Madeleine Kelly | 4 April 2016
In the mid seventies, biologists Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock described the earth as ‘autopoietic Gaia’, a living system, a body analogous to our own, composed of interdependent symbiotic relationships. ‘We are walking communities …Ten percent or more of our body weight is bacterial [in its evolutionary origins], and it’s just foolish to ignore that’, Margulis stated (Mann 1991, 378). So, to explore these relations, my paintings sometimes depict things as part of flow charts or systems, but just as natural systems are disrupted by culture, these are fictional orders that disrupt accepted orders.
The world surrounds us with life-sustaining systems, including solar energy and fossil fuels. The fossil fuels were developed during the carboniferous period from plants like these ancient club mosses. Their burning relentlessly contributes to greenhouse warming. Petrol is time.
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The second law, also known as the entropy law, states that in any closed system, when energy and matter are used there is an increase in entropy, or disorder. Increasing entropy can be thought of as the disorder in the universe, of disrupting Gaia’s balance, and of draining limited resources.
It is generally accepted that people in Australia want more than they have – bigger houses, more money and more time to spend it. But by historical or international standards we are very wealthy. Today’s average house is almost twice as big than houses were 50 years ago, with double the volume of bedrooms, bathrooms and cars. When I contemplate this situation, it is surreal. Everyday life requires we consciously behave as if unconscious of future ramifications. Economic growth dominates social policy and distracts attention from the need to redistribute wealth, halve consumption and burn less fossil fuels.
The Australian government, in maintaining infrastructure suited to burning fossil fuels, fails to acknowledge that degradation of the environment is a corollary to economic activity and energy consumption. Gross National Product is still regarded as the primary indication of our nation’s health. Production and consumption occur in a closed system that cycles forever, without limits.
Our own success as a species is still the biggest threat we face. Like melted silver on the sea, current environmental policy escapes us.
Mann, Charles. ‘Lynn Margulis: Science’s Unruly Earth Mother’. Science. vol. 252. 1991: 378 – 381. Print.