The project “New Nature” is exploring the concepts and ideas of metamodernism philosophy. The term “metamodernism” was coined in 2010 by Dutch philosophers Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. Metamodernism reinterprets the classical concepts of romanticism and resurrects interest to the search of the universal truth. Metamodernism is the philosophy built on the idea of reconstructing hope and optimism after the the era of postmodernism.
Metamodernism uses a range of aspects from the postmodern culture, such as method of deconstruction, irony and stylization. In other words, metamodernism is striving to unite the cultures of modernism and postmodernism. Swaying between these two cultures becomes a distinctive feature of postmodernism.
Another key aspect of the metamodernism philosophy is the creation of virtual reality by means of technological progress. For a long time these technologies have rested in the framework of replication and iterating. Today self-developing and learning programs appear, and technologies cease to be fully synthetic and acquire alive features.
In this world, flora and fauna are substituted with the digital. The “New Nature”, as metamodernists call it, is a fundamentally new environment, which is not simulating the existing real one, but is developing in its own fashion, creating new “live forms”. Constant renewal, onward movement and broadening of knowledge frontiers are intrinsic to the virtual environment. Technologies should be perceived as “a plant landscape” that shapes the climate and stability of the virtual world.
The philosophy of metamodernism has produced a number of terms to describe the contemporary environment. Oscillation is the sway between extremities. According to Robin van den Akker, “the oscillation of society and personality can be compared with a swing of pendulum that, having reached one end, accelerates toward the other, thereby ensuring the continuous movement and renewal”. Thus, metamodernism joins irony and pragmatism of postmodernism with sincerity of romanticism, rational with irrational. Despite the paradoxical combination of opposite terms and phenomena, oscillation becomes a source of onward motion and of attaining a new level of perceiving reality.
The project “New Nature” seeks to explore oscillation between nature and synthetical character of the contemporary world. It fuses together vegetation and natural forms with digital processing. The diversity of the natural world mixes with computer technology based on reiteration, bringing forth virtual reality that balances between life and death. This environment is able to incorporate both spirituality and progress and to reach balance between human controversies.
Metamodernism emphasizes that synthesis of science and art is required, adopting the very term “oscillation” from the scientific nomenclature. Plant exhibit oscillation in a form of circadian rhythm (the changes in the molecule concentrations due to day and night alternation). It enables a living organism to keep balance between daytime and night-time. The hidden molecular mechanism allows a plant to develop and forge onward for many years. Similar oscillatory processes are also observed in the human world: the alternation of economic crises, wars, migration waves and ecological changes. These processes, forming the present-day climate, are subject to artistic analysis in the project.
Moreover, metamodernism is striving to revive the romantic belief in the transcendental, the eternal and the highest. The aesthetic of romanticism is revived and reframed, along with the its symbolic range. The essential symbol of romanticism is flowers and nature. Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann compares music with the “elevating song of trees and flowers”, while Philippe Edouard Leon van Tieghem writes that “romantic poetry identifies itself with nature, being one of its most prominent and vivid discoveries”.
Metamodernism is inspired by the philosophy of romanticism representatives such as Schlegel and Novalis. Mysticism and desire to look into the essence of a human soul become especially relevant. The goal of the contemporary romanticism is the knowledge “about the infinite diversity of the world”, including the inner world of a human being and the virtual nature they build. Guided by the principle of oscillation and the mysticism of romanticism, the project transforms the vegetative objects into hallucinations, keeping the balance between the rational world of technologies and the irrational world of human’s unconscious, and creating the unstable state which reflects the atmosphere of the present. The paradoxical blend of real and unreal, modern and postmodern, allows to look beyond the boundaries of current knowledge and to turn to the search for the answer about the purpose of life.
In the project, the concept of atmosphere is explored as the environment of the new nature. In terms of natural sciences, the atmosphere accounts for the gaseous mantle of the planet. The aerial transfer of gases is indigenous to the atmosphere, so it constantly moves and changes in spite of the seeming overall stability. Scientists hold that the very changes in the atmosphere, such as the change in the gas composition or temperature rise, can lead to flooding of cities and islands, species extinctions and need for human migration. The project examines these phenomena, highlighting the unnatural characters of ongoing process and the necessity to find a collective response to the global problem.
The term “atmosphere” was introduced by a German philosopher Gernot Böhme. He interprets is as “experience before acknowledgement”. Böhme believes that every perceived object possesses an individual atmosphere, which is constituted not by distinct elements of the object but only by the assembly of the elements. The atmosphere of the object enables to conceive the highest transcendental essentiality, described by such romanticist as Arthur Schopenhauer. According to the philosopher, the aesthetic experience takes place when a human perceives an object, however, comprehending not the object itself, but its platonic idea. The human can lose themselves in the perceived object for a short period of time and can escape the vicious circle of routine. In the metamodernism framework, this thought transforms into the idea of creating an individual virtual environment, which is shaped by a human while perсeiving the the outer and the inner worlds.
The concept of the project centers around the research of postmodernism manifesto produced by artist Luke Turner. Each of its points is addressed in the project, giving the opportunity to erect a visual manifesto of metamodernism. The works are presented in the form of photographs and three films. The first one is devoted to the theme of death and uses the images of mushrooms. The second film explores life through flower symbols. The third is dedicated to the Absolute and involves the representation of the Heavens.
1. Oscillation “We admit that oscillation is a natural order of the world”
Oscillation is an indispensable prerequisite for the onward movement in the world of metamodernism. Oscillation occurs between the opposite events or concepts. Striving to put together inside oneself all sorts of opposites, a human gains spiritual experience. The human society oscillates among various values and strivings, and it is the natural state of the Universe, require to move toward the Absolute.
The distortion of flower stems and tree trunks becomes the crucial visual representation of the oscillation concept. Objects meant to stay motionless and inflexible become nimble and pliant in the virtual world, laying stress on the role of vacillation in the contemporary world. The diverging circles and zigzags, as if produced by stone thrown into water, also symbolise the never ending increase in oscillations. Having started in one place, the changes affect more and more space, making the image vibrate.
The first two videos represent the idea of oscillation through the cycles of life and death in vegetative object, such as mushrooms and flowers. In romanticism culture, these images constitute the two extremes: mushrooms are associated with death, while flowers symbolise life. Mushrooms are organism that live close to the ground and feed on dead remains. Therefore, since ancient times mushrooms have been linked to death and magic. For instance, the mushroom circles in the forest are called fairy-rings. It is thought that whoever enters this circle dies. Death has always been linked with irrational, inexplicable and magical. Death is the path to surpass the limits of human mind. In contrast, flowers represent life. Flower is a reproductive organ of a plant, a part, in which feminine and masculine merge and give a new life. In comparison with death, life can be comprehended through senses, visual or tactile. Life has a rational beginning and is, therefore, set against death. Symbolising birth and death, flowers and mushrooms define the scope of existence, in which human develops and moves.
The oscillation of a human life between two states, the real living and the irrational death, leads them to the Truth that lies beyond consciousness. This Truth is explored in the third video. The work alludes to the images of the sky and clouds , which have always been identified with the Heavens, and captures the atmosphere of the Absolute. This atmosphere includes the idea of the endless development and movement that let a human hold down the sky and approach the Highest. The project shows the image of the sky as a symbol of the world of the Absolute that can not be perceived, for it is outside the abilities of human rationality. The air currents become attainable, if one “breaks away from the ground” and combines the material perception with a more irrational one.
2. Liberation from intertness. “We need to break from inertness”
A human of metamodern must be in constant movement and search. Inertia and pessimism intrinsic to postmodernism is rejected and replaced with dynamic action aimed at finding the truth. Having rejected inertness, humans find themselves in constant movement.
The works are inflated with neon images, symbolising speed, and bright colour swings, illustrating the rebirth of reality. The plants in the works are intertwined, reaching upwards and alluding to idea of development. The plants fill the photograph completely, displacing motionless space and destroying inertness.
3. Pulsating polarities. “The movement must be made by means of oscillation between positions of diametrically opposite ideas, like the pulsating polarities”
Diversity and controversy become a source of inspiration of a metamodern human. The polar phenomena are perceived and conjoined to obtain an absolutely new formation. The choice of a one whole position or preference becomes impossible. The contemporary reality demand combination of good and evil in order to create a unique personality of the new nature.
This idea is visualized in the project by means of combining abstract works with those, in which the objects are distinguishable. The contraposition of these visual forms equals to opposition of rational and irrational ways of thinking, between which the human consciousness oscillates.
The first and the second videos devoted to plants and mushrooms show the germ of life as well as death to illustrate the idea of “pulsating polarities”. The two extreme constantly replace each other in the succession of frames and coalesce. The culture of neo romanticism extols death, its mystical charm and something that awaits a human after life. At the same time neo romanticism glorifies the live energy and creation. The two polarities, life and death, are joined together in the worldview of a contemporary human, giving an opportunity to keep a balance between the two worlds, reason and and phantasy.
4. Boundaries. “We acknowledge the boundaries intrinsic to any movement and experience, and the futility of attempts to surpass the established boundaries”
Metamodernism realises that it acts with the limits that are inherent in any experience and movement. They serve not as a limitation to act, but as a frontier that needs to be surpassed. The essence of understanding the being lies beyond the boundaries of human experience.
The works in the project seek to investigate what dwells across the limitations of knowing. The mysticism of colour and its reflection adds a supernatural meaning to the project, yet does not deprive it of habitual images of the world cyclicism.
5. Differences. “The pinnacle of the artistic influence is the experience of differences in oneself”
The perception of differences is essential to understanding boundaries and polarities, in which the metamodernist society exists. The acceptance of differences and the strive towards them are a required condition of metamodernism. The plurality plays a significant role both in society development and in the soul of an individual human. The acknowledgment of inner controversies will enable humanity to overcome them through unification of polarities.
The recognition of one’s evils and virtues makes a human wiser and more ethical. Their combination creates a new mystical nature that allows to go outside the limits of routine and ordinariness. It is the struggle between good and evil that overcomes the barrier of banality and temporality.
In videos one and two, the ideas of diversity enabling to break the routine, are expressed in the variety of vegetative forms whose life and death are illustrated. Despite the fact that the beginning and the end of the life journey is the same, mushrooms and plants are capable of taking on dozens of various forms during their short lives. The diversity encapsulated in every organism embodies itself depending on the environmental conditions: changeability becomes the foundation of life and defines survival.
6. Technologies. “Contemporary technologies allow to experience and conceive events from different perspectives at the same time”
The technological progress, despite its effect on environment, opens new avenues for a human being. Virtual reality created with the help of the Internet, turns into a platform in which polarities meet to exchange experience and search for truth together.
The technogenic new nature illustrated in endless copies of images and their reflections highlights the atmosphere of space and the interdependence of subjects. It gives a feeling of zero-gravity condition, referring to the human dream about flight and symbolising the creative power of progress capable of surpassing limitations of the human body with the help of technologies.
7. Search for truth. “As science aims for poetic elegance, artists could take upon themselves the search for truth”
The final result of the metamodernism art is the discovery of truth that is hidden beyond the scope of reality and that constitutes the universal answers to the questions of being. Even if this truth is unattainable, the search for truth fosters the cultural development.
The image of the spiral in the project is conceived as the symbol of the spirit ascending to the Absolute. It has been noted by ancient civilizations that “the spiral joins together the shape of a circle/sphere and the movement impulse; it unites the symbolism of the cyclical and incremental movements”
The sphere is the symbol of ideal and truth. Regardless of line of sight, it retains the very same shape, conjoins all other shapes, does not have boundaries and is not subject to distortion. The spiral symbolizes the world of ideas, which the consciousness approaches in the new nature.
The desire to perceive the unknown is exercised with the boundaries of communication line between reality and the new nature, the one that encapsulates the truth of being. The lines of communication in the third video of the project tak on the form of air tracks. The search for truth is happening against the background of endless sky. Using the spiritual streams, a personality is capable of gaining insight into the deepest essence of being and touch the absolute truth.
8. Pragmatic romanticism. “We suggest pragmatic romanticism, free from ideological fixing. Thus, metamodernism means a mobile state between and beyond the boundaries of irony and sincerity”
The wish to find the universal truth was an essential aspect of the romanticism philosophy. Metamodernists too are sure in the necessity of the search for truth in order to develop, however, this search takes place within the framework of postmodernist scepticism that the truth may never be found. This notion makes neo romanticism more pragmatic in comparison with predecessors, but does not deny the role that the search for the Absolute plays in the broadening the limitation of human perception.
The attempt to combine in a single space the landscape of unusual distorted vegetative forms alludes to romanticism. Landscape images used to be an important genre in the romanticism epoch, since they illustrated nature a whole living organism. The project is doing the same, presenting the contemporary virtual reality as a complex of all kinds of forms, parts of the eternity of the Absolute, reality that can not be fully understood.
Oscillation in the project occurs between the computer reality, in which the photographs were created, and the nature, which form the basis of the pictures. The oscillation between life and death takes place. This movement allows to project the abstract world of visions and mysticism, which serve as conductors in the search for answers to the questions.
The philosophy of metamodernism has embodied the ideals of modern, postmodernism and become a fundamentally new philosophy reflecting the world of technological progress we are living in. The project “New Nature” is an attempt to create a symbol of contemporary society that oscillates between death and progress, life and death and strives to find truth and the backbone of consciousness.
The project captures the atmosphere of changes and progressive aspiration which transform the surrounding world and constitute a part of human’s reality. It is yet to be discovered whether the new nature, born in oscillations between polarities, is the source of new гevelations and achievements in the eternal search for truth of life.