The environment – despite the way we are used to thinking about it – was not and is not a passive background for historical processes and events. Going beyond the anthropocentric perspective allows us to see nature as an actor, witness and co-participant of history, and landscape to be read as a living archive in which traces of past events are recorded. The violent practices that were applied to people in the 20th century not only had an impact on the environment, but also have their roots in the modern attitude to nature. Systems of classification of living organisms, practices of their arranging, subordination and exploitation had their analogy in the practices of classifying people. 

In “Second Nature”, Agata Siniarska (performance) and Karolina Grzywnowicz (installation) deal with the subject of Nazi violence which, within the framework of an extermination project based on racial criteria, led to the death of millions, using nature as a camouflage, a raw material and an unwilling ally. “Second Nature’s” artistic double voice shows the connection between Nazi genocide and violent practices in the natural environment. Agata Siniarska’s performance takes as its starting point the work and biography of Pola Nireńska, a choreographer and dancer, a Polish Jewess who – having avoided death herself – lost most of her family in the Holocaust. The context for the performance is Karolina Grzywnowicz’s garden-installation, entirely composed of plants that were the subject of Nazi violent practices. Purposeful is both the gesture of selection and arrangement, which is inevitably inscribed in the creation of the garden, as well as the information plates accompanying the plants, which indicate the connection between seemingly innocent classification practices and exploitation inscribed in genocide and ecocide. Inscribing Pola Nireńska’s biographical experience in the broad context of the environmental history of the Nazi genocide, Siniarska and Grzywnowicz’s work draws attention to the persistence of past violence in the surrounding landscape of eco-witnesses, as well as the persistence of violent practices against nature and contemporary exploitation of the environment.

Aleksandra Janus