An Ecology of Many Worlds
Over fifteen months of the MA Art & Ecology, this first cohort have developed compelling bodies of artistic work and deep understandings of how ecological thought is situated, historical and embodied. While the ‘Man’ centred within imperial ecology still looms large in mainstream environmentalism, the sensibilities that emerge here are migratory, queer, feminist, working-class, butch, sensitive and enraged. There is a striving to decolonise, to heal and reconnect, grounded in awareness that the commons is not only that which historically has been marginalised or dispossessed, but that it encompasses the planetary commons – earth, water, air – that binds us all. Commoning, therefore, is understood as a fundamentally contemporary strategy of survival and flourishing – to be found in recipes passed across generations, in folklore re-animated with a flash of neon, in digital dissemination and forms of occulture. While informed by a pluriverse of theory, there is a profound attention to the somatic and the everyday, to fermenting transformations that hone sensory acuteness and call for new descriptions of the sensorial world.
The artists gathered here recognise artistic materials not only as political in relation to the human labour involved in their production, but also in terms of their sustainability and cultural significance. They have investigated the extent to which the entities that materials derive from – be it mineral, animal or plant – are gathered with care and reciprocity, recalling Robin Wall Kimmerer’s account of the ‘honourable harvest’, or are manufactured through systems of extraction enabled by a colonial mindset. Material afterlives is a crucial theme, and understanding how, as Max Liboiron argues, pollution is colonialism, has been essential.
There are difficult reckonings with inheritance – who benefits? who is dispossessed? what are the possibilities for justice given enduring inequities? But afterlives can take other paths to denaturalise extractivism, with practices of investigation, attention, gleaning and repurposing that may enact a re-enchantment, focus attention on what has been lost, or imagine how things might be otherwise. Might a product made from timber be understood to retain within it the spirit of a tree? As the sixth extinction unfolds, these artists find themselves using their creative powers to reimagine relations with the more-than-human world, to rage but also to organise, to recognise the resistance of matter and the power of joy, to hold a space for that which does not speak, to whisper with ghosts and dragons.
Programme Director, MA Art & Ecology