‘Conversations with the Planet’ is an artistic approach to law taken from social sculpture, as an expanded concept of art, which speaks to the universal creative capacity that manifests itself in every single field of human activity. Art pushes bodies, not only human but any kind (for example, the legal body) to enter the difference, to move towards its inner change. Through this artistic process, the lawyer can be seen as an artist, a transformative force that might be able to trigger the process of identifying, and warming up, hardened social and legal structures fostering their development into new and enlivened ones.
Social sculpture as the field of transformation brings dynamism and plasticity into the decayed legal structures. It triggers new understanding by careful looking at the intention behind the generation or modification of laws. If we understand the law as a methodology for human beings to create a sustainable and equal society it seems obvious that it can never follow the command of a financial spread sheet. Human relationships and life on our planet are ever-changing living realms that cannot be framed within any static preconceived categorical structure. Hence, aesthetics as opposed to anaesthetics or numbness should be the stem on which the legal system should be grounded. Author Shelley Sacks developed this concept of aesthetics as something that has to do with being enlivened, something that can be pulled out of the field of art and brought to live in society. She speaks of establishing the connection between aesthetics and our ability-to-respond saying that “responsibility is no longer an obligation, a moral imperative coming from outside, but something that emerges from inner animated connection”. I agree that it is for us humans to respond. This responsibility cannot be ignored whilst shaping and applying laws and policies.
“In Greek ‘method’ means way. And taking into account that there are two kinds of ways, tracks or methods, some static, in which the wanderer passes by and walks such as the terrestrial paths and others, «the ways that walk», which carry the wanderer such as the waterways or rivers, I will divide the methods (…) in two large groups: static methods or terrestrial and methods in motion or fluvial.” (Unamuno, 1902)
My own ‘conversation with the planet’ began when I entered the forest close to where I lived in Oxford. I went to the forest to reconnect with, and to carefully observe, nature. I wanted to understand the world more deeply. Being there, I felt the tension between nature and the legal system. I observed the barbed wires and how nature was ignoring them. I felt the narrowness of the paths left for humans to walk. I observed the river and the wind as forces which flow through borders, transporting materials and living beings without needing authorisation. I noticed the web of interconnected, and interdependent, beings that I belong to.
Then I remembered some of the laws that regulate water, earth, air and fire (or the sun). Being close to those elements, which in ancient times were considered as the constituent elements of nature, the law seemed to me abstract, one-sided, absurd, rigid, disconnected and small. It felt as if we, humans, were something different from nature, as though we were a superior entity with the right to use nature as a resource to be exploited. My challenge was to find a way to share this experience. I wanted to encourage empowerment and agency in order to bring the law closer to people, to make it vibrate and to lift the veil of its arcane language, and then to listen to people’s thoughts.
The Social Sculpture Process
German artist Joseph Beuys coined the original concept of social sculpture. He was concerned with finding new forms “to scratch people’s imagination” to trigger the awakening of our consciousness towards a radical transformation of our way of being in the world. I also wanted to find new methods to enliven those legal structures that have turned rigid. Since these structures have been built by humans, it is for us to change them.
It occurred to me that the best way to share this experience with people was to invite them to this place and take them for a silent walk through the forest. I designed a walk in which a group could engage with the four classical constituent elements of nature one by one. Four spots in the forest were selected where it would be easier to engage with each concrete element.
Participants from very different backgrounds took part from biologists to lawyers to people without any kind of university background. Along the silent walk people had the opportunity to rest from their usual tasks and thoughts, to disconnect from the stimuli of the city, to let themselves go and relax, to breathe in, to open up to nature and be present, to feel at home in the world.
This connection to nature was only interrupted by several hints designed so people could encounter the legal system in the forest, an unexpected encounter. In every selected spot, the ‘lawscape’ was suddenly made visible. It then became evident that it had always been there walking with us, silently…
At a final spot, the open space, participants were able to share their experience. They were asked to use intuition, to bracket their previous knowledge, to open up to new and fresh observations and ideas. It was amazing to observe how people felt they had something to say about a realm that is rather inaccessible and arcane. The law seems to be something left for the experts though it affects our own lives on a daily basis, and not in a superficial way but, in a deeply structuring one. It tells us day by day what we can and cannot do whether inside our homes, in the middle of the jungle or in outer space.
The participants demonstrated that they were able to engage in legal concepts and express opinions about them including concept like: borders and their value; how the law is generated; empowerment; alienation; rights of nature; and the protection of rights versus economic and exploiting interests. Participants also shared thoughts about the concept of ‘common’, how we view our life on the planet and how we relate to other beings. The nature of the legal framework we live in was made visible.
Participants described the experience as powerful and tangible. It gave them the opportunity to get out of their habitual daily lives, to discover the forest, and to meet and listen to their neighbours. It was a very social experience. It was amazing to see how interested in legal questions people became. It is remarkable how similar people’s reaction were and how everyone felt empowered in one way or another.
My research encompasses legal systems from around the world. The grounds, and the interests, behind our attempt to rule both nature and the world are quite the same worldwide. Therefore this process is ready to be carried out in any country.
Goethe says that the language of art is a sort of poetical language which comes up as soon as we shift from superficial to deeper relationships. Social sculpture brings the poetical language into the legal field as the appropriate language for a discipline intended to organise human relationships within themselves and the world and which affects all beings on the planet. Listening to participants on the social sculpture process, it was evident that social sculpture takes us beyond our comfort zone, waking awareness up to reality, making us ‘withdraw from the illusion of human centrality’. ‘This is the new responsibility of the human: to go against her own self-governing impetus.’ (Philippopoulos-Mihalapoulos 2015)
It is time to acknowledge that the law can no longer be created separate from art. At the beginning, we may feel we are on an uncertain path leading into the unknown. I though imagine a way, a methodology where the established structures are not endlessly imposed and extended into the future but are made ready to be the soil for transformation.
ISABEL AÑINO GRANADOS is a lawyer, artist, entrepreneur and social sculpture practitioner. In 2015, she moved to Oxford to pursue an MA in Social Sculpture which she finished with an artistic process called ‘Conversations with the Planet’. Through this process she confronted the natural order to the legal system by means of a sensorial observation. You can read more about Isabel and her work on Warm Law – Bio.