To care is to change

Blog #2 accompanying our Landscape Symposium 2019

This short blog series by Vanessa Lastrucci accompanies our Landscape Symposium 2019, entitled Staying with the trouble: critical and creative approaches to the climate and biodiversity crises.

Ana Mendieta, Imágen de Yágul, 1973. From the series Silueta Works in Mexico 1973-1977; the Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC

I have been drawn to think of care-time as that which cohabits but remains imperceptible from the perspective of anticipatory futuristic science.

Maria Puig de la Bellacasa

Climate change is a manmade problem, with a feminist solution.

Mary Robinson

The two capsules of thought by Maria Puig de la Bellacasa and Mary Robinson are extrinsically linked by a male-dominance legacy that both authors are critiquing in the extent of their works: the idea of care as an engendered act, care as a quintessentially female action.

Feminist thinkers discussed and contested all the possible ways in which the practices of caring was and still largely is borne by women, whether it is care towards the young, the elderly, other humans and other-than-humans we decide to share our intimacy with; or towards our own belongings and mundane objects, kitchen gardens, trees, open spaces, territories, regions, and landscapes to which we are affectionate.

Staying with such laborious practices of maintenance requires daily dedication and regularity, repetitiveness and reiteration of the tasks at work. Getting one’s hands dirty.

Care is founded on re-production, maintenance and repair, and on making time to complete such actions: all labour not considered valuable as a techno-scientific asset, and therefore invisible.

In this bundle of practices, ecological (or environmental) care does not differ from others forms of care: at its core, ecological care needs continuous every-day performance and attention to the processes of re-creation of the land and its forms of life; and to tune into their temporal needs.

Environmental care, it seems to me, cannot be restrained within the frames of an abstract definition, but it is at once extremely situated and extremely dynamic. Its transformative potential resides in being both rooted and flexible.

It is rooted in a space and always specific to that space: some form and timing of caring might be ineffective if applied to a different ‘space of care’. Ecological care requires relating the place – whether it is some soil, a mountain or a tree – through ‘thoughtful and protracted observation’[1] to understand its needs and necessities, and to formulate caring practices adapted to its peculiarity and characteristics before acting upon it.

Eventually such relation draws into situating oneself within the space of care, rather than above; and this necessarily creates entangled exchanges between the carer and the cared for.

It is flexible, as care can act on multiple cyclical timescales through the performance of the practices which are reiterated and repetitive, somewhat regular but never really identical.

In the environmental assemblages of our Earth systems we cohabit multiple circular timescales. Such timescales, short and long, however cyclical, do not occur in exactly the same way: cycles are skewed and stretched by external factors – like changes in the weather patterns – bearing at every new cycle a degree of unexpectedness and indeterminacy; new conditions to which the performance of care must adapt to, thus being transformed.

Environmental care holds all the multiple paces and timescales of a landscape as a complex whole, precisely in the repetition and the performances of the practices of caring. Practices able to constantly re-produce the land, evolving at the same rhythm as it transforms.

Such example of rootedness and flexibility can be a foundation to inquire into new, nonexclusive models for protection and preservation of the environment; to move away from preservation and towards the practical implications of Environmental Care.

More thoughts and references:

  • Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of care, speculative ethics in more than human worlds (2017)
  • Vandana Shiva & Maria Mies, Ecofeminism (1993)
  • Donna Haraway, Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationcene, Chthulucene: Making Kin (2015)
  • Rory Sherlock, All is Flux: Memory and the Complex Whole (Volume 55, July 2019.

[1] TAPO is a concept borrowed from permaculture. In Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care

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