I was in Brazil working, focused on my art walls, connecting to my parents and to friends, when news came popping into my family group WhatsApp. It was my oldest sister who lives in Australia. There was fire. Everywhere. My niece wasn’t allowed to go to The Nature School. My sister, her husband and the other baby boy also had to stay at home. Curfew because of the smoke. And the danger. The fire was getting closer. The horizon had turned red.
A few days passed. The kids started getting bored. Another picture. The whole family with bandanas covering their mouth and nose, with the caption: “We are not robbing a bank today, we are going to a friend's house so the kids can play a bit.” That same week another message. The fire is only four kilometers away. We have packed the car with our belongings. Some clothes, passports and other documents. We will keep monitoring the winds and the flames.
This is not a fiction story. This is real.
Fortunately they didn’t have to leave their house (yet). But so many others have lost homes, belongings and even relatives. Fauna, flora and whole ecosystems are being extinct - in one blow. It’s spreading. Communities are fighting against the flames. Thousands of volunteers are helping out. But the landscape is either red in flames, or black in ashes.
I have heard people say. But it’s normal isn’t it? This time of the year Australia and California always have fire. Yes, bushfires are part of the story of Australia. For thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have used fire to clear grasslands for hunting and to clear tracks through dense vegetation; however this was only in periods of high rainfall and in very small grassland zones bordering desert. The food thus gained provided much needed protein to nomadic tribes. It was controlled, it was natural, it was part of the survival and some of the country's native flora have evolved to rely on bushfires as a means of reproduction. With time not controlled fires started taking place. Way too many. Local Indignenous were forbidden to keep on going with this practice. But the bushfires didn’t stop. And have only gotten worse every year.
My sister has lived in Australia for many years now, and this was the first time I was really afraid for their safety. And it made me think a bit harder. What is going on?
Sustainability is a word that has been part of my vocabulary for some time now. I have been studying, I have been involved in movements, I have been reflecting. I created consciousness of my habits, of the products I buy or use. I have been conscious about the impact I leave behind. Is it possible to live within society and still be sustainable? And still make an impact? These are questions that go through my mind every day. Every time I have to open a plastic packaging that has been wrapped around my organic vegetables. Every time I see people taking a plastic bag to put fruits inside just to weight inside the markets. Every time I see endless waste being thrown away. Water being wasted. It hurts sometimes. It really, physically does, and I do have the will to say things out loud sometimes. But most of the time I keep it to myself. Am I an example? Am I perfect? Far from that. I can do better. I can have less waste, I can eat better, I can be more conscious about where my products and food come from. I can travel less. There is so much. Yes, there is. And it can be almost overwhelming if I start thinking about it. But, by the end of the day, I tell myself - I’m doing something. And I will keep doing it. I will keep doing better. And then I ask you, what are you doing about it? Or, what can you do about it?
I see the bushfires have caused a lot of people to contribute, to help, to extend a hand - within the local communities, and also internationally. I have seen that on other occasions too. Hurricanes, tsunamis and other disasters. It’s beautiful to see how people can connect and help out those suffering in moments of despair. Flora, fauna and humans. I am sure they are all thankful, and I do think extending our hands out, after a disaster has started, is a way to help. But there are so many other ways that we could start preventing that to come to this point. How much further do we have to go? How many more have to suffer until we stop hurting our own home? Our planet? Our nature? Ourselves?
How far are we going?
I myself have never actually been present in a natural disaster. Maybe I’m lucky - maybe I’m not. Maybe I would have started caring before. Maybe I would be screaming out loud by now. Maybe…
We can’t sit on maybes anymore. We have to question ourselves. Question our habits, our consumption, our food. And not only questioning, but changing.
I heard someone close once say to me: “Every day I feel I have less and less value in the world. I’m just a little poop. What impact do I actually have? What can I do from my normal life?” I’m sure she’s not the only one that feels that way. I have felt like that before too. But then I ask you: “Do you know the impact of a little poop left behind in the middle of a sidewalk?”
Think with me. What is the impact of a poop: First there is the smell that starts bothering. It may begin in a light way. Then the sun shines and it becomes stronger - to the point that you feel it one block away. There is a first person that might step on it and spread the poop a little further. Some will even take it home under their shoes. The poop will get into our homes - into our carpets, into our beds. Someone might slip on the poop, fall, get hurt, end up in hospital, end up having a part of the body changed forever. There might be other animals that will smell the poop, have it on their nose then. Or maybe lick it just out of curiosity. And then they lick you, just because they love you. And where is the poop then?
And then I ask you again: What is the impact of just a little piece of poop? Who are you? And what is your impact in your sphere of influence? Can you change the world in one day? No, and neither can’t I. But I can change myself and I can influence my sphere of influence. If we all had at least one little part of this thought we could start changing. Ourselves. Our communities and environments.
And some may say, but I have been going out on the street on endless manifestations about climate change. I have been part of the organization of such manifestations. I say awesome, and what do you do next? Or before? I must confess I myself have never been to a climate change manifestation, because I believe my actions in my daily life actually have a bigger impact then walking on the street with thousands of people, and then going into the first store and buying plastic products. I rather choose to be aware, to pick up plastic bottles from the floor after the group has passed manifesting in favour of the healing of the world. I rather question the young people at the bus stop, handing over printed flyers about the next climate change manifestation. Printed flyers - paper, ink - that random people will take from your stretched arm. Just because you are handing them out. And if you walk a little further you will find that same piece of paper in the bin, or even on the floor. What is the real impact of that? Change? Or more waste?
I could go on and on about examples I have experienced. Of choices I make, of studies and reports I have read. I could join activist groups. I could manifest. I could… But I choose not to. I choose to live. I choose to change the little things, to be an agent of change in my own sphere. To be aware of my own actions, interactions and consequences. Aware and responsible.
Are you aware of yours?
And then some might ask, but Kalina, why are you writing about that when you are an artist. Don’t you talk mainly about art and business? Well, this is my business, and it should be yours too. What will my art be in a place that doesn’t exist? In a place that is burning down into flames. That is being drowned by huge waves. How will my art be if not means of expression? If not means of manifestation? Art is expression. Art is a manifest. And I am my own manifest. And so are you - your own.
Leia em português, aqui :)
In 22 years I’ve already lived in 14 different places - counting only those where I’ve stayed 3 months, at least.
I said there was a way out and here it is: thanks to our hyperconnected reality, the lack of information is no longer a problem. Artists and creative people, in general, are more and more open to sharing their daily lives and processes online, and, with a little bit of attention and curiosity, we can access a much greater diversity of references than before.