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Filipa Ramos, Author and Curator

I dream of a world in which toilet paper is seen as a problem, not a solution. While this world comes into being, I see toilet paper as the white, normative and selfish son of our times.

By Filipa Ramos

Filipa Ramos © Plastiques Photography

What would you say are symbols of your current situation or the current situation in your country?

Boreal forests are stunning. Vast horizons that spread out as far as the eyes can see; rivers and skies separated by thick clusters of slender trees. With weather and seasons, these green and blue landscapes give way to many other hues, from golden to cetacean blue. The tundra’s prism is in constant change, even when it looks eternal and untouchable. Boreal forests are traversed by life. Their ecosystems home many communities of the Northern Hemisphere. They provide habitat for sedentary and migratory animals, humans comprised, as well as plants, fungi and lichens. People, wolves, bears, birds, birches, pines, bluebells, bogs, fens, chanterelles, puffballs, lungworts, mosses. When these forests breathe, they help us breathe, providing an important reservoir of biogenic carbon.
Blue Mountains, 2004, colored pencil, graphite, acrylic and spray paint on paper. 21 x 32 cm Blue Mountains, 2004, colored pencil, graphite, acrylic and spray paint on paper. 21 x 32 cm | © Basim Magdy
Since the 1950s, with an exponential increase during the last years, old-growth forests have been clearcut and forest landscapes have been fragmented and cleared for timber. One of its main purposes? The extraction of virgin wood pulp to produce toilet paper. Catered for a small but demanding fraction of the world’s population, toilet paper is a growing industry. Most brands refuse to use to sustainable or recycled materials, as customers want ultra-soft, cushioned, multi-ply products.

When the Covid-19 epidemy assumed worldwide proportions, there was an irrational surge in the consumption of toilet paper. Books, journals, knitting accessories, puzzles, yoga mats, sudoku magazines or kombucha scobies sold less than toilet paper. For hundreds of thousands of people, planning a pandemic lockdown meant assuring the continuity of their urination and defecation rituals. It also meant that their sanitation habits (easily replaced by other, equally hygienic systems) were more important than nature. A clean ass is worth more than the boreal trees, peoples, animals, and colours. One day, our generations may be remembered as those who logged the world’s old forests to clean their behinds. I cannot think of anything more representative of our stupidity and selfishness.

I dream of a world in which toilet paper is seen as a problem, not a solution. While this world comes into being, I see toilet paper as the white, normative and selfish son of our times.

How will the pandemic change the world? What do you see as long-term consequences of the crisis?

The African swine fever is a highly contagious virus endemic to sub-Saharan Africa that has infected and killed over one million animals. The virus exists in the wild through a persistent cycle of infection between ticks and wild pigs. The modern breeding conditions of domestic pigs makes them particularly vulnerable to the virus, which can be spread to them by ticks and the ingestion of infected pork products. The virus, which has a high mortality rate, causes a haemorrhagic fever that can kill a pig in a week. Infected pigs gradually lose appetite, they become depressed. Groups of sick pigs huddle together, shivering, breathing abnormally and coughing. They can barely stand on their legs. Within a few days, pigs go into coma and die. Pregnant sows suffer spontaneous abortions, even if there is nothing spontaneous about them.

Humans are not susceptible to the African swine fever and pigs are not susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2. Will the Covid-19 change the pig world or will the African swine fever change the human world? I am not sure. The perception of the separated existence of these two worlds­, human and animal, has been going on for too long so I am not sure it is possible to see a correlation between the two. What I am sure of is that the world will not change if humans fail to see that it is them, not the world, that need to change.

What gives you hope?

There is a small shed under the stairs of my garden. It has an old wooden door that does not close well so it has been left ajar. Since April, two robins have been going in and out of the shed through this slit, flying through the narrow opening by one of those wonders of nature I call magic. This is something you cannot spot immediately. The birds are small, shy and silent and their rhythm is steady but also paced out. In the beginning, I thought it was a coincidence to see them there or I simply imagined them to be curious about this place. Last week, they started coordinating their actions. While one robin stays vigilant, checking that the situation is clear, the other flies in, generally carrying a worm or a berry in its beak. When the bird gets in, it is followed by an effusion of little chirping noises, coming from the inside. Then the chirping stops, the bird leaves the shed and both birds resume their worm-hunting and berry-gathering activities. These two robins found a refuge in a human-made space, which they turned into their nest. These baby birds that I cannot see but only hear make me believe that a shared future is possible.

What is your personal strategy for dealing with this situation?

I have been dreaming of the forests, thinking about the pigs, fearing the contact with the virus and looking at the loving birds. Together, they make me believe that a hard but better future is possible. All it takes is change.