Next Steps

The majority of this weeks focus was spent on finishing my annotated bibliography and isms map. I ended up enjoying writing my annotated bibliography because I found some sources that I am really excited to read in more detail. The annotated bibliography and isms map helped me begin to organize my thoughts and thesis topics in a grounded way. What I need to focus on now is articulating the connections I plan to make in my thesis and deciding how I want to ground my research. The research part of my work is coming up fast and I need to decide how I will proceed with it. I am leaning towards interviewing a few artists about their work, and hopefully connecting with an artist, scholar, or attending an art and ecology event in person. My topics and my situated space are all abstract, but I think that connecting with people and learning about their processes will provide a real-world perspective from which to work. 

In my ENVS 499 independent study, middle-of-the-hourglass research methods will be my main focus over the next few weeks. I am excited to see what will come out of further research and thought development. 

As the time to complete my thesis nears, I am beginning to consider whether I want to complete a traditional thesis or a short thesis and capstone project. My double major lends itself well to the latter; most of the Studio art/ENVS majors that preceded me completed an capstone project tin ENVS that overlapped with their art capstone. My hesitation in forgoing completing the full thesis is how that might affect my prospects getting into grad school or other opportunities I might want to pursue post-grad. However, I have finite time to complete projects this year and I may end up getting to produce more work to show residency programs, etc. if I do an abridged thesis and an art capstone project for ENVS. 

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.

Annotated Bibliography and Isms Map

Key questions

Framing question: How do artists engage in environmental activism? 

Descriptive: What worlds do environmental artists create?

Explanatory: Why do artists choose to create the worlds that they do?

Evaluative: Are these worlds important to create?

Instrumental: Is artist’s creation of worlds effective in affecting societal change?


My main topics are new materialism, symbolic action, and environmental art. All are quite ephemeral to varying degrees, so as I was collecting sources I took care to make sure that I had enough examples containing concrete engagement with the physical world. Conveniently, many scholars engage with each of my topics in ways that allow them to seamlessly connect with each other. I was able to locate a few scholars who have written quite a bit about the intersection of art and ecology. Due to the potential of scholarship about environmental art to be a bit abstract, I was happy to find quite a few sources that referenced the physical realities of ecological art pieces. Many of them discuss the physical limitations and practicality of eco-art. In addition, many also mention new materialism and reference the complexity of matter, which will help me draw connections between my topics. 

I found many sources on new materialism, including a welcome critique which outlined new materialist scholars tendency to focus on the past, and thus overlook the socio-political events of our time. I included a fairly diverse range of authors, from those who hold conventional conceptions of new materialism to authors who argue for the consideration of both the past and future of matter and the consideration of stories and performance as object. Many of my sources on new materialism consider matter as an aesthetic object or a form of expression, which will be helpful when connecting it to environmental art. 

My sources on symbolic action are arguably the most diverse collection of my three topics. Most relate seamlessly with my other topics and the type of artistic symbolic action I plan to discuss in my thesis. However, a few important sources engage with symbolic action in a more realist sense regarding both governmental and institutional organizations. These sources are valuable to a discussion about symbolic action vs. concrete action. As I argue the value of symbolic action, it will be important for me to be able to delineate between different types of symbolic action and communicate that to the reader.  

Completing an ‘isms’ map aided me in thinking through the connections between my topics as well as other important words whose relationships benefit from definition. My topics are abstract, so categorizing and mapping them alongside other significant actors allowed me to think through how I ultimately hope to make connections in my thesis. Considering a final visual product helped me think through potential holes in my thought processes or ungrounded assumptions about my connections that were in need of elaboration or reconfiguration. 


Framing question: How do artists engage in environmental activism? 

Collecting sources for my annotated bibliography to address this question opened up various avenues I plan to follow in my research. In particular, it revealed a recurrent theme regarding how artists engage in environmental activism. I was repeatedly drawn to how artists create worlds of varying degrees of imagination in response to the realities and occurences of the physical world. The creation of worlds kept emerging as a link between my three topics as well. The rest of my research places focus on various aspects of world-creation that artists engaging with ecology often use.

Descriptive: What worlds do environmental artists create?

The sources I found are helping me construct a tentative answer to this question. It seems that in response to ecological phenomena, artists create various imagined worlds that are charged with materials connected with our collective reality. They tend to address ecological crises and often ultimately lean towards a utopian vision, even if they are ultimately posed as dystopian.

My isms map has been useful to me as a very broad outline of features that imagined worlds may contain or be built of off. Most of the big words, topics and isms I incorporated are pulled from either real or imagined worlds represented within my research. Seeing them visually 

deconstructed helps me recognize the components of real and imagined worlds and therefore recognize when artists are constructing them. 

Explanatory: Why do artists choose to create the worlds that they do?

Considering the sources I chose, artists imagined worlds often seem to be either related to the artist’s own experience or a conception of a future world. I have been picking out instances of constructed worlds from my sources, as well as analyzing how each of my topics separately act/react within worlds. My isms map is helping me draw connections back to the sources of the impulse to construct worlds. 

Evaluative: Is it valuable to create worlds in response to ecological phenomena?

Exploring this question, I am influenced by sources that propose critiques of artists works and aspects of constructed worlds because they ensure my assessment is balanced. Because so many artists are creating various worlds either advertently or inadvertently in response to ecological phenomena, I would argue that my sources suggest worlds are at the very least important to the psyche of the artist. 

Instrumental: Is artist’s creation of worlds effective in affecting societal change?

This question is where the sources that discuss specific artworks become most useful. Many of the sources contain either scholar’s responses to artworks or accounts of how viewers responded to artworks. These help me begin to piece together a tentative answer to this question. My isms map helps me place art into a social context.

Environmental Management

Barrow’s description of Environmental Management (EM) is fairly thorough and the systemic changes he proposes are agreeable. However, he doesn’t spend very much time at all troubleshooting this proposal. He doesn’t incorporate any discussion about how this would affect different demographics of people or the prices of products. In addition, he makes the assumption that existing corporations will be able to adopt EM and that is has the potential to boost profits. However, he does not provide an example of this working in a real-world situation. This description of EM would benefit from discussion of what potential roadblocks there are in its implementation. In addition, there seems to be an underlying assumption that EM can provide benefits to all corporations and that it can be implemented regardless of the frameworks these corporations were built on. I would assume that there are many more challenges to implementing EM than this passage includes and a discussion of what these are and how they might be addressed would strengthen it. 

Considering environmental management is important to my thesis work because it addresses another layer of the ism design, emotion, and sustainability. Environmental management is a proposed type of application of environmental design. Critiquing this is an exercise in critiquing environmental design, bringing practicality into a discussion about aesthetics. This is important to my thesis because the process of critical analyses of aesthetic ideas is similar.

Events of Symposium Week

*Photo is a mushroom from the olympic Peninsula

This week was the ENVS symposium. This year, the these was “Engaging Across Difference”. The week kicked off with Keynote address from Sunnita Narain, an acclaimed and very well spoken climate activist from Deli, India. Her talk covered the vitality of prioritizing equality in discussions about climate change. She referenced a variety of different examples from DEli of successes or problems to be solved. One of the most interesting she mentioned addressed a problem of waste. A wealthy neighborhood had been dumping their trash in a poorer village, until that village decided they wouldn’t take any more garbage. The wealthy community couldn;t find anywhere else to take their trash so they had to stop using single use things completely. They eventually phased out waste. 

Another interesting point that she made was in context of the transportation systems in Deli. Most of the cars in Deli burn diesel which is very polluting. Only 20% of people drive cars, but that makes up a large percentage of the pollution. Sunita discussed what would have to be done to encourage the wealthy to stop driving their cars. She argues that Deli would have to build a transportation system both accessible to the very poor, and convenient and attractive enough for the rich. This proposal sounds very difficult to design and implement, but also able to improve life in Deli significantly. 

A thread that stretches throughout Sunita’s ideas is an emphasis on finding creative solutions and opportunities in response to dire social and environmental conditions. This kind of ingenuity and proactive thought is what many of the artists that I have been interested in considering for my thesis hope to inspire in their viewers. I think there is a lot of value in imaginative/idealistic thinking, especially in the way Sunita goes about it. They way of thinking she proposes often leaves one without any concrete fixes, but it does inspire a thought process that does not leave room for cycles of paralyzing fear or old, overused, improvement processes that get minimal results. Her ideals and attitude sparked my enthusiasm as I continue to research how artists are playing with new creative solutions. 

Design, Emotion, Sustainability

In his passage in Companion to Environmental Studies, Design, Emotion, Sustainability, Jonathan Chapman argues that design has the potential to unravel some of the difficulties in creating sustainable production of goods. Chapman advocates for increasing the lifespans of the products we create in order to reduce waste, and objects that operate in a closed-loop system with minimal waste. Part of his argument includes the emotional experience of the consumer with both the company they are buying from and the product itself. He advocates for products that have easily replaceable or fixable parts and that are made with materials that age gracefully. Ideally, this will create deeper relationships between individuals brands and consumers, benefiting companies.

Chapman argues an important point about waste and disposable items. However there are a few underlying assumptions here that would benefit from elaboration. In order to give an argument like this, which is agreeable and fairly simplistic in it’s presentation more weight, I would argue that there needs to be adequate discussion of the challenges implicit in its implementation. There is little discussion about which corporations or businesses are best set up to work towards extending the life of their products, or which may be more likely to work towards extending the life of their products. Similarly, if most corporations have been constructed based on creating disposable products, there will likely be significant challenges related to changing this. 

In his discussion, Chapman used the reductionist language that is often used when discussing sustainability. For example, he describes the earth as a balanced system. While in some ways this is true, it doesn’t take into account complexities that emerge. This ties back to this discussion of incorporating waste reduction into design. While he makes important points, his language is fairly idealistic. 

Sustainability, Design, and emotion relates to my thesis research because of its discussion of emotion and people’s experience of matter. I am interested in artists considering waste and the cycling of human-made materials.The discussion of emotion and the use and construction of materials is important to considering new materialism. 

Construction and Objectivity

This week we discussed science and realism/ constructivism, and considered a debate over the social construction of science. A recurring theme in this discussion was whether science can be objective. In response to this question, most of the class argued that science cannot be objective because it is a human conception. This discourse turned into a discussion about it may be beneficial to accept facts as truth, although we know that nothing is objective and they are just human explanations for phenomena. One of the most valuable things the environmental studies program at Lewis and Clark has given me is the skillset to question things that are considered truth and strive to consider the multifaceted layers within an issue I am studying. I enjoyed reflecting on this in class as we studied various perspectives on scientific objectivity.

Later in the week we read various perspectives on social media and its effects on public discourse, populism, and the science of climate change. Similar to our readings and discussions earlier in the week, ours readings represent different views on each of these topics. I enjoyed skimming through them and considering how/ why people hold various truths. 

Outside of class time, this week I delved into writing my annotated bibliography on the main sources I plan to use in my thesis. I was lacking sources that specifically focused on symbolic acts, so I found a few more related. It has been interesting to dive deeper into my readings, find where my assumptions about their topics were correct and be pleasantly surprised when I unearth new layers to add to my research. 

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.