Paradise Pt. II 
Project under Development, 2023

The Natural Colonial-Gaze: Desiring the Exotic

In Paradise Part II, we will dive into a world of trees, and the stories we tell about them.

In the quest to make sense of their environment, humans rely on narratives, stories and myths. Storytelling is a way of structuring a chaos consisting of events, feelings, memories  into an understandable, agreeable whole, consciously or unconsciously incorporating certain impressions, while leaving out others. And these stories that we tell matter. Because these stories shape how we relate to the world, and how we deal with our environment. The stories we tell shape the very world we live in.

In our last project, Shangri-La, Paradise under Construction, we explored this theme, focussing on a town that proved to be the real Shangri-La, a fictional paradise on earth. We explored the myths and realities, fact and fiction behind this new Shangri-La, to find out how fact and fiction melted together, forming a new reality.

In Paradise Pt. II we shift our focus to the stories that we tell about nature, with a focus on trees. In Western thought, nature is usually regarded as something that is ‘outside ourselves’, something that we, humans, are not really a part of. Nature serves as an escape from the complexities of our human lifes. We think of nature as something that is malleable, something that we can use for our own benefits, a resource. These narratives are heavily influenced by the natural colonial-gaze, a lens through which nature has often been perceived as a realm to be dominated, controlled and exploited. The current climate crisis demands a shift in this perspective on nature. We need to find new stories that enable us to relate differently to our environment. Most of us are aware of this by now, but we seem not to be too good at changing these narratives just yet.

In this project we will explore the portrayal of nature and trees in the present as well as the past, delving into the historical evolution of the representation of trees. The final project will consist of a mosaic of case studies. Each case study will revolve around a situation in which there is a tension between the story that is being told and the underlying reality, the synthetic and the real. Our goal is to unravel at what points in history the depiction of nature has strayed and with what consequences... In the present-day case studies we hope to focus on people who try to shift their focus on nature. Will this be with any success?

This project is in development.

General interest 

In the quest to make sense of their environment, humans rely on narratives, stories and myths that they tell themselves and others. But the narratives that are shaped around our relation to nature are heavily influenced by the natural colonial-gaze, a lens through which nature has often been perceived as a realm to be dominated and controlled.

Throughout history, narratives have shaped our perception of nature as an external, pristine entity, fostering an idealized escape from the complexities of human existence. However, this idealized portrayal has hindered our capacity to foster a holistic and sustainable rapport with the environment, resulting in a disconnect between our constructed stories and the complex realities they represent.

Despite the growing awareness of the need for a paradigm shift in our narrative approach to nature, we continue to struggle in reconciling the preconceived notions of the romanticized and enlightened views of nature. This tension between the constructed narrative and the authentic reality of our environmental challenges has led to a profound disconnect, perpetuating the colonial proposition that nature exists solely for our exploitation and benefit.
Telephone poles disguised as trees in Utah. 

In exploring the contemporary landscape and tracing the historical trajectory of humanity's portrayal of nature, it becomes evident that the roots of this dissonance can be found in the flawed narratives that have long dominated our understanding of the natural world. 

Paradise Pt II project will exist out of a mosaic of case studies around this proposition. We are working with cases where there is a tension between the narrative that is created and the underlying represented reality, the synthetic and the real. We will both focus on the present day, as well as tracing back history of the image of nature, asking ourselves the question: where and how did it go wrong, and with what consequences?

The first sequoia tree that was transported to a world fair in the US, after being ‘discovered’ in California by Western settlers. The bark was peeled off the original tree, transported and assembled at the fair. The tree was assembled so poorly, that visitors thought the it was a fake, a hoax, and for several years the discovery was not taken seriously at all.