Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

By Saskia Beudel

Natural Fuse by Haque: Design + Research asks viewers to weigh their responsibility for life-forms not immediately within reach or within sight, testing the adage out of sight out of mind.

A few weeks ago I planted tomato seeds in a shallow tray of soil. A gardening article in the local paper advised now was the time to get tomatoes going indoors if they’re to fruit before Christmas. I planted two types, Brandywine and Red Cherry, and within a couple of

Haque: Design + Research, Natural Fuse, 2008-

weeks several healthy seedlings had established themselves. I brought them inside on cold nights, placed them outdoors in full sun each morning. I live in Canberra where regular frosts are lethal to young tomato plants. If the wind was too strong and dehydrating during the day I brought the seedlings indoors to safer climes. In a couple more weeks they were getting too big for the tray. But somehow I lost momentum. I kept looking at the thriving seedlings, imagining their roots spreading horizontally rather than deeply, tangling with one another, but kept putting off the day when I would transplant them. I found some pots to separate them into, cleaned them out. The pots stood empty for another couple of weeks. After having eagerly waited for the first green tips to emerge, followed by careful administration of moisture, temperature and sunlight, my responsibility for the young tomato plants had reached a stasis. I can think of several ordinary reasons for this: work, visitors from interstate, routines disrupted by school holidays, procrastination, distraction.

Fresh home-grown tomatoes ripe before Christmas are a nice idea. The reason I tell this small story is to illustrate how easy it is to lag, lose enthusiasm, not make the effort, even when you’re keen about making an idea happen that involves what Donna Haraway calls ‘the myriad of entangled, coshaping species of the earth’.[i] How much easier it is to let something die or fail to thrive when there’s a lag between your actions and their consequences. Or when you can remain anonymous in your choices. Or when choices involve not individual species close to human needs and desires (edible or decorative plants, pets, ‘cute’ threatened species), but whole ecological systems.

In the end I did transplant the seedlings, stirred into action, in fact, by beginning this blog and thinking about Natural Fuse’s networked planter boxes that invite their minders to risk killing another set of plants, out of sight, but not necessarily out of mind. I’m not sure many participants would dare risk the lethal dose of vinegar to their co-participants’ plants under the gaze of their imagined audience?

In a way I had no choice but to aid my tomatoes. They were right there in front of me, sharing my house and garden. (Apart from anything else, what would my six-year-old daughter who helped plant the seeds have said if I’d let them die? She’s another kind of imagined audience …)

I’ve been thinking about proximity—of what’s tangible—in relation to water too. Landscape ecologist Richard Forman notes that ‘a huge city population depends fundamentally and daily on resources that are out of sight, out of the city’.[ii] As a newly regular visitor to Sydney I’ve begun wandering some of Sydney’s waterways to get a sense of the water catchments that comprise City of Sydney’s topography. And to start thinking about those other invisible and distant catchments that supply the city’s water. But more on that another time.

Saskia Beudel will be contributing to wetrythisathome.org throughout the duration of the blog’s life; Sakia is the author of numerous essays and the novel Borrowed Eyes (Picador, 2002). Read more about Saskia HERE.

[i] Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet, 2007, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, p. 5

[ii] Forman, Richard, Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning Beyond the City,2008, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. xvii