The Art of Nature
“Like the volcanic desert, you need to look closely in order to see life in the sea. If you glance cursorily across the water you may see an unrelenting blue. You need to look beneath the surface of the water in order to see life. As we live on land, scuba diving has given us as humans the opportunity to see, appreciate and therefore hopefully start to mitigate the immense impact we are having on life underwater "
We were towed into the marina in Lanzarote due to the second failure of our steering cables, only a month after they had been replaced. We managed to fix the cables ourselves this time, so apart from the tow into the marina it has ended up costing us a lot less than last time. Obviously we will now be a little bit paranoid about our cables for a while and check them a lot. We do have a better understanding now of how our steering system works though.
Once our cables were fixed, we did manage to see a little bit of Lanzarote. Lanzarote is the easternmost Canary Island, north of Fuerteventura and south of tiny Graciosa. Dominated by its volcanic landscape, its visual character has also been undeniably shaped by the artist Cesar Manrique. Born in Lanzarote in 1919, Manrique studied, travelled and worked elsewhere, including Paris, Madrid and New York until 1966 when he returned permanently to the island. Inspired by the volcanic landscape of the eighteenth century eruptions there, Manrique determined to use art and architecture to enhance the beauty of the volcanic landscape, using art to draw attention to the natural forms and subtle signs of life in this glowering landscape. In this way, Manrique ensured that Lanzarote was appreciated for its unique character. Nature is not only evident in lush jungles, but survives also in arid lands. For example, in the numerous varieties of cacti, 450 different species of which are planted at the Manrique designed cactus garden. He also designed several architectural statement pieces across the island, all harmonising nature with art.
However, Manrique also lobbied against uncontrolled touristic development. This led to the banning of skyscrapers and the conformity of buildings to be painted in the traditional white with restricted colours for the woodwork - bottle green and natural wood seem to be the colours of choice. This gives a unified and distinctive look to all the buildings in Lanzarote and has meant that human construction does not impede on Lanzarote’s volcanic landscape. There is a simplistic symmetry to the blocky buildings reminiscent of the effect of the beauty of the Taj Mahal against the mirrored pools which surround it. You have to look closely to see the individual textures of the volcanic dust and the wooden shutters of the buildings, like the beautiful enamelled and colourful inlays on the Taj Mahal.
There is a theory in history called the Great Man Theory, developed by Thomas Carlyle in 1840, which ascribes great influence to heroic and powerful individuals, mostly men. Now largely debunked in historical theory in favour of the significance of social forces, Manrique seems implicitly to have been awarded this status by the undeniable influence he had on Lanzarote’s architectural and touristic development and his tireless campaigning for the recognition of the importance of being in nature and the need to avoid destroying it. But what were the influences on Manrique himself? The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time when social consciousness and protest, the need to stand up for what was right was on show. Living in New York, Manrique would have been profoundly aware of the Civil Rights Movement which impacted other movements of protest including the feminist movements. In 1962 Rachel Carson’s seminal and policy-changing Silent Spring was published, which brought to widespread attention the negative impact of humans on the natural world and inspired the environmental element of the umbrella of social movements which emerged in the 1960s. The impact of tourism on the environment specifically was also becoming clear. Joni Mitchell sang ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot’ in response to her holiday to Hawaii in 1970. The influence of Silent Spring on pop culture is evident in the line of her song ‘Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now’.
Carson began her career as a marine biologist and Manrique also drew attention to the preservation of life in the sea as being as significant to Lanzarote as life on land. Like the volcanic desert, you need to look closely in order to see life in the sea. If you glance cursorily across the water you may see an unrelenting blue. You need to look beneath the surface of the water in order to see life. As we live on land, scuba diving has given us as humans the opportunity to see, appreciate and therefore hopefully start to mitigate the immense impact we are having on life underwater, with overfishing and trawling being the most obvious impacts, but climate change also having a catastrophic impact as well. Here the Lanzarote authorities are continuing in Manrique’s art-nature vein, commissioning the British-Guyanese artist Jason deCaires-Taylor to create one of his underwater sculpture museums. Working in the Caribbean and Mexico amongst other places, deCaires-Taylor creates art works from PH neutral concrete that encourage the growth of algae on the sculptures, which in time attract fish and other organisms to feed. These sculptures have the dual purposes of trying to rejuvenate an underwater world which has been depleted by humans while raising awareness of important issues. For example, the sculptures we saw while scuba diving in Lanzarote included a sculpture inspired by the plight of refugees attempting to reach Europe entitled Lampedusa and another entitled Rubicon. The dangerous journey made across seas by ordinary people seeking a better life had a sickening resonance given the deaths last week of 27 people in the freezing Channel. The area the sculpture park is in is entitled Rubicon, as is the name of the marina we are staying in. The artificial wall erected with scores of individuals passing this rubicon or point of no return reflects on the theme of us all sleepwalking to an environmental point of no return. Underwater you are slowed down, face to face with another reality. We cannot ignore the impact climate change is having on life under the water, which is even greater than that we are having on land, causing acidification, deoxygenation and rising ocean levels. While the ocean makes up 70% of our planet, it is absorbing more than 90% of global heating. Without thinking of the impacts on our oceans, our survival on land is put more in jeopardy.
Some of us are natural nomads; we feel refreshed in the constant movement to new places. Some of us have a great appreciation of what’s under our noses, of where we are and work to build our community. Manrique did travel, but he returned to the island of his childhood while still a relatively young man and there he stayed. By staying he made his mark and protected Lanzarote from the overdevelopment that went along with the tourist boom that developed in the 1960s which affected many of the other Canary islands and other resorts. He stayed there until his death. Another of those artists who has travelled widely but returned home to raise awareness and do something concrete about the environmental issues facing their land is the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Known for his global photographs of the natural world, he has since restored 17,000 acres of natural Atlantic forest into a nature reserve in Brazil since 1998. As we flit around from place to place, our respect for the people who make the communities we visit, putting in the hard work day after day, decade after decade and make a difference where they are, grows.
This week's Vlog.