DESIGNING NATURE'S PALETTE
Coined by ecologist Ranil F.Senenayake ‘Analog Forestry’ is a form of ecological restoration that seeks to design ecosystems, processes and structures that mimic the original, in other words, a process to creating man-made forests. It elevates the ecologist to that of a designer, as s/he entails the need to be creative to sustain populations of native biodiversity. As Analog Forestry requires the ecologist to reflect on the texture of the soil, canopy or sub-canopy species in the design, the aspects of selection and placement depend much on the vision of the ecologist. This particular science can be construed as an art in its character that requires the ecosystem to be designed from each element of fauna and flora, and consequently, Dr. Ranil Senanayake takes on this vital role of an artist, a painter, to design this landscape.
Dr. F. Ranil Senanayake hails from the old, respected family in Sri Lanka of D. S. Senanayake, former first Prime Minister. Dr. Ranil Senanayake’s grandfather F. R. Senanayake was the freedom fighter accredited with securing the independence of Sri Lanka and initiator of the Temperance Movement, and his father C. U. Senanayake was instrumental in developing the Sarvodaya movement and the National Heritage movements of Sri Lanka. Ecologist, Dr. Senanayake, is currently working on alternate models of development, sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty in envisioning the progress of Sri Lanka. In conversation with him, we unravel the nature and scope of Analog Forestry to that of a work of art and science.
Q | In your opinion, who is an ecologist?
A | The dictionary definition of the word ecology means a study of one’s house. The house is everything around us, so an ecologist is a person who studies the relationships of everything that’s about us. Generally, an ecologist is someone who should have a broad knowledge about the ecosystem they’re studying or looking at. I’ll tell you an anecdote, long time ago when I was a snake collector. I had a dear friend of mine, Vicki Athukorala who was Sri Lanka’s first diver. We used to travel around a lot with him and learnt a lot about the environment around us. Then I went to school and when I came back, he asked me, “Ranil, you’ve been away so long, what did you learn when you were there?” And what I had to tell him was that I learnt a new language in which to say what we knew about the forest. But this language is very powerful – it allows you management, it allows you to make predictions about the environment. Today, we have science and we use it as a language, and as a tool.
Q | In your opinion as both an ecologist and an artist, how would you draw an analogy between the two?
A | To me, in terms of art, I would like to look at great artists who state what it is and also what it is not. I will quote Ananda Coomaraswamy who says, “We who call art significant, knowing not of what, are also proud to progress, know not whither” summarises the modern condition. Edgar Degas, who’s also an artist says, “Art is not what you see but it is what you make others see.”
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