For the past 8 years, Border Agency, an art collective based in Santiago, Chile, has been engaged in artistic research that explores the intersection of nature and technology. Our focus has revolved around understanding how technology shapes our perception of the landscape. As part of this exploration, we have delved into topics such as the landmines planted in the Atacama desert and our latest project, Fire Forests, which addresses one of the most striking landscape phenomena in central Chile: the proliferation of eucalyptus plantations across the country.
From a landscape perspective, the effect of Eucalyptus globulus plantations in Chile have been dividing the territory into fragments to which there is no access, creating virtual borders that fracture and alter the experience of the landscape. In this context, our interest as artists has been to document the perception of these “green deserts”. We are intrigued by how the presence of eucalyptus forests influences the way these territories are perceived and believe that any idea about forest plantations should originate from the territory and its inhabitants, shaping our knowledge and challenging preconceived notions.
We began this research in the context of massive wildfires in 2016 (570 thousand hectares burned) by visiting several eucalyptus plantations in the Valparaiso and Los Ríos Region. In Chaihuín, an area characterised by dense plantations alongside the roads, we observed inhabitants residing in close proximity to these plantations. We were struck by the fact that, regardless of their size, they somehow become invisible, melding into everyday life as if they had always been there.
This apparent invisibility seemed to us a clear sign of the violence that eucalyptus plantations exert over the landscape and its inhabitants. In response, our initial artistic approach was to point out what we did not perceive from the plantations, which was precisely the eucalyptus!
The promise of modernisation and the efficient production of wood, paper pulp and more recently, textile fibres, encompasses not only the extraction of tree resources, but also eliminates the potential of inhabiting the land from a non-extractivist logic, both in its human and non-human dimensions. We became aware of the impact of forest plantations as a form of land occupation, resulting in a depletion of biodiversity, soil degradation, water scarcity, rural poverty, rural-urban migration, and an elevated risk of forest fires. In essence, it creates a “green desert” that generates inequality and poor social coexistence. The ‘eucalyptus as a landscape’ phenomenon allowed us to reflect on nature/technology boundary, distinguishing the natural effects of the species from those resulting from the productive operations applied to the eucalyptus.
We also observed distinct sources of “smartness” in the eucalyptus. Firstly, in 1976 the forestry industry and academia converged under the banner of the Cooperativa de Mejoramiento Genético (Genetic Improvement Cooperative). This organisation assumed the responsibility of annually selecting the finest specimens (taller, straighter, more resistant to frost) to be used as models for cloning. This led to the creation of Eucalyptus gloni, a novel species formed by combining Eucalyptus globulus (better wood quality) and Eucalyptus nittens (more resistant to cold weather). Yet, from an industry perspective the eucalyptus is still wild and unmanageable. The forestry industry's pursuit of their aspirations is leading them toward an indistinct uniformity, akin to wheat.
Thus, engaging with the question of surviving homogenisation becomes urgent. Our approach took different forms, but we were led by questioning how an individual becomes an ecosystem. We worked in what could be considered antipodal landscapes: Eucalyptus plantations and native forest in Bosque Pehuén, a conservation reserve in Wallmapu, facilitating the emergence of a polyphony of voices, including human and non-human agencies, all while attempting to dismantle binary logics.