Mapping Actors

Going through the process of creating this ANT map illuminated what areas of my research need attention and a refined thought process. At this stage in my research and thought development my ANT map is still fairly abstract. My biggest challenge in my research now is to effectively ground my ideas and connections. I am planning to situate my research in the space of imagined worlds conceptualized and expressed by artists in response to ecological phenomena. The topics I am focusing on: environmental art, symbolic action, and new materialism, are all different aspects of constructed worlds. To ground my research, I attempted to deconstruct the actors implicit within my topics and their connection with one another. Because my topics are so interrelated, I expected to find more overlap between them. However, my topics are proving to be fairly self-contained.

Because my situated context is just as conceptual as the rest of my thesis work so far, the challenge of grounding continues to emerge. In response to this I am placing more focus of concrete actors such as institutions and gallery spaces. As I continue to re-work this Ant map, I plan to add more actors related to the artistsic creation of worlds. However, I think it is valuable for me to keep my ANT map simple for now, focusing on concrete actors that relate to my topics before adding more abstract concepts.

Situating in Spaces

As I have been delving into finding places in which to situate my research, I considered how various artists I am interested in situate their work. The post where I dive into this is linked here

Considering artists conceptualization of place has been helpful to me in how I plan to situate my research.

Three places I am most excited about are 

Wilderness spaces, Urban spaces, and Logging areas

Wilderness Spaces/Public Lands

I am interested in situating my research in wilderness because of the conversations surrounding it. Wilderness spaces are under interrogation from philosophers, artists, and other scholars, yet there is also a lot of motion to protect them from science, recreationalist, and activist communities. The construction of wilderness is a colonial force and the oppression of indigenous people is implicit in its creation. Many artists are engaging in this discourse, critiquing the conception and existence of wilderness and deconstructing it’s foundations.  

As a magnet for both critique and activism, wilderness spaces are a rich place to consider how activism and art intersect. However after researching artists working with wilderness spaces, I have found that more artists I am drawn to are engaging in public lands activism. I suspect this may be because public lands are more accessible and often have more visible human footprint. In response to this, I want to consider situating my research on public lands as well.

Urban Spaces

I am considering to situating my research in urban spaces because of the wide variety of themes that urban environmental artists are incorporating into their work. In addition, the availability and variety of materials in urban spaces lends itself well to applying my research on new materialism. Urban space would be a rich place to explore artists who are pulling social justice, waste, technology, food systems, and other interesting topics into an environmental discourse. The ability of good artists to draw these connections is one of the main reasons I am interested in studying art.

Due to the material forces in urban spaces that allow for such dense populations (running water, electricity, cell towers, etc.), there are many contemporary artists exploring New Materialism in urban spaces. Artists situated in urban spaces tend to engaging with a wider breath of material than artists who are focused on natural spaces, and many artists are trying to draw attention to this material use in interesting ways. However, artist are engaging with so many environmental themes within urban spaces that if I choose to focus on them I will probably have to narrow my situated context even further.

Logging areas

I found quite a few artists creating work about logging areas. Like wilderness spaces, this would be a fruitful space to situate my research because there are many activist movements related to logging practices and forest preservation. One issue with choosing these areas is the narrow scope of materials and themes artists are working with. Very few of the artists I found engaging with logging areas included themes related to social justice, which is something that it is important for me to touch on.

On the other hand, this narrow view could be a good thing because it would provide much-needed focus. However I am hesitant to choose it because of the limitations I expect I might find in drawing connections to important humanitarian aspects of environmentalism.

Considering how Artists Situate

In attempting to pick places to situate my thesis, I have decided that it seems most practical to begin with the Pacific Northwest. I am hoping to be able to visit places and artists in person, and focusing on places I could visit over winter break will be ideal. 

I was having trouble narrowing my topic down further, so I spoke with Jim about how I might focus my space further. He suggested that I consider situating in social spaces, for example: urban, rural, or forest spaces. This was a great jumping off point, but I am hoping to pick a place that allows for more physical variety yet is situated in a certain way of thinking or artist space. For this particular assignment, I will focus on three artists working in three different spaces, and discuss how.

Mary Mattingly

Mary Mattingly is one of my favorite contemporary artists and I know I have mentioned her work in previous posts. She lives and works in New York, making self-sustaining, livable post apocalyptic structures out of the detritus left after an imagined disaster event. She has lived on many of these structures herself for up to 5 years. These structures are built to be movable and are often floating entities, using passive power and human powered processes, alluding to a post-seal level rise utopia. 

Her most recent work, Swale(2015), features a food forest planted on a barge that docks in various harbors around New York City. This piece is a response to laws prohibiting people from growing food on public lands. The crops from the barge are harvested and given away for free to members of surrounding communities. Her work is situated in consideration of waste and utopian imaginations of the future.

Will Willson

Will Wilson is another of my favorite artists who is currently working in a project called AIR (Auto Immune Response) which he describes as “a dialogue with ‘a post-apocalyptic Navajo man’s journey through an uninhabited landscape.” His work includes both photography and installation. One of his pieces includes a 10ft diameter Hogan, traditional Navajo dwelling, built in the style of a greenhouse. Like Mary, he offers a vision of a post apocalyptic future, and build Hogans in various styles in various locations, each containing a strong element of modern technology such as metal structure and electrical wires. 

Wilson is currently King Fellow artist in residence at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM. His work addresses questions about survival including: “Where has everyone gone? What has occurred to transform the familiar and strange landscape that he wanders? Why has the land become toxic to him? How will he respond, survive, reconnect to the earth?” He uses self-portraiture and performance to address these questions, situating his work with imagery from empty-looking landscapes. The landscapes he chooses are reminiscent of post-apocalyptic imaginations in pop culture.

Nina Elder 

Like Will, Nina also works in Santa Fe New Mexico. Her work attempts to both draw attention to, and confuse perception of, various anthropogenic forces that make our daily lives possible. She creates meticulous charcoal drawings of logged areas using charcoal found on site. Her work addresses the arbiters that facilitate our modern lives built of electricity and running water. She paints power lines and electrical towers into the New Mexico landscape. Her work is deeply situated in place, both in the material she uses and her process of creation.

Considering Adjectives

This was the second time I wrote answers to the capstone MadLibs because it didn’t go through online the first time I submitted it. It was interesting to do it twice, and I felt much more sure of myself the first time. Working through it a second time, I realized that I acquired more language regarding specific sections of my topic that I am interested in. My research also broadened the scope of what I thought it was possible for me to focus on. I found that my focus was broader than the first time I completed it. Reading the sources I found, I was excited to find nuances of my topic that I am interested in expanding on and now have more under the umbrella of what I want my thesis to be. 

It was interesting to stumble through the madlibs in the confused state that I am in regarding my capstone. I feel like I have the solid parts (topics I want to focus on and build off of), but I don’t know how to position them. I kept rewriting my potential title over again using different adjectives. I am not sure what I want to moveable parts of my thesis topic to be doing. As an exercise, I will make a list below of potential parts of my thesis topic and what they could do!

Parts of my thesis topic:

Matter with agency, culturally powerful materials

Environmental artists


Contemporary art

Environmental activism

Symbolic acts/activism

Healing acts

What they may do:

Activate, illuminate

Create change, influence (culturally and in smaller, more concrete ways)

Connect (people, places, cultures, communities, beings)

Muddle, confuse

Fuse, intertwine

Incarnate, alchemize

I am excited about all these aspects of what I ultimately want my topic to be, but I am not sure how exactly I want them to fit together and which I want to use in the title. I am looking forward to doing more research and getting closer to fitting these concepts together in an interesting way.