy of experience' as pronounced by the EU 2020 vision. The latter is sold as offering a solution to everything while enhancing even more chances to develop still further on the basis of technological innovation.

There is something odd about owners of swimming pools who get even angry if reminded of the fact that there is only a limited amount of water available for everyone and thus would require from everyone observance of a special kind of 'economy of water'. Over time an entire privileged class sets itself apart from the rest of society even though a continuous contributor to more waste burdening the whole of society.

This irrationality becomes an even greater puzzle when people are taken to the water reservoir feeding an entire city and once there can see for themselves the limited amount of water available. For it is highly doubtful that even after having made such an experience, that they would change their behaviour. One plausible explanation for this is that there are still other factors influencing people in their behaviour towards nature. Thus there is a need to identify those factors which do override the prime concerns for nature and the natural resources. These factors include the prognosis for future demographic changes but also what shall be the impact of climate change if CO2 emission levels are not reduced. Instead governments in coalition with business resist any environmental control as they have the sole aim to enhance business and to enter a development geared towards still further expansion of everything.

For instance, we learned during the action in Rhodes that the construction of the dam lake has been justified by projecting a population growth from 150 000 in 2011 to 300 000 by 2020. It seems that no alternative policy measure was taken into consideration, one which would have meant an effort to limit the influx of people, so as to stay at a constant population size and thereby come close to achieving sustainable development. Why this method of self-constraint is rarely applied, that needs further explanation.

Unfortunately it is well known that the law of development expresses itself through constant expansion. Hegel stated already that the bourgeoisie society knows only to exist by expanding. Nowadays the European Union demonstrates that as well. The European project started with but a few countries forming the Coal and Steel Community but by 2011 Croatia signed on as 28th member. This need for expansion can be explained on how the economy works but which contributes as well to the phenomenon best described as artificially induced growth rates. The latter is based largely on the consumption of things not really needed. Practically it means that banks are only willing to provide credit for a business which is considered to be healthy, that is one which is expanding continuously.

In reality, it means a race between taking up credits and making profits fast enough before the loan has to be paid back. As shown by the housing bubble which burst in Europe in 2009, expansion meant till then people an economy having gone into over drive. People started to build everywhere due to cheap credits while cities expanded ever further outward to claim more and more space. This second home development meant more and more land was consumed while cities ended up with airports no longer needed once cheap flights were no longer possible and everything else grounded due to austerity measures being applied to tackle a deficit gone out of control at all levels: Europe, nation, province and local community.

Such an artificially promoted development not merely ignores and harms nature permanently - once a forest is gone and instead a housing estate is constructed that change is irreversible. Even more so such a development means to sacrifice nature for the sake of expansion i.e. roads, airports, hotels, new shopping centres. Although Western civilisation prided itself from rising above primitive societies which are based on a ritualized life and therefore require always some sacrifice to overcome limitations, the return of sacrifice by the back door, so to speak, goes hand in hand with ever more waste being produced. No wonder then that along this trail of consumption and destruction, indeed sacrifice of nature, there can be found the plastic bottle everywhere. It has become the symbol for an irreversible process of ever greater alienation from nature.

There exists this question as to what would it take so that people give up such irrational behaviour and adopt instead a practice which seeks to save every drop of water in whatever they do? What seems to be standing in the way of such needed changes is the modern version of the economy. The latter produces not only waste, but considers according to its flourishing advertisement industry that it is desirable to strive for such life in luxury that waste can be afforded. The French philosopher Bataille even thinks the price in this type of economy is established through waste, including a waste of life, and not through a price mechanism designed to balance out demand and supply. The latter is called the 'free market' and preferred by those who think it works best when without any governmental interference, but this does not come to terms with irrationality. For what might seem to be rational for the individual, does not hold for the whole society. For if everyone does the same, then it is not only irrational, but more often insane. Still the car manufacturing industry keeps producing ever more cars as it links the criterion of success to more cars being sold this year than in the previous one, but it does so without regard to the impact thereof upon environment and people moving about. China shows clearly where this leads to with street networks constructed for modern Shanghai already outdated in 2012 even though build on the basis of a prognosis about traffic volume for 2030.

If that is the case, then this art work may want to initiate a new kind of discussion. Certainly it seeks to address what difference it would make when not the modern economy but the 'economy of water' is heeded! For sure, the existence of water is of much greater value but somehow such a negative reversal has occurred due to having entered the modern economy that a new chain of dependencies has come into existence. It is the chain created by a valorization process which is linked to making money out of everything and to which belongs as well the privatization of water companies. Subsequently more much reverence has to be shown to the plastic bottle as man made product than to nature itself. It has become the new deity in relation to water itself. As such the art work wishes to underline how things work in reality. By giving a greater value to artificial things completely alien to nature, human beings become increasingly dependent upon the plastic bottle when in need of water and even when standing beside a river. For the latter is no longer deemed to be safe for drinking. Rather than doing something themselves about the pollution of the river, this fear factor drives people ever more so into wrong dependencies.

The plastic bottle as deity of modern civilization does remind of “Lord of the Flies”. The author Fieldings simulates in his novel what happens to boys once they are stranded on an island after a plane crash. They are the sole survivors. The pilots along with their teachers did not make it. Being all alone, in the midst of a wild nature, Fielding makes it into a kind of human experiment. He ponders over the question as to what could happen once social norms no longer curtail human actions? The novel makes explicit that human behaviour can fall back to the raw and uncouth. It is underlined by the fact that the boys resort finally to a ritual during which the fattest boy in their midst, namely Piggy, is sacrificed. It appears at first that they make such a human sacrifice, even though barbaric by other standards, in order to survive. This would be in tune with the cult centred on the fear, if they do not make such a sacrifice, nature shall strike back and all of them shall perish. But there is something else which comes to the fore. It is underlined by seeking to institutionalize a new group discipline best enforced by the group of boys showing a definite kind of reverence to their new deity. The latter may well be linked to the threat of death itself. To calm their own fears as to what could happen if they do not comply, for then death shall come upon them, the sacrifice of Piggy exemplifies that the same can happen to anyone not willing to sacrifice himself so that the group can survive. An answer is given by Fielding insofar as he describes how they put the head of Piggy at the end of a pole and stick it into the ground. Soon flies circulate around the dead head! Hence the title of the novel.

The art work in the sand of a river bank showing signs of recent flood waters poses the question how different are rituals today? Connected with this is the nature of any sacrifice: is it superfluous or does it reflect in a ritualized way dilemmas a society has to face?

If something can be derived from this 'homage to the plastic bottle', then the following critical warning. Almost any deeply flawed development will lead directly towards all kinds of fake worships and demand rituals. Instead of promoting a conscious living with nature, the aim will be to distract especially from the waste created in the process. Instead of experiencing nature in all its diversity, a poverty of experience will govern increasingly so man's relationship to nature.

Since developments and the relationships which go with them are governed by perception and use of categories, Levy-Strauss can be cited. He observed that Indians have a much greater and richer knowledge of nature than what they need for just survival. By contrast, the modern world is reduced to the simple question of value as to what use has it for the sake of making money. Yet if nature is reduced to be a mere object which has only then value, if it can be exploited, then the Reductionism in modern approaches to nature reflects the narrow lens of commercial interest. The latter transform any relationship to nature into an one sided, highly exploitative one. Interestingly enough, it leads in turn to a complete ignorance as to the meaning of resistance. Only poets would still observe the destiny of water when it does not flow down a river embankment in a straight line but seeks its path by respecting the resistance put up even by a small stone or some bare roots of a tree. This then is the meaning Katerina Anghelaki Rooke gives to nature in her poem 'Destiny still flows!'

Certainly any intellectual interest in nature should not be mystified, but how to regain that trusting relationship by learning to live with nature? There is the story about the boy growing up amongst wolves and in the jungle. Still, the language available to designate man's relation to nature is quite poor, to say the least. In Hegel's perception the suppression and therefore exploitation of nature is justified because he sees "Gewalt geht von den Dingen aus" - 'violence stems from things of nature. This definition of nature as being hostile to mankind allows all kinds of exploitations and defence mechanisms being constructed. Subsequently modern civilization is based on the false premise of needing a fictitious separation between nature and human settlement. How different are those African villages where no road or parking lot surrounds the housing estates and the inner-outer world is still governed by archaic signs like that face drawn in the sand! No wonder when nature was tamed increasingly so during industrialisation nature. Rhodes exemplifies this with the building of dams to reign in a free flowing river to the sake of collecting water for purpose of drinking and irrigation. Everything had to serve a purpose e.g. supplying electricity. But all these interventions do not go unnoticed. Nature has a way to answer, and if it does then in a most powerful way.

Any reflection of this art work should go deeper. For it expresses a wish that nature should not be damaged any further and that life on earth can only continue on the basis of respecting nature! It is done best by not treating nature as waste bin.

To understand this wish, there needs to be reminded that at the end of Second World War in 1945, 'untouched' or 'unspoiled' nature still prevailed. Many parts of the world were unexplored. They were only known by means of the imagination or rather projections. It was presumed in these many wild places, all inaccessible and mysterious, there were living still other people. Today they are known as the indigenous like the ones wishing to protect the rain forest of Brazil. Most important was that all these places were left untouched, completely unknown. That is to say, not every corner of the earth was explored or accessed via Google. There existed still places where someone like Robinson Crusoe could exist together with Friday and enjoy an island unspoiled by civilization.

All that changed with the coming of the car and technology. It made possible a decentralization of the economy. Every corner could now be reached by a truck bringing the supplies to even the most remote places on earth.

When the writer Ernst Schnabel ventured around the world after 1945 to make a radio program to let Germans dream of travelling, he did so in an American clipper. It took him eighteen days.  After he had landed in Hawaii for a stop over, he walked with an American officer from the plane to a canteen one mile down the road. When the officer learned that it will take him only 18 days to go around the world, he stated most emphatically: "well, that is the end of Robinson Crusoe". He could have added as well this will spell the end of a wild i.e. untouched nature.

But this small art work on a river embankment poses still another question about rituals having to do with water. For three elements seek some kind of dialogue. There are the materials found near a river like the bamboo sticks; the drawing is something reflecting what is man-made but of a different order than the third element, namely the plastic bottle is also man-made but instead of an art work per say a mass industrial product. The contrast to the natural materials lying around could not be stronger within this asymmetrical relationship between the natural and the unnatural. The ratio between perishable goods and imperishable water, as provided by the poem of KatrinaAnghelaki Rooke, seems to be now reversed. For the plastic bottle has become the imperishable even though it will hardly leave behind a legacy similar to the Acropolis. Indeed, more can be asked about the composition of nature, about existence of mankind and about what a swollen river entails, if not 'climate change'?

Certainly the twenty-first century has to face perhaps a world in which not only all Greek Gods have died as Heinrich Heine would attest, but also any one or single deity has come into doubt due to life having become ever more faceless, equally a ritual around the source of all waste, namely 'money'. Katerina Anghelaki Rooke would say that is the real God all worship without question. The emptiness of the plastic bottle but reminds of this drama around life on earth having become as hollow or empty once used up entirely. That is no longer the soft spoken, equally naked truth or even not the bare fact of Empiricism, but a sign of a painful process mankind has taken to reach such a nebulous object as the plastic bottle. Once its content has been used up, then there is only left one option: to discard it without knowledge how to dispose it since imperishable.

Whether water is still imperishable, is a question. Water has been used in certain rituals for sacrifice purposes like pouring it over the head of a sculpture endlessly or else it plays a role when the burial of a deceased person means letting him take the final voyage over water. Whether now set afloat on a burning raft or else the burned ashes are strewn with the wind in the seven directions of the sea, use of water underlines some reverence. This kind of respect stems from the fact that without water life would be unthinkable. It seems to mankind in such a ritual linked to a burial at sea that life is given back to where it came from. The sacrifice aims to demonstrate a will greater a man but also a kind of understanding. Thus what was taken from nature and separated to form human existence on earth is give back to nature, in order to make possible a continuity of human life. This is entailed in the saying 'from dust to dust'. It is a sign of recognition that life begins once water is added to make out of this dust mud and something more once shaped to become a human being. Life is made possible even if it can mean as poetess Najet Adouani points out everything begins with 'muddy dreams'.

Naturally the deepest urge behind all rituals is to calm down things. This is especially the case after nature has been extremely upset, when rain falls never end and the rivers swell like veins till they burst. That can symbolize another form of destruction which can cause the death of those who no longer can live off the water but must flee it, if they are not to drown.

How powerful water can become, that was demonstrated once again by the Tsunami wave sweeping the coast of Japan after an earthquake under sea on March 11th 2011, and then damaged as well the nuclear power plant at Fukushima. The wave swept over land despite Japanese authorities having kept the population in an illusionary safety zone behind a 10 meter high wall which had been erected along sea side. Such a wall has never been till then in the news. How unreal such a wall is, here it suffices to imagine how unnatural it is for people to be cut off from the sea, both visually and physically speaking. For the wall separates them from the open sea! How terrible must be the life of those living beside the sea. They are not able to hear the sea calling from the other side of the wall, nor they can see it directly. If in Greece the most common law is to ensure everyone has free access to the sea, by comparison how terrible the fate of those who live beside the sea and yet are completely cut off from it!

The wish to return to a balanced life is signified best by calm water. It leaves the mind in a tranquil state. Like the water in the bottle, it is a spirit contained in the sense of living with water without either disturbing the other or else being threatened by water. Only the wind can disturb again the surface of the water but not the one contained inside a bottle.

Now that the plastic bottle is empty, only the wind can howl around its opening. But as object simply discarded, it is an answer as to what disturbs visibly nature above all, namely human beings which discard imperishable things and threaten thereby the imperishable water. Most of the people no longer know how to live in and with nature. Instead they have entered an artificial life in which nature is perceived as a violent threat any time it cannot be controlled. It explains as well why nature is not valued so much. That is best indicated by discarding rubbish everywhere, arbitrarily, and thereby spoiling even the most natural places, that is where so far no housing or other construction exists. How long places like the nature 2000 areas shall be safeguarded by remaining untouched by man's hands, no one knows. Already a lot of pressure is building up in society to exploit especially these unspoiled areas. That applies even for the universe since now already filled with all kinds of debris which can endanger future space shuttles.

In short, the story of man on earth can be encapsulated by one plastic bottle. Once empty of water, it is thrown away or discarded haphazardly. It underlines how little regard there is by mankind for nature.

As part of an ethic vision, it means water should not be used as a waste bin for how to secure drinking water for future generations? To realize this, man's alienation from nature must be overcome and the value of untouched nature, as emphasized already by poetess Paula Meehan during 'The Myth of the City' conference on Crete in 1995, communicated to all by means of poetry and actions like the one which took place on Rhodes in 2011.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 2011

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