Melanie Bonajo

In your “letter to the cosmos”, which can be downloaded from your website, you write about the spiritual emptiness of your generation. Can you explain this emptiness a bit more?

The other day a young man approached me, asking me for a minute. I thought: ‘Oh no, he wants my minute’. But then I understood he was asking for a mint from the package I was holding in my hand. I realised I would rather give him my whole pack of mints than one minute of real presence, while I was wasting so much time on non-presence, waiting for some information to pop up on my screen. Our dream of progress is ingrained with oppositions. Reflecting on the polarity of our actions keeps me busy. Perhaps touch and time as a tool can be seen as addressing some kind of extreme (physical) presence. We are more ‘connected’ than ever, but at the same time large groups within our society are suffering from depression because of loneliness. At the moment I am working on a film that reflects on how technological advances have influenced our social relationships and how we experience time. I am interviewing the generation that is now in their eighties. A large part of this group grew up without electricity, flushing toilets or running water. They tell me how certain people were against the introduction of the telephone. They thought nobody would visit them anymore. The number of inventions created during this generation’s life span is enormous. Most of them agree that the one thing nobody has anymore is time. I want to find out how our merging with machines is benefiting us and what we are sacrificing. What are we leaving behind by documenting every move and being “connected” all the time. The earth used to be seen as an animal, an organism within which everything is naturally connected. The organic unity and interrelatedness of all parts of the cosmos was the premise. But people also feared the incomprehensible and seemingly chaotic side of Nature. They tried to organise it with the discoveries of science through separation and segregation. It seems that Western society is slowly beginning to appreciate the environmental values of the pre-mechanical, pre-technological, pre-capitalist world we have lost. We are seeing that we are part of this world and that we depend on it for our survival. I guess you can say that the emptiness for me means this loss of connection, the fulfilment of life beyond the material or consumption aspects of our daily life, the fulfilment you can find in those things that are eternal, omnipresent and for free and therefore too often taken for granted.

You also write that we are living a “life separated from nature and the senses, disconnected from a memory of something wild and ancient, buried deep within ourselves”. Do you use art to help yourself and other people come back into contact with the wild and ancient, nature and its inherent mystic quality?

My starting point is always the here and now, that which is around me. I am not glorifying the past, I love this time we are living in, but I do think that these are aspects inherent to our human nature that should be nurtured, and that if we do so we will all benefit. Art is a vehicle for moving and pushing forward my ideology and for opening gates to discuss and re-shape culture. In a way I use art like a “fool” does, to point out how we deceive ourselves. Not as a way to judge, but rather as a means to laugh about and liberate ourselves by not taking ourselves as humans too seriously. I see myself as pointing out the difficult corners of our moral landscape, the gimmicks, the fakes we create in our society and our lives. Those that harm others and our surroundings which we depend on. I like to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves?, the animals, the trees, the elements. As an artist I position myself as a counterweight to what is perceived as the norm in our Western society by connecting to what was once present in our recent past, but is now suppressed. I am trying to embody remote general ideals such as freedom, equality and love by looking at the details of everyday situations. These generally give us much more trouble than the general and remote principles, because they involve clashes and actions that are unnoticeable from a prophetic distance. And I try to come up with pragmatic alternatives. I use the wild and ancient, nature and the spirit as metaphors for pointing out missing elements of our contemporary lives, as symbols to keep reminding us that we are not strangers to this planet. That those needy, distant, competitive humans actually can find a possibility to be friends and allies of other life forms on this planet.

How do you get aware of those structures. Do you have special tools or techniques for opening those gates?

Personally, I use psychedelic plants in a ritualistic setting to help me with that. I see them as a medicine that helps me extend my awareness to see connections existing within society from a more meta-perspective. I will not say it is for everyone, but for me exploring the edges of my own consciousness has had a great benefit on my existence as a human on this planet. They have had a humbling effect on my personality, made me feel more connected to everything around me and have been a gateway to perceiving love in all that is. The plants taught me to be at service for the benefit of all through the making of art. I know it is a cliché, but once you remove yourself form the spectacle of suffering, greed and oppression you really will discover an enchanted universe around you.