Every day more and more people are talking about the environmental crisis and its worldwide (yet unpredictable) consequences: a future without enough food or space for everyone, with less clean water to drink and with the level of the oceans rising catastrophically, while making Eco-refugees migrate to the central areas of the world. How to “save the world” is the topic of massive summits and policy-making, but as well a major driver in the lifestyles choices people are encouraged to make: think green, eat organic, buy this product and not that other one: the message being that we can save the world one purchasing decision at the time. That our everyday choices have an impact on the environment is true, but is also true that it has been marketed beyond reason, making us wonder if buying a hyper-expensive tomato that was grown no more than one kilometer away from our house is actually helping the world or if we are just been played by the supermarkets organic brand into paying double. Its confusing. It might even be fair to say that is not only the world that is in crisis, but also what we understand is our role in the face of such a crisis: what other type of action-formats, beyond our buying power, are available to us? In which different ways can be have an impact in our surroundings?
I like Natalie Jeremijenko’s work precisely because she addresses the question of impact in her work. Jeremijenko is an artist that defies traditional approaches to environmental problem solving by pushing the limits of what we think is possible and letting creativity lead the way. For example, amongst her impressive collection of projects, she is the director of the Environmental Health Clinic at N.Y.U, a space where environmental issues are approached as health concerns. In her clinic the (im)patients leave the consultation not with a series of pharmaceuticals but instead with a prescription for actions that could have an impact on their surroundings. In one occasion, when citizens of New York were unsure of the existence of living fish in the East River and therefore of the care hey should have for this water resource, Jeremijenko gave the fish a chance to make themselves visible. Together with her team she started Amphibious Architecture, a digital-meets-nature project that consisted of the installation of led sensors (half way under, half way above water) that lit up with the movement created by the fish that were swimming trough them. The sensors also monitored water quality and on request “texted” information about the river. The led sparkled constantly, giving the fish a visible form above water and citizens a way to acknowledge their presence. However, Jeremijenko was after an even more straightforward relationship between the fish and humans: she worked on encouraging citizens to feed the fish with food that is adequate for them and that would make their lives better—opposing a more traditional “don’t intervene” environmental approach in favor of an action-oriented relationship.
In Natalie Jeremijenko’s words, experimenting will help change the scope of what is possible and of what can be expected. Blurring the boundaries of imagination, science, art and urban planning appears as a hopeful option that links the impact of our everyday decisions to the others who we share a space with: a more social city, were connection and trust as a key element to our power to influence our environment.