Everything is becoming something else
By Allison Rowe
“Everything is becoming something else”
I first encountered this peculiar sentence when I was ten-years-old on an ancient, sun-beached sign pinned to the wall of an outdoor education center. The text was posted alongside orientation and animal track charts, making it all the more challenging for my childhood brain to understand. As I have since learned, the sentence was lifted from the early 1970s nature education books Acclimatization and Acclimatizing by Steve Van Matre. The main aim of these publications was to present a sensorial, experiential, pedagogical framework for teaching children about ecology. As Wilson explains, “The goal is for students to become familiar with the Earth and eventually feel themselves a part of the biosphere.”
Though many of Van Matre’s concepts about the Earth have since been disproved, his sentiment, “Everything is becoming something else” rings just as evocative and true today as it did forty years ago. Everything on earth is in a continual process of change. Though some things like a ripe peach, morphs into a pile of mush all too quickly, others, like a precious stone, may take more than a millennium to form. As soon as a river takes shape its waters begin to contour new paths and our human bodies are filled with trillions of cells in a perpetual cycle of death and regeneration. Volcanoes around the planet are constantly building new landmass, as other coastlines wash away into the sea. The universe itself is in a process of expansion, and someday it will be something else too.
Yet, these natural processes of change are often dwarfed by the rapid pace with which humans are transforming the Earth. We have used grid systems to build roads and cities, dug into the ground and found ways to transform its contents into energy, and have captured the wild tendencies of plants and harnessed them to more consistently grow large volumes of consumable crops. As Buzzfeed often reports, contemporary culture moves at a breakneck pace; the toys of our childhood feel far removed from the present, and technology from even ten years ago seems impossibly slow and simple. Nowhere is the human intervention into the systems of planet more visible than the rapidly changing global climate and the consequent rise of floods, wildfires, and unpredictable weather all around the globe.
While it is easy to cast humankind as the villain in the story of the Earth, I believe it is far more productive to think back to Van Matre’s call for people to recognize their place within the systems of the planet. The exhibition System Processing provides an opportunity for such reflection through the display of artworks that make visible the complex processes of change taking place around us. Some works incite wonder, making visible the awe inspiring nature of change. Others cause pause, and make us question the cost of our actions and inactions. Above all else, these pieces remind us that everything is becoming something else, and that as the dominant planetary species at this particular moment in time, we have the unique ability to influence what that “something else” will be.
Van Matre, Steve. Acclimatization. Eagle River: Towering Pines, 1970.
Van Matre, Steve. Acclimatizing: A Personal and Reflective Approach to a Natural Relationship. Martinsville: American Camping Association, 1974.
Wilson, Alexander. The culture of nature: North American landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992.