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Marie-Louise Jones reports back on her AER Residency at Labverde

Overhead shot of a mist-covered Amazon Rainforest
  • Written byMarie-Louise Jones
  • Published date 23 November 2022
Overhead shot of a mist-covered Amazon Rainforest
Image: Marie-Louise Jones

Marie-Louise Jones, MA Fine Art alum from Central Saint Martins, was selected for the AER residency at Labverde, Brazil, and reports back to the Post-Grad Community.

Set up by Professor Lucy Orta UAL Chair of Art for the Environment - Centre for Sustainable Fashion in 2015, The Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER) provides UAL graduates with the exceptional opportunity to apply for short residencies at one of our internationally renowned host institutions, to explore concerns that define the 21st century – biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy, and human rights.

We Are Always Weathering

What is climate change for you? A question written in the back of my notebook. Next to it scribbled the words: The Future. Irrevocable. Life is Change.

I’m sitting in my flat reading through my LabVerde residency notebooks with a random selection of buckets dotted around me. This morning my ceiling started leaking, drips of water soaking through the roof from the torrential bouts of heavy rain again. Maybe just a bit of dodgy roofing and bad luck but also not inconceivable to think about links to how the weather is changing. The Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it is likely that average precipitation has increased since 1950 with a faster rate since 1980. I sit listening to the taps of rain on the window and the splash of droplets into the buckets and think about my time in the Amazon.

What is the weather for you? Another question jotted down in the notebook. Next to it scribbled: Beyond our Control. Changing.

Workshop taking place in the rainforest
Image: Marie-Louise Jones

The questions were remnants of tasks we undertook in the rainforest as part of a workshop facilitated by curator Camilla Palestra based on Jennifer Hamilton and Astrida Neimanis’, A
Field Guide for Weathering: Embodied Tactics for Collectives of Two or More Humans. We
participated in the workshop sat around the table, in the open-air dining hall where we ate all

our meals together as a community of artists, curators, anthropologists, biologists, entomologists, sharing space amongst the trees that lined the paths that led us deeper into the forest.

It is from this workshop that I’ve titled one of the works I’m developing in response to the residency. Weathering, being weathered, time and erosion, destruction and renewal. In the forest all things merged and became one another. Time as we had previously comprehended didn’t exist. All things were (and are) cyclical. As in the forest as with all of life. This notion concealed from us in our concrete towers back in the city. Disconnected from the land and its rhythms and cycles.

Sculpted models from earth-like substance
Image: Marie-Louise Jones

I could write a detailed account of all the things we saw and did during the residency but this won’t articulate the shifts in perspective, the feelings encountered that go beyond words for me - the intensity of the environment, the physical endurance of continuous perspiration whilst experiencing a constant state of heightened sensory perception.

Through an enriching program of expeditions, lectures, and talks, Speculative Ecologies 2022 gave us much to digest. Philosopher and writer Emanuele Coccia vibrantly presented ideas of earth as non-natural and constructed. Everything having been manipulated, chiseled, shaped, produced by billions of generations of designers of the most diverse forms having made the planet habitable.

Charles Clements discussed the domestication of the Amazon and ideas around niche construction. Organisms constructing their environments, like the leafcutter ants constructing entire cities underground and cultivating fungi.

Ants surprisingly played quite a significant role in my Amazon experience, every meal time along the steep descent to and from the dining area I’d be tip-toeing and hopping over steps often in the dark trying not to squash or interrupt the highways of ants marching back and forth. I’d always thought leafcutter ants ate the leaves but they don’t, they cut trimmings from plants and carry them to their nests to cut into smaller pieces before inoculating them with a fungus that serves as a primary food source for the colony and home for the brood.

The Adolfo Ducke Forest Reserve where we were based is one of the most important research sites in the Amazon where researchers from The National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) stay for extended periods and is one of the most intensively studied patches of rainforest in the world. One such researcher being entomologist “Chico”, so legendary he only needs one name. Chico-the-great kindly and generously helped me better identify and gather knowledge on these advanced nonhuman societies.

Butterfly on artist's hand
Image: Marie-Louise Jones
A hive hanging in a tree
Image: Marie-Louise Jones
Out of focus rock formation
Image: Marie-Louise Jones
Tall standing ants nest in the rainforest
Image: Marie-Louise Jones
Illuminated fungi on a fallen tree bark
Image: Marie-Louise Jones

He informed me that Ducke has 249 species of ants (leafcutter ants being any of 47 species of leaf-chewing and fungus growing ants belonging to the Atta and Acromyrmex genera). Atta colonies can build huge underground metropolises full of interconnecting chambers and skyscraping mounds with in-built air-conditioning. Ants as architects. Building complex cities with architectural features like extensive horizontal foraging tunnels serving as super Highways.

Broken off ant hill formation
Image: Marie-Louise Jones
Digital analysis of ant fill formation
Image: Marie-Louise Jones
Recreation outer caps of ant hills
Image: Marie-Louise Jones

With an interest in world-building I was inspired by both the form and matter of these constructions. I experimented with the clay and soil I collected from the reserve and made a 3d model using photogrammetry software from an abandoned nest from one of our trails to be 3d printed. The building process (of some) species of ant is to combine materials to create a porous mixture (sand or clay or soil particles) and deposit the material in the same spot (a pheromone that adheres to the building material stimulates the ants to build in the same spot) continuing around a circuit depositing the material into regularly spaced pillars. Once the pillars reach a certain height, ants add soil/clay/sand to the sides, creating caps, arches, and eventually closed roofs. This reminded me of the build process of 3d printer. I'm currently exploring biomaterials and 3d printing as part of an Arts Council England funded project and will explore this further over the coming months.

The ants continuously destroy and rebuild their work, leading back to my enquiries into cycles of destruction and renewal. On a dawn expedition to the ZF2 Tower to watch the sunrise over the forest we witnessed the beauty and vastness of the Amazon, to then discuss above the treetops how after once being a carbon sink absorbing more carbon than it released, the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon emissions than it can absorb. The cycles of destruction and renewal are off balance. Beyond tipping point.

Hosting residency location
Image: Marie-Louise Jones
Long stemmed leafs illuminated by sun light
Image: Marie-Louise Jones

When looking to nature and thinking about ant and other superorganism species, how can we learn from successful nonhuman advanced societies to discover new ways to reimagine human futures? How can we cooperate and become more symbiotic with our host and kin? How can we restore balance knowing we are always weathering in the unceasing cycle of destruction and renewal?

I would like to say a special thank you to all who I shared time and space with on the LabVerde residency. I’m sure there will be much more to say that is yet to be processed and will be expressed through the development of the sculptures responding to processes of destruction and renewal in the coming months..

Group photo of artists and residents at LABVERDE
Image: Marie-Louise Jones

Related Links

Art for the Environment Residency Programme

The Art for the Environment Residency Programme (AER) provides UAL graduates with the opportunity to apply for a 2 to 4 week fully funded residency at one of our internationally renowned host institutions, to explore concerns that define the 21st century – biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy and human rights.

Founded in 2015, internationally acclaimed artist Professor Lucy Orta, UAL Chair of Art for the Environment – Centre for Sustainable Fashion, launched the programme in partnership with international residency programmes and UAL Post-Grad Community.