PROVERBIAL OBSERVATORIES

A Highland Institute Initiative Directed by Jonathon Keats

In Collaboration with Anna Ziya Geerling and Michael Heneise, Ph.D.

Since time immemorial, proverbs have guided people, enlisting nature as a metaphor. In the past, references to the natural world helped to elucidate and reinforce behaviors and beliefs foundational to societies in which people knew nature intimately from everyday experience. The metaphors provided conceptual and linguistic grounding for abstract principles about ethics and interpersonal relationships.

Although familiarity with proverbs persists today, most people have scant connection with the flora and fauna alluded to in these old sayings. The metaphors now have the capacity to work in reverse, prompting collective memory of the more-than-human environment and renewing traditional ecological knowledge. Fully understood, proverbs reconnect nature and culture by facilitating socio-cultural biomimesis.

There is another level of awareness prompted by proverbs that is specifically relevant to present circumstances of climate change and mass-extinction. As mnemonics, proverbs recollect past conditions, and call out change to which we might otherwise be oblivious.

Proverbial Observatories is a global initiative to collect traditional proverbs and to bring them back into our shared landscape, both physically and virtually. Over time, the project will manifest in a network of interactive site-specific art installations and an online atlas of ecological knowledge. We invite you to contribute proverbs using this form.

Highlander Institute
Highlander Institute
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