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2024

THE WHOLE BODY IS HANDS AND EYES

the whole body is hands and eyes
vernacular design

In 1995, Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa curated an exhibition on Animal Architecture at Helsinki's Museum of Finnish Architecture, inspired by Karl von Frisch's book. In it, other species' construction prowess is contrasted with human architecture, raising relevant questions regarding ecology: in materiality, symbology, and, furthermore, in how we relate to other species, ecosystems and nature as a whole. This exhibition resulted in a book in which several examples of other species architectural choices are richly presented—including how our ancestors might have learned from other species creations, and adapted such knowledge to our own circumstances and needs. Nowadays, we have new challenges: learning from other species creations and their biology has been a fascinating focus of the discipline of biomimicry. Still, Pallasmaa’s inquiry presents deeper and pertinent questions on issues of intelligence and beauty, within humans and more than humans; our tendency to prioritise short-lived cultural trends in contrast with longer, adaptive biological processes. We can wonder how art and architecture could align with evolutionary and ecological realities, drawing from other species vernacular practices rich in adaptive skills.

10000 joys

It is with this idea of studying other species vernacular designs, accompanied by revisiting concepts on aesthetics and intelligence, that I return to Pallasmaa’s work. I am interested in a perspective where the importance of relationships for human health is central and that inquires how the relationship we have with nature plays a role in our wellbeing—and how these relationships can be nurtured through connecting with other humans, species, elements, places, and phenomena. My starting point for this series was studying the vernacular design of bivalve seashells found locally, one of the many seashores facing the effects of climate change through rising and warming seawater. Seashells have their formation threatened by ocean acidification, a process in which the carbonate calcium that makes the shells is made difficult and, in extreme situations, impossible. Clams, lobsters, crabs, corals and many other marine shell-bearing species are directly threatened by this process. Intelligence and fragility, beauty and threat—ultimately, this series makes the question between these states while holding them, tenderly and metaphorically, with the whole body.

tiny seashell
artwork

The Whole Body is Hands and Eyes is a metaphor from a Zen teaching, epitomising presence and compassion: when we’re fully aware and present, our whole body feels differently, and moves in the direction of acting with kindness and wisdom. I weaved this intention within this series: these works represent the movement of a caring dialogue with nature, of listening with the whole body while traversing the emotional landscape that defines this relationship through gratitude and reverence, compassion and awe. It unfolds in the intimate tapestry of a personal chronicle, weaving together threads of time, place and beings. An expedition towards wellbeing, flourishing interconnections and future possibilities. Extending beyond the boundaries of our mundane human experience to encompass the broader ecosystem, its essence, and reframing existing within the fundamental compositions that shape planetary health. A deliberate dance of narrative co-creation, an intentional interplay with the elements and species that have woven with me over the years, and particularly with those present in this series.

It can be challenging to connect to other species and to nature as a whole. I attribute this to contexts and habits, as children naturally exhibit an interest in and care for others, humans and more than humans alike—a behaviour widely extended throughout many traditional communities worldwide. It simply takes practice to focus and forge emotional bonds with each other. Understanding that others’ wellbeing is beneficial for our own, that we exist in a biological interdependence, and translating that into cultural practices that underline these positive outcomes for all has been both the aim and the joy of this work.

art
seashell

Know your Neighbours

Time, as the custodian of memories, unfolds in feelings of belonging, admiration and appreciation for neighbours: human and more than humans. Who live around us? What are their names, their habits, their likes and dislikes? 

 

In my childhood, I had a special neighbour: from across the street, a woman with silvered hair and kind eyes, swift fingers that enfolded in warmth was the mother of a poet and grandmother to all of us, the multiple children of her surroundings. A kinship beacon beyond bloodlines, traditions and geographies. In her, I found a home. Within her house, into its twilight-lit interior, she run an informal hospital for wounded toys, where my doll with a fractured arm sought solace within her realm. While promising to care, she imparted a lesson on the dichotomy between mending and wholeness, of curing and healing. This revelation proved disheartening, as my expectations of a seamlessly restored doll were replaced by a new limb fashioned from knitted wool. Confused, I saw how despite the evident loss, the doll had indeed been returned to whole, through genuine care. I think of this often: in how the (re)organisation of the emotional can be done through the material, in the physicality of concrete actions conducted in a specific place, at a particular time, with that focused intention of love. Such is the labour of care, no matter the discipline or scale: to listen, and revere; to hold and cooperate, and find ways, perhaps new ways, of loving.

seashells
seashells

This tender lesson is among the best wisdom I’ve received: weaving threads of acceptance and light, of possibility, into the mundane fabric of existence. But it also holds a story, a feeling, of what it means to belong and be held, even in strangeness and difference. Or perhaps, because of it: the unique bond that gathers what is seemingly apart, and conforms a new whole. This instructional experience guided and found resonance in my walks by the beach: a dedication to observing with a warm gaze, marvelling at the myriad of beings and possibilities that inhabit the coastal domain, with gratitude for this support system that allows my own life to unfold, and of those I love. The open, curious disposition towards the lives of others, particularly more-than-humans, is a practice of giving time and imagination, an ongoing attentive learning of their possibilities. Through the gentle observation of these distinctive beings—the clams, crabs, sea urchins, scallops, their interactions with each other and their places, I earned experience on their unique characteristics, roles, movements. In a subtle way, it extends emotional intelligence beyond humans, to interspecies, exploring empathy and aiming at understanding their intentions, of attuning to them.

artwork

Central to this approach is a transformative shift in how I perceive, gather, and analyse the world, in its complexities and patterns, its beings and the sensations they provoke—an acknowledgment that organisms, elements, and ecosystems are not mere providers of products or services to humans, but instead, entities with inherent rights, wills, and lives that elude easy categorisations within a human-centric worldview. These tiny beings, the clams and the crabs, the sea snails and urchins, have existences vast beyond my comprehension: through their bodies, roles, behaviours, they interconnect to multitudes and with ourselves, part of a vast poem and biological system that does not have us as a central entity but as integral components within a grand weave, made of manifold parts.

 

The lens through which I observe this context, elements, beings and their patterns alters based on positions, perspectives, moods, knowledges and roles, as each vantage point offers a distinct view. Similarly, the varied roles we embody—biologists, economists, engineers, architects, artists, bankers, office workers, state employees—shape our perceptions, motivations, and emotional responses to this, and other places. As I live here, I see it throughout the year: I soak in its salt and dynamics through my daily life, whether  by the sea, at the bakery or on a terrace. This diversity of perspectives invites a reflection on how values, emotions and moods informs interpretations: our perception of places, species, and how we relate to them. What is our role in these relationships, and how we can make these more fulfilling, considerate of all. The relationships we cultivate with each other, but also with the elements, ecosystems, and the more-than-humans around us define the quality of our lives, our physical and emotional well-being. As individuals, and as a collective. The tapestry of our lives is woven with these threads of interactions, where each individual exerts an impact on the collective. Knowing our neighbours, humans and more than humans alike—trees, birds, insects, clouds, sun, land, wind, the elements of nature—, enriches the daily experience of our lives in ways that transcend the self. Being alive necessitates knowing,  tending, nurturing: it is a basic biological response of us, mammals. And this knowledge and behaviour arises from a state of presence, a practice that engages the entirety of our being in the intricate dance of existence, with our hands and our eyes.

sand art
seashell

The wisdom of my elderly neighbour encapsulates the very essence of this series: her whole body, made of presence and attention. A figure of joy and giving, of seeing and caring, this mother of a poet knew what is since the beginning of time, weaving theirs and our own experiences with love and so, creating a world anew. This is a knowledge of the body, of presence, something we all can refer to, in the universal experience of having, of sensing and feeling, the tenderness of the mammal we all are: the whole body being made of hands and eyes. The eyes that see, and the hands that hold, and mend. In truth and love; like the grandmothers, and like you.

seashell
Sahara dust pigment

(On the right) Pigment made from Sahara dust clouds. Once rocks, it travelled by wind across continents; possibly made of silicates such as quartz, clay (kaolinite and illite), iron oxides, salts, existing for more time than all of us combined, and fertilising oceans with its nutrient rich phosphorous, iron and organic matter. Rock, cloud, sea: everything is interconnected.

Your whole body is hands and eyes

Untitled #1


76 cm x 56 cm

Natural pigment (Ochre, Indigo) on handmade recycled cotton paper 300 gsm

(Ultramarine Blue is a 90% natural, 10% synthetic combination)

Your whole body is hands and eyes
Your whole body is hands and eyes
Your whole body is hands and eyes

Untitled #2


76 cm x 56 cm

Natural pigment (Ochre, Indigo, Ultramarine) on handmade recycled cotton paper 300 gsm

(Ultramarine Blue is a 90% natural, 10% synthetic combination)

Your whole body is hands and eyes
Your whole body is hands and eyes
Your whole body is hands and eyes

Untitled #3


76 cm x 56 cm

Natural pigment (Ochre, Indigo, Ultramarine) on handmade recycled cotton paper 300 gsm

(Ultramarine Blue is a 90% natural, 10% synthetic combination)

Your whole body is hands and eyes
Your whole body is hands and eyes

10,000 Joys, and 10,000 Sorrows


Wall installation

Anomia ephippium seashells

IMG_1314 2_edited.jpg
IMG_1306 2_edited.jpg
Vernacular design study

Untitled #4


20 cm x 20 cm

Natural pigment (Ochre, Indigo, Ultramarine) on handmade recycled cotton paper 300 gsm

(Ultramarine Blue is a 90% natural, 10% synthetic combination)

Vernacular design study
Seashell design

Untitled #5


20 cm x 20 cm

Natural pigment (Ochre, Indigo, Ultramarine) on handmade recycled cotton paper 300 gsm

(Ultramarine Blue is a 90% natural, 10% synthetic combination)

Seashell design
Painting

Untitled #6


20 cm x 20 cm

Natural pigment (Ochre, Indigo, Ultramarine) on handmade recycled cotton paper 300 gsm

(Ultramarine Blue is a 90% natural, 10% synthetic combination)

Painting
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