The Growth of Degrowth: From a Circular to a Spiral Economy

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought drastic life changes to the worldwide population. The global economy has been shaken, so are our social interactions. Terms like “social distancing”, “virtual meeting”, “working remotely” have become part of our vocabulary. While the world is slowly returning to—or even only planning—a lifestyle pre-pandemic, the lesson taught by COVID-19 is not learned. The reopening of the economy focuses on returning to the economic growth, mainly based on consumerism and greatly contributing to the environmental crisis, which seemed to have slow down due to the change of lifestyle brought by the pandemic.

A positive transformation, directly related to dealing with the crisis brought by the pandemic, could have been actualized by the shift from the paradigm of economy growth to degrowth. The term degrowth—a translation of the French term “décroissance”, also known in Italian as “decrescita”—encompasses political, economic, environmental and social theories as well as movements. The degrowth, associated to sustainability, advocates the reduction of production and consumption of material goods, stating that GDP is not an indicator of well-being: economic growth and wealth does not produce health for humankind and the environment. The degrowth has a historical tradition dating to the 19th century, with thinkers and artists devoted to the celebration of nature, including John Ruskin, William Morris and Henry David Thoreau. In the 1970s, the philosopher and economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, author of The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, stated the correlation between environmental degrade and economic growth. In 2008, the French economist Serge Latouche authored a manifesto on degrowth titled Petit traité de la décroissance sereine and stated the correlation between GDP and environmental degrade. The degrowth has merged with other economical movements.

As an artist and designer, I have become involved with the décroissance since the past two decades when I started developing Sun Farm a project developed to art-in-nature and sustainability. Already in my lifestyle I have been trying to eliminate any kind of consumption which is not essential to the physical or mental wellbeing. In my furniture design I make only functional objects, where form is expression of function, following a minimalist aesthetics, oggetti indispensabili in cui la forma diventa un’espressione della funzione. In Sun Farm I started working on “ReCycled LandScapes.” In Sun Farm art meets sustainable living in an experiential garden, site-specific to the topography of the site, as an “art in nature” and “bio-art” project, where art is a vehicle to interpret celestial events in a place designed to make us “aware of where we are in space and time.” Drawn from cosmology, observational astronomy and philosophy, Sun Farm consists of excavated earthworks, large scale environments and above ground constructions: the sun’s daily path is represented, literally and metaphorically, by two spirals connected by a ¾ mile long axis. Several narratives are involved: ideation concepts are expressed in writings and diagrams, representations and digital models, images, and computer generated animations. Astronomical diagrams, charts, time lapse photographs and videos are not only documentation and presentation tools but also enhance the perception of the artworks.

The landscape is by its own nature a living organism, in constant transformation, especially in a geological and climatic location. This is especially true for the site of “Sun Farm” located in a climatic region characterized by temperature extremes, strong winds, extreme precipitations, snow and ice storms —which make extremely challenging permanent interventions on the landscape. “Sun Farm” was initially inspired by the permanent earthworks which characterize the land art movement. Throughout the year my work has evolved from land art to art in nature, in an relationship with nature which could be situated in the framework of contemporary “romanticism” based on environmental concerns. Semantically I prefer to use the word re-cycle instead of de-growth. Cycle are constantly present in life: day and night, seasons, birth and death are cycles in human life, nature and in the universe. In nature often cycles coincide with astronomical cycles, e.g. agricultural cycles follow the Earth-Sun cycles. Recycling for me means repetition/representation of a cycle. A poetic of re-cycle can extend in many different modalities and scale of interventions, from the human body to the landscape. “ReCycled LandScapes” are realized with materials found on site: dirt, stones, branches and trunks of fallen trees, often because of ice storms. Sometimes I use even snow and ice. So far I have realized two different “ReCycled LandScapes”:
• elements found in the site are arranged in static forms, such as Lines and Grids;
• in Orto Solare the earth is instead transformed in dynamic processes leading to agricultural production.

Art & décroissance: grass clippings recycled for landscaping elements
Art & décroissance “Orto Solare” at Sun Farm
art made of a recycled landscape: a 3x4 grid defined by trunks of fallen trees
Art & décroissance as recycled landscape: stones and grass patterns at Sun Farm

My contribution to an aesthetics of the décroissance can also be situated in the metaphor taken by economic models. There are other economic theories and practices alternative to the linear models of industrial growth, yet less radical than the décroissance. These models try to address the environment crisis by the linear economy, where natural resources are taken to create material goods and then disposed. The circular (loop) economy is one example: an economic model with the objective of a continuous (circular) use of resources and production. In the circular economy, waste of one process is reused to feed the production in another process, differently from the linear economy model, where production is associated to consumption and disposal, without recycling. The circular economy started from the 1976 report “The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy” by Swiss architect Walter Stahel. More recently has been supported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The principles of circular economy can be applied to agriculture as well as different types of industry, including construction, automotive, textile and energy.

In models of economy theories and practices, geometry offers modalities of interpretation and representation: lines and circles make diagrams which explain production processes. More integrated models can be used to address economic processes establishing a continuity between materials, products and services where economy, social and environment are integrated. The geometry metaphor can lead to the spiral. The principles of a “spiral economy” are still evolving. A definition is “a merging of the concepts of the degrowth economy and the circular economy”. While the circular economy does not attempt to reduce production, the focus of a spiral economy is slowing and shrinking loops, rather than just closing them. A spiral model of economy provides a more open framework for innovation and knowledge production, emerging from expanding or contracting path of production, use, and recycling; it encourages collaborations and other human-nature interactions in the economic process, which is not limited by the circle boundary. Ultimately a spiral model better express the systemic nature not only of economy by of reality.

I am a research artist, scholar, author, inventor, designer and…survivor of bullying and domestic abuse. Creativity and yoga are a survival means to challenges.