There is a paradox that I can not explain myself… When we were children, we all observed the beings living around us with curiosity, tenderness and amazement. From insects to birds to giraffes. Learning to know about the world is to discover the diversity of living forms.
We collect dinosaurs, raise goldfish, dream of having a chimpanzee … In books, cartoons and tales, animals are usually our companions, our friends and our allies.
And suddenly, somewhere between childhood and the « adult » world, we start being afraid of animals, we want to keep them away …
The more we’ve lived in the cities, the more the slightest little spider will scare us. We kill mosquito, ant or spider without remorse. Annoying bugs, nothing more. In the meantime, our attitude has completely changed towards the animal world. It is now divided between domestic animals (= cute), farm animals (= food) and wild animals (= far away, dangerous).
I grew up in the South-West of France, spending all my summers at the ocean and in the forest. But after 10 years in Paris, I would say that I was not a big « animal fan. » And then I went to Costa Rica to cure myself from internal and external suffocation that was invading me. I dreamed about being on a beach with sea turtles. The life I experienced at Campo Cabuyal was the complete opposite of the one at my office in the Marais and at my apartment in Montreuil.
I immersed myself and bathed into a full connection with biodiversity. In addition to spending all nights with turtles, I was sharing every day my shower, my room, the kitchen or the trail with the natural residents of this environment. Frogs, monkeys, snakes, toads, birds, tarantulas, scorpions. Iguanas running on the walls of the dorms, and wasps dancing around the kitchen sink. From the most harmless to the most impressive…
Indeed, the busy comings and goings of hermit crabs are pretty exciting to watch, but way less powerful than the rippling tracks of a crocodile left on the beach!
To conduct his field research, Adam (one of the biologists working at the camp) installed several « camera traps » in the tropical dry forest. He shows us his photographic catch of the day. Each motion captured by the camera to show: legs, our legs, other legs, and suddenly: a cougar, on the same path as us in broad daylight. Another camera, very close to the camp, made an even better catch. A female jaguar named Maria. She has been recognized thanks to here unique dress pattern through a database shared by biologists working in Costa Rica.
This experience opened a whole new relationship towards living beings. They became my neighbors, my roommates. Whether in cities or in villages, animals are everywhere here. Birds, monkeys, cats, iguanas … In this almost open-air zoo, humans and animals live within respect and kindness. Being a real local means that you know the habits and favorite spots of the sloth, the howler monkeys and the toucan.
While animal biodiversity is present in real life around human habitats, it is also celebrated with public art images. Painted frescoes are everywhere picturing animals as our alter egos. Here « The Last Supper » in a restaurant in Montezuma featuring Jesus as a toucan.
Watching a butterfly or a turtle laying its eggs put me back in my place. As humans we occupy a lot of space on this small planet. It is going to be crucial to give some space back to the other living beings who inhabited it way long before us! We must question our attitude towards the plants and the animals in order to move from a relationship of domination to a relationship of cooperation.
I dream that one day, animals’ reintroduction will be part of the roadmap of the Grand Paris.
Would the proximity with animals make us happier? In Costa Rica where people live in contact with lush nature, it looks like it. It even seems to me that the kindness and generosity that reign here is a direct consequence of the well-balanced relationship between men and animals. I imagine this potential at a metropolis scale…
After all, there is evidence that the presence of an animal like a dog in a classroom helps kids learn and reduces stress. This is called « educational zootherapy. » Animals also help reduce the level of pain felt by humans and help break their loneliness. So why not include them more radically in the design of our habitats while protecting them?
Towards new relationships
We must stop separating: biodiversity protection on one side, and human development on the other. That does not make sense. Paradoxically, as long as we stay at a distance, we hurt ourselves and each others. We need to be able to build our space while saving room and taking care of animals. What we need to plan is called « ecosystem design ». We have to imagine the different habitats that will allow men, plants and animals to cohabitate.
Generation and regeneration are fully compatible. This is what I discovered during my stay at Finca Inti, where Tristan produces his own healthy, sustainable and organic food in a piece of jungle that he has helped gradually repopulate with indigenous animals and plants that had disappeared. It is a fascinating virtuous equation: regeneration + production + protection = win/win. Animals find an abundant habitat in which to live in and humans can be self-sufficient.
Either we destroy their habitats, or we simply ignore the essential services the animal world silently offers us.
The collapse of the bee populations has brought a general awareness about « ecosystem services ». Those are the functions that each living being fulfills to participate in the equilibrium of an ecosystem (production, regulation or support). Pollination is the service that bees give us for free. But they are not the only ones to participate in this great fertilization dance: butterflies and bats are also part of it. Bats (many of which are also endangered) are valuable allies to get rid of insects like mosquitoes. The problem is that we haven’t found yet how to give those services a real weight in our current global economic system…
Art has a key role to play in sharing and translating those natural knowledges. The carte blanche exhibition of Tomás Saraceno, currently in Palais de Tokyo (Paris), questions our connection to the living beings and our understanding of their intelligence. Trained as an architect, Saraceno has a passion for spiders. He creates his works « in collaboration » with them.
« Spiderwebs are not only the productions of the animal, but the deployment of its body and its perceptual system ». – Jean De Loisy (director of the Palais de Tokyo)
Their webs are a symbolic reminder of the link that globally unites men and ecosystems. More than that, according to the artist, they would allow the spiders to feel the infinitesimal vibrations of the cosmos: disintegration of meteorites, dust moving through the Earth’s atmosphere, collision of black holes causing gravitational waves … Tomás Saraceno offers an immersive experience at the edge of the infra-thin through a human-scale spiderweb. The public is invited to enter inside and interact with the « biggest stringed instrument ever built. » (Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, curator of the exhibition)
-The beautiful book « The Moon by Whale Light. And Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians, and Whales » by Diane Ackerman
– The exhibition « On Air », carte blanche à Tomás Saraceno at the Palais de Tokyo (in Paris, from October 2018 to January 2019)
-The « bat project » to fight against invasive species in Grenoble, France
-The multidisciplinary book-magazine STREAM 04 « The Paradoxes of the Living »
-My article: « Butterflies & Rainforest regeneration »