Extractive aesthetics: Noticing and questioning extractive relations

Extractive aesthetics: Noticing and questioning extractive relations

Shared by Laura Salau


Beautiful fall displays adorn our spaces. Pumpkins, squash and gourds intentionally placed for children to admire and observe. The autumn colors transparent in the cornucopia of fall in the bountiful harvest of the season. A mature sunflower; it’s glorious, gigantic blossom and four foot stem, set out beautifully on the floor adorned on mural paper; offers an invitation to observe, investigate and creatively translate children’s interpretations. 

Intentions are good but have we forgotten the rights of the more-than-human world? Do us, as humans, have the right to kill and extract this sunflower for our prosperity and consumerist goals rather than leave it to disintegrate and regenerate into the soil, to feed the animals and insects, to re-consummate the soil?

What are the rights of a tree? The rights of a plant? The rights of an animal? What right do we have to govern more-than-human worlds for our own selfish consumerist greed? What is the difference of displaying a gourd in the mud kitchen or beautifully adorning a table than providing children with a bowl of spaghetti as a means of sensorial play? Have we reflected on care and love?

We have become consumed with capitalism and consumerism. Greed and extraction dominate Western civilization. Quantity and possessions, fabricated beauty and competition rule our ways. Images in Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook – all in competition with one another. A manufactured environment and augmented reality.

How do we connect in a spiritual, soulful relation with others, built on integrity, trust, and sustainability? Honoring and listening to each other’s voices while honoring our Earth. How do we make ethical choices and stay with the complexity of our ethical questions? How do we walk without solutions? Without fixing things?

I sit and watch as children investigate a tree. Wrapping their arms around its trunk. Feeling the ridges within the bark and eventually their fingers making their way upward and stopping at a knot. I focus in and look closer as their fingers notice small emerging rounded buds. One by one they begin to extract them, pick them off, roll them in their fingers and then discard them. I feel a rushing sense of conflict.

I am conflicted: Should I allow this to happen knowing they are ultimately creating a relationship with this tree? How do I interrupt and intervene when they watch educators cut fresh flower blossoms to be placed in vases for their aesthetic value? I notice the hypocrisy. What kind of relations are we cultivating, creating and sustaining?

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