Biotoopia Talks: Eco-aesthetics

Biotoopia Talks.
Biotoopia Talks. Source: Saara Silvia Soasepp

On August 16 artist Jaanika Peerna; composer, musician, author and philosopher David Rothenberg; Estonian folk musician and experimental vocalist Vaim Sarv and professor of biosemiotics at Tartu University Kalevi Kull met at the Puänt bookstore to talk about eco-aesthetics.

As long as there have been people, there has been eco-aesthetics. It is about fundamental qualitative values and is anything that is regarded as beautiful and deserving of careful consideration as a whole. Species are very different, and diverse in many ways. This makes the aesthetics very diverse. If we expand the aesthetic view beyond the boundaries of the species, we will probably encounter a phenomenon that could be called strange beauty.

Musician, writer and ecophilosopher David Rothenberg, Tartu University professor of biosemiotics Kalevi Kull, artist Jaanika Peerna, composer and experimental vocalist Vaim Sarv discussed the topic at the Biotoopia'22 Talks event on August 16 held at the Puänt Bookstore in Tallinn. The event was moderated by curator and deep-diver of aesthetics Lilian Hiob.

According to Biotoopia, eco-aesthetics can help people make the transition to a world with a variety of life forms, but as Jaanika Peerna pointed out, it would be better if there were no need for a specific term for eco-aesthetics at this stage.

The group discussion began by highlighting the main issues in various cultural crises, which were that personal connections with nature are extremely rare in the modern era, our intuitive understanding of the bond we have with nature is being destroyed by modern comforts, and even though nature and the creatures that have coexisted with Homo sapiens within it have changed, they haven't changed as dramatically as we have. 

The panel remarked that alarmingly, the capacity for individuals to independently think and feel at ease with holding different viewpoints is a humanity feature. Some of us don't have an understanding of sustainable life, because of the capitalist mindset. However, if the current worldview was developed by humans throughout the late Anthropocene age, there is also the possibility for a shift to a different mindset before it is too late. Our forefathers lived in harmony with nature and made a conscious effort to recognize its beauty and incorporate it into their daily lives. Our panelist Vaim brings out: "Eco-aesthetics is not just an abstract ("human") philosophy. It is a way of living and relating that has direct, material effects on the lifeforms around us."

Biotoopia Talks on August 16. Source: Saara Silvia Soasepp

When it comes to matters involving climate conservation, the political parties used to be quite united in the past, but they have since become more fragmented as they look for quick votes. The panelists pointed out that reaching out to those we disagree with on important points and engaging in a conversation with them might help to bridge the gap that has developed in our political debate. So instead of finding a way around it or allying with others who share our opinions, we should resolve crises together. 

Nobody wants to be in charge when they are with friends, just enjoying themselves in good company, according to Kalevi Kull. Humans can form friendships, and since we are capable of doing so, why shouldn't we include other living and non-living beings? It is extremely easy. Just let's be friends.

By viewing beauty as a phenomenon inherent to every element of the biosphere, eco-aesthetics could close the gap between art and ecosystems. We are all welcome to contribute to this transformation with our behaviors and attitudes. 

Biotoopia'22 is organized as a festival with numerous series events throughout Estonia, with eco-aesthetics as the primary focus curated by artist Peeter Laurits.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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