Regeneration Series RECAP

From October 2020 — May 2021, the Nature Lab hosted the Regeneration virtual series, ab online speaker event that explored diverse perspectives on how making can integrate with natural, cultural, and social systems in a way that influences creative practices for the benefit of communities and the planet. Moderated by Dora Mugerwa, with collaborative support from Amy DuFault, one of the main goals of this series was to focus on the voices that drive and lead many of the equitable and environmental movements, but that still tend to not be seen or included in the advertised discussions and innovations around sustainable making, climate change, community development, ways of being, and more.

RECAP: Regeneration with Melita Morales

May 20 hosted the eighth and final conversation in the Regeneration series with Melita Morales, an artist, educator, and researcher focused on implementing transdisciplinarity and decolonial practices in learning environments. Take a look at this document with resources that were mentioned during the conversation to further your learning.

During her presentation, Melita revisited the topics of the previous Regeneration sessions, weaving their themes together through an exploration of “regenerative knowledge in learning and education.” Her talk became an inspiring example of transdisciplinary thinking in and of itself: Melita connected ideas from scholars, scientists, artists and researchers from a diverse range of identities and fields of study to showcase the possibilities of a pluriversal world.

Melita explained how the four epistemicides of the 16th century— the takeover of territory from Muslims and Jews in the Iberian Peninsula, the colonial take over of America, the development of the transatlantic slave trade, and the burning of Indo-European women— resulted in a narrowing of knowledge and “expertise” that favors a single perspective in the westernized university. This mass destruction of knowledge and ways of being engendered the discipline-focused, hierarchical western education systems we have today, where science and objectivity is valued and art and subjectivity is not.

Naturally, disciplinarity does not exist for us as children— science exists intertwined with art and is experienced in everyday life. But in today’s dominating learning environments, “students have minimal opportunities to connect what they learn to their real worlds and communities.” Melita explained that the division of disciplines does not serve us. It limits our capacity to learn and prevents us from building regenerative knowledge. We need to shift how we value various fields of study and ways of knowing and critique the organizational hierarchy and structure of learning.

Melita concluded by asking a series of questions: “What worlds, what ways of being, are written through our work that can exceed the bounds of what is valued in a western knowledge system? What sort of relationships to each other and the more than human world does this art/science/innovation set into play? How can we restore the false binary of art-science through the projects we undertake?” Melita encouraged us to imagine a world beyond disciplinarily by sparking unique collaborations and exploring polylithic knowledge in our own creative practices. She said, “When we speak about knowledge, we speak about worlds.”

Watch the recap video here.

RECAP: Regeneration with Daniel Glenn

April 22 hosted the seventh conversation in the Regeneration series with Daniel Glenn, a nationally recognized Indigenous architect specializing in culturally responsive architecture and sustainable design that reflect his Apsáalooke (Crow) Tribal heritage, and the principal architect at 7 Directions Architects & Planners. Take a look at this document with resources that were mentioned during the conversation to further your learning.

This conversation focused on how architectural design can bring communities together, exist in harmony with the natural environment, and regenerate Indigenous cultures. Daniel reflected on the ways in which architecture has historically functioned as the colonizer’s weapon to displace Indigenous people from their cultures. He shared the sophistication and great diversity of traditional Indigenous building types, which respond to the climate and culture of each region and tribe, and how he works to incorporate these in order to meet the needs of specific communities. Daniel introduced several projects his firm, 7 Directions Architects & Planners, has completed, including Payne Family Native American Center and Place of Hidden Waters Puyallup Longhouse, both of which were designed using interactive participatory methods that directly involved community members and elders.

As an architect engaged in a reflective practice, in what Daniel frequently calls the “Long Journey Back from Carlisle,” he emphasized the importance of reconfiguring yourself post your architectural program. He shared that in order to come out of it as Indigenous architects, you have to “take a separate and reflective path” and rethink what architecture means for the communities that you work with.

Through his design work, Daniel challenges the definition of architecture itself, framing it as less about making physical objects and more about place-making, creating spaces that can reinvigorate communities and re-enact cultures for generations to come. He asked, “How can we learn from our elders and understand the needs and desires of our present generation and think about the impact our actions will have on the lives of future generations?” The answer to this is how we design with seven generations in mind (three generations of ancestors, the present generation, and three generations of descendants), a sustainable and regenerative approach that Daniel Glenn consistently leads with.

Watch the recap video here.

RECAP: Regeneration with Maida Branch

March 18 hosted the sixth conversation in the Regeneration series with Maida Branch, founder + director of MAIDA Goods, a collective that supports the growth of Indigenous artists and preservation of their homelands through sustainable business practices. Take a look at this document with resources that were mentioned during the conversation to further your learning.

The conversation centered around Maida’s coming home story: her return to Vallecitos, New Mexico, in order to come home to herself, and her experience bringing MAIDA Goods to life to tell the stories erased and lost. She opened up with this story about the now-uninhabited Pecos Pueblo: “Within the pueblo there was a room that always had a fire going, and needed constant tending. There was always someone from the village who was assigned to attend to this eternal flame. The belief was that if the fire went out, so would the people and culture disappear.”

For Maida Branch, the way she tends to her flame is through MAIDA Goods. The collective allows her to learn more about where she is from and the people from which she came. She partners with local artists who preserve Indigenous histories in their work, including Brandon Adriano Ortiz, Josh Tafoya, Johnny Ortiz, Gino Antonio, and Camilla Trujillo. Using local materials and inspired by tradition, these artists bring stories of the past into the future through handcrafted objects like wool headbands, silver jewelry, ceramic spoons, bowls, and candlestick holders. The ability to use these objects every day makes life fuller and brings awareness to histories that might otherwise disappear with older generations.

Living in a small, fragile village, Maida strives to be thoughtful about bringing attention to her community and sharing their stories without exploiting the place. Small villages like hers are alive and full of people with distinct ways of life. She asks, “How can we strike a balance between not being erased, and not hurting ourselves or each other while we share our stories with the world? How can we regenerate instead of revitalize?”

Watch the recap video here.

RECAP: Regeneration with Teju Adisa-Farrar

February 18 hosted the fifth conversation in the Regeneration series with Teju Adisa-Farrar, geographer, writer, and poet focused on contemporary and historical Black geographies as they relate to the environment, urban ecologies and culture. Take a look at this document with resources that were mentioned during the conversation to further your learning.

During this conversation, Teju presented on how gentrification is not only a social issue, but also an environmental issue. Beginning around the time of the violent European conquest of the “New World,” commodification of nature became a global idealogy that aimed to centralize economies around the world. This caused a ripple effect of global shifts, including genocide of Indigenous communities, enslavement and forced migration of Africans, increased control over and mass extraction of natural resources, and entrenchment of European settler colonialism around the world.

These major shifts caused the problems we face today: the overdevelopment of economic urban centers, gentrification of historical spaces, displacement of communities, and destruction of natural landscapes. When we ask ourselves why these changes exacerbate injustices, as Teju asserted, the “environments in the western world are structured by racism.” We need to think about the long-lasting impacts of these environmental shifts before we can begin to understand where our world is now and how to change things for the better.

Teju posed the question, “How can we think about growth differently so that it’s less about scaling and more about reconnecting with sustainable systems and knowledges? How can we design with nature instead of around nature?” We need to design and grow with both our global histories and regenerative futures in mind.

Watch the recap video here.

RECAP: Regeneration with Shey Rivera Ríos

January 28 hosted the fourth conversation in the Regeneration series with Shey Rivera Ríos, an interdisciplinary artist, cultural strategist, and arts administrator. Take a look at this document with resources that were mentioned during the conversation to further your learning.

During their conversation, Shey emphasized how artists have the unique opportunity to shape our futures and impact policy through creative expression and collaboration. By telling historically censored stories, artists can help dismantle systemic oppression and nurture regeneration by creating diverse narratives that transform communities.

Shey’s projects epitomize this and the regenerative power of social and research based art practices. They shared how FANTASY ISLAND, a transmedia story about Puerto Rico, served as an anchor to build civic engagement around how selling a "fantastical" luxury lifestyle twists humanitarian crises into “opportunity.” With their project Stormwater, a mixed-media installation piece in Olneyville, Providence, RI, Shey aimed to bring awareness to the environmental issue of storm runoff in urban settings. These are only a few of the many ways that Shey merges their creative practice with social action.

When discussing the social responsibility that we carry as creators and thinkers, Shey asked, “What are the futures that you are pushing for when you create art? Who is your art speaking to? How can your art stop perpetuating harm and systems of oppression?” As creatives, we need to address these questions and develop a culture of care taking within our communities and collaborations. In speaking more on the transformative power of art, Shey said that “art can reimagine what monuments look like, rewrite histories that we’ve been carrying that no longer serve us, [and challenge] the singular narrative… We [can] expand our own brains and challenge our society to think outside the box.”

We each have agency and we can collectively use our voices to improve our shared futures. It takes emotional energy to create the spaces that heal us and speak to our authenticity. As we work towards this and aim to improve the next decade, take Shey’s words to heart: “Show appreciation to yourself….[and] create narratives that heal you.”

Watch the recap video above for more.

RECAP: Regeneration with Karen Washington

December 18 hosted the third conversation in the Regeneration series with Karen Washington, a farmer, community activist, and food advocate. Make sure to take a look at this document with resources that were mentioned during the conversation to further your learning.

Karen gave a passionate and informative presentation on how inequitable and fragile the food systems are in the U.S. She shared how she and her community try to dismantle the current systems, and what we can do within our own communities to move towards food systems that are just and equitable. She says “The food system doesn’t need to be fixed. It needs to be changed.”

She argues that “food itself cannot stand alone. There are intersections with economics, history, housing, environment, health, and more.” In order to truly change our unjust food systems, we must begin by asking “What does food security truly look like for people of color in low income neighborhoods?” If we take this more holistic approach, and focus on organizing within our communities at the grassroots level, we can begin to dismantle the current systems and create a more regenerative future.

Karen encourages individuals to start with small, compassionate actions. Connect with your neighbors, go out into your local community, and see who needs help. Cook an extra meal for someone who is struggling. Get involved with your local community garden. She says, “Can we have more love and compassion in 2021? Can we say ‘I love you, let me help you, let me feed you?’ Now is the time we need each other more than ever. We need to be the people that make sure our communities are fed. When you see something that is unjust, say something. Your voice is your power.”

Watch the recap video above for more.

RECAP: Regeneration with Esme Murdock

November 19 hosted the second conversation in the Regeneration series with Esme Murdock, a philosopher focused on African American, Afrodiasporic, and Indigenous philosophies and environmental ethics. Make sure to take a look at this document with resources to further your learning, plus several answers to questions that were not answered during the live event.

How can we unlearn dominant western teachings in order to build a better and more inclusive environmental movement? And how do we relearn in the most thoughtful way? Esme’s work strives to deconstruct the monolithic, Eurocentric narrative of the environmental movement. During the talk, she says, “when we center one type of story and repeat it over and over again, we are actually compounding our harms and compounding our errors over time.” Esme encourages the exploration of “Black and Indigenous philosophies and ways of knowing,” while stressing the importance of acknowledging the origins of these philosophies.

She implores us to focus on “unlearning” by actively questioning the ways in which we have been taught to think and make, and critically apply non-dominant ways of thinking to our own creative practices and the larger environmental movement. We can start by building daily practices of land and water acknowledgements, choosing to disrupt tendencies for control and mastery, reading texts from scholars outside of the mainstream discourse, and speaking with people who challenge our embedded modes of thought. As a community, we can relearn histories, re-center Indigenous and Afrodiasporic narratives, and build a more equitable future of environmental ethics.

Watch the recap video above for more.

RECAP: Regeneration with Billy Almon

October 22nd hosted the kickoff conversation of the Regeneration series with Astrobiofuturist and biomimicry expert Billy Almon, who shared how biomimicry can create restorative futures for black and brown communities. This line of thought began while he worked in the field and learned that a man had been shot in his grandmother's backyard; the police thought that the man had a gun when he actually had a cellphone. This changed the direction of Billy’s research, where he asked himself, “if biomimicry can't help my community, then what's the point?” During his talk, he emphasized the importance of exploring the narrative and how this investigative process can help change the monolithic story of police violence. This led him to study different animals’ reactions to perceived threats and where similar responses occur in the human body.

“What’s the actual biology taking place in these instances of police shootings?” Billy asked. He challenged us to look at this violence through a broader lens and understand the “historical, socioeconomic, and biological history of these occurrences.” What is the officer and the person at the other end of the barrel experiencing physiologically in this heightened state of stress and perceived threat? How can understanding this, together with knowing the historical existence of the police and the propagandized fear of "other", lead to biomimetic solutions that can help reduce violence against communities of color?

In thinking about regeneration, Billy encouraged designers and artists to observe patterns in both nature and human behavior in order to “discover new narratives that will help realize our ideal future.” He explained that in order to bring humanity closer to a better tomorrow, we need to focus on “restorative futures,” which he defines as “rehumanizing people, places, and systems through empathetic designs informed by biology and nature.”

Watch the recap video above for more!

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