in conversation with LIGIA POPLAWSKA

"Losing one's sight or hearing is one of the greatest human fears, but is also describes something unimaginable and uncontrollable, provoking magical thinking and speculation."

Artist: Ligia Popławska
Project: Fading Senses

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Noemi Carrara : When you started 'Fading Senses', what was your main influence in creating the project?

Ligia Popławska : From the beginning, I have been fascinated by the idea of the disappearance of the senses. Losing one's sight or hearing is one of the greatest human fears, but it also describes something unimaginable and uncontrollable, provoking magical thinking and speculation. It also provokes another reflection - that we lose our senses in a quite literal way, becoming indifferent to our growing footprint in the environment and gradually losing our connection with it as a society. A few years ago, I myself temporarily lost my sense of smell, which was a big inspiration for this project, giving me a new perspective, and the need to translate it into a visual image. The work was also inspired by notions of environmental anxiety and climate grief, which I also experienced myself.


NC : Can you explain a bit the meaning behind the term solastalgia?

LP : Solastalgia is a term coined already 20 years ago by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht. The term solastalgia can be understood as an emotional or existential distress caused by the effects of environmental changes directly related to one's home environment or beloved place. In contrast to nostalgia, it is a form of homesickness that is felt when someone is still at home. It is a concept similar to eco-anxiety, which is the anxiety caused by living in a changing and uncertain environment. As climate change worsens, solastalgia, eco-anxiety and climate grief are seen by researchers as one of the biggest mental health problems in the near future, affecting the younger generation in particular. This anxiety affects both indigenous communities who live in symbiosis with nature and see change up close, and anyone who sees the effects of the climate crisis in their own 'home'.

NC : What is your experience related to the emotions of climate grief and solastalgia?

LP : I recognised these feelings in myself when, in 2017, an unusual windstorm turned my beloved, centuries-old Tuchola Forest in northern Poland into an apocalyptic wasteland. A rich UNESCO-recognised biosphere reserve and one of the largest forests in Central Europe, it once looked like something out of a fairy tale. Over the course of one summer night, this home to many rare species, beavers, deer, elk and owls, disappeared. After the storm, there were no more bird sounds, no more smells of moss, no more sight of the forest, nothing of what was once there. Several years on, the forest is still in the process of healing and it will be many more years before it takes its former shape. The realisation of the loss of the ecosystem, the irreversible effects of the natural disaster and empathy for the suffering environment sparked the first images for Fading Senses.


NC : How did you apply your personal experience of temporary deprivation of the senses to the working methodology and visual language of the project? Did your relationship to the topic of solastalgia evolve while creating this series?

LP : A few years ago I experienced asomnia, a temporary loss of my sense of smell. It was a rather strange and alienating experience that brought new perspective, ideas and sharpened my perception. When Covid appeared and it became clear that one of its symptoms was the loss of the sense of smell, it felt like confirmation of my speculative hypothesis that gave origin to Fading Senses. I have always been interested in the concept of the senses, but here it took on a different dimension. When I was sensory deprived, certain images would first appear in my imagination because I was attracted to certain textures or sounds, and then I would look for a particular setting. It was important to me to keep the dream element in the series, creating a 'mental image' of someone who might be experiencing climate grief. I came across the name 'solastalgia' while researching the relationship between environmental anxiety, climate change and mental health. I started the project not knowing that such a word existed, it was only later that I found the missing puzzle to the story I was telling.

NC : Which places did you choose to photograph to visualise the project? Is there a specific reason behind the choice of these locations and how do they reflect the theme of disconnection?

LP : Images in the series come from different places, which were shot mostly locally in Belgium, where I live, and in Poland. I started the project in 2019 as a part of my MFA diploma project at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, under the supervision of dr. Geert Goiris. At the beginning the pandemic made it difficult to travel, but I have continued the project afterwards. I chose spaces which connected to the notion of protection, like animal health center, home for visually impaired, acrobatic center, socialist buildings, the Tuchola Forest. In these places I searched for signs of disconnection and grief, elements relating to senses, animal care and extinction, hallucinations, anthropocentrism.


NC : We are referring to our magazine as a 'slow photography', as a desire to slow down the creative process to have a more intentional or meaningful approach, and not only focusing on an aesthetic. Can you relate this project or your practice to it and in what way?

LP : I can definitely relate to the notion of slow photography, as the way I work requires a lot of preparation and research. This doesn't necessarily mean that I don't shoot on impulse or spontaneously - because I do, but I usually spend a lot of time planning and thinking about what I'm going to shoot and how I'm going to shoot it, especially when it comes to a specific project like Fading Senses. I believe its better to spend more time on a project, take a right distance to it and create something authentic, rather than produce fast but without reflection.


NC : Are you planning any other projects or initiatives to continue exploring the topics of emotional distress caused by the loss of ecosystems?

LP : In 2023 I have been gathering material about experience of solastalgia on individuals in Portugal who suffered from wildfires. I went there last year for a research supported by Flemish Government, which resulted in a series Sensitive Territories. Hopefully, I will be able to return there this year to continue the project. I am expanding research on other territories and starting work on a new project as well, but I cannot share much yet.

© Ligia Poplawska

Interview and Editor : Noemi Carrara


'Fading Senses’ explores the emotions of climate grief and solastalgia, and delves into the impact of climate change on our senses. This series was inspired by a hundred-year-old Tuchola Forest. A rich biosphere reserve recognised by UNESCO and one of the biggest forests in Central Europe, looks like something out of a fairytale. Over one summer night in 2017, an extraordinary windstorm turned this home to beavers, red deers, elks, and eagle owls, among other species, into an apocalyptic wasteland. After the storm, there was no more sound of the birds, no more smells, no view of the forest, nothing of what used to be there. Being strongly affected by the disappearance of the forest and the temporary loss of smell, I recognised how deeply climate change can affect our senses and emotions, rising a question: what happens if we lose our senses? During my research, I came across the word ‘solastalgia’. Coined twenty years ago by the Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, this term describes both the emotional shock and the feeling of distress that can be experienced when confronted with the sudden disappearance of a previously familiar landscape. In times of multispecies extinction and devastating effects caused by climate change, environmental anxiety and climate grief are a rising problem affecting societies, predicted by scientists to be one of the biggest mental health problems of the near future. Turning my research into a speculative narration, with ‘Fading Senses’ I aim to create an image of an ungraspable sensation to underline the alarming effects of climate crisis on mental and emotional health.
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