donderdag 28 juli 2011

The Forest Fire -> cryptoforest urbanism

Click to enlarge!
1-> Keith Thomas interprets the above painting, Piero di Cosimo's 'A Forest Fire' (1505?) as depicting "the classical myth of the forest conflagration which, by enabling man to discover fire, made it possible for humans to separate themselves from animals and subordinate the beasts to their rule." 

In an article about the painting Andrew Graham Dixon quotes the Roman architect Vitruvius as one possible source of this myth:
In the olden days men were born like wild beasts in woods and caves and groves, and kept alive by eating raw food. Somewhere, meanwhile, the close-grown trees, tossed by storms and winds, and rubbing their branches together, caught fire. Terrified by the flames, those who were near the spot fled. When the storm subsided, they drew near, and, since they noticed how pleasant to their bodies was the warmth of the fire, they laid on wood… When, in this meeting of men, sounds were breathed forth with differing intensity, they made customary by daily use these chance syllables. They began to speak because of this fortuitous event, and … a beginning of human association was made, and of union and intercourse… Then some in that society began to make roofs of leaves, others to dig out caves under hills; some, imitating the nests and constructions of swallows, made places, into which they might go, out of mud and twigs. Finding then other shelters and inventing new things by their power of thought, they built in time better dwellings. 
Or in other words, for civilization to emerge the forest has to disappear: deforestation as a fall into the graces of high culture and polite society. This ancient perception of civilization (city, agriculture; us) play-fighting a zero sum game with the forest (wild, inhuman, unproductive; nature) is still current today. At those places where the high forest still stand (South-America, South-East Asia, Central Africa, the Arctic taiga) economic development is always pitted against the untapped resources of the good-for-nothing forests (see earlier) and the wealth and opportunities they will bring once those egoistic native savages are removed. Deforestation continues at increasing rates despite our increasing awareness that the damage done is irreversible at both local and global scales. Biodiversity is eroded and the life systems of the entire planet are pushed out of their balance. The fact that development, from Arctic oil to Brazilian cattle, is almost always unsustainable and wasteful makes it all the more unwholesome against the larger picture of deplenished resources, a growing world population and an increasing state of global food insecurity. 

2-> Cryptoforestry argues that civilization and forest are not mutually exclusive and that the two can be re-conciliated within a human timespan. The pre-Columbian cities of the Amazon (earlier, earlier) are the prime example that sophisticated, large-scale, civilisations can thrive without doing permanent damage to their surroundings. The irony is that only because of deforestation the evidence for these lost cities can now be unearthed. The Gilgamesh complex that holds that civilization is environmentally destructive out of necessity must be set aside. The fairytale complex that says that only the monstrous and 'the other' can inhabit the forest must be replaced by the Viti-Viti complex.

The psychogeographic encounter with, and exploration of, hidden and misunderstood urban micro-forestry as it exists today is the first step towards seeing the potential of the city as a special kind of forest, and the reforested city as a suitable environment for urban life.  

3-> Interestingly enough De Cosimo himself appears from the writings of Vasari as a kind of renaissance Thoreau with a cryptoforester's instinct for do-nothingness: 
Cosimo would not let himself be seen at work, leading the life of a man who was less man than beast. He would never have his rooms swept, he would only eat when hunger came to him, and he would not let his garden be worked or his fruit trees pruned; nay, he allowed his vines to grow, and the shoots to trail over the ground, nor were his fig trees ever trimmed, or any other trees, for it pleased him to see everything wild, like his own nature; and he declared that Nature's own things should be left to her to look after, without lifting a hand to them. 

He would sometimes stop to gaze at a wall against which sick people had been for a long time discharging their spittle, and from this he would picture to himself battles of horsemen, and the most fantastic cities and widest landscapes that were ever seen; and he did the same with the clouds in the sky.  

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