• Living Landscapes
    To rewild the western mind Arita Baaijens looks for ancient narratives that matter in the modern world
  • The Landscape Speaks
    Summer 2016 Arita Baaijens brought together scientists and native inhabitants in the sacred Karakol valley in Siberia. The team surveyed and mapped the seen and unseen qualities and values of the valley
  • The Mountain Speaks
    Winter 2016/17 Arita Baaijens joined a tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea to learn about traditional ways of knowing&understanding nature

Living Landscapes

Thirty years of exploration in wild places taught me that the separation between man and nature is an idea that exists in the western mind only. Nature is not ‘out there’, we are part of it. During my travels I was struck by the intimate way herders and nomadic people relate to the natural environment. Land in those marginal regions has spirit, contains memories and is venerated because she nourishes all living beings. In my part of the world we’ve lost touch with nature. We treat the earth like a warehouse of materials for us to use and enjoy without constraint. To reverse the trend I visit cultures that live closer to nature and look for narratives that contain wisdom that is relevant for the 21st century. Yep, quite a challenge in a hi-tech and data driven era called the Anthropocene, but a cross pollination of traditional knowledge, science and technology can lead to new ideas and innovative solutions. Four projects are presented below.

“On the edge of what we know, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.

Carlo Rovelli, physicist

I-The Landscape Speaks

Rivers and mountains sing in the Altai Mountains in the heart of Central Asia. Native inhabitants believe that everything in nature has spirit and is alive. A principal goal of the pilot field study The Landscape Speaks in Siberia (August 2016) is to establish a dialogue between local communities and policy makers about the value and preservation of living landscapes, landscapes that are essential to the survival of the Altai indigenous culture. Summer 2016 the pilot brought together the sciences, traditional knowledge and the arts to document the seen and unseen qualities of the sacred Karakol Valley in the Altai Republic (Siberia). The team collected and mapped information about flora, fauna, places of power, memories, stories and mythology. The maps the team has made are being processed into a multi-layered digital map that will become freely available on this website. You are welcome to read more and check the image gallery for photo’s of the fieldwork week, see next column.
The Landscape Speaks is an initiative of Arita Baaijens in cooperation with Slow Research Lab.

Background The Landscape Speaks
During my many travels and explorations in Siberia the biologist in me wondered: If science rejects the notion of animated nature while inhabitants deeply ascribe special powers to their land, does the rejection underscore the limitations of science or does it imply that people who revere nature and spirits live in a fantasy world?
Guided by the writings of anthropologist Wade Davis I discovered that Science offers one way of knowing the world we live in. Other cultures offer other ways of knowing and so reality can take on many forms. In the epilogue of my book Looking for Paradise (Atlas Contact, 2016) I conclude that, ultimately, it does not matter whether or not nature is animated. What matters is which version of the story we believe in and how our society responds to our belief. A child growing up in a culture that believes that the forest has a self or soul, will grow old together with the forest. A child who looks at the trees as lumber or future firewood, a utilitarian view, will see that forest being cut down during her lifetime.

Initiating the pilot The landscape Speaks is my way of saying Thank You to the Altaian people, who showed me that Land indeed has spirit and that we don’t need dogma’s or hi tech solutions to solve ecological problems. A nature-inclusive Narrative is what it takes. Which is perfectly illustrated by three groundrules that summarize the Altaian worldview: Only do the things that have meaning, only take what you need, everything happens in it’s own time.

Discover more about the project: Free booklet (pdf) with deep maps available upon request. Read the field report and see the image gallery.

A special thanks to Danil Mamyev (founder of Uch Enmek Nature Park, Altai Republic), Bas Pedroli (Alterra, University Wageningen), Wayne Poulsen (consultant cultural projects), Marjolijn Boterenbrood (artist) and Carolyn Strauss (director Slow Research Lab).

II-Mindscapes

Can virtual reality rekindle our inborn love for nature? Arita Baaijens believes so. Mindscapes is a pilot virtual reality film about the Irish landscape as seen through the eyes of two Irish farmers to whom the land means so much more than soil, grass and profit. Producer is We Make VR, a pioneer in the field. Sponsor logistics: Extreme Ireland.

Watch our 1 min clip The making of Mindscapes here. The VR film Mindscapes is available as a free download at the WeMakeVR website.

III-The Mountain Speaks

The Mountain Speaks is the third initiative of Living Landscapes.

Winter 2016/17 Arita Baaijens joined the Soabesi, a clan of hunters in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Bosavi area, to learn about traditional ways of knowing, experiencing and understanding the natural environment. Mount Bosavi is a volcano considered sacred by the indigenous peoples. Although parts of the Mount Bosavi area are at present officially protected, extracting companies are moving into the area and their activities are a threat to both the natural biodiversity of the land and the diversity of the autonomous indigenous cultures. Arita will spend two months with the Soabesi tribe to observe how the complexity of the volcano’s unique ecosystem has influenced the tribe’s culture and worldview. To observe means to actively use all the senses, not ask too many questions, and to be alert and open minded. What does nature teach the Soabesi? What values do clan-members pass on to their children? How does the environment effect their culture and what can we learn from them?

Read the field report of this incredible journey. A follow up is in the making.

Yael Yekogian, Managing Director WINGS WorldQuest. “Arita will give voice to the unchartable with her unique method of dissecting and layering all of the critical elements that make up a culture.”
Arita Baaijens received the Women of Discovery Humanity Award 2014 for her research and is now a WINGS fellow. She carried the WINGS flag twice. The WorldQuest flag is recognized as a symbol of excellence in discovery and knowledge, and certifies the significance of its carrier’s endeavor.

Once in her life a woman ought to concentrate her mind upon the remembered earth.

Scott Momaday (I took the liberty to change the gender)

IV-Paradijs in de Polder

Place and Perception – Never thought that I would start a project in the Low Lands to rewild the Dutch mind! But readers demanded I do something to turn the tide. About 75% of our insect population has disappeared. Spring is way too silent because birds lack food and shelter. The country side is a cluttered mess, farming became big business, soil is a commodity, nature or what’s left of it is meant to be a pleasant experience, child friendly. No mud, please. In short: the soul has disappeared from the landscape of my youth. Recently the Dutch coined a word to express the feeling of grief and loss: Landschapspijn, which might translate as ‘landscape ache’.

For this project I teamed up with Jelle Troelstra (environmentalist, researcher, coordinator of the research program) and Mieke Prinse (project manager, specialist Art and Landscape productions).

Mission: Rewild the Dutch mind; Bring back wonderment in the public discours about nature and landscape; Revitalize the connection between the Dutch and their landscape; develop a methodology and a new lexicon to express ‘chora’ or the deeply felt meaning of a place or landscape; Create deep maps that express the non-tangible aspects of landscape.

Activities:
-Paradijs in de Polder, what landscape tells us. A manual. Arita Baaijens (2018, Atlas Contact publishers, Amsterdam)
-Research zone: citizens are invited to sense places in the landscape. The project collects the experiences, analyses the data and visualizes the result in deep maps
-Research atelier for professionals to test deep mapping
-Seminar to share findings and decide on follow up research projects

If you read Dutch you are welcome to visit our Facebook page and website.

Stay tuned!

Living Landscape Foundation
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Board: Ruud Maarschall (president) -
Willem Totté (secretary/treasurer)
Founder Director: Arita Baaijens
KvK: 70523134 
Bank account:
NL32 TRIO 0338 8426 75