Exploring Queer Ecology

Nicole Seymour’s section in Companion to Environmental Studies on Queer Ecology cover’s queer ecology as a conceptual framework for understanding the intersection of sexual and environmental issues. It considers how heterosexuality in particular as a human norm influences how we relate with the natural world. Activism and art have been a large part of this discussion, peices of queer ecology have come from queer theory, posthuman studies, feminism, and evolutionary biology to nme a few of the diverse disciplines. Seymore says that the modern sexual identities arose with the rise of neoliberal capitalism and carbon-based economies. Typically, according to Seymore the natural is depicted as reproductivity, health, futurity and heterosexuality. The queer, she argues is associated with urbanity, disease, and death. Queer ecology challenges these associations, pointing out there the treatment of queers and treatment of nature have things in common. Queer ecology has an interesting relationship with science, often focusing on how heteronormativity either creates bias in scientific observation or using scienticif findings to deconstruct heterosexuality and what is “normal” sexuality in nature. In addition, considering how gender and sexuality are constructions can stretch to a consideration how the purity of nature is a construction. There is an argument that is queerness is a deviation from the norm, then evolutionary biology itself can be considered queer becuase of it relies of a deviation from the norm. Seymore describes how queer ecology is both abstract and theoretical in nature as well as situated in spaces such as rural farm spaces, camgrounds and public parks. She covers debates and critisisms of queer ecology, arguing that while some advocate specifically for LGBTQ communities through critisism, others generalize the term, therefore neutrilizing its political implications. She discusses how queer ecology has been developed primarily why white scholars, although it aims to challenge the whiteness of mainstream environmentalism. Seymour mentions that queer ecology is diversifying, with many contributions coming from Japan and brazil,as well as a queer ecological politis of gentrification emerging to study how public greening projects lead to gentrification. In addition, she mentions how in the future queer ecology may be used more frequently as tool for grappling with our current messy reality instead falling into overly  optimistic or extremist camps. 

This discussion of how queer ecology can encourage us to confront a messy reality seems like is might fall under the cartegory of generalizing and neutralizing the term queer. I don’t think that means it shouldnt be used in that way, in fact I really like the idea of queer ecology as a toll for a messy reality. However, I think further discussion needs to be had about how to do this without politically neutrilizing the term queer, if that is possible, and how to proceed if not. 

I am thinking of using queer theory in my theory framework, to discuss artists who are effetively sitting with messy and complex realities without drfitng towards extremism. This chapter was important for me to consider because of the potential problem that I mentioned above, regarding the challenge of using queer theory to discuss something that diverges from discussion of LGBTQ communities without neutrilizing or generalizing the term. 

Grounding in Theory

This week in ENVS 350 we mainly focused on refining our theory and framework paper outlines. A preliminary exercise for writing this was creating a map of the theories that are informing our research. I recently decided to change my research project, so at this point I am redoing aspects of my annotated bibliography, and reconstructing my framing questions, while still considering the theories I have researched so far that relate to my new topic. 

As environmental art is experiencing time in the spotlight of the art world, many artists have taken up the idea of the Anthropocene in their work. Some artists engage with the Anthropocene in rich, critical ways, predominantly positioning all that the Anthropocene does to erase racism, mass incarceration, the responsibility of capitalism and industrialization in environmental issues, and other violent power structures as well as scientists and geologist’s arguments about the importance of officially establishing it. Others work with a simpler, reductionist view of the Anthropocene. Artists and scholars who are engaging in this discussion of the Anthropocene have proposed a proliferation of alternative names for current epoch, from the better known Capitolocene, Cthulhuene, and Plantationocene, to the polycene, roughly understood as the epoch of many names. Each claim to include the central force of this new epoch. 

I know I want to write about this topic but I am not sure exactly how. I previously proposed using art as a visual resource for assessing various proposed “-cenes” and the worlds they suggest. Another valuable way I could take this work is to consider how I might assess the rich vs. reductionist ways that artists and scholars consider the Anthropocene and is various argued modes of erasure.

*Update: A few days after writing this update post my insightful friend Poppy (who is writing her grad thesis on very similar themes) sat down and helped me work through my ideas so far. She proposed that to bring a discussion of reductionism vs. richness back to theory, I reference queer theory as discipline with which to look at how artists and scholars are “queering” the anthropocene. As Nicole Seymore mentions in her excerpt on queer ecology in Companion to Environmental Studies, queer theory and ecology is begining to be used as a mode of “grappling with our messy reality, in which environmetnal destruction is already here.” I plant to consider how in queering the anthropocene, artists and scholars are attempting to remedy various ways that the Anthropocene erases historical narratives of power and destruction. I will go into details of my new proposed theoretical framework in future posts. 

Analysis and Results

My preliminary analysis and results are composed of mainly a variety of collected sources on the debate around the Anthropocene and other proposed “-cenes”. These include Marisol De La Cadena’s “Uncommoning Nature”, Jaskiran Dhillon’s “Indigenous Resurgence”, Donna Haraway’s “Staying with the Trouble”, TJ Demos’s “Against the Anthropocene”, and Heather Davis’s “On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene”. So far, I am not yet in a place with research on artists where I am really delving into how artists work visualize “-cenes”. Because I am familiar with her, I have begun to consider how the work that Mary Mattingly creates in her livable floating habitat sculptures might work as an example of a visualization of the Athropocene. She uses simple, inventive mechanisms and detritus reminiscent of real and imagined post-disaster industrial worlds to create habitable spaces. Her work aligns with TJ Demos’s vision of an Anthropocene rife with continued destructive industrial growth and reliance of technical solutions gone awry. Her structures are equipped to adapt to the climatic changes that are indicative of geologic changes that evident a shift from the Holocene. Many have water purifiers, compost and food production systems, and are able to move from land to water. Mattingly’s work speaks to opinions of the Anthropocene from both scientists and humanists. Considering her work as a visualization of an imagined Anthropocene epoch raises many questions that I am excited to explore further.

Preliminary Discussion of Methods

Framing Question: How can consideration of the worlds artists create visualize proposed names for a new Epoch

Focus Question: In response to the Anthropocene, how do artists and scholars construct the Capitalocene, Chthulucene, and Plantationocene in order to elicit particular types of activism?

The wording of this question is not where I would like it to be, but it will progress as I read more and develop it! At this point in 499 we are beginning to focus on research methodologies. My topics and questions lend themselves to a mainly literary-based approach but I am hoping to find a way to connect with some of the artists and scholars I am going to talk about ro go see some of the artwork I am discussing. 

The artists and artwork I will argue aid in visualizing proposed names for a new epoch will not be directly intended for that purpose. I will discussing the artist’s intent as well as my own interpretation of the work and how I think it fits into conversations about various proposed “-cenes”. This lends itself well to an arti-historical framework of research and discussion. As one would in an art history paper, I will discuss the context of the work, my own interpretation, and how it speaks to my argument. I will begin my research by developing an understanding of the “-cenes” I plan to deconstruct, the scholars conceptualizing them, and context from which they were conceived. At the same time, I am collecting names of artists that create worlds which I could argue relate to these “-cenes”. 

A question that is arising for me is how far I can go interpreting worlds. For example, activist/environmentalist artist John Sabraw gleans pigment from polluted rivers by filtering out harmful chemicals and heavy metals. Is there an assumed world created around his work? Could one interpret this act of gleaning pigment from pollution as a suggestion of a world whose conditions include pollution, and there is a necessity to collect for artistic expression, potentially due to scarcity of other materials? I am anticipating that as I research more artists and continue to grapple with how to present my own interpretation of an artists work without making unnecessary, reaching assumptions. 

As I develop a richer understanding of artists work and how I can best engage with it, I will analyze it within the context of the “-cenes” I am considering, and begin making comparisons, finding ground for critique and praise. As I mentioned above, I will ideally be able to connect with the artists and scholars I am discussing in some way. This will likely take the form of an interview or in-depth discussion of a piece I am able to engage with, however it will depend on the form that real-life engagement takes. 

A Field Guide to Getting Found

Over the past few weeks collecting information for my thesis research and exploring the my topics in ENVS 350, my thought/research process in many ways has been emulating Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”. I have spent many hours reading and sitting with different scholars and considering abstract concepts, trying to pick out and follow whatever seems valuable and striking to me. This past week I finally started to emerge from this phase, organizing and critiquing what I have been thinking about and reading.

A week ago I began redoing and grounding my thesis framework. Primarily, I decided to abandon new materialism as a research topic. After reading a good amount of writing on it including some very insightful critiques from TJ Demos, many problems emerged with the authors and scholars of new materialism’s perspective and framework. They claim ownership over concepts that stem from indigenous ways of knowing, posing them as “new” when in reality they have been a part of many indigenous cultures and others.

I am abandoning new materialism as a main topic and will incorporate it mainly to critique it or as a mode of critique. All of the research I have done so far, especially reading the work of TJ Demos, has lead me back to discussion and critique of the Anthropocene and discourse around naming a new epoch. Whether or not they explicitly mean to, the work that contemporary artists are creating regarding social, political, or natural ecology speaks to the complexities of inhabiting a new epoch. 

The most commonly recognized and publicized name for a new epoch, Anthropocene, stems from the root anthropos, referring to the human race as a whole. As is thourghoughly discussed in many fields, specifically the humanities, this naming is insufficient, considering the ecological change and devastation we are facing is not the responsibility of the human race as a whole, but of a select number of capitalist, industrial nations and leaders. This naming disperses responsibility of a select group of people onto the world as a whole, erasing the narratives of people who have not been destructive geologic actors and instilling complacency with the idea that humans are and will continue to be, a destructive geologic force on the earth. In “Against the Anthropocene,” TJ Demos asserts that if the Anthropocene was officialized, its naming would be “inadvertently making us all complicit in its destructive project.” Zoe Todd asks questions critical to naming a new epoch, “What does it mean to have a reciprocal discourse on catastrophic end times and apocalyptic environmental change in a place where, over the last 500 years, Indigenous peoples faced (and face) the end of worlds with violent incursion of colonial ideologies and actions? What does it mean to hold, in simultaneous tension, stories of the Anthropocene in the past, present, and future?” These questions and others have provoked scholars to suggest other names for a new epoch.

As I presented in my thesis outline, I am shifting my focus towards proposed alternatives to the Anthropocene as names for a New Epoch. Specifically, I plan to deconstruct the proposed names, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, and Cthulucene, as well as the scholarship behind them using artists work relating to various ecologies to visualize each of these names. In doing so, I hope to consider the ways that artists visualization of a new epoch can illuminate the problems that have arisen in naming/recognizing a new epoch, with specific focus on what scholars are leaving out. Who gets to recognize and name a new epoch? What are their motives and how do they support their proposed epoch name? A new epoch is said to effect all people universally but due to significant and often extreme inequality around the globe, this is definitely not the case. Do any of these proposed names for a new epoch sufficiently encompass the violent colonial, capitalist, and industrial forces that have altered our planet beyond the point of the holocene?

Solnit, Rebecca. 2006. “A field guide to getting lost.” Canongate Books

Demos, TJ. n.d. “Against the Anthropocene:,” 57.

Todd, Z. 2016. Relationships. Cultural Anthropology21.

Framework Outline: Art for a New Epoch

The process of condensing my abstract collection of theories and thoughts into a grounded, doable outline took me in directions I was not planning to go. Careful research about Eco-Art, Activism, and “New” Materialism, as well as their critiques, all while considering how/why artists create worlds, lead me to many discussions of the controversial Anthropocene.

During my research process, I resonated strongly with scholars writing critiques of new materialism, in some cases in conjunction with critiques of the Anthropocene. I picked up new materialism in an effort to find a language to analyze how contemporary artists incorporate the temporal complexities of matter into their work. After in-depth consideration, it became apparent to me that the new materialist discussion of vibrancy, agency, and liveliness of matter is not new, nor do I need complex language to communicate about matter in contemporary art. The materialism discussed is an important part of many indigenous ways of knowing as well as others throughout human history. TJ Demos provides a valuable critique of these authors, their failure to credit indigenous scholars in their materialist discussions and their assertion that they have ownership over these ideas.

As am now shifting my focus from new materialism, using my research on it mainly as a mode of critique. While considering how artists create worlds as symbolic acts, and discussing utopias/dystopias in ENVS 350, interesting readings about the Anthropocene and other proposed names for a new epoch caught my eye. Reading through them, I found that the conversations surrounding the new epoch, especially those incorporating eco-art, were a rich field in which to ground my interests in art, ecology, activism, curiosity about worlds that artists create, and critique of new materialism.

After a few days feeling aimless and lost in my research process and many fruitful conversations with insightful friends and mentors, I pieced together the framework and outline that best places my interests in conversation with one another. I intend to write my thesis about how artists work and the worlds they create within it, can be used as a tool to visualize and critically engaged with various proposed names and philosophies surrounding the New Epoch most commonly referred to as the Anthropocene. Alternative names for include the Capitalocene, Chthulucene, Plantationocene, Anglocene, and Gynocene. I plan to focus on the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene, and Plantationocene, focusing primarily on indigenous artist’s work critiquing the Anthropocene and visualization of alternative Epoch names.

My main roadblock now is supplementing my research so it supports my topic. I also need to do more concept mapping and rewrite portions of my annotated bibliography with new sources. As I collect new sources, I am also beginning to collect names of artists whose work I could reference. Additionally, many aspects of my topic are not areas of focus in either my ENVS or Studio Art major departments. In the near future, I plan to connect with faculty in the sociology, philosophy, and history departments to help me think through the humanities-based parts of my research.

I like the new direction I am going in and I still have time to rework my topics, do the necessary research, and find helpful resources. Many pieces of the research I have yet to do I find important, engaging, and I am enthusiastic about following this new framework .

The Scope of Ecofeminism

Greta Guard covers the rise and reach of ecofeminism in her chapter in Companion to Environmental Studies (Proctor et. al.) The roots of ecofeminism lie in the activism of women. Notable examples include the Green Belt Movement headed by Wangari Maathai and Lois Gibbs activism around Love Canal and the establishment of the EPA’s Superfund program. Ecofeminists accredit women with a place the forefront of environmental activism. The root of this phenomena is often attributed to women’s role as caretakers in their communities. At the beginning of its conception, ecofeminism made many comparisons between women and features of the nonhuman natural environmental, equating the treatment of women to that of land, ecosystems and nonhuman beings. More recently, ecofeminism has replaced this reductionist rhetoric with more grounded explorations of gender’s role in people’s experience of their environment and climate. Guard provides examples of how ecofeminism encompasses climate justice, sexism, ageism, ableism, hetersexism, and speciesism in its theory.

My main critique of this passage is Guards failure to explicitly discuss how ecofeminism includes/addresses environmental racism. While she mentions climate justice and gives various examples of how ecofeminist activism includes addressing environmental racism, she should had include a section about it. My understanding of ecofeminism is that it while gender/sexuality inequality is an important focus of it, in its contemporary form the main goal of ecofeminism is to address all inequalities in our society and their interrelatedness. While Guard touches on how the effects of environmental racism can manifest in issues of ableism and climate justice, she does not discuss the ecofeminist perspective on environmental racism. Her description of ecofeminism and it’s connection to/perspective on climate injustice need to include environmental racism as it is one of the largest facets of this issue.

Ecofeminism is important to my capstone topic because its perspective on addressing inequality provides a framework for many other theories including posthumanism, ecocritisism, and queer ecologies. The artworks and artists I am focused on studying all engaged with inequality in various ways whether advertently of inadvertently. Any discourse around worlds, real or imagined, will include discussion of equality/inequality and the related theories and frameworks.

Castree, Noel, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor. 2018. Companion to Environmental Studies. London ; New York: Routledge.

Utopian and Dystopian Worlds

This week we discussed the place, conception, and use of utopias and dystopias in ENVS 350. This tied well into my exploration of artists worlds in my research which, not surprisingly, touches on dystopias and utopias in various ways. It can be argued that dys/utopias have various uses as shapers of society and culture. In various setting dystopias may insight change due to their appeal to urgency and crisis. Personally, I prefer the argument that utopias are valuable to positive societal change because they provide something to work towards, although it is unlikely that most utopias will be achievable. 

A dimension I think is valuable to add to this discussion is where our dystopias and utopias arise from, who expresses them, and which ones are given the most attention. There is value in deconstructing the source of these stories in our own societies. Deconstructing the origins of dys/utopias may help form an understanding around how they can serve or harm us. As I study the eco-art worlds created as symbolic acts by artists, consideration of dys/utopian stories and their origins will help me discuss the power and complexity implicit in constructing a world. 

Currently, I am reading TJ Demos’s “Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology”. Valuably, Demos critiques the scholars such as Jane Bennet and Bruno Latour who I am citing in my research as well as other institutional scholarship surrounding ecological art. Focus is placed on the construction of the Anthropocene and the assumption that it is universal in a social and political sense. Demos’s critique and our discussion of dys/utopias in ENVS 350 brought up important questions that I plan to address in my capstone. 

These include:

How do artists create worlds in response to the proposed Anthropocene epoch?

How do dys/utopian constructions of the Anthropocene reflect or communicate the complexity in an artist’s personal experience? In what ways is this a valuable method of expression? 

Many Names of the Anthropocene

Maslin’s discussion of the Anthropocene covers the formalities of officially naming a new epoch where humans are a significant geologic force the Anthropocene. He agrees that recent changes warrant the establishment of a new Epoch. The challenge is how to formally define what the Anthropocene as a section of geologic time. Maslin describes how Geologic time is categorized, and how the Anthropocene may be categorized if it can be argued that the new epoch is adheres to the norms that define an epoch. Additionally, if the Anthropocene is going to be formally recognized as a new epoch, a date will need to be chosen. The current proposed dates are 1778, 1800, 1945, and post-1950, however some argue that GSSA’s are not appropriate to define the Anthropocene epoch. An important aspect of choosing one of these dates is ensuring the effects are globally synchronous. 

Maslin also covers why defining the Anthropocene is important and what may happen if it established. He argues that “embracing the Anthropocene reverses 500 years of scientific discoveries.” Recognizing the Anthropocene would also allow us to begin to improve our relationship with the earth. I feel that this criticism lacks enough focus on potential negative social effects of recognizing it. While I think that there would be benefits of recognizing the Anthropocene as a new epoch, it is important to discuss how the public might negatively react as well as positively react in order to properly address these reactions. In addition, the author briefly discusses other terms for the Anthropocene but leaves out Plantationocene which I have seen discussed equally as Chthulucene or Capitalocene.

Considering the Anthropocene is important to my research on how artists engage in activism by creating worlds because many of the worlds created are addressing the ecological and social events that have lead us to the anthropocene. Many are set in future utopias or dystopias that have been dramatically altered by anthropogenic forces. Therefore it is important for me to be familiar with the formal bureaucratic and geologic perspectives on the Anthropocene as well as the social and political facets of it as I conduct and discuss my research.