Dr. Marianne Guarino-Huet
Dr. Olivier Desvoignes

The potency of permaculture dwells in its employment of systems such as conglomerations of plants replicating the unity of a guild and food forests’ application of layered planting to generate dynamic and polycultural edible ecosystems. Permaculture is a guide for designing systems that emphasize interspecies collaborations, sculpting a role for the human construction of environments in which these multi-species entanglements can flourish. Popularized by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the 1970s, permaculture originated as a sustainable substitute to dominant commercial agricultural systems, presenting an alternative to monoculture and industrial farming. The portmanteau “permaculture” is derivative of “permanent agriculture”, echoed by the systems’ ability to self-sustain. Since permaculture's nascence as an agricultural approach, it has expanded to include implementation in the fabrication of other systems such as in the realm of the social. Holmgren describes it as a “design systems for resilient living and land use, based on universal ethics and ecological design principles.”[1] He continues to express the malleability of its usage, “the same ethics and principles apply to design of buildings, tools, and technology. Applying permaculture ethics and principles in our gardens and homes inevitably leads us towards redesigning our ways of living so as to be more in tune with local surpluses and limits.” The twelve pillars of permacultural commence with states of observation and interaction, in a harmonious correlation to Tsing’s arts of noticing and Haraway’s response-ability.

Participatory action research spiral. Credit – Alice McIntrye

In permaculture systems, human intervention is solely a means of initiation, delegating the role of fabrication to the human as a means to erect an armature, in which the sculpture subsequently commences to build itself, allowing the system to self orchestrate from thereon. The one who intervenes becomes an agent of activation, a catalyst that prompts the fabrication of a platform upon which nature can take its course. The role of the intervention or mediation is one to return to in the analysis of collaborative practice, particularly the delicate equilibrium in the construction of the aforementioned armature, whether physical or social. Once established, this armature propagates intra-action, a replacement term for interaction proposed by theoretical physicist and feminist theorist Karen Barad. Intra-action “necessitates pre-established bodies that then participate in action with each other. Intra-action understands agency as not an inherent property of an individual or human to be exercised, but as a dynamism of forces in which all designated ‘things’ are constantly exchanging and diffracting, influencing and working inseparably.”[2] By embracing permacultural approach as methodology, a structure arises that nourishes intra-action amongst human and non-human matter. Working with the parallel between the intangible social structures and the tangible structures of permaculture germinates potential to learn from and with notions of intra-action.

Credit: Beth Dempster

[1] Holmgren, David. (2018). RetroSuburbia: The Downshifter’s Guide to a Resilient Future. Melliodora Publishing.

[2] Barad, Karen. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press.

Published in May 2020
HEAD – Genève,
Haute école d'art et de design