A Reflective, Ghostly Memoir Of The Burning Paraná Delta
Words MARYAM ARSHAD
Humedal (Wetlands), 2020.
Hand and machine sewn tea and mate bags, thread, natural dye, green ftalo, watercolor and charcoal.
Artwork developed in collaboration with Mexican curator and researcher Tania Puente.
The Paraná Delta region was on fire. With it a diverse wetland ecosystem, native species, billowing endless smoke, and a river that was at its lowest point in decades. For Fernanda Rege, who is based in one of the several islands in the delta region, the unparalleled changes that were unfolding became unavoidable. “Endangering the wetlands turned nature into a political subject.”, she says.
As the fires consumed the delta for months on end without a pause, those who were closeby faced these changes and damaging consequences. It became apparent that the fires were likely a culmination of the capitalising actions of illegal hunters, cattle ranchers and exploiting developers. The arid climate and dried up Paraná river had only exacerbated these actions. 8,024 fires that had been recorded, a scale that made it almost impossible to control. Rege concurs that uncertainty, lack of legislation, and exploitation from agriculture and cattle-dominating interests mean that the Paraná Delta region is delicate and at risk.
So the grieving process slowly began. Moving away from Western modern cartography and reflecting on advances in biotech within agriculture to boost crop yields, Humedal (Wetlands) is ever moving and naturally occurring. In mapping out the devastated place by the river, it then “reveals itself with the sole purpose of echoing its shape in the present: a wetland that, without collective care, might be close to disappearing under the flames.”
Humedal is a work exuding reflection, transgression and the natural. Used tea and mate bags are intricately interwoven to create a patchwork, adapting and merging to detail the delta and river in its complexity. The colour variances come from their own independent dyes released post-treatment, alongside the superficial painting with natural dyes, watercolours and charcoal by Rege. Stemming from deeper thinking, the base materials reflect on consumerism, corporate exploitation and waste. In doing so, where these sachets were hand and machine-stitched over a period of several months, the collective work “shapes a new measure of time, as well as a space where there is no place for waste. With this action, I sought to integrate the cyclical flow of the river and show the fragility of nature with a similar fragile material.”
The grieving process continued. In assembling the work, mapping the region and merging the materials, the only definition of time is through the colour changes across the stitched sachets. An arduous process that became ritual-like for Rege, from emptying and drying the sachets to delicately stitching each one by one. In each stage, it was the material speaking for itself, as Rege would pay attention to the needs of the sachets across the process. Resembling a river, crop fields and a delicate ecosystem, Humedal is awakening.
Just as Rege-living alongside the Paraná-witnessed its cycles, downspout and surrounding life, we see it too. She hopes the work will stir up questions on wetlands, a piece that embodies a complex and rich region of Argentina. She notes that cartography to her is mapping a place for every being to live and not one which imposes control or authority, found traditionally in Western mapping. Humedal is an insight, a personal reflection and a question, forcing us to think about a place in a new cyclical light. How does one element interact with the other? Is there a start and an end? Is the place how we see it or how other living things see it?
Rege is focused on “understanding nature as a political subject, as well as the right we all have to live together, humans and non-humans, in this world.” Even when the work is looked at in its simplest form, the material chosen is a result of a vast number of people and points in time. Where and who did the tea bag come from? It creates an intimacy that pours out of the work, and details the perspective of the artist effortlessly.
So it is a memoir, and a bereavement process which visually traces the loss. 90,000 hectares of the Paraná delta region were lost to the fires. The ash and smoke blurred vision across surrounding regions. With no legal implications of the burning, the delicate region home to the Paraná river, will be in constant threat. Humedal emphasises the fragility, richness and uniqueness of the delta and its encompassing elements. Rege’s intense and multi-layered work reflects on the fires and their devastating permanent changes to her surroundings. The haunting and saddening nature behind the work makes it that much more meaningful. Raging fires contrast intricate hand-sewing over a period of several months. In the same manner, the ferocity of the burning contrasts the delicate nature of the work, and yet behind both emerges the harm caused by capitalist exploitations, increased fragility and nature as a place of contestation.
Fernanda Rege is an artist rooted in her practice which comments on, explores and engages critically with social and cultural issues. In seeing nature as a political subject, Humedal (Wetlands) stands out as a work posing questions about Western cartography, control over nature and capitalist exploitation.
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