Echoes of the 4th UCLG Culture Summit II “Notes on the Culture Summit in Izmir: Tackling the Shortness of Breath”

December '21

Notes on the Culture Summit in Izmir: Tackling the Shortness of Breath

Can Zeren (Ph.D.)

I reached the primitive hut[1] and I got my barcode. Following the beep sound, I proved that I had been a registered, innocent, and vaccinated participant who was permitted to enter the climatized venue of the summit. The opening session started with politicians' speeches as usual. The date was 9 September 2021. The Independence Day of Izmir was celebrating with full enthusiasm.

After their speeches, politicians gathered for a family photo on the stage. Then, a substantial crowd –full of advisers and guards, I guessed— stood up, clustered around them, and left the venue altogether. Suddenly, I realized a peaceful silence even I could detect the white noise of air conditioning. That was also the moment when Vandana Shiva, the well-known ecofeminist activist, was appeared on the screen as the first keynote speaker, remotely joining the summit by video conferencing technology.

“We Have One Health”

Shiva began her speech by mentioning the Sanskrit concepts of Sanskriti and Vikriti. She stated that Sanskriti refers to culture that “holds us together” and Vikriti refers to degeneration that “breaks apart” our relations with all our human and nonhuman companions. In her book Staying Alive published back in 1988, Shiva also emphasizes these concepts along with Prakriti that means the original substance, the original condition of diversity, harmony, and the feminine principle, and which we must take care of to flourish with life.[2] Similarly, in her speech, Shiva described culture as the co-flourishing with life and being “able to recognize how we are related to the Earth”. Certainly, it can be said that this ability to reflect on ourselves is a way to sustain our careful and intimate relation with the Earth and to establish the “Earth Democracy”[3] among all human and nonhuman inhabitants of the planet.

Considering Shiva’s philosophy, Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet of India, is a true inspiration for her.[4] Here, indicating this inspiration is vital since Tagore emphasizes the distinction between the western civilization, originating in the city and the Indian civilization, originating in the forest. Here, Tagore’s point is the difference between a ‘mentality of disintegration’ and a ‘mentality fostering harmony and unification’: “Not being caged in brick, wood and iron, Indian thinkers were surrounded by and linked to the life of the forest” says Tagore.[5] In line with the forest culture, Shiva continued her speech accentuating that -the planet and humanity as a whole- “we only have one health” and we must take care of this health. In this sense, she described the cities “as the gut of human civilization” and “it is from this gut that health will take resurgence again” she underlined. It is surely beyond doubt that, this recovery relies on caring for the health of mind, body, and environment as entangled and nourishing the health of the web of life.

According to Shiva, diversity and democracy are integrated, and they flourish from the bottom-up, from the earth. Therefore, she emphasized that “dictatorships come from the top-down” and “bombs are dropped from the top-down”. At this very moment, a loud rumble was heard in the sky. This was the sound of aerobatic fighter planes. Vandana Shiva was finishing her speech with a poem: “in this earth, in this soil, in this pure field, let us not plant any seed other than the seed of compassion and love.”

“The Will to Thought”

Then, professor Serhan Ada took the stage for his keynote on “a new sustainability”, while the loud rumble of the fighter planes was still sustaining. He started to deliver his speech touching upon the high-speed race and acceleration that persist in human society despite the pandemic, accompanied by all other catastrophes that are currently besieging the globe. In this context, he put forward the need to elucidate the concept of “survival” and to grasp ecology and public health as part of the culture. Moreover, elaborating on “sustainability”, Ada underlined how it is significant to attune ourselves to the rhythms of nature and nonhumans while dealing with the problem of acceleration “at the dusk of Anthropocene”. Facing the dusk, he expressed that the cultural activities and art are the tools for this attunement along the way to nourish “the sustainability of beauty and life itself”. At this juncture, Ada emphasized that it is now the time to generate new concepts. In this sense, he completed his speech with a proposal to replace Friedrich Nietzsche’s “will to power” with the “will to thought”.

Dancing with “Healthier Concepts”

In fact, in the Fall of 1885, the philosopher and “the poet of the summits”[6] writes in an unpublished draft for the preface of the Will to Power that it is “A book for thinking, nothing else: it belongs to those for whom thinking is a delight, nothing else”.[7] Moreover, “thinking”, Nietzsche adds elsewhere, “wants to be learned as dancing… with the feet, with concepts, with words”[8]. Considering dancing as a health practice, the “will to thought” thus can be described as a “will to health”.

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche emphasizes the importance of absorbing “sickness” as a perspective that empowers one to generate “healthier concepts”.[9] He refers to his sickness as “an energetic stimulant” which enabled him to establish his philosophy out of this “will to health” and “will to life”.[10] Here, Nietzsche does not point to a dualistic and medicalized notion of health and sickness. Beyond that, he aims for the “great health” which we do not have, but we can only remain in a never-ending struggle to “acquire” it[11], which provides, in turn, the ability to face both “joy” and “woe” altogether.[12]

This struggle for sure requires a “plastic power” that Nietzsche describes as “the capacity to develop out of oneself in one's own way, to transform and incorporate into oneself what is past and foreign, to heal wounds, to replace what has been lost, to recreate broken moulds.”[13] However, the plastic power demands slowness and smallness. Plasticity has nothing to do with shortcuts and immediate solutions.

Relatedly, in his preface to Daybreak, Nietzsche represents himself “as a teacher of slow reading” and emphasizes the deep and unhurried art of “slow reading”.[14] In fact, this art of slowness points to the utmost attention to life under hard conditions: “in the midst of an age of 'work', that is to say, of a hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to 'get everything done' at once” says Nietzsche to underline these conditions.[15] Along with slowness, Nietzsche indicates elsewhere “the ability to be small”:

One has still to be as close to the flowers, the grass and the butterflies as is a child, who is not so very much bigger than they are. We adults, on the other hand, have grown up high above them and have to condescend to them; I believe the grass hates us when we confess our love for it. - He who wants to partake of all good things must know how to be small at times.[16]

The “will to thought” asks us to dance with healthier concepts and demands the ability to become friends with slowness and smallness. It refers to an attunement with the rhythms of the planetary inhabitants. Then, we must adopt the current state of sickness as a perspective for an urgent but perpetual practice of health and to be able to read the entanglement of nature-culture carefully and slowly.

“No more Extractions, but Intersections”

The most repeated theme at the Culture Summit: From now on, it is impossible to think of culture as a separate sector. All the things that bring joy or pain, that heal or wound, all the crises and resolutions are related to culture and arts. Now, there is an increasing awareness that culture is indeed entangled also with landscapes, resources, infrastructures, as Nicolas Buchoud[17] underlined in his speech. In this sense, industrial designer Tita Larasati also pointed to the immense cultural diversity of Indonesia, which is composed of approximately 17,000 islands, and how this diversity is dependent on infrastructures to sustain dialogue and unity.

Our resources and infrastructures are as cultural as our artworks. Grasping culture in this way affords us a potential to perform a critical practice on how we relate to life. For instance, let’s consider the color of Tyrian purple that is qualified as a noble color in history. Murex shellfish in the Mediterranean that has provided this pigment, is said to be extinct because of rising sea temperatures.[18] Since ancient times, the extractivist mentality has driven the shellfish to extinction. Overharvesting has disrupted marine life while having possible cascade impacts on the resilience of the ecosystem. Throughout history, the same mentality has evolved into the extractivist industries, paving the way for the current climate crisis that is driving many other species to possible extinction. Contrary to this extractivist mentality, in her speech, Larasati aptly mentioned a valuable expression: “No more extracting but intersecting.”

Climbing to Overcome Hierarchical Thinking

Intersections at all dimensions, at all levels: For non-hierarchical relations with all the inhabitants of our planet, without discrimination, without racism, and without speciesism… However, focusing solely on resolving the ecological crisis without overcoming hierarchical thinking will probably result in sustainable hierarchies. Think of fully recycled aircrafts that are dropping fully recycled bombs during decarbonized sustainable wars… Think of companies constructing or designing huge "green" airports while organizing fancy public art projects with the motives of ecological action. Then, is it enough to live within a recycled, and supposedly carbon-neutral world without any cure for hierarchical thinking? We must continue to ask such questions and warn ourselves every single day since the crisis is not only about the climate and ecology. It is the crisis of hierarchical thinking and of those who are responsible for sustaining it. In the workshop session on Culture and the Climate Emergency, Dr. Güven Eken mentioned an expression of Anatolian villagers: “For the wolf, for the bird, for the food.” Therefore, by saying these words of hope while spreading the seeds, those villagers can be defined as the great climbers that can overcome hierarchical thinking.

Creative Entanglement of Nature and Culture

In the same session, Andrew Potts, representing the Climate Heritage Network, emphasized how crucial the “mobilization of cultural heritage” is for “climate action”. He criticized the “business-as-usual” mentality both in the heritage sector and in general. Then, Potts drew attention to the urgent need to establish a dialogical space between the cultural heritage sector and climate scientists to empower the perspective of solidarity. At the end of his speech, he used the tagline “counting culture in climate action” in the name of a systemic change. In that case, the recovery of the planet and the culture together with the future of vulnerable natural-cultural heritage demand such a deep and common responsibility.

Here, it is also apt to mention the contributions of Alison Tickell at the summit, the founder of Julie’s Bicycle, an initiative mobilizing creative action of arts and culture to tackle the ecological and climate crisis. Tickell underlined that we are experiencing a “cultural crisis” rather than just a climate crisis. In this sense, she expressed that one of the main activities of the initiative is to generate a hub of translation between ecology and culture to contribute to the environmental literacy in the culture/arts sector, to flourish a sustainable ecosystem of nature and culture while tackling racial and gender inequalities.

Fresh Air for “Human Agency”

The moves for a dialogic connection between arts/culture and environmental/climate action are vital. At the same time, the aforementioned initiatives provide significant lessons pointing to a ‘crisis of humanity’ rather than a ‘planet in crisis’. In fact, this approach enables to constitute a posthumanist conception of “sustainable becoming” incorporating all nonhumans, and humans, rather than the anthropocentric notion of “sustainable development”.[19] Such a perspective requires an attunement with nonhuman agencies. Yet, we should not forget the “human agency” as Prof. Şebnem Yücel underlined while delivering her speech on culture and public spaces. In this sense, Yücel succinctly summed up the main aim of creative communities, arts, culture, and design initiatives is to become “enablers of human agency” in the face of privatization, gentrification, and spaces of consumption. Here, what Yücel meant by "enabling of human agency" is that the encouragement of people's “right and the power to experience” public spaces that are open to “equal access” where they feel “free” and “comfortable” in terms of action, self-expression and “cultural deliberation”. In brief, all these actions serve to generate a breathable atmosphere for human agency, to provide the air of imagination and freedom for a healthy planet.

Urgent but Slow and Perpetual Cures

We have air hunger. The crisis of culture makes us starve. How we might be able to co-breath with all humans and nonhumans within naturecultures? Here, in the middle of this starvation, in the face of acceleration and the collapse of our attention, Italian philosopher Franco “Bifo” Berardi describes the current crisis of breathing and its possible cure:

We are in the midst of a global crisis of breathing: our lungs and air pollution are today’s problem. But at the same time, we are discovering a kind of relationship between humans that takes precedence over economic and instrumental relationships. It is the relationship of the harmony of breathing, of sharing a rhythm, an erotic rhythm, of intelligence, of poetry, of walking through the city, of night and day. The rhythm of breathing. I am waiting for the emergence of an idea of equality based on the planetary harmony of breathing.[20]

On the other hand, Nietzsche also recommends “slow cures” for the shortness of breath that emerges from “countless little unheeded instances of neglect.”[21] Nietzsche’s slow cures for the health of body and mind encompass slow exercises to gradually alter even the smallest habit in our lives and to cope with the air hunger.[22] Art as a health practice[23] can produce this cure, in other words, the fresh air of freedom and imagination to empower our capacities. Not only art, but every seemingly trivial act incorporates the potential for creative cures. Since we are short of breath even at sea level, these summits open the windows that are providing fresh air to sustain breathing. Yet, formal meetings probably won’t be enough without our everyday actions that are born of our very own lives. These actions for the planetary health should include the slow reading of the rhythms of the Earth and inventing healthier concepts to overcome hierarchical thinking. We need urgent but perpetual actions while embodying slowness and paying attention to smallness. This is the only way that the air of the summits might infuse everyday life and generate a breathable atmosphere at all altitudes.



[1]  “Primitive hut” is not a pejorative. In 1775, Marc-Antoine Laugier conceptualized this as the original form of all architecture composed of columns, entablature, and pediment. Hanno-Walter Kruft, History of Architectural Theory (Princeton Architectural Press, 1994), 152.

[2] Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (Zed Books, 1988), 7; 38-40.

[3] Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace (Zed Books, 2005).

[4] “Vandana Shiva: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest,” YES! Magazine, May 3, 2019,

[5] Shiva, Staying Alive, 55-56.

[6] Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, trans. Edith Farell and Frederick Farell (Dallas Institute Publications, 2011), 127.

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), xxii.

[8] Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with the Hammer (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub, 1997), 48-49.

[9] Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo: How to Become What You Are, trans. Duncan Large, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 8.

[10] Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 9.

[11] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Arnold Kaufmann, 1st ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 346.

[12] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, trans. Walter Kaufmann (Penguin Books, 1978), 323.

[13] Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 62.

[14] Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, ed. Maudemarie Clark and Brian Leiter, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 5.

[15] Nietzsche, Daybreak, 5.

[16] Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 323.

[17] President of the Grand Paris Alliance for Metropolitan Development

[18] Peter Beaumont, “Ancient Shellfish Used for Purple Dye Vanishes from Eastern Med,” The Guardian, December 5, 2016, sec. Environment,

[19] Nick J Fox and Pam Alldred, “Sustainability, Feminist Posthumanism and the Unusual Capacities of (Post)Humans,” Environmental Sociology 6, no. 2 (April 2, 2020), 125.;

[20]“‘Capitalism Is No Longer Inevitable.’ A Conversation with Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi,” L’Internationale Online, July 28, 2020, Link for the original transcription in Spanish: Link for the podcast in Spanish:

[21] Nietzsche, Daybreak, 193.

[22] Nietzsche, Daybreak, 193.

[23] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 427.


Photo: UCLG.



Can Zeren received his Ph.D. in Communication Sciences from Istanbul Bilgi University in February 2021, with a dissertation titled “An Ecology of Political Communication: Propaganda Geographies and Infrastructural Uproar in Istanbul.” He earned his B.A. in Business Administration from Izmir University of Economics and his M.A. in Media and Communication Systems from Istanbul Bilgi University, where he also worked as a teaching assistant. He currently continues his studies as an independent researcher. His research interests include media ecologies, political communication, materiality and media, infrastructure studies, urban communication, philosophy of communication and ecological media literacy.