Sifting Through Sources

Reflection on thesis topic progress:
This year is ramping up as I begin to discuss the progress I want to make on my thesis in ENVS 499 and start creating preliminary pieces for my art capstone. I am in similar places with both, actively working to think through half-formed ideas. I hadn’t planned to focus my envs thesis on art, yet at this point in my studies, I am passionate about exploring the rich space between art and envs. However I have some trepidations about commiting to this as my capstone topic. I admire the explicit connection to important causes in my peers framing questions in envs 350, and hope to give my topic a more practical focus.

Compiling and sifting through sources has been really interesting. When I first started searching, the sources I found were not as strong as I would have liked, most focused on classic environmental art. I ended up finding the leads I was looking for in the sources of some lightly cited but beautifully named papers focused on the significance of materials in contemporary art. Two I am most excited to read closely are; Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennet and Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts by Brian Massumi. Both continue conversations I have been having with friends recently about using materials in art that have their own recognizable “past lives” or easily recognizable/relatable purpose outside of their presence in an art piece.

Experiences driving my interests:
This summer I participated in an artist residency through Signal Fire Arts, which focused on merging art and public lands activism. The focus of the trip’s learning was centered around Indigenous first foods and included readings and classes about the cultural and historical background of the land we visited, as well as exploration and deconstruction of the cultural construction of wilderness. Backpacking for a month in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana, I had the privilege of learning about the landscapes I visited from members of indigenous communities. In addition, I was able to connect with many other artists who engage with activist communities in some way. My head is still swimming a bit from this experience, I am trying to distill what I want to incorporate from this trip into various projects this year.

There is a residency in portland called Glean, in which 5 artists are given a stipend and access to the portland dump to create whatever they want. I saw the show in August and was impressed most by an artist who chose to incorporate discarded objects whose former purpose was immediately recognizable and relatable to most viewers. These included plastic sports trophies, used erasers, and reclaimed wood.

A question in mind:

Is functional art inherently more valuable than non-functional art? (and do I want to focus more heavily on one or the other?)

2 comments for “Sifting Through Sources

  1. Jack Kamysz
    September 30, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    I think you have some great questions you are asking yourself about how you want to situate your framework. These are good processes you are having and I am truly interested in the art direction you are going. I really enjoy the idea of connecting it with landscape and enjoy your own personal experience it with it as well. This personal experience is a good layer that you can have in your overall capstone thesis, I believe. Like me, there are many different direction you can go with focusing on art in ENVS. It is confusing and I am in the same boat as you with my half-formed ideas. I believe you are on a good path and have a good start.

  2. October 1, 2019 at 5:38 am

    Sophie, your reflections are so wonderful to read. They leave me thinking of a few things….first, wow, Signal Fire! What a treat and honor! I would love to hear more about your experience in residency with them.

    I appreciated one (anthropology) professor of mine who has distinguished before for me a necessary difference he sees between art and, in this case, ethnography. He thinks a lot about the visual, symbolic, art critique and the like, so I take what he says somewhat seriously…and that is that art may increasingly be attractive for its politics. That is, an artist who is self-indulgent and doesn’t do the labor to give its audience means of engaging in the political space of art as means of critiquing world, and interpreting/creating world, is increasingly unhelpful. We need artists whose voices and materials help us engage with so much messiness. I am inspired, because there is *so* much a way for you to make room in yourself to bring critique out in materials, and artistic creation…and then also do the conceptual frameworking that informs your artistic creations.

    A last thing I’m thinking….Vibrant Matter, a different professor once told me, is in the ilk of theory of animacy and re-enchantment….like David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous. So one possible compelling theoretical aspect of your questions might lean toward (if we use EcoTypes axes to help for now?) axes of spirituality (sacred/secular) and domain (material/ideal). Animacy/re-enchantment, and Spell of Sensuous/Vibrant Matter, are all about a theoretical movement bringing spirit and matter ‘back together’….but it’s not so simple as that, is it?

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