Agriculture is the greatest living artwork depicting human history in two scenarios but what is the distinction between drawing on a white sheet of paper and on a green piece of land? The most evident distinction is that the former is created by a person and is static, whereas the latter is created by a collective group of various sentient individuals and is alive.

Although one question arises: What would someone see and feel if they looked out at that vast and green expanse of art-land (the earth's surface) all at once?

Mississippi/Atchafalaya river basin. Image courtesy of USGS

According to Yuval Noah Harari —historian, philosopher and author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — agriculture has been with us for 10,000 years and its emergence divided human history into two scenarios: one before agriculture, which was hunting-foraging and the other as agriculture itself, in which we are still living. When looking at this green piece of art-land (earth surface) and focusing on its agricultural layer, one will not only identify a part of human history with a completely different narrative, but one might also identify the main drivers of biodiversity loss and account for all current climate emissions.

Why is it that one of the key features that characterize human history is also one of the main problems that it faces today?

Harari points out in his book Sapiens that some "scholars had proclaimed that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward humanity." We thought we domesticated plants, but "these plants domesticated homosapiens...The agricultural revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites."

Despite this notion, which is only a portion of the bigger picture, some minorities such as the Indigenous community have seen agriculture in a different way, one that does not domesticate but coexists with nature, just as Julia Watson highlights in her work. It is a glimpse into the green piece of art composed by the earth’s surface.

Architect, designer and activist Julia Watson's career is a fantastic introduction and obvious example of how landscape architecture works and how it has always been at the forefront of human evolution, defining our way of life on the planet as it is inextricably related to agriculture. Her work, which is primarily consolidated in her book Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism, has the potential to be critical to some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, mainly in Climate Action, Life on Land and Life Below Water, by helping to redefine agriculture on a global scale.

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Lo—TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson. Image courtesy of Taschen.

Lo-TEK is a book that shows the essence of Watson’s job. It highlights some of the traditional agricultural practices used by Indigenous communities as a sophisticated technology for working with nature's complex ecosystems. These practices essentially understand natural cycles and therefore help to maintain Earth's balance. There are no domestications in between.

The Incas of Peru were one of Watson's research subjects. She explains how the Inca’s life was determined by its relationship with Lake Titicaca Basin, the primary condition that invited them to interact with the landscape and search for its reciprocity with everything outside their human body. Having this hydric body, the Incas created the Waru Waru Agricultural Terraces, a "topographic tapestry of raised fields and canals that work symbiotically with the extremes of climate fluctuations." As Watson suggests, this culture was linked in spirit and territory with this territory, a bond that caused them to see floodwaters as an ally rather than an enemy; it was the natural event that would make their agriculture thrive, even in a territory subject to deluge and severe drought.

The Waru Waru agricultural terraces. Image courtesy of Architectural Digest.

This agricultural practice is just one of many that Watson has documented in LO-TEK, a book that allows readers to take a close look at the details that make a difference when looking at the green piece of art-land (earth surface), the ones that aren't a part of the problem of biodiversity loss and climate change and demonstrate that agriculture can be done differently.

When it comes to human history, Indigenous tribes have their own book. They can be out of what Harari called "the biggest fraud in human history" referring to the agricultural revolution, as Julia Watson has proved their agriculture can play an important role in addressing climate change. This conversation demonstrates that nothing relating to humans is black or white; there is always a hue in between, thus it is critical to consider all perspectives of an issue in order to find a solution. Lo-TEK is a valuable instrument in the areas of redefining land use and agriculture reform.

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