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Around Nature Discussion Series

The Value of Nature

Thursday, May 14, 2020, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. EDT

Zoom Event

In Collaboration with the Cultural Office of the Spanish Embassy

Watch a recording of the session on YouTube.

Moderated by Diana Ayton-Shenker, this panel discussion with Rob Carter, Blanca de la TorreJohn Robert McNeill and Pablo Vargas will focus on the economic causes and consequences of the first circumnavigation around the world. Five hundred years ago, nutmeg and clove changed our view of the world forever. In modern history, wheat, rice, corn or sugar have led to similar if not bigger changes. Today, more than food or spices, minerals, real estate, gas and oil are what define the economic value of nature.


Rob Carter creates multidisciplinary artworks concerning the history of human interaction with the planet’s ecosystems. Installation, video and photographic works focus on historical developments in plant sciences, monetization of the natural world and our dependence on various plant species. 

Blanca de la Torre is an art historian, curator and writer who specializes in intersections of art, ecology, and sustainability. She served as Head of Exhibitions at the Artium Museum, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain (2009-2014). During her tenure, she initiatied a new exhibition program based in recycling, process-oriented practices and DIY culture, which featured more than fifteen international artists. She has curated exhibitions worldwide, including at MoCAB, the Contemporary Art Museum of Belgrade, Serbia; Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg, Austria; Elisabeth Foundation Project Space, New York; Centro de las Artes, Monterrey, Mexico; NC-Arte, Bogotá, Colombia; the LAZNIA Contemporary Art Center, Gdansk, Poland; and MUSAC in León, Spain.

John Robert McNeill is an environmental historian, author, and professor at Georgetown University. He is best known for pioneering the study of environmental history. In 2000 he published Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World, which argues that human activity during the 20th century led to environmental damage on an unprecedented scale.

Pablo Vargas is a Research Professor at the Spanish National Research Council. His main interests are in the investigation of biogeography, evolutionary biology, and preservation. For more than 35 years, he has been investigating floristry, taxonomy, systematics, genetics, ecology and the evolution of plants with flowers. He is the curator and coordinator of the project The Natural History of Antonio Pigafetta During the First Trip Around the World, created in collaboration with Madrid’s Royal Botanic Garden to research the botanical spices found during the first trip around the world. The results are being presented as an exhibition, a scientific publication and a series of panels.

Diana Ayton-Shenker is CEO of Leonardo/International Society of the Arts, Sciences and Technology; Executive Director of the Arizona State University-Leonardo Initiative, and Professor of Practice at ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and School of Arts, Media, & Engineering.

About the Series

This multidisciplinary project by the Cultural Office of the Spanish Embassy and artist Juanli Carrión explores the consequences of the Magellan-Elcano expedition. On the occasion of the 5th Centenary of the first trip around the world, accomplished by Juan Sebastian Elcano, Spanish artist Juanli Carrión has organized a series of programs that include online discussions presented in collaboration with CPNAS.

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