Haapoja diverges from anthropocentrism by highlighting the importance of non-human organisms.
Haapoja diverges from anthropocentrism by highlighting the importance of non-human organisms. She notes, “I find our relationship with the non-human world as a fundamental and fundamentally political question, perhaps the most important question of our times. Our economy is based on natural resources, our well-being on the vitality of other species, our politics on sharing the goods that non-humans provide us. From forestry to farming, from medicine to the production of commodities – the non-human world is always there, as a material, as an object, as a victim, as a companion, as a threat, as an ally. Environmental crises have forced us to view the whole of human culture from the point of view of collaboration and interaction with the non-human world. This viewpoint challenges our traditional understanding of what is a community, what a dialogue, and to whom are we responsible for in our actions.”21
a. The mutual exchange of resources, as opposed to the one-directional acquisition of resources, establishes an eco-centric form of interaction that is evident in an installation entitled Dialogue by Terike Haapoja. By whistling or simply breathing, humans are the originators of a ‘communication’ with trees. The trees are the recipients, ingesting the carbon dioxide exhaled by the visitor. As the tree absorbs the CO2, it whistles back. The work establishes more than a dialogue. It introduces reciprocity and an ethic based upon sharing.
A similar mutuality is apparent when Jae Rhim Lee fertilizes cabbage with her own refined urine; when Gelitin constructs a massive compost heap in the form of a stuffed rabbit to enrich the ecosystem of an Alpine mountain; when Bonnie Ora Sherk grows food for the farm animals in the gardens on The Farm; and when Nicole Fournier cultivates and shares weeds in her urban garden. In each instance, the artwork takes the form of a resource designed to bolster non-human organisms.
Select any one of these works of art and compare it to Dialogue in terms of the strategy it employs to inform the public about eco-centric values and convince them to apply these values to their own life practices. Haapoja directs this critique to her choice of a gallery setting, stating “I’m frustrated in working in a gallery space of making a proposal or a statement. I’m not really sure it is making a difference. It has to do with the autonomy of art. It is problematic, we deal with these theoretical questions, but still you have this syndrome, if you have a dialogue with a tree in a gallery, will it change the way you see the world?”22
b. Cross-species interaction functions as a thematic frame for many of Haapoja’s installations. She explains, “All of the works in the exhibition share the idea of communicative interaction between human and non-human world. The works use methods of environmental research to realize this interaction. Different elements, such as the circulation of C02, digital and analogical technology, sound, light or the movements of the viewer merge into the same process.”23
Joseph Beuys introduced cross species relationships fifty years earlier by including amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, insects, and four footed mammals in the Green Party when he was elected a Green Party candidate for the European Parliament. These non-humans were honorary members, welcomed by Beuys because their mental functions were not hardened by the cold forces of industrialization and the rigid structures of rationality. As such, they contributed warm creativity to politics. Likewise, Sherk promoted cross-species communication between humans and animals at the Farm. Gracie expanded cross-species communication by adding a third ‘species’ to his dialogue. In addition to human/animal communication, he included a robot. Compare the communication that occurs in any one of these works to any component of Haapoja’s Closed Circuit/Open Dialogue exhibition.