Interview with Catarina Braga
Catarina Braga’s artistic work has several layers, from bringing home natural elements, planting and multiplying them in our habitat, to the attempt of making their plastic mimicry. In a third possible reading, there is also the simulacrum, the possible return to a nature paradoxically out of touch – historically and geographically – with its natural habitat.
It is the centralisation of the image, which asserts itself as the main field of experience. The origin of the images, their symbolic relationship with the real referent is dissipated, giving preference to an illusion that multiplies endlessly. However, reality imposes itself on the human being in the gaps of the images, in the anthropological action over the world.
Margarida Alves – I would like you to tell us a little about the project: a post post tropical rainforest of the Central America bioregion.mov.
Catarina Braga – First of all, I chose this specific biome because it is one of those with the greatest biodiversity, and it can be found in different parts of the world. I chose this tropical forest so that the issues of biodiversity and nature would not become too abstract, and because, afterwards, I started to realize that many of the plants that we have at home come from this specific biome. It seems to me that, right now, there is a great desire to rediscover plants and bring them into our space, which is increasingly the house, especially in these last two years. I find this attempt at re-encounter quite interesting, as we take these plants out of their natural habitat to live with them, to re-encounter them. However, in this attempt at reunion, they are also transformed, there is another ecosystem that is changed. We can see plants like calatheas, palm trees, Swiss cheese plants or orchids, which are very present in our homes. And, suddenly, despite being taken out of their natural habitat, it is beautiful to be able to reimagine them again in it, because there is a context and a nature connection that generates nature itself.
Basically, I think that the human being tries to recreate this natural creation, but decontextualises it, causing everything to be transformed and artificialised. This artificial side does not have a negative or pejorative meaning, it has to do instead with the fact that this reunion is no longer possible. We are perhaps trying to return to a prehistoric nature to which we can never really go back.
I feel that I always say different things about this work, as there are several paths and the issue is complex… Nature cannot be dissociated from reality, because nature produces this reality and reality produces nature. This all reminds me of a book I am currently reading, Politics of Nature by Bruno Latour, where he presents a new way of looking at the politics of ecology and how science asserts itself as a way to get closer to nature. There is also this relationship between what science does and the machines that science uses, between images and the camera, the microscope, etc., which basically refer to this mediation of nature, which is what I explore in the installation of the forest that I created virtually: a post post tropical rainforest of the Central America bioregion.html. That is, we try to approach it through this computer, through these JPEGs and PNGs, which hardly exist because they are so abstract… That interaction interests me a lot.
MA – From the ethical, political and environmental point of view, several paths are unfurled. Could you tell us a little about the way these are present in your project?
CB – In my work, I try to ask questions and never give answers. I think there are already so many narrowed narratives about ecological issues, when curiosity, discovery and exploration are quite important. In the artistic context, there is obviously already a predisposition to question those paths, and to have the necessary openness that allows one to explore them. I think that questions of ecology are particularly important, but not as a way of trying to return to a pristine nature, to rediscover that which seems to have been left behind, but rather to think about how we can follow up on the relationship between us and the plants, living side by side in a harmony associated with political engagement.
MA – Finally, I would like to ask you another question. You told us about Latour. Could you share with us some more authors that interest you conceptually?
CB – Apart from Bruno Latour, Vilém Flusser is currently an important reference. I must mention Hito Steyerl because she is also a great reference of mine. Her work is incredible, she has a complex and full-fledged method, with many questions that also interest me. Another reference that I remember now, and that has influenced me quite a lot, was the exhibition Plant Revolution, which was at CIAJG last year, curated by Margarida Mendes. All the thoughts about the issues of ecology and nature were quite stimulating, with artists and works that explored different points and issues within this vast subject, articulated in a relevant and complete way.
As an addition to this interview, Catarina Braga has made available to us a text written by herself:
“Nowadays, thinking about nature is more complex than ever, because what we think about when we reflect on nature can now originate:
1. in lived experience or
2. in simulation.
In this reflective exercise, a new distance is created, beyond the separation of thought itself, considering the second way we obtain knowledge: a distance created by images. As the orchid is quite common in Portugal, most probably we have already seen the flower as a decorative element in a living room or at a bathroom window, but this would not happen if we were thinking of a black batflower. In other words, we must see real nature in front of us to be able to perceive it or think about it. The big difference today, compared to past eras (apart from the fact that we have completely altered our natural landscapes), is that we can experience the simulation of nature. Whether through photographic prints or digital images on screens, we can see any plant.
With the Agricultural Revolution, we transformed nature into post-nature. With the Industrial Revolution, we accelerated the agricultural process with machines and invented new processes for producing post-nature. But, beyond that, in the Industrial Revolution, we also invented new ways of producing post-post-nature – like photography and cinema, plastic and the computer; with the Digital Revolution, we just refined those ways of producing the post-post-nature.
The post-post-nature is totally artificial and false because its artifices no longer have anything natural, only natural references. It is through the image of nature, in the absence of the landscape or the natural plant, that a sense of nature emerges. Images appear in our everyday life to try to recreate a reunion between human beings and nature that has long been lost. The images manage to create a nature transcending the typical naturalness of nature. How? Through artifices like a plastic plant or the images like a photograph of a rainforest – the artificial creates a simulation of the natural.”
Catarina Braga, Post-Post-Nature, 2021, p. 14.