F.2 Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Part 2

Fri Oct 22 / 11:30 – 13:00 PDT
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chairs /

  • Kristie MacDonald, University of Guelph
  • Ella Tetrault, York University

In the introduction to the anthology Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, its editors Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing et al. suggest that, "living in a time of planetary catastrophe begins with a practice at once humble and difficult: noticing the worlds around us." The practice of noticing assists us in ameliorating what biologist and indigenous scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer refers to as Species Loneliness, a human-made estrangement resulting from a lost or limited relationship with the natural world, which renders us "visitors" in nature. Today, there is a growing body of scholarship prioritizing practice-based, embodied, and situated ecological knowledge. These burgeoning cross-disciplinary endeavours cast a wide net across the fields of visual art, art history, performance theory, sociology, philosophy, environmental studies, and gender studies, among others. This panel calls for artwork presentations, performance-lectures, autotheorhetical reflections, and alternative approaches to scholarly inquiry that explore climate change, land, relationships to place, species loss, species loneliness, land-based practices, and related subjects.

Kristie MacDonald is a visual artist who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her practice-based research engages notions of the archive and its roles in the evolving meanings and contextual histories of images, artifacts, and places. MacDonald is a recipient of awards from the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts. She has exhibited her work in Canada, the United States, Norway, and Iceland. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Visual Art at York University and an Assistant Professor at the University of Guelph, where she teaches Studio Art.

Ella Tetrault is a Nova-Scotian-born artist. She holds an MFA in Public Art and New Artistic Strategies from the Bauhaus University (2011–13) and a BA from the University of Toronto (2003–08). She is co-founder and co-curator of the Fuller Terrace Lecture Series and founder of Miracle Baby Gallery in Oakwood Village, Toronto. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Visual Art at York University, a guest lecturer at the University of Cologne at the Institute for Art and Art Theory alongside Stefanie Busch, and a sessional lecturer at the University of Toronto. She has exhibited in Canada, the United States, Poland, Greece, the UK, and Germany.

F.2.1 Masks and Cover-Ups: Ecology and Contemporary Art in China

Xinrui Zhang, University of York

On February 25, 2014, a group of twenty artists, wearing anti-pollution masks and prostrating themselves outside Beijing's Temple of Heaven, prayed for blue skies in a call for public awareness of a severe air pollution warning issued in Beijing on February 20, 2014, and to remind the public to revere nature. With a specific focus on the contemporary artists' performance of prayer for blue skies and Liu Bolin's Winter Solstice, this paper examines the double meanings of face masks that both protect and obscure, being protective or disguising in relation to the opaque nature of China's one-party system. This exposes the gaps and contradictions between the state's environmental policy goals for air pollution control and the absence of effective implementation of environmental regulations, as well as the disjuncture between planning and reality. This paper applies Michel Serres' concept of a "natural contract" that would bring human culture into a relation of post-anthropocentric equality with the environment, overcoming humanity's attempted mastery of the earth. In addition, it addresses British artist Matt Hope and Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde's concerns about sustainable development in contemporary China in relation to Rachel Carson's holistic ecological views. This permeates Hope's Breathing Bike and Roosegaarde's Smog Free Ring that recognize human aesthetic practices based on an ecological harmony between human beings and nature, as well as transcending human-centred exceptionalism, no longer placing humans at the center of the universe or viewing nature as a source of endless bounty.

Xinrui Zhang is a PhD student in History of Art at the University of York. Her research project examines how a green public sphere is represented in contemporary artworks in response to the ecological crisis in China, with a specific focus on air and water pollution, and explores socio-spatial conflicts engendered as a consequence of active audience participation in public space. She received a BA History of Art (Asia, Africa, and Europe) from SOAS and an MA History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art. Before starting her PhD, she worked as a curator in London.

F.2.2 Artificial Environments: Jakob Kudsk Steensen's Immersive and Ecocritical Digital Art

Andrew Remington Bailey, York University

This presentation will examine how Jakob Kudsk Steensen uses VR and simulational technologies to playfully encourage ecocritical perspectives toward climate change, species loss, and deforestation. The presentation will begin by looking at Primal Tourism (2016), a VR installation that presents audiences with a three-dimensional, reconstructed version of the island of Bora Bora. Through a combination of audio narration and historically contextual objects and text, Steensen frames the island through its colonial and environmental histories. Following this first work, the presentation will then focus on Re-Animated (2018–19), another VR work that was made in partnership with The American Museum of Natural History. Through this collaboration, Steensen 3D-scanned specimens of the now-extinct Kaua'i ʻōʻō bird and used this data to construct an immersive experience that speculatively tells their history. Finally, the third and last of Steensen's works to be discussed in this presentation will be Catharsis (2020), where Steensen once again uses 3D technologies to create a multi-screen installation that depicts an imaginary old-growth forest. By comparatively examining this recent timeline of the artist's work, this presentation will work to unpack how interactive technology can be used as a tool for ecological and/or nonhuman forms of understanding and empathy. To theoretically ground this reading of the work, this presentation will also refer to Alenda Y. Chang's recent book Playing Nature: Ecology in Video Games (2019) and her applications of new materialist theory and object-oriented ontology. By working to analyze how Steensen's works to recreate fragile and/or disappearing ecologies through 3D game-like technologies, this presentation will question how such technologies can frame or skew popular conceptions of nature within the Anthropocene. Additionally, this presentation will also seek to answer the question of how can interactive technologies be used to create productive imaginaries or utopias within a time of crisis?

Andrew Bailey is a scholar, artist, and curator who lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. Currently, he is in the process of completing a PhD in Art History and Visual Culture at York University with research interests focused on how formalism and medium specificity have impacted the art history of video games.

F.2.3 (Un)welcome Plants: The Political, Cultural, and Ecological Life of Weeds

Amanda White, Western University

I am interested in the prompt put forward by this panel that suggests noticing the world around us can be an important part of engaging with the more than human world, particularly in the current moment of climate crisis. In my current work and research, I am interested in the cultural and environmental intersection of common wild plants, organisms, which tend to be overlooked unless they are being eradicated. Specifically, I am looking at those plants that are regarded as pests/invasive/weeds (among other terminologies) and considering their cultural meanings and/or representations in conjunction with their ecological, medicinal, or food uses for humans and others in their ecological communities. I have been working on a few studio projects with these ideas in mind to date: a series of "welcome mat" rugs that depict these common wild plants, as well as culinary workshops and publications. I will be further developing this work as a part of my postdoctoral project, entitled Entangled Roots: Imagining human-plant futures differently in an age of crisis. I plan to examining the cultural histories and contested nature of such common wild edible plant species or "weeds" in the context of settler-indigenous relationships and artistic interventions.

Amanda White (she/her) is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar working at the intersection of art, environment and culture, examining alternatives to the dominant visualizations of the environmental, with a current focus on plant studies. Amanda holds a PhD (Cultural Studies) from Queen's University, an MFA (Visual Art) from the University of Windsor and a BFA from OCADU. She has exhibited and published with support from SSHRC, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council, among others. Amanda's current research includes several ongoing studio-based works in progress and a forthcoming co-edited book project. Amanda is a SSHRC Postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Curating in the Department of Visual Arts Western University (2021–23), where her research-creation project will examine the symbiotic relationships between humans and the plants that we eat.