What is Nature?

At the Material Xperience conference in Amsterdam, Attention employees attended a fascinating lecture held by Dr Koert van Mensvoort. Dr Koert is currently the head of the Next Nature Lab at the Eindhoven University of Technology, a lab that is working to shift the notion of what ‘nature’ actually is.

majic meat balls
“Thanks to Meat Powder, we can transcend our barbaric impulses and history of animal cruelty. Meat Powder is a straightforward form of in vitro meat that provides the proteins you need” http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/meat-the-future-cookbook

This goal may seem strange, after all, you can find ‘nature’ defined in the dictionary as: the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities. But maybe the dictionary needs an update?

Today, the impact that mankind has had on the earth is evident everywhere you look. Issues such as climate change, mass-urbanization, and genetically modified food production, are regularly discussed, and many people are working to improve how we interact with nature. What very few have done, however, is question what ‘nature’ entails.

Koert himself strives, with all of his work, to investigate and stimulate discussion about the co-evolutionary relationship between humans and technology. He argues that the current definition of nature is ‘static’, ‘naive’, and although technology and nature (or culture and nature) are often considered to be opposites, there now exist certain cases where they unite, or even reverse their traditional definitions. Nature is evolving along with us! We are living in a time where the “made” and the “born” are fusing.

‘Next Nature” is the term used by the Next Nature Lab to define the nature caused by people; or culturally emerged nature. When culture functions like nature, it becomes “next nature”.

Some examples of this are:

  • The global economy being (largely) controlled by autonomous computer algorithms.
  • Many people can identify more corporate logos than species of plants or animals.
  • One might remark that a flower smells like a shampoo, rather than the shampoo smelling like a flower.
  • Cell phones act as a natural extension of your body and identity.

leavesandlogos2-530x382

Research fields such as nanotechnology, tissue engineering, social software, genetic manipulation, ambient intelligence, etc., are directly related to this concept of “next nature”. In the future, they will force us to re-consider what is ‘natural’, and what is ethically accepted.

How is our relation with nature changing? What we will we leave for the future? Koert explores these questions metaphorically through his projects in an attempt to stimulate discussion.

One of the most interesting projects was the Rayfish Footwear project, where Koert and his team set up a fictional online company that sold shoes made of ‘genetically modified stingray skin’. They received various types of feedback from the media and customers, which cumulated with a break-in to their production facility by animal rights activists. It was finally revealed that the project was a fake, but the discussion that it generated around genetically-modified products was 100% real.

rayfish

To read more about Koert and his projects, visit his personal website:

http://www.koert.com/home/index.php

To watch Koert speak about ‘next nature’ check out this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDbasRTyzmE

The Next Nature homepage can be found here:

http://www.nextnature.net/

And if you want to grow your own Rayfish Sneaker, click below:

http://www.rayfish.com/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s