Short essay on my opinions of creating art based on science and nature through personal readings by Anna Tsing, Donna Haraway, Carolyn Finney, William Cronon and more.



Unrealted but related:

Screen captures from Grimes Art Angel documentary


Science and nature have always intrigued me as both are inextricably intertwined and paradoxically so different yet so similar in who has access to them. Science as a subject can be difficult to access because of its academic profile and exclusionary white lab coats, while nature can feel bountiful and freeing but can also be quite the contrary depending on one’s identity. I am interested in unpacking these restrictions, studying why the human relationships to these entities are the way they are, and how we can begin removing these barriers. In today’s economy it is clear now more than ever, that we as a society need to take more proactive measures in stressing the importance of science and making its information widely accessible and approachable. In line with science, climate change and environmentalism are extremely important topics that require the same level of attention. However, the only successful way of doing so is to reframe the context of science and nature and who has access to them. Not only is it important to get rid of the binary which suggests certain topics are negative and others are positive, but it is also important to teach histories so we do not repeat the same mistakes.

In chapter 3 of Carolyn Finney’s “BLACK FACES, WHITE SPACES“ she describes a time from the summer of 2000, when the New York Times “ran an eight-week series on race in America'' (Finney 51).  Within one of the stories she explains how the Magnolia Plantation was being turned over to the National Park Service by Betty Hertzog, owner of the land. Her reason for this was to “preserve her family’s stories” and of course the financial tourism prospects, but Carla Cowles, an African American park ranger, saw it as an “opportunity to remember the lives of slaves who were part of the plantations history and impart that knowledge to visitors'' (Finney 51). Subsequently, there was a conflict between “Hertzog and the NPS as she believed the references to slavery should be omitted from park tours.” (Finney 51). Finney states that while this is a specific situation, it isn’t unique and “raises questions about how certain experiences and memories of the past are often rendered invisible in the present, both in institutions and on the landscape.” (Finney 52). I bring up this excerpt from Finney because often times I see work or research that has to do with nature, culture and sustainability but there are no anti-colonial sentiments or a radical reframing of referential elements that allow for the possibility of removing the violence tied to their imagery. You can chose nature and delve into science as your artistic subjects, but I believe there must be a larger reason for choosing these subjects. They are politically charged subjects that require further examination. Choosing to not have those conversations contributes to the exact problems within science and environmentalism, and only by having these conversations can we then progress as a society.

I hope that the work I create can allow for these conversations and not pinpoint people to a certain path, but allow them to come up with their own conclusions and interpretations. I see my poetry and vessels working like the breadcrumbs from Hansel and Gretel. Little markers along a trail; indications of such meanings, but nothing absolute and linear. There is value in allowing openess and acknowledging the interdependance of all things.

Donna Haraway, states that “Grief is a path to understanding entangled shared living and dying; human beings must grieve with, because we are in and of this fabric of undoing. Without sustained remembrance, we cannot learn to live with ghosts and so cannot think. Like the crows and with the crows, living and dead “we are at stake in each other’s company.” When dealing with nature and culture histories will always be of importantance; every person has a different relationship to nature because of our own past histories and it’s critical we acknowedge that. Additionally, in “The Trouble With Nature” by William Cronan, Cronan states that “the trouble with wilderness is that it quietly expresses and reproduces the very values its devotees seek to reject. The flight from history that is very nearly the core of wildernesss represents the false hope of an escape from responsibility, the illusion that we can somehow wipe clean the slate of our past and return to the tabula rasa that supposedly existed before we began to leave out marks on the world. The dream of an unworked natural landscape is very much the fantasy of people who have never themselves had to work the land to make a living.” As an art student who is interested in nature related artwork, I think it’s important to not view nature as a singular, pure, entity. Nature is not unmarked beauty and does not require the romanticization of a heavy policized landscape. To create nature related artwork that can radically change our landscapes and human ontology I believe there needs to be:

-AWARENESS OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL HISTORIES OF HUMANS AND NATURE

-RESPECTING ALL FORMS OF LIVING THINGS AND ORGANISMS 

-NOT BEING WASTEFUL, NO GREEN WASHING

-NON-APPROPRIATING OF INDIGINEOUS PRACTICES 

-ACCESSIBILITY; OPEN-SOURCE; UTILIZING THE WEB 

-NON-LINEARITY, CIRCULAR SYSTEMS

-SYMBIOTIC INTERSPECIES COLLABORATION

-CHALLENGING THE EMPIRCISM OF SCIENCE

-DEMOCRATIZATION OF LANGUAGE

-VALIDATING OF OTHER TYPES OF INQUIRY AND KNOWLEDGE

-COLLABORATIVE

-ANTI-COLONIAL, ANTI-CLASSIST; ANTI-CAPITALIST 

-MAKES NO ASSUMPTIONS; SUPPORTS FICTION + FANTASY


Futures are also just as important as past histories. An artist I am inspired by is Berlin based, Finnish artist and interspecies communicator, Jenna Sutela. Sutela has collaborated with living material, and more intensively Physarum polycephalum (yellow species slime mold). She attempts to engage with artifacts from both past and future, and creates spaces and devices to transport us to parallel worlds. In her piece from 2015 named “From Hierarchy to Holarchy,” she creates an organizational maze for decentralized organisms in which she places oats on various parts of a sculptural maze. Naturally the slime mold will travel to the nutrient rich areas in the most efficient route. Similarly to how slime mold thrives on decaying matter, I am interested in fostering both living matter and decay.

The grimy decay of nature and living in captialist ruins comes into conversation in Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s “Mushroom at the End of the World”. In the book she explores the Matsutake mushroom and its “willingness to emerge in blasted landscapes that allows us to explore the ruins that have become our collective home. To follow matsutake guides us to the possibilities of coexistence within environmental disturbance” (Tsing 33). The Matsutake mushroom is an example of something that cannot exist in the binary and surpassing what it means to be a negative or positive object or entity. Our inherent biases will allow our judgements to claim A is B or C. But when we are able to open up our minds and allow our judgment to claim that A can be B and C and so on, we are able to allow all knowledge to be of relevance whether we agree with it or not. This thought process can help to remove or unlearn certain biases or learned behaviors and use a practical, open-minded approach to our relationships to others and things that exist in this world. In the end, we get a better understanding of eachother and can work to create a more democratic world for all. Nature thus becomes a gateway to ontology. Wikipedia states ontology is “the philisophical study of being or more broadly, studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.” Within a lot of the poetry I am writing, subjects I write about are feelings, fantasies, non fantasies, the hyperreal, and a translation of different behaviors performed from organisms that have adapted and evolved to environments around them. I found these topics allowed me to learn more about human connection and allowed for deeper thought transcendances.

Carolyn Merchant, American Historian states that “Ideology is a story told by people in power. Once we identify ideology as a story—powerful and compelling, but still only a story—we realize that by rewriting the story, we can challenge the structures of power. We recognize that all stories can and should be challenged.” [The Merriam Webster dictionary states that ideology is a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture.] I’m interested in doing exactly this; understanding why things are a certain way and how we can shift “normalcy.” Who is afforded validity and how can we actively work to change these power dynamics?

Anthropologist, Marilyn Strathern, ethnographer of thinking practices defines anthropology as studying relations with relations. Or more specifically “Putting relations at risk with other relations, from unexpected worlds.'' In my ceramic vessel project, I put humans in relation to slime mold. Metaphorically, slime mold illustrates entanglement, connections, collectivism and more. The vessels I am currently making are designed from the behaviors performed by slime mold and I find them to be incredibly unique organisms that redefine what it means to be intelligent or very yet, an immigrant. Though I do not explictly explain this within my poem on slime mold, I mention their escape to find a better home and a borderless realm. As a second generation Korean American, I relate the slime mold’s desire to use the most efficent routes to nutrition. For me, I see this as a metaphor for immigrants who leave everything behind to better provide for their family. All these little fragments of my own identity are meshed within the more broad poems that I write, and doing so allows me to refrain from using the self as subject. It thus allows it to be more of a collective, open-ended experience or interpretation.

One of my favorite scenes in Anna Tsing’s “Mushroom at the End of the World”, is when she explains a moment when she goes mushroom hunting with a man named Kao. In that scene she is shocked that he is able to find a large mushroom in a space that looked like there was nothing there. These mushrooms exist in a world of their own and have their own modes of living and ways of life that will never be fully understood. There are millions of worlds experienced by living objects and organisms that we don’t know of and cannot see. Many adapt to their environments from thousands of years of evolution without the aid of external sources. There is much to be learned from from them.

Tsing states that “World-making projects, as with alternative ontologies, show that other worlds are possible” and I agree with her. Additionally, as many historical world-building narratives were and still are done precisely by western-european colonizers, I believe new narratives and worlds now must be built and written by those who weren’t and still aren’t afforded the validity of doing such. As an amateur and non-scientist taking it upon myself to study other organisms found within nature, I hope to validate other forms of inquiry, knowledge production, removing the barrier between people in white lab coats and facilitate a community science that requires public participation. I hope that by using poetry and handmade artifacts as the language and vessels to express these topics can allow for healing and a greater understanding of our relations to one another. Not only do I hope for greater understanding of one another, but also contribute to real physical changes of behaviors within our very own communities.


Bibliography

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness: A Response.” Environmental History, vol. 1, no. 1, 1996, p. 47., doi:10.2307/3985063.

Finney, Carolyn. Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Haraway , Donna. Staying with the Trouble. Duke University Press, 2016.

“Ideology.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster

“Ontology.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press, 2017.