I put a capital N on Nature, and call it my Church.
Frank Lloyd Wright, 1957
The global events of recent years have highlighted the serious consequences of the systemic crisis of neoliberal capitalism and revealed the exhaustion of traditional philosophy in meeting the challenges of the new reality.
The continuous and radical changes caused by specific human activities in nature are having such devastating and dizzying effects on the planet’s climate and biodiversity that they have prompted a rethinking of the existing geological time scale. Considering mankind’s far-reaching impact on the environment as a unique geological force, the Anthropocene is defined as a new epoch that is supposed to follow the Holocene. Although the term is still debated and awaits acceptance, its limited understanding of the extent of human impact on the environment is already outdated. Rapid technological progress, the explosive growth of the world’s population and the mass production and consumption of goods have revealed the pervasive effects of political and economic power relations and inequalities under global capitalism. These unprecedented circumstances, also referred to as the Capitalocene, are characterised by social stratification and existential insecurity, compounded by a sense of threat from the deliberate distortion of facts in a post-truth era. They have made even more evident the inescapable need for fundamental change in our relationships with each other and the world, and ultimately a reassessment of our relationship with the natural environment.
In creating this unique apocalyptic landscape, where social crises are intertwined with ecological catastrophe, we cannot ignore the many inequalities, forms of violence and migration processes that make the current scenario complex, causing difficulty in understanding clearly and precisely what we are facing. It is therefore not surprising that the desire for a return to nature is resurgent. This return need not necessarily manifest itself in the adoption of rural life and customs as opposed to the supposed sophistication of the urban pulse but is rather a conscious retreat from artificiality, the oversaturation of material goods and a way of establishing a genuine relationship with nature.
Bruno Latour, an emblematic figure in the world of ideas and ecological thought, has said that the expression “natural religion” is a pleonasm. The original forms of belief were based on the conviction that nature was sacred, but it did not have the character of the supernatural. Western definitions of nature relied heavily on theology, thus equating the two main concepts of this semantic puzzle. In contrast to any kind of positive religion based on normatively defined cults, natural religion reveals that the problem of this binomial lies not in the definition of religion and its governing codes, but in the impossibility of defining the concept of nature. The latter, with its immensity, opens up the possibility of ascribing to it a greater spiritual dimension than that which religion limits exclusively to intimate and individual experience.
In search of evidence for this external spirituality, the idea arose in ancient Greece that the universe might follow a complex equation in which there are patterns of energy that create and unify everything that exists. These artificial schemes were based on geometric forms to which a spiritual meaning was attached (Jaka Babnik, Sacred Geometry) and which were supposed to explain the origin of the universe according to a mathematical blueprint reflected in nature, thus confirming nature’s status as a theological, divine creation. This rational approach was intended to provide a definitive explanation for the origin of the universe, which Greek mythology had already sought to justify with the notion of a divine natural order rising from the dark abyss of chaos. The ancient Greek imaginarium thus encompassed the intervention of the divine in the human (Andrej Savski, The Mist) and served as a means of expressing human identity in nature. In this context, the metamorphoses of the gods into other species and man’s imaginary encounters with hybrid beings are a profound exercise in identification with the sacred that evokes fascination and horror in equal measure. These situations of anthropomorphic transformation, in which human characteristics were attributed to the gods, not only symbolised the human condition in all its dimensions but also revealed man’s longing to escape his own limitations (Ana Čavić, Mythopoeias).
Between mysticism and escapism arises man’s desire to reach a new dimension of spirituality through the contemplation of nature. Admiration of the grandeur and extraordinary beauty of nature becomes a transcendent and sublime experience (Urša Vidic, Crystal Sea), which, combined with the awe-inspiring energy, evokes a highly subjective emotional response in us. The expansion of the scientific understanding of the cosmos and the transcendental understanding of the world have finally annihilated nature, and the acceptance of the infinity of the universe has also changed the notion of the autonomous functioning of nature.
When the natural scientist James Lovelock presented his Gaia hypothesis in 1969, he revived the mythological name of the Greek goddess of the Earth, based on scientific paradigms. According to his hypothesis, living organisms and inorganic matter are part of a dynamic and complex system of evolution that shapes the biosphere. Further research has shown that the original hypothesis was wrong, and that self-organisation is not only linked to organic life, but to the Earth’s system as a whole. This hypothesis, which has developed into a theory, is an essential part of our intuitive conviction that the planet is alive (Marko Pogačnik, Manifesto for a Free Earth) and is itself a complex organism. It ensures its own survival through its ability to renew itself and actively change its internal structure. It is astonishing that such an important concept, increasingly present in public discourse and in many activist and spiritual movements, is still treated only marginally in conventional science.
To accept the Gaia theory is to reject the notion of a higher and preordained natural order and suggests that humanity is part of a larger system that it cannot control, while at the same time posing one of the greatest threats to the natural balance of the planet. This inevitably leads us to the question of whether it is necessary to establish a different relationship with Mother Earth (Kristina Rutar, Alma Mater), one that is not exclusively limited to human self-interest. Understanding the place of humans in nature (Urh Sobočan, Return), where there is interdependence and sometimes tension between species (Polonca Lovšin, Me and the Bear), leads us to accept our fragility and reawakens the need to reconnect with nature on a meditative level (Milan Ketiš, Art-is-a(n) mind ship).
As the dystopian scenarios of ecocide become inevitable in the context of savage capitalism dominated by the forces of economic power, human exploitation and environmental colonialism (Iva Tratnik, False God), the need to define the authentic meaning of nature becomes increasingly clear (Zmago Lenárdič and Jasna Hribernik, Three Wishes). In the search for a response to the environmental crisis, many have argued that the current ecological challenges are the result of humanity’s alienation from nature and that this complex situation can only be resolved in the context of theology and the resacralisation of nature, i.e. of reclaiming its sacred character, rediscovering the regenerative potential of nature (Tomaž Gorjup, The Light of Darkness) and adopting the myths and even the rituals of ancient spiritual traditions from a more personal perspective in order to restore the original emotional attachment to nature (Irena Tomažin, Voice roots # echo).
The exhibition Natural Faith presents artworks and interventions that have in common the integration of nature and man in a dynamic balance beyond spirituality. The works presented reveal an intimate, unique and individual relationship with nature and a particular way of knowing the world and understanding our place in nature. A new ontology comes to the fore, breaking away from the limiting foundations of natural religion and finally embracing its secular version, where our personal beliefs that we are an integral part of nature help us to re-imagine new futures of coexistence that are crucial for the preservation of our planet.