video sketch: observe/r (30 april 2012) - see film details below* ZFZH6SE29PR5
A couple of months ago I applied and was recently accepted to present my work in progress at the UK/International art ecology conference The Home and The World June 19-21, 2012.
The Home and the World Summit addresses:
‘how creative people interact with the world around them, how the arts can speak about nature and the challenges facing the world, how place and community can be at the heart of creative choices, how our identities and place in the world is defined by what we call home... Many writers have suggested that our increasing alienation from the natural world has had a profound effect on the human condition and the psyche. Ecophilosopher Paul Shephard suggests that human societies have always persisted in destroying their habitat –– but that now this is compounded by our apparent loss of knowledge about the interdependence of all living things.’ ‘This summit explores existential questions such as: what does it mean to be at home in the world? what does home mean to us? how can we be more aware of our ‘inhabited place’ in the world? why do we all too often fail to understand the impact we have on the world around us? It’s been more than fifteen years since Gablik suggested that art can re-enchant our connection to the world – how have we responded?’ (see more here e-brochure)
This is the abstract I sent in below (go to abstract here) Its basically the working abstract of my entire artistic enquiry – its moved on somewhat from my abstract from last year – thanks be!
A few definitions first though. The concepts and new terms I’m presenting took a long while to come together but they are ideas that have collapsed in on themselves somehow. From reading widely and perhaps thinking about how we ‘view’ or more correctly, how we construct of ‘views’ of the living world maybe something akin to what feminist theory has revealed in cultural works; the politics of power in the predominantly ‘male gaze’ . ‘Theories of the ‘gaze’ reject the idea that perception is ever merely passive reception. All of these approaches assume that vision, the quintessential aesthetic sense, possesses power: power to objectify—to subject the object of vision to scrutiny and possession. The ‘male gaze’ has been a theoretical tool of inestimable value in calling attention to the fact that looking is rarely a neutral operation of the visual sense. As Naomi Scheman states:
Vision is the sense best adapted to express this dehumanization: it works at a distance and need not be reciprocal, it provides a great deal of easily categorized information, it enables the perceiver accurately to locate (pin down) the object, and it provides the gaze, a way of making the visual object aware that she is a visual object. Vision is political, as is visual art, whatever (else) it may be about (Scheman, 1993, p. 159). ‘ (Korsmeyer, 2008)
In my general review of the state of the planet in regards to our species involvement in activities of gross and globalised ecocide (see my previous post on what ‘ecocide’ is here) that is having a recognised negative effect on the earth’s entire planetary systems (such as the largest mass extinction in the last 65 million years, climate change, ocean acidification, peak oil, peak nitrogen, peak phosphorous, peak uranium, peak everything etc), I’ve also found myself adopting the word ‘biosphere‘ – a relatively new scientific word that encompasses not just all living ecosystems but the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (our oceans), the lithosphere (the elements that make up the earth’s crust) of the earth.
The idea of the ‘ecocidal eye’ arose as ‘ecocide’ seems to capture the argument of what I’m trying to present in my enquiry – that the way we culturally represent the living world is never passive and in fact has often been complicit in how we continue to exploit the earth which now even threatens our own living support systems. It took me simply ages to come up with a phrase which would somehow connect ecocide and cinema – I had it as the ‘lazy eye’, ‘the destructive eye’, ‘the forgetting eye’ … and then suddenly arrived at the ecocidal eye!
The ‘anthropocene’ is also a new term that is being debated in geology, but I will describe this more in a subsequent post.
Abstract for my Home and World presentation, June 2012
Throughout my thesis I will be attempting to interweave my interest in forests, both in the video clips (I’m sort of toying with this blog to always put some video clip up with my notes), but also examine how others have looked to forests to understand humanity’s ill behaviour to the living earth. I’m not the first person to look at forests to understand the ecocidal politics in wider society – a well regarded book by Robert Pogue Harrison, ‘Forests – the shadow of civilization’ (1993) is a key text in early literary ecocritical theory. ‘Strangely like War – the global assault on forests’ (2004) by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan similarly begins with forest activism in northern California then moves to examine the culture behind it that perpetuates global deforestation. Jensen is now a key figure in radical dark green philosophy, with numerous books on the ecocidal culture of industrial society; A language older than words, The culture of make believe, Endgame etc. Like me, he also works from within a forest too!
Observe/r film Notes
I had been out on a misty day, fascinated and amused by the ridiculous (to me) long singular cobweb strands that spiders have amongst my trees. I was filming these web strands and then when I slowly panned round, I forgot I had the tripod in shot ( I had taken the camera off the tripod as I couldn’t easily travel along the line of the webs with the tripod) and then I realised I was being observed too. The tripod nicely interrupted the work from conventions most typically associated with nature documentary, I thought too.
I was also thinking of the conventions of nature documentary film-making as consisting of ‘naturalistic observation’. Naturalistic observation is a commonly accepted assumption in science research as ‘the way a subject is observed in its natural habitat without any manipulation by the observer.‘. I was remembering too, that ‘research’ too has long being involved in the projects of colonialism and exploitation. A text I intend to examine more carefully describes the power of vision attached to zoos and re-examines John Berger’s 1980 text ‘Why look at animals’. In discussing a move to a more ‘creaturely cinema’ (isn’t that a great term), Anat Pick quotes Berger,
‘animals are always the observed. The fact that they can observe us has lost all significance. They are the objects of our ever-extending knowledge. What we know about them is an index of our power, and thus an index of what separates us from them. The more we know, the further away we are (Pick, 2011, p.104).
Likewise a definition of ‘observing’ has a similar perspective in that it connects looking with how we may behave. ‘Observe’ can be defined as –
‘With the passage of time, impressions stored in the consciousness about many related observations, together with the resulting relationships and consequences, permit the individual to build a construct about the moral implications of behavior.’ (Wikipedia, accessed 30 April, 2012)
Korsmeyer, Carolyn, “Feminist Aesthetics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =. Accessed 1.5.12
Pick, Anat (2011) Creaturely Poetics – animality and vulnerability in literature and film. Columbia University Press.
2 thoughts on “my presentation for ‘the home and the world’ 2012 conference”
Great site, your abstract sounds fascinating, and ‘The ecocidal eye’ is a brilliant title!
It reminded me of the word ‘arborcide’, defined as “the wanton destruction of trees.” In my work, previously as a tree surgeon and now as an arboriculturist, I’ve met my fair share of people who’ve had an arborcidal eye!
Also, Forests- the shadow of a civilisation, is a great read!
hadn’t heard of arborcide!
Yes, I will be referring to Pogue Harrison’s ‘forests – the shadow of civilization’ in my work – isn’t it just a very thoughtful book. I found out he is a leading figure in literary theory in the small but growing field of ecocriticism.