As you read these lines, the Amazons Rainforest keeps on burning. During the month of August 2018, the news spread fast over social media platforms. Hashtags such as #wildfires #AmazonFires #SaveTheAmazons made their trends for not more than seven days. Other trends rapidly covered #AmazonFires trends. Approximately one million hectares of high biodiversity forests have been burned so far since the #AmazonFires started. Almost 20% of the Amazon rainforest has been devastated. Reports from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) show that in the first seven months of 2019, the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 278%. Experts estimate that it would take 200 years for those forests to regenerate.
We witness environmental movements rising all over the globe; citizens are demanding governments to act against global warming, demanding the protection of the species from their imminent extinction. We witness fires rising in different parts of the globe, the poles melting at an exponential speed, and yet, our lifestyles are entirely dependant on the commodities that, in its majority, are the causes of the massive destruction of the Planet. We have created a way of living that is entirely dependant on the extraction of resources from the Earth. As Europeans, we claim for a green deal, but do we understand the consequences that the production of Biodiesel has for the rainforests? When we support electric cars, are we conscious of the amounts of lithium needed to produce the batteries that sustain these systems? From where is this lithium coming, and what are the environmental and social consequences of its extraction? What is the relationship between our daily goods and the ecosystems that provide them?
Amazonia is the largest and most diverse rain forest in the world; the territory occupies 7.8 million km2 and is home to 33 million people and thousands of species. Among its many functions is helping the region - and the entire Planet - to balance the climate, distribute the rains and capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), a crucial role to mitigate the effects of climate change. However, deforestation rates in the nine Amazonian countries continue to rise.
The public policies defined by the nine countries that constitute the Amazons Basin differ from one and other, precluding the management of the territory as an entire ecosystem and limiting cooperation mechanisms. Moreover, there is a persistent view of Amazonia as a remote territory able to provide infinite natural resources with a demographic gap open to new forms of agriculture and extractive colonisation. This view has become more complex over the last 50 years with the new ways in which the region has been integrated into national and international economies. The Amazons Rainforest is considered at a national level as a territory capable of ensuring energy sovereignty and as a source of income based on the production and commercialisation of raw materials. At the global level, the region is a provider for significant quantities of commodities, while in parallel seen as the most important source of fresh water and biodiversity, as a regulator of the Planet's climate and as a carbon sink for large quantities of greenhouse gases.
The Ríos Trilogy is an installation project based on the Amazon Rainforest territory1, understood from a local and global perspective. The project explores the relationship between language and the construction and definitions of territory (from the western perspective). The trilogy proposes a lecture of Amazonia based on observation and analysis of metadata - hashtags from social media2, combined with actual geo-reference data related to socio-environmental threats the territory undergoes.
Ríos explores visual representations, speculative cartographies that rise from the process of hybridisation of Amazonia related data.
On the one hand, this project emanates from the intention to analyse how language on social media can be used to diagnose socio-economical, political, and environmental issues, in this case, related to the Amazons Rainforest. On the other hand, the work intends to question the global and local environmental policies by highlighting the fundamental problematics associated with the chain of extractivism and the commercialisation of commodities. And how these problems are linked directly to our daily consumption products.
In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of tropical deforestation associated with international trade, totalling 203,000 hectares and 116 million tonnes of carbon – more than India (9%), the US (7%) and Japan (5%), and exceeded only by China (24%). Between 2005-2017, soy, palm oil and beef were the commodities with the largest embedded tropical deforestation imported into the EU, followed by wood products, cocoa and coffee.
During this period, the largest EU economies – Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Poland – were responsible for 80% of the EU's embedded deforestation through their use of forest-risk commodities.3
Climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the most critical challenges that we have to address during this century; to face them requires economic models that prioritise the protection of nature. As societies and as individuals, we should walk towards the possibilities of creating harmony, connecting with the thought of interdependent environmental systems. To understand the diversity of life and landscapes that have remained preserved in the Amazons, it is necessary to recognise the role of indigenous peoples in protecting their territories through their traditions and knowledge. These territories currently occupy 27.5% of the Amazon, that is, 2.3 million km2. There are 410 indigenous groups living there, of which 82 are in voluntary isolation and have not been contacted by other peoples or societies4. Ancestrally, Indigenous Peoples have coexisted with the Amazons Forest in a balance that allows the ecosystems to remain in conditions close to what corresponds to their natural evolution. The extractivist practices operating in the region equally endanger their survival condition.
Amazonia is an unquantifiable ecosystem, indispensable for maintaining Earth's balance. Further than my artistic intentions, I wish to reach into the world through this production, making visible the existing threads that the Amazons Rainforest undergoes and the importance of creating an assertive movement towards its preservation.
The Ríos trilogy is composed of three chapters: Chapter I: RIVERS // AMAZONIA geo-linguistics online application Chapter II: RÍOS // sculpture series based on the nineteen major sub-basins of the amazons Chapter III: RE/VERSE - VR
1 The Amazon rainforest is part of South America drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries. It is the largest tropical wilderness in the world, the most biologically diverse place on Earth. It is located in the countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela, and French Guyana.
2 Principally Twitter
4 Atlas Amazonía Bajo Presión, pag.13, 2020. RAISG https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/es/publicacion/amazonia-bajo-presion-2020/
- GIS analyst, Gabriel Codreanu
- Rivers//Amazonia geo-linguistics software, in collaboration with Gijs de Heij
- 3D sculpting, Geert Melis
- Porcelain advisor, Eve Vaucheret
- Text corrections and translations, Anne Vereecken, Natalia Valencia Arango
- Shared research & talking-listening, Joachim Devillé
- GIS + 3D work // 3D printing, Laura Colmenares Guerra
- Conception, direction, production, Laura Colmenares Guerra