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136. POST-WATER

Narcissus 4.0 and the utopia of the modern world

text by Andrea Lerda, published in the catalogue of the exhibition Post-Water, Museo Nazionale della Montagna in Torino, 2018.

0 Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene WILLIAM HENRY JACKSON

William Henry Jackson, Photochrom Co., Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, 1898. Photochrom print (Photocrhrom Co.) from original negative by William Henry Jackson,17x22,7 cm. Centro Documentazione Museo Nazionale della Montagna – CAI Torino. Fondo Fotocromie


When in 1979 Christopher Lasch spoke of “the failure of liberalism”(1), he was already outlining the main traits of the hyper-globalized twenty-first century society.
The American historian and sociologist has depicted contemporary man as being prey to the culture of individualism, constantly in search of happiness and victim of a growing narcissistic concern of the self.
Far from the acquisitive dynamics of nineteenth-century culture, the modern individual responds to a need for “instant gratification”(2) and “perennial dissatisfaction”(3).
At the turn of the seventies and the eighties of the twentieth century, Lasch speaks of a modern narcissism that prevents us from looking at the past, now identified with outdated consumption models, and even less able to think and face the future.
Today, almost forty years later, we are faced with the unreal myth of unlimited economic growth. The ideology of well-being, fueled by the machine of progress at any cost, is leading us towards a clear and inevitable collective failure of global proportions. The social logic of consumption, that of “overgrowth”(4), forgets to deal with the finiteness of the biosphere. As Wendel Berry recently wrote, “the claim to productivity, profitability and efficiency [...], power, mechanization and automation without limits, for a time can enrich and empower the few, but sooner or later they will destroy us all”(5).

SEBASTIAN DIAZ MORALES 1

2Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene JEPPE HEIN 

In order: Sebastián Díaz Morales, Oracle, 2007. Video installation, 11’. Courtesy the artist and carlier ⎥ gebauer, Berlin; Jeppe Hein, Who Am I Why Am I Where Am I Going, 2017. Powder-coated aluminium, neon tubes, two-way mirror, powder-coated steel, transformers, 100x100x10 cm. Courtesy König Galerie, Berlin, 303 Gallery, New York and Nicolai Wallner Gallery, Copenhagen. Photo credits Studio Jeppe Hein / Florian Neufeldt

 

Nowadays any kind of object or experience are easily available to us. On the other hand we lack awareness, because we participate in a narcissistic attitude that involves the entire global community. Reassured by the progress of science, we believe that new technologies are able to provide solutions to all the problems that the immense anthropic action produces. But are we sure that well-being, happiness and progress can only be achieved through a constant increase in consumption, purchasing power and huge economic growth?


3Post-Water. Exhibition view at Museo Nazionale della Montagna 2018 Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino 1 4Post-Water. Exhibition view at Museo Nazionale della Montagna 2018 Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino 2 5Post-Water. Exhibition view at Museo Nazionale della Montagna 2018 Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino

Views of the exhibition Post-Water at the Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Turin 2018. Courtesy Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino.


The thesis that the overestimation of the human position, the belief in the “miraculous statute of consumption”6, together with the “technical-scientific delirium”(7), have definitively eliminated the “Gaia paradigm”(8), seems correct.
Never, prior to current times, has the myth of Narcissus been such an adequate reference to describe the pathologically self-flattering attitude of mankind. Immersed in the ephemeral universe of the digital age, it seems to be unable to see reality objectively. We are trapped by our own reflection, as Narcissus was by his. The clear water in which the son of the nymph Lirìope is mirrored, infinitely multiplies the images of his face and in doing so deprives him of himself. Unaware and attracted to a deceitful source, one loses himself in contemplating his own “deceptive beauty”(9) without being able to see.
Contemporary society’s tendency to mirror and reflect itself in its image of power, and confidence in the equation consumption = growth = happiness, risk leading us to die of the same poison as the young Narcissus . Not perceiving the destructive attitude that mankind imposes on the natural resources of planet Earth, means losing the sense of “belonging to a succession of generations”(10).

Water, the most essential of the natural elements, that generates and guarantees the maintenance of life, is only one of the goods that suffer from the acute sense of responsibility crisis of our times.
Melting of glaciers, pollution of seas and oceans, desertification of lakes and rivers. These are the most disturbing images that the Anthropocene era spawned, altering natural balances at every level. The decrease in water resources and their increasing state of pollution are the consequence of the emergence of development models that violate the life cycles. Vandana Shiva, speaking of the scarcity of water as a phenomenon that mankind has created, affirms that “at each of these levels contemporary man has abused the Earth, destroying its ability to receive, absorb and store water”(11).
However, the global economy machine, fueled by our “consumer mentality”(12), knows no rest. All these scenes are mostly accepted and considered as a necessary consequence to the maintenance of a fundamental status quo.


6 Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene MARIO FANTIN3

8 Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene Laura Pugno FM 02

8bisPost Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene Olivo Barbieri

In order: Mario Fantin, Spedizione Groenlandia sud-orientale: missione etnografica e archeologica, luglio-agosto 1966. Silver bromide gelatin prints, 23,6x18 cm. Centro Documentazione Museo Nazionale della Montagna – CAI Torino. Fondo Mario Fantin; Laura Pugno, A futura memoria, 2018 Jesmonite molds, different dimensions. Courtesy the artist and Alberto Peola Gallery, Turin; Olivo Barbieri, Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System CA, 2017 Inkjet print on Archival paper, 111x146 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mazzoli Gallery, Modena-Berlin


If until a few years ago the priority was to protect the polar ice, today the need is to regulate the maritime traffic. In 2017 the International Maritime Organi- zation (IMO) has in fact launched the Polar Code which, together with the SOLAS Convention, introduces a series of regulations for the control of the so-called “Northern Maritime Route” and for the protection of passengers’ safety(13). A year earlier, over a thousand tourists took part in the first large scale cruise along the Northwest Passage aboard the Crystal Serenity. “A dream experience” and “a memorable milestone” commented Edie Rodriguez, CEO of the company of the same name and Birger J. Vorland, captain of the ship. From images of polar bears, who have become testimonials for awareness campaigns, to those of young lovers on their honeymoon through the new Northern sea paradises, the step is a very short one.
One of the largest fresh water reserves on our planet is rapidly opening its doors to the future which, once again, calls loudly to march on. In a very close tomorrow we will be able to enjoy a new, faster and cheaper trade route, to which nations such as China and Russia have long addressed their political strategies and their economic interests.
After all, according to the 2018 UNESCO World Water Development Report(14), by 2050 the world population will reach ten billion individuals.

10 Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene Federica Di Carlo

10 Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropoceneGAYLE CHONG KWAN   DETAIL1

In order: Federica Di Carlo, Cassandra’s eye, 2018. Semi transparent plexiglass sheets, ambiental dimensions. Photo Jacopo Nocentini; Gayle Chong Kwan, Coralities, 2018 Photographic vinyl print, ambiental dimensions. The pieces were produced by the National Mountain Museum in Turin. Courtesy the artists and National Mountain Museum, Turin.


Meeting the needs of such a large number of people will be inevitable. We will see a further increase in trade routes, industrial and agricultural production, with the consequences that can be imagined.
The global demand for water, which has already increased at a rate of 1% each year as a function of population growth, economic development and changes in consumption patterns, will further escalate.
Within this context, where the indifference of political and economic powers to the water crisis prevails and the consequences that development dynamics have on the state of water, the scenarios of a post-water future seem easily predictable. Analyzing the facts in light of present events, we can understand how the future repercussions on natural resources, on the conditions of the biosphere and on mankind’s life in the first place, do not appear to be positive.
According to Jeff Peakall, Professor of Process Sedimentology at the University of Leeds, it is not so much the Earth that is as endangered, as much as man. While we are probably destined to become extinct, our planet will proceed on its natural path of life. The point then may not be how much the anthropic impact is devastating in the long run. Rather, how much the management of our planet and a fundamental resource such as water take place in ways that are unsustainable, and therefore harmful, in the short term.
The conclusion, as Serenella Iovino wrote, “is that this modernization has progressively removed the human from himself”(15).

12Post-Water. Exhibition view at Museo Nazionale della Montagna 2018 Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino 3 16Post-Water. Exhibition view at Museo Nazionale della Montagna 2018 Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino 4

Views of the exhibition Post-Water at the Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Torino 2018. Courtesy Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino.


The “utopian quality”(16) of the journey undertaken therefore makes the rediscovery of our ability to “know how to see” indispensable. Avoiding the end of Narcissus implies a change of position. It means breaking the spell of an ecstatic look, in favour of a more objective and conscious analysis of reality. Some might argue that by relying on the increasingly sophisticated potential of technology and science, we will be able to overcome every crisis. But water resources are limited. Water is a renewable but not incrementable commodity and science alone is not enough.
Also according to the 2018 UNESCO World Water Development Report, the solution to be adopted to respond to the most urgent water related challenges of the twenty-first century is that of Nature Based Solutions (NBS). By employing solutions offered by nature and imitating natural processes that have always been in front of our eyes, we will be able to rebalance the water cycle and mitigate the effects of climate change, while ensuring an increase in the amount of water and sustainable growth that guarantees human survival.

17Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene Mario Fantin

18Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene Bepi Ghiotti

In order: Mario Fantin, Spedizione italiana al Karakorum. K2 sorgente di acque termali sulfuree nei pressi di Chogo. Da sinistra Lino Lacedelli, Cirillo Floreanini, Carlo Mauri, 1954. Silver bromide gelatin print, 29,7x39,7 cm. Fondo Mario Fantin, Centro Documentazione Museo Nazionale della Montagna – CAI Torino. Fondo Mario Fantin; Bepi Ghiotti, Unknown source, Bali, 2015. Giclée print on dibond, 124x158 cm. Courtesy the artist


To get back in tune with these processes, however, a change of course is necessary. It is requested to complete a process of spiritual redemption and “to send our dear Ego for a walk”(17).
We must free our gaze, abandon the external and indifferent position so dear to Narcissus to “immerse ourselves in the water”. From this position the reflection is precluded, the surface shatters and the body dematerializes. As Cécile Guérard writes, “one’s self becomes soluble”(18).
“The Age of Great Blindness”(19) makes us live this experience more brutally every day. More and more disastrous floods lead us to perform this dive in a painful and deadly way. But water is by nature a vital element. While trusting in the great capacities of scientific research, it is nonetheless necessary to re-establish an authentic and primordial contact with all natural cycles, to regain control of our gait, putting aside the myth of speed by which we are possessed. This “being in the water” cancels our image and thanks to this bath, which becomes a sort of “horizontal meditation”(20), we can get out of it regenerated. We lose our reflection and turn into something new.

18Post Water. Exhibition view at Museo Nazionale della Montagna 2018 Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino 5

19Post Water. Exhibition view at Museo Nazionale della Montagna 2018 Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino6

20Post Water Museo Nazionale Montagna Torino a cura di Andrea Lerda acqua narcisismo ecologia antropocene ANA MENDIETA

In order: views of the exhibition Post-Water at the Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Torino 2018. Courtesy Museo Nazionale della Montagna CAI Torino; Ana Mendieta, Ocean Bird (Washup), 1974. Copyright The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC Super-8 color, silent film transferred to DVD. 4’09’’. Courtesy La Gaia Collection; The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Copyright The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC


Because “happiness is found in water [...] and a sea bath is much more than a sea bath: slaves of nothing, freed of our narcissistic ego, we plunge into the absolute. We come out of it with a better idea of life and of ourselves as if the sea, prodigy of care, had given us its absolution ... “(21).

 

POST-WATER
Curated by Andrea Lerda
Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Turin
26.10.18 - 17.03.19
Works by: Andreco, Georges-Louis Arlaud, Marcos Avila Forero, Olivo Barbieri, Gayle Chong Kwan, Caretto/Spagna, Jota Castro, Sebastián Díaz Morales, Federica Di Carlo, Mario Fantin, Bepi Ghiotti, William Henry Jackson, Adam Jeppesen, Francesco Jodice, Jeppe Hein, Frank Hurley, Peter Matthews, Ana Mendieta, Studio Negri, Giuseppe Penone, Pennacchio Argentato, Paola Pivi, Laura Pugno, Gaston Tissandier.

 

1) Christopher Lasch, Introduction to La cultura del narcisismo. L’individuo in fuga dal sociale in un’età di disillusioni collettive (original title The culture of narcissism, 1979), Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri-Bompiani, Milan 1981, p. 8.
2) Ivi, p. 11.
3) Ibid.
4) Serge Latouche, La scommessa della decrescita (original title Le pari de la décroissance, 2006), Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan 2009, p. 28.
5) Wendell Berry, La strada dell’ignoranza, Edizioni Lindau, Turin 2015, p. 17.
6) Jean Baudrillard, La società dei consumi. I suoi miti e le sue strutture (original title La societé de consommation. Ses mytes ses structures, 1974), Il Mulino, Bologna 1976, p. 25.
7) Serge Latouche, Op. Cit., p. 35.
8) Regarding this Serge Latouche writes: “By eliminating the ability to regenerate nature, by reducing natural resources to a raw material to be exploited instead of ‘drawn on’, modernity has eliminated [the] reciprocal relationship”, Op. Cit. p. 13.
9) Ovidius, Le Metamorfosi, first volume, Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri Bompiani, Milan 1988, p. 173.
10) Christopher Lasch, Op. Cit., p. 17.
11) Vandana Shiva, Le guerre dell’acqua (original title Water Wars: Privatisation, Pollution and Profit, 2002), Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan 2003, p. 18.
12) Jean Baudrillard, Op. Cit., p. 25.
13) “The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), and related amendments the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to make it mandatory, marking an historic milestone in the Organization’s work to protect ships and people aboard them, both seafarers and passengers, in the harsh environment of the waters surrounding the two poles”. http://www.imo.org/en, page consulted 4 july 2018.
14) From http://unesdoc.unesco.org/ images/0026/002614/ 261424e.pdf, page consulted 4 july 2018
15) Serenella Iovino, Ecologia Letteraria. Una strategia di sopravvivenza, Edizioni Ambiente, Milan 2006, p. 36.
16) Hans Jonas, Il principio di responsabilità. Un’etica per la civiltà tecnologica (original title Das Prinzip Verantwortung, 1979), by Pier Paolo Portinaro, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Turin 1990, p. 29.
17) Cécile Guérard, Piccola Filosofia del Mare. Da Talete a Nietzsche (original title Philosophie légère de la mer, 2006), Ugo Guanda Editore, Parma 2010, p. 29.
18) Ivi, p. 52-54.
19) Amitav Ghosh, La Grande Cecità. Il cambiamento climatico e l’impensabile, Neri Pozza Editore, Vicenza 2017, p. 18.
20) Cécile Guérard, Op. Cit., p. 41.
21) Ivi, p. 55-56.