Earth Poetica, Dr. Raffaella Frascarelli, Curator and Nomas Foundation Director
Earth Poetica is an aesthetic action entangled between the artist’s inner horizon and the world. Letting collective imagery emerge in her determination to strengthen social accountability to further the ends of environmental justice, Beverly Barkat explores geographical latitudes and longitudes poetically in order to present us with a transfigured image of the planet: vast oceans and seas, mountains, rivers and More lakes, towns and cities, forests and grasslands, cultivated fields, industrial areas, deserts and steppes, all of it is disappearing, choked with plastic waste.
This emotional geography is intended to put us on our guard against the future we are helping to create, in an effort to force us to recognize what has changed in our picture of ourselves. In the face of the uncontrolled industrialization of production processes, the artist uses plastic waste to paint and sculpt moral maps that reveal not so much the vulnerability of planet Earth as the fragility of the human ethos. How to recognize the agency of the biosphere and its living ecosystems, perceiving their transformation by reflective subjects? How to take care of life by assuming aesthetic, moral and ethical responsibility? What social habitus needs to be cultivated to transform the significance of human action on the planet? Is it possible to imagine a project of life shared among all species? What relationship do we intend to develop with nature and its bounty?
Earth Poetica suggests a posthuman trace, an open reflection on how to plan the change: assigning an aesthetic value to the relationship that we are and will be able to establish and cultivate with such nonhuman subjects is one of the possible ways of generating other spheres of meaning, values, relations and knowledge, both individual and collective.
As always in her artistic practice, Beverly Barkat’s intimate imagery includes reality, starting with the material one of society. The absence of any separation between nature and culture reflects a necessarily unitary praxis, that of nature-culture: “For the philosophy of praxis, being cannot be disconnected
from thought, man from nature, activity from matter, subject from object” (A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks; New York: International Publishers, 1971, p. 448).
This thought-material and action-subject that have been moving the artist toward the creation of Earth Poetica since 2019 have also guided her in turning the uncertain, confined and isolated time of the pandemic into a personal time of meditation: her thoughts grew subtle and lucid, the noise of daily life disappeared, her moral sense expanded, the world was revealed as territory in which to act. Day after day, for three years, the time of her artistic practice was transformed into a process of repetition, deconstruction and redefinition of the layers of public imagination gathered around plastic waste. Thanks to a community scattered around various parts of the globe that undertook to collect the plastic waste which has invaded its own living spaces and then donate it to the artist, the work reacted and took shape. In the artist’s studio, these materials were classified, selected, manipulated, cut, broken up, softened, crushed, ground, pulverized and polished. Fishing nets, bags, bottles, household articles, lids, labels and countless other kinds of plastic waste translated into a taxonomy that only in appearance seems to be based on color, form, hardness, strength and transparency; in part they are ready-mades that sublimate and put their own legitimacy and authenticity as garbage to the test in a new context.
Lacking an inclusive imagination and sense of justice, the Anthropocene destroys more than it is able to construct, consumes more than it promises to conserve, extracts more than it claims to protect. This harsh, but realistic image of an age that is amassing profit and inequality is impressed on the plastic waste through which Beverly Barkat chooses to open a profound aesthetic and poetic dialogue with society and the public sphere.
Like an Imago Mundi, Earth Poetica has turned into a manifesto on incomplete, failed and betrayed modernity. The inability to be modern is, as Bruno Latour stresses, the inability to “think of ourselves as modern” (B. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). Driven by a bulimic hunger for possession that swept away Hamlet’s doubt about human ontology long ago, we desire and acquire what within a very short time becomes the object of our disdain, goods that start out as treasure and immediately turn into trash, waste, dross. Object-subjects and subject-objects throng the global fantasies of the FAANG, distributed and circulated by the social engineering of profit, diluted in the computational socioeconomic project, swallowed up by and mixed with materialistic figments of the imagination.
Starting out from plastic waste, Earth Poetica reflects on the society of refuse: not just plastic and material, but sociocultural, psychological, political and emotional refuse, the kind that stops us from cultivating the individual and collective capacity to choose, change, include, comprehend, protect and preserve what is different from ourselves, whether human or nonhuman. Bringing numerous artistic languages and media into play, the artist’s emotional cartography reinterprets physical and digital maps, molding volumes into flat surfaces, softening or hardening the plastic waste to follow the contours of the ground and the movements of tectonic plates, imagining depth, expanse and altitude as the curves of a body that is also an organism endowed with ethos. Her natural geography provides us with an imaginary atlas that regards each and every one of us. Infinitely vaster, more complex, generous and generative than the partitions of power and domination, this posthuman feminine cosmos, able to contain without separating and to protect in order to preserve, to express the urgency of a radical change, is also the scenario that sows biomoral, bioethical and biopoetic imageries.
This new cartography is also a cosmic map of how, what, when and how much we aspire and are able to learn from forms of social and political organization in relation to the space and time of living in a reflective manner. The artist brings us face to face with the meaning that we intend to assign to our idea of legacy, civility, civilization. In this sense, Earth Poetica is an impulse that undermines any comfort zone. In the volume of the biosphere, chemical, artistic, physical, physiological, philosophical, political, historical, anthropological, sociological and scientific issues are intertwined and multiplied: using plastic waste, untreated bamboo, soy-based epoxy resin and metal, Beverly Barkat’s vision unites sculptural mass, pictorial density and social significance, stirring up multiple and radical images. The discarded fishing nets that threaten the oceans are reorganized to shape the great garbage patches—those of the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The taxonomy of the colors retraces the artist’s personal memories: the multicolored Africa of her childhood, the Asia of her spiritual reflections, the Americas of the modern program, remote Oceania, the Europe of the democratic project. The routes and logic of the work evoke all the possible cartographies which the human race has needed to orient itself and to free itself from its own boundaries and its own fears. The horizons that open up before the work do not accelerate into the future, do not alienate toward accumulation, do not make promises. On the contrary, we can discern in them signs of the crisis and the critique needed to reformulate the weight and role of a new, resilient, vital, supportive and salutary project for the living ecosystems of which we are only a small part.
It doesn’t matter how much each of us knows about the metabolism of the biosphere: Earth Poetica is an act of dissent that speaks emotionally and rationally to the biosphere that lives and acts inside us. This physical metabolism requires sustainability, care, synergy, regeneration, resilience and circularity. In order to be incisive, determined and coherent, any vision implies sociocultural interconnectivity, participation and equanimity.
In her own biosphere, Beverly Barkat travels from one continent to the next, breaking down any partition that humanity would like to impose on nature, but also on itself, on its own subjective need to feel part of the world, on its own desire for the other. Lands, tongues, traditions, histories, communities, memories and relationships are intertwined in rhizomatic fashion within the equitable and inclusive horizon of Earth Poetica. It is the state of entanglement between material and meaning that Karen Barad considers the true motive of agency:
“Intra-acting responsibly as part of the world means taking account of the entangled phenomena that are intrinsic to the world’s vitality and being responsive to the possibilities that might help us and it flourish. Meeting each moment, being alive to the possibilities of becoming, is an ethical call, an invitation that is written into the very matter of all being and becoming. We need to meet the universe halfway, to take responsibility for the role that we play in the world’s differential becoming.” (K. Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning; Durham-London: Duke University Press, 2007, p. 396)
The work invites the public to take a conscious critical position: at first sight and from a distance, it is reminiscent of the great stained-glass windows of Renaissance cathedrals, spaces of the marvelous flooded with light and color where the human bows its head before the sacred. But when you look more closely and in greater detail, it is possible to take a journey into an alchemical process in which lurk hidden messages, disguised graffiti and mordant meanings, dispersed in the blue of the oceans or elsewhere. Earth Poetica makes us think about the possibility of abandoning the status quo in order to exercise patience and act in a reflective way. The art of civil action requires the constitution of a public space of freedom in which it is possible to take advantage of ideas and opinions capable of transforming sociocultural, political, economic, emotional and moral relationships. The artist does not produce, but creates vital social space in order to remodel our inner relations and the ones we have with the world (R. Frascarelli, ‘L’arte di generare spazio sociale’, Riflessioni sistemiche, no. 22, 2020, pp. 87-101).
Beverly Barkat says: “It is necessary to go beyond everything that reduces our desire to understand, change, listen and include, beyond our fears and our certainties. And pay attention to the world.”? The urgency of the present situation indicates that balancing the systemic acceleration of industrialization and its effects on the life of the entire environmental ecosystem implies substantial aesthetic and epistemic changes. The multiscalar links and boundaries between biological, physical, digital, economic and sociocultural convergences have become harder to identify, challenging social values, jeopardizing the moral and ethical capacities of our consciousness, confusing our emotional landscapes. The time of progress has blown up with the failure of the Anthropocene and we are running the risk of turning the future into a tragedy.
The language of Earth Poetica echoes with these material and spiritual challenges, raising questions about the radical engagement of the public sphere and a new prospect of posthuman citizenship. Above all, this living sculpture shows us the planet as a common good of life. From Beverly Barkat’s present perspective, Earth Poetica surpasses any hierarchy and status: the artist’s aesthetic and poetic action demonstrates that there are no boundaries between art and society, between reality, politics, economics, science and the imagination. This interconnection is the true key to understanding what direction we really want to take and what freedom we intend to exercise in order to reshape our deep relationship with nature, individually and collectively.