Correspondence interview with Anna Nacher by Ewelina Jarosz
How did you get interested in eco-feminism? You organised meetings concerning this topic in the 1990s. Can you tell me about them? Who took part in them? Where did they take place?
It is very difficult for me to answer the question. Where do your ‘interests’ in eco-feminism come from? – I used the inverted commas because it was something more than an intellectual reaction and no dictionary could possibly complement the essence of the issue at hand. In the mid-1990s, I actively participated in an ecological movement. I ran with Marek Styczyński a branch of The Studio for All Beings in Nowy Sącz. I want to stress here that it was a different Studio and different times. At the same time, I started oscillating towards the feminist movement and my eco-feminism then was a rather natural composition of those two activities – which turned out to be a start-up for smaller and larger conflicts. The ecological movement in the 1990s in Poland was not very progressive or open when it comes to the question of sex equalities. This was my school of dealing with what today is called ‘mansplaining’. The workshops, which I organised, always focused on the work with voice and lend towards working with oneself and with the environment – they were inspired by the Association of All Beings. It was a flagship workshop of the Studio then borrowed from the American and Australian movements of deep ecology. They took place in few centres, which were open for such activities – you could count those places with one-hand fingers. One of the first centres was Sopatowiec in Beskid Sądecki – today it is a place known to Yoga practitioners, Buddhists and people interested in slow life.
Around 1997-8 everything was budding (to be honest, with Marek Styczyński he mediated the purchase of the place by its first owner, later on, Gosia Kacner took over the place and she became The Gosia, and Sopatowiec The Sopatowiec). While answering your question I realise that with great difficulty I could dig out some archive documentation of those workshops – they did not attract a great number of people, but the people, who met at a bonfire there, were the cream of Polish young feminist movement in the 1990s. Later, I ran a number of times the module with voice during the WEN-DO workshops (often in cooperation with Agata Teutsch and Monika Serkowska) during the camps of Feministic Summer Action organised by the Sisters’ Street (I remember that I ran workshops in Faltyjanki in 2003 and in Okliny a year later) and there were many other situations, which I seem to remember less and less. It was 15 years ago… That question, I believe, would require a separate little book. There is so much to talk about, but I see this chapter as closed and I don’t want to return to it for the time being.
With Marek Styczyński, you look after the perma-culture-creating place, which you called Biotop Lechnica. The place is a materialised example of positive utopia linked with the sustainable building philosophy. It is an initiative representing an example of respecting a continuity of local habitat customs, but also their critical estimation. How did it work out in the context of creating new relations with the local community, and how it was accepted by the incoming participants of the Biotop Lechnica?
Since 2014, we have been realising ideas rooted in co-existing with a place, which in their final form have shaped to become Not Only Human Habitat. Five years of experience in working within a specific place in a small village in Slovak Zamagur allowed us to formulate principles which reflect what we learnt as a result of the long involvement in ecological movement – unfortunately closed in rather bitter conviction about its almost entire failure in the social aspect. We do not want to discuss it really since the difference of years and experience cannot be skipped. Back to the essence: the observation of the same communicative, strategic, organisational mistakes made over the years, and the breaking up social relations finally turned us towards our path, which is a bit aside, far from other ecological organisations. We do not bid farewell to the hope that the ecological movement in Poland will be created at some point and it will get stronger. We hope that it will mean something – the best example that it is possible can be found in some already existing initiatives, for example, Polish Smog Alarm. But so far, we decided to withdraw from any organised activity.
Biotop Lechnica is most of all a specific permaculture. It is a mountainous permaculture. It does not have an easy climate, which means that we need to adapt many permaculture handbooks to local conditions. This work and the creation of micro biodiversity oasis is really interesting for us. There is a conviction on the basis of it all that we need to learn from the place. We started from a tedious observation study and this is where we get the cooperation with space and habitat instead of adapting the place to our convictions (even if they are right and noble). I wrote about it in an entry for the Dictionary for the Future: http://forumprzyszloscikultury.pl/upload/2018/12/zamieszkiwanie-a-nacher.pdf
One of the most inspiring moments was a discovery that in the pile of waste left after previous owners such as a roll of tar and several empty plastic bottles became a home for a blindworm, several lizards, some wild bees, not to mention some other forms of life commonly regarded as less attractive. They did not care that those materials were non-ecological, even harmful. So it happens that our imaginations about how nature ‘should’ behave and what is beneficial for it tend to be yet another corset. Life is not dogmatic.
It is very difficult for us to answer the question about the relations with ‘local community’ – that phrase sounds artificial and too theory-like. It is a bit too puffy. We talk about particular people, our neighbours, about a village lived by 200 other people, who undertake the effort to survive in this far-flung place (the city in an illusionary way draws closer during holidays), they all strive to make the place better this way or another. We, continuously, try to learn from them, because there is a lot to learn, on so many different levels, in so many different dimensions.
Biotop is meant to be an open place for various projects: artistic, ecological, herbal and workshops. We have already done various projects. New ones are being born: we host workshops co-created with Krakow Bunkier Sztuki. Kuba Pieleszek-Denis from Gdansk Academy of Arts did a project of communal birdhouses. We are plotting with a young Polish artist – Kamila Piazza, who is based in France; we are in contact with Ela Jabłońska, whose projects delight us (especially The Wastelands of Art). We want to avoid the trap of ‘factory’ of workshops, we don’t want to adapt our ideas for the place, or language, or a way in which we work to marketing slogans and to the necessity of persuading anyone to come to us. Fortunately, we have a luxury not to do that. We may allow ourselves to be independent. The people who come to us have the right level of motivation. We also have a non-stop renovation going on and we are too busy to entertain those in search for collecting experiences or discussing things over coffee. The unconditional assumption of Biotop is the necessity of working here. Please believe me that it is a good method of scaring away a certain type of idealists 🙂
The biggest challenge for us is the 100-years-old wooden house. There are still some of them in Lechnica, but year by year they disappear. The project of the house renovation as that it may become a place for the community, off the grid, we see as a responsibility towards the place, which teaches us about everything about the life, diversity and happiness.
From the perspective of your activities, what is the possibility of a rebirth of the eco-feminism in the reality of the 21st century? Is it possible for the technology, which negative influence on the environment is widely talked about, to play a positive role in this process? Could you talk a bit about the issues touching on that topic, some of them you discussed in your book ‘Locative Media. The hidden life of images’ (2016)?
I am under an impression that the movement is present and it does not have to be ‘re-born’. Let us take a look at the continuous activity of Vandana Shiva, the new books by Donna Haraway, the meaning of feminist theory, which today we notice in the criticism related to ecological crisis (including the climate crisis), the sense of activities carried out by the female leaders in native communities worldwide (I am very close to the Arctic community, especially the Saami people). The topic of a relationship between technology and nature is a question for the entirely separate interview – of course, it was re-formulated along with the digital technologies becoming more included in the environment within and without the cities. I wrote about it in ‘Locative Media’, but the topic is the basis for my current scientific project dedicated to the aesthetics of post-digital imagining. It is a huge topic, so I will not even start it here – I published some new things, this time mainly in English and in open access networks, so you can find everything in the folder ‚publications’.
It is difficult for me to discuss the issues from my book – it was written, it is printed and digital, people interested in the problem should be able to get it. I suggested a fundamental change in thinking about the relations between images produced by locative media (including locative media art) and reality – I wrote about images, which are a form of energy exchange with the world. The metaphor was born from the inspiration with the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon, which is undergoing the true renascence (you may say it is a fashion – it is easy to see who is following fashion, and who really reads Simondon, because his ideas can be easily twisted, if you take them out of context). In the new project I tend towards the philosophy of process, because for me this is where there is the greatest chance to change the thinking, which as a result could reverse the thinking about the world based on anthropocentrism, the idea of continuous progress/economic growth and partitioning of experience (and therefore generating further new forms of the economic crisis).
You also co-created a music project called ‘The Magical Carpathians’. What is the role of art in shaping your ecological sensitivity?
This music project is a topic for several volumes 🙂 I have been doing it for 20 years and – for various reasons – this is the most difficult life path for me, but very necessary. I do not even know if I have any ecological sensitivity. With time everything becomes simpler: I cannot imagine that you can spend days without any contact with plants, soil, living water and atmospheric factors; I try not to consume more than it is necessary; we try to waste little and share the garden surplus (sometimes we have no choice, because animals for exmaple deer come to feed on). We do not kill slugs, we don’t understand the concept of vermin, we don’t eliminate compulsively the weeds, we try to upkeep the shaky balance to get some strawberries, pumpkins or tomatoes. We are both vegetarians with long, long experience, and it had never crossed our minds to put any pressure on anyone to follow us. I believe it is a too difficult path for many people. I respect people, who limit the consumption of meat (for example to two or three dinners a week) or they limit anything at all. I believe the most harmful is the radical approach of the neophytes 🙂
Art? I cannot imagine life without it. Art is for me like oxygen, I do not know how to rate its ‘role in shaping’ anything in me. My most beautiful time in life is the time spent in nature and time spent in large cities in total immersion in art (during Biennale in Venice, Ars Electronica in Linz, The Manifesta and everywhere where we find ‘travelling with art’), after a few days spent in 8 or 10 hours-long-viewers marathons. Yes, I always watch the video works as a whole. Being in nature and contact with nature – for me, this is the same. The art of breathing. From that double perspective, sometimes the heated debates about ‘carbon trace’ and Anthropocene – and other theoretical tokens, seem to me always seasonal, always with limited durability – they give rise to irritation in me because they often become a smoke curtain and an intellectual past-time. I do not agree with a view about ‘nature with nature’. I certainly understand that it is a cultural construct, but I often have an impression that a large group of theorists does not make their hands dirty with soil, or compost. They do not get cold while walking for 6 hours in rain with a backpack on. They have a tendency to project their limited perspective (narrowed down to an intellect separated from corporeality and visceral aspect) onto the world, which is far more complicated and filled to the brim with surprises of various life forces, which we cannot even imagine.
The feminist movement in Poland is very divided. It is more based on social premises than ecological ones. Is it possible, in your opinion, to re-connect feminist movements from the 1990s? The ones infused with the spirit of neoliberalism and the contemporary movements focused on ecological issues, such as The Climate Camp? Is it possible to build a cross-generational coalition?
I refuse to answer this question. I stopped participating in those discussions. For me, the connection happens as a result of particular actions, not debates. I don’t know if the 1990s feminist movements were infused with the neoliberal spirit, I don’t know what that means. If it was a description of the Polish feminist movement, then I will say something not very political and perhaps something not very polite – the feminist movement of the 1990s was a desperate gesture of opposition against the dominating sexism in thinking, saying from today’s perspective, that it was ‘infused with neoliberal spirit’ is offensive and dramatically unjust. You should read in free time or ask your older female friends (there is a generational difference, am I right?) how the pro-choice manifestations were organised around 1992-3. Frankly speaking, the feminist movement was also divided in the 1990s. 🙂 I don’t understand why the divisions are treated as something bad. This must be our national mania, permanent reflux in a form of calling to unite. I believe the divisions are natural, needed and interesting. Provided we know how to build coalitions – always momentary and strategic, because there should not be any other. The power is not in unity but in an ability to form coalitions. Affinity – not identity – as it was said by one of the female theorists (not in Poland) in the 1990s.