Human Nature, designing the equilibrium
a collaboration between Creative Holland and Connecting the Dots
Text by Viveka van de Vliet
Portrait by Boudewijn Bollmann
Forward to nature
Koert van Mensvoort
Next Nature Network
You could say ‘Forward to nature’ is Koert van Mensvoort’s motto. Because apart from the fact that we live in a cultivated nature that we have shaped ourselves, it is not the philosopher, artist, and scientist’s desire to return to nature and to preserve it. In the Next Nature Network world, nature and technology evolve alongside humans.
Koert van Mensvoort thinks the other way around. Like a philosopher who asks questions. Was nature perfect before man came and ruined it? No, we are part of nature, but we have placed ourselves outside of it. Only on Sundays you can walk in it. The nature fundamentalists take it even further: only birds and animals are allowed to be there; for people, nature is a no-go zone. So, it’s back to the traditional way of protecting and preserving nature.
‘It is a popular idea that nature is disappearing because of our presence’, says Van Mensvoort. That it is an assumption that needs to be questioned was an eye-opener for Koert van Mensvoort long ago, even before he worked as a philosopher and artist. His time spent in the Bijlmermeer around 2004 was decisive. Living in one of the largest renewal projects ever, with spacious flats up high and a city jungle down below. The Oostvaardersplassen: impoldered. The new island on the Marker Wadden: reclaimed by order of Natuurmonumenten. ‘In thirty years we will be walking in that “nature”,’ he says. ‘Everyone is welcome to the illusion, but original nature doesn’t exist.’ He would like to reformulate the theme for the Triennale di Milano in 2019, ‘Broken nature: Design takes on human survival’. ‘It is not nature that is broken, but our image of nature.’
This takes us to the other side of the story: the discovery of technologies that are to free us from the wild forces of nature. These complex and autonomous technologies are a nature of their own. In Van Mensvoort’s view, nature is not static, but it changes with us – nature becomes culture and culture becomes nature, biology becomes technology and vice versa.
The philosopher, who is also the founder of Next Nature Network, sees this network as a visionary tree, with dangling fruits like robots, personalised and genetically engineered fish leather sneakers, and the In Vitro Meat Cook Book.
These are subjects that fascinate him. You will find them in his speculative projects such as the Meat the Future project, about the potential of laboratory meat and Hubot, an employment agency where humans and robots work together. Van Mensvoort is not a philosopher for nothing. He is always asking questions. He thinks it is fun and useful to take our assumptions, fears, and negative thoughts about this subject and turn them into a better understanding of, thoughts about and insights into a desirable Next Nature. What he always strives for is a harmony model between a biosphere that has been evolving for millions of years and the rapidly changing technosphere.
In the provocative and playful work of Van Mensvoort, he shows the power of speculative design. ‘It initiates a discussion and creates awareness, but I also want to bring about a change on a more fundamental level’, says the scout who’s being ahead of the troops. By that he means: doing something.
A good and successful example of this is a large and multi-year project in which Van Mensvoort connects ecology and economy: the ECO Coin. You earn coins through positive actions that prevent deforestation, the decline of biodiversity or climate change. ‘It is crazy, or rather hypocritical’, he explains, ‘that you receive money by cutting down a tree and selling the wood. And that you are not rewarded if you plant a tree.
His ecological payment method is being introduced step by step in various local communities, and specially among companies, the coin spreads like an oil slick. ‘My dream,’ says Van Mensvoort, ‘is that you will have fair money like you have fair coffee.’
But his biggest goal is to save humankind. ‘It is a wonder that we have come this far’, he says. ‘We are dangling somewhere at the bottom, like an unimportant species. At the same time, humankind is beautiful and must be saved so that future generations have a better future.’
This interview belongs to the project Human Nature, designing the equilibrium. Part of this project are live interviews and an exhibition during the Milan Design Week 2018.