There is no such thing as untouched, pristine nature – we have changed the courses of rivers, made hills by piling up trash and letting grass grow over them, chopped down forests and planted new ones. We can make it rain and have lions jump through hoops. Our surroundings are designed. We have taken it so far that we now endeavour to renature “nature”, to design it back. But back to what?
Studies show that most US-Americans consider themselves as part of nature. At the same time, they conceive natural environments as spaces absent from any human interference. If both assumptions were true, a tree planted by a human would be unnatural.
A footprint is the remnant of a completed human action, an “I was here”, a signature, if you will. Hair in the drain, fingerprints on a gun, plastic bags on the beach, lipstick marks on a glass, the echo of a voice: all evidence of manipulations of the goings-on of the world-minus-human, traces we leave wherever we go, whatever we do. There is no place to hide for the non-human world. Everything has been touched before, the world is second-hand.
A signature gains its significance in relation to the thing it is written on. Signing a contract means “I, [name], am okay with this”, signing a birthday card tells the recipient who the congratulator is, signing a painting means “I, [name], made this”. What does it mean to piss your name in the snow, to sign the snow?
Are virgin territories merely products of fiction, cleverly sold to attract tourists? Is “nature” a human invention? If no one was there to describe it, to see it, to destroy it, to protect it, would it even exist? Is a landscape without humans in it necessarily an imagined one? Gender, money, borders; all social constructs. But nature? Outrageous!
Florian Genzken is an artist living in Vienna.
See more of his work on Instagram (@floriangenzken) or contact him at (email@example.com).
Lisa Genzken is living in Berlin, find more of her writing in renk magazine.