Paradise, Promises and Perplexities
Cover Story, February 2018
This month marks ten years since the opening of Greenwashing, curated by Latitudes and Ilaria Bonacossa. Subtitled Environment: Perils, Promises and Perplexities, this exhibition at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, addressed the melding of corporate agendas and individual ethics in the wake of the exhaustion of traditional environmentalism.
One of the twenty-five artists featured in the exhibition, Sergio Vega has frequently engaged in interdisciplinary research around the notion and location of paradise. Following the writings of 16th and 17th-century historian-explorers such as Antonio de León Pinelo, Sergio has traced how the imaginary life and iconography of Judeo-Christian religions was nourished. The locus of the ultimately pleasurable yet lost paradise was traditionally located in the so-called New World, more or less at the centre of the South American continent, in the vast area today encompassing the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.
Paradise on Fire (2007) comprised a video shot by Sergio in the Chiquitano dry forests, a biologically rich eco-region which straddles the Brazil-Bolivia border. A companion series of photographs taken near the city of Alta Floresta were also included in Greenwashing, one of which is seen here. In these areas, swathes of virgin forest had been recently burnt to grow soy, sugar cane, cotton and to ranch cattle. Gas pipeline corridors built by multinational energy companies, such as Enron and Shell, had cut through the ancestral lands of indigenous family farming communities. The ‘garden of Eden’ was an increasingly industrialised landscape wrecked by power and material demand, and, in the bitterest of ironies, driven by the growing biofuel market.
This photograph record the distressingly beautiful visual side-effects of this unrestricted destruction. In the words of the artist—who has also featured in Latitudes projects in the context of the 2007 Sharjah Biennial, the journal UOVO, and The Last Newspaper—“the images propose a rather perverse aesthetic pleasure (versus the romantic and sublime appreciation of nature). Here we see clouds of smoke against the light and the silhouette of trees and plants appearing and disappearing ambiguously, as if it were the morning mist in the creation of Eden. The only difference is that this time, the mist has blue and red tones, if you look carefully you will see branches and trunks smouldering. What appears to be dirt attached to the negative is in fact burning leaves that blew with the smoke and turned into cinders. The photos show a landscape where the vegetation acquires the phantom and metaphorical presence of its own disappearance.”