Slow Rest Week

*Featured image is this sweet old cow named Barbara getting the kind of massage I want right now*

This week flew by! I have been sick and trying to take it easy as much as possible. As a result, I don’t feel like I have made a ton of progress on my thesis. My headspace for most of the week was focused on tentatively discussing the concept of materials with agency, culturally powerful/significant materials, or vibrant matter, with various people in my life and trying to get some feedback and collect a language for this. I am not sure how, but I know I want to connect this to my thesis. There is a good amount of very interesting scholarly work that references it under many different creative names and I think it ties in nicely with environmental symbolic acts. It has been interesting to write and share these posts about thoughts I haven’t thoroughly developed. I am used to sharing a finished project and don’t tend to give my process adequate consideration. It is nice to be able to reflect back on my week and deconstruct what I have been thinking about!

Updates on how my other classes are connecting to Envs 350 and my capstone:
I had a critique on Monday for a peice I struggled with and ended up being sort of unsatisfied with. In my art practice I have been thinking about the binary between inorganic urban spaces and organic beings and how they exist together. Obviously this ties into my interests in Envs, so my non-art classes have been helping me work through some of those half-formed thoughts.

Re-reading Latours Love Your Monsters (after all these years) in preparation for visiting the Envs 160 class ended up bringing some unexpected clarity to some of my questions for this week. In response to Latour’s suggestion that we create more symbiosis between urban, technological spaces and organic, natural spaces, I think it could be interesting to consider ways the line between urban inorganic and organic spaces can be confused and blurred in my art practice.

In Geology 170 we have been learning about aerosols, something I know very little about. I didn’t realize that aerosols were necessary for cloud formation (though this feels like something I should have learned at some point in my 15 years of school). From my understanding of the process, water droplets condense around the tiny aerosol particles in the atmosphere. I knew that aerosols offset the warming from CO2 emission, but I didn’t know how much. What is most interesting to me about this on a conceptual level is that aerosols come from both anthropogenic pollution and from oxidized terpenes from pines and isoprene from oak. I was talking to my geology professor Jessica Kleiss about considering this through an artistic lens and she suggested that looking at how aerosols from both organic and inorganic sources offset the warming from climate change could be an interesting way to confuse the perceived goodness of urban vs. natural spaces and forces.

Questions of the week:
How can I acquire the right words to describe my thesis topics and develop a preliminary title?

How do inorganic structures and organic beings exist together and how/why/when do we place value judgements on them respectively?

Desertification or Degradation?


In this chapter on desertification. Diana K. Davis argues that people overuse and misuse the term desertification. She explains that many places where people think desertification are just experiencing natural fluxes in precipitation. In addition, she critiques outdated colonial ideas about desertification caused by overgrazing and land mismanagement, usually blamed on indigenous cultures. This idea was used to justify taking over land and the management of it. In response to this idea, people who had taken over land often reduced grazing and tried to reforest the land, often improperly. These tactics often made things much worse. Davis sites the failure of afforestation in southern Europe to reduce warming. She says that much of arid and dry lands have non-equilibrial systems, but people impose the idea that there needs to be an equilibrium upon them and try to manage them. She goes on to clarify that land degradation does occur, but that scientists do not yet have a good way to measure whether or not lower occurrence of rainfall is due to anthropogenic land degradation or other causes. 

I have little frame of reference to critique her critique, but I think that Davis is missing a discussion about how climate change causes more drought and less rainfall. She effectively considers the difference between land degradation and desertification and the negative effects of thinking that the existence of a desert is something to be corrected. However, she doesn’t discuss anthropogenic climate change as a cause of drought and land degradation. As she talks about changing weather patterns and how they affect rainfall levels, she doesn’t address how climate change might affect those levels. I think this is an important aspect of changing landscapes that cause people to blame anthropogenic desertification of drought. 

Desertification does not directly relate to the topic of my thesis. However there is a small group of artists making work that considers land regeneration and natural resources. Being acquainted with the complexities of land degradation and desertification will help me think critically about these artists cause and how they approach it. 

Critique of a Critique of Wilderness

This critique if wilderness was difficult to critique because I agree with the authors positions. In relation to my knowledge of what is flawed about the concept of wilderness, the author covered all of the main points. However there were a few things I thought could have been improved upon.

I am not sure how I feel about the last examples given about whether or not the word wilderness should continue to be used. I wish they have given other alternatives to this dilemma as these seemed very one-sided. I don’t think that either are good arguments for what to do about the word wilderness, I wish the author had offered more alternatives or grey areas. While I don’t necessarily disagree with either argument entirely, but I definitely think that the first one, that the word should continue to be used so it’s origin is not forgotten, yet reclaimed, is the weaker argument. However, I think that replacing the word wilderness with biodiversity is not specific enough to the specific characteristics of wilderness. 

I also took issue with some of the language and tone she used when mentioning the benefits of having wild spaces because they mediate some of human CO2 emissions. While they do act as a beneficial C02 sink, she didn’t mention that their power to mediate the effects of climate change as a carbon sink are mostly potential and there is a necessity to increase these sinks. I am worried that she over emphasized that benefit without mentioning the work that needs to be done in order to make it a reasonable climate change mediation tool. 

Many artists are engaging in the critique of wilderness. Delving into this concept more allows me to have more insight into the work of these artists.

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?)

Proposing Future “Isms” to Critique

Concepts:

Desertification- Considering human created desert-like conditions that exacerbate drought, heat waves, and climate change

Environmental catastrophe- How does catastrophizing affect the public? Who is to blame for the possibility of human-caused planetary collapse?

Wilderness- How do we define “wildness”? Who defines wilderness?

Food Systems- How are global food systems controlled and who controls them? How is food consumed globally?

The Social Construct of Nature- How is nature produced?

Scholarly movements:

Ecofeminism- How are women uniquely affected by environmental issues and how do they respond?

Design, Emotion, Sustainability-When does design become sustainable? How is design intertwined with our emotions?

Ecopoetry-Considering the connections that ecopoetry makes and its history.

Queer Ecology-The study of how environmental ism intersects with gender. How do we gender our environments?

Urban Ecology-Considering different concepts related to Urban ecology.

Issues/debates:

Representation and Reality-The oppositions and intersections of representation and reality. Who controls representations? How do we assess reality?

Environmental Restoration and Conservation- Who benefits from conservation and restoration? Where is it effective?

Agro-Food Systems- Benefits of global vs. local systems.

Expert and Lay Environmental Knowledge-Considering different ways of knowing regarding environmental issues.

Fire-How to manage fire? What/ who does fire benefit or harm?

Unpacking Environmental Theory

The past three weeks in Envs 350 have been centered around discussing what environmental theory is and why it is valuable to study. We began by reading A Manifesto for Theory in the Environmental Studies and Science (Proctor 2013) and Approaching Environmental Theory (Proctor 2019). The first addressed a lack of discussion and scholarship on environmental theory, and called for greater attention to be given to theory in the environmental studies and sciences. The later focused on how not to engage with environmental theory and discussed three tenets of unnecessary environmental scholarship. These readings all addressed the importance of environmental theory, while also attempting to navigate the fact that there is little scholarship on environmental theory. One of the most interesting things about this class is that while there are plenty of environmental theories out there, environmental theory is still not an established field. It is engaging to talk about defining where it’s value is and how best to learn it in a classroom.

One of the most clearly defined benefits of learning environmental theory is the space it provides to discuss different through a scholarly lens. With this in mind, we began considering the ecotypes survey, an alternative to the NEP scale (Dunlap 2008) that operates as more of a sliding scale. The ecotypes survey takes into consideration where individuals have conflicting beliefs or ideals and the nuances of how those ideals and beliefs connect. The ecotypes survey is a great way to consider the importance of engaging across difference. The ecotypes survey compares individuals results to the averaged results of everyone who has taken the survey. There numbers are not representative of the population as a whole because a majority of people who have taken the survey are white, female college students. However the numbers are an interesting tool to compare results to.