‘Nobody, nobody, nobody (not even myself, my supervisors, and my assessor) is seriously going to want to read my thesis.’
Research blogger, ‘NottinghamFlorist’
Guardian Higher Education Network on Academic Blogging, Oct, 19, 2012
This website is hosted by WordPress, the largest online blogging platform and they recently sent out stats for the year on how well my site was working for me. I wasn’t that surprised to see my article on Ecopornography, slow violence and the slow deep art of place has been the most popular (the article is due to be published in a modified form later this summer in the Earthlines magazine).
The main reason of doing this blog was initially to serve as a journal for my own journey through these ideas and media and to host the various works I’m undertaking during a creative (practice and theory) PhD enquiry. To my surprise, I have developed a steadily growing audience for what I thought was quite a small, overly academic endeavour and it has led me to connect with leading peers in my field from afar (I’m now part of the Assoc. Study of Literature and Environment and Culture Australia-New Zealand ASLEC-ANZ committee) and equally important to me, develop a more general audience for this new topic.
Note: This is a long post, reviewing how I have use this site over the last year, so it might be only of interest to others undertaking a creative practice and theory PhD.
Using social media in PhD-land
While I have quite a background in using social media, I have to give thanks for the idea that creating an online presence maybe useful in an academic environment to the Irish Art Research Centre (TRIARC), Trinity College Dublin, for their seminar on ‘Blogging for Academia’, held in Dublin in 2010 (I attended this before starting my PhD). I also have to credit The Thesis Whisperer, a wonderful resource site for people doing PhD’s, that acknowledges and supports the creative potential and communication power of new online technologies and forms in academia (for e.g. its information on Scrivener – offline software to house all your notes, sites visited, pdfs, visual work, chapters in progress, has been invaluable in taming what can be otherwise an overwhelming research process). When asked about the methodology of my creative enquiry, how I make knowledge, this online journalling, faciliated by the evolving form of social media is an important part of tracking and housing my developing theory and practice workings and then sharing it with others. Another inspiration for putting my filmworks, observations online has been one of the most important exponents and advocates of experimental filmmaking Jonas Mekas, who in 90s is generously vlogging (video blogging) too.
Experimenting with online structures in how best to present both my film experiments and theory, the notes I make about the key terms and context I am working in, are also changing how I am thinking about the work I produce. For example I am thinking about my film work differently; the immediacy, intimacy and large audiences for my films online and the low-fi aesthetic of putting work in this sphere is providing me a means to connect to audiences that I would never achieve by exhibition alone and conveying a grassroots aesthetic that seems to work with the ethos of the art & ecology area I work in. This is not to say I am discounting exhibiting my work in galleries and I have some great opportunities to do so this year, but the social media space allows me to self-curate, direct the discourse in a different, interactive way. The other thing is that my film and theory work is often reaching others online first, who are then asking me to exhibit my film works or to talk about my topic (this occurred last summer, when I had the opportunity to exhibit my new film ‘The Hollywood Diaries 2008-12‘ at the Dublin Red Stables Art & Ecology summer school and similarly I have been invited to talk and show this film next month at TheGallery, Bournemouth ( I will write more about this soon).
Key terms: ecopornography and ecojurisprudence?
This site has also allowed me to think my way through new ideas, become more familiar with concepts and think about the key terms in my phd research. Getting back to my most popular post from 2012, I was reminded me again of ecoporn, a concept I came across early last year. I was particularly reminded of it again recently when I saw this trailer for the new David Attenborough Africa series (above). Many people have been startled when I use the term ‘ecopornography’ but then quickly seem to understand it. For example, when viewing high cost 3D wildlife series, people are realising that such visually arresting and HD ‘realistic’ cultural works (this trailer has an eroticised view of nature and the documentary itself keep within the conventions of natural history filmmaking), often completely omit and are at odds with the accelerating species decline the earth is currently experiencing, with little mention of industrial society’s ecocidal role in it. Wildlife/natural history cinema seems on the surface to impart much knowledge and delight in non-human species, exotic locations and conveys a trust in the story of science that conveys how well we know this earth (I know I loved them for these reasons as a child and admire still the technical skill of the cameraman and audio people involved in their creation) but often they are poor (if not negligent), to my mind, in conveying growing and far-reaching negative socio-ecological realities. New texts in recent years, such as the Routledge’s Ecocinema Theory and Practice (2012) argues that much critical work is needed in understanding the conceptual and formal conventions and limitations of this little studied film genre. For instance I have begun to look at very early nature cinema to understand its highly anthropocentric (human-centered) visual politics, in an article entitled American Nature cinema: representations of dominion and imperialism).
Much different perspectives, much more sensible of the sensitivity, complexity and interconnectedness of the natural world, are sorely needed if we are firstly perceive more fully, then act on implementing necessary radical change to employ deeply sustainable land (and ocean) practices. However, being acutely aware of the natural world around us is not central in industrial societies. In this respect many people maybe aware of the environmental movement (and who may have perhaps dismissed it for its lack of effectiveness) are perhaps not aware of a growing ecological rights movement in the legal sphere, ecojurisprudence, that is now been discussed in some nations and very recently at United Nations levels. Such rights, championed by lawyers such as Polly Higgins, Thomas Linzey, etc are being legally recognised and adopted in nations chiefly where indigenous peoples have long perceived, and hence valued the interconnected and interdependent relations we have and must work within (I earlier wrote about how in NZ in recent months the Whanganui river has been granted legal standing). I’m interested in this as I think before we seek rights for our forests, rivers and other ecosystems, much work needs to be done to critically investigate the conventions in cultural works, in my case natural history/wildlife cinema (film, TV, online) that may be limiting our perception of the world around us for considerably large audiences.
Other key terms and ideas in my research
My article last year on the Anthropocene: 10 ooo years of ecocide, allowed me to review and present current scientific findings on the state of the biosphere as the main premise for my doctoral work. It helped me formulate my ideas around what I’m calling ‘the ecocidal eye’, and from a visual culture perspective, what I am characterising as the dominant ‘anthropocentric gaze of cinema’ (in formulating these ideas I began thinking about the parallel ‘masculine gaze’ idea that is well known visual culture and feminist theory (I discuss this in my article on ‘ecopornography, slow violence and the deep art of place’). There is a small but growing realisation, in much the same way feminism has added to critical film analysis, of the necessity to examine cinema ecocritically, to help expand understanding of the visual politics employed in cinema that may blind us to ecocide. This article also gave me an opportunity to critique the online viral web film Welcome to the Anthropocene (2012) from an ecocritical (ecocriticism is critically analysing cultural works from an awareness of ecological perspectives and concerns) perspective, and to begin to think about some of the hidden anti-ecological assumptions in this short film’s message and form.
Tracking and sharing my research
As a blogsite is a diary format, I know my site may be difficult to navigate to see all the elements I am working on or have previously been working on, especially for those not that familiar with the social ethos and hyper-linked form of online media or for those who may only sometimes infrequently visit the site. Sometimes it maybe difficult for newcomers to find my key articles or my videos- something I realised in my experimentation with the blog form as the content for this site grew (I’m still experimenting as I go). As such, I spent some time over last Summer putting my key articles in an online magazine format (I use the ISSUU platform), with a permanent link to them from this site, on the home page (see my key articles here). This has proved useful for me to share my initial explorartory essays more easily with interested peers, galleries and general readers (I also make use of my own stills from my video works in these articles to make the work as engaging as possible). On my home page I have headed the page with my most recent film and there is a link in the left menu to reveal all my experimental film work posts (this link will ‘pull together’ posts where I have exhibited my films too).
My forest work
My forest work and practices are the base for my thinking and filmmaking (and occasionaly policy work). It is a long term, multifaceted art & ecology forest transformation project and through this website it has also attracted attention of forest groups over the last year. The article I am perhaps most proud from 2012 is Deep Sustainability and the Art and Politics of Forests. Not long after I wrote the article and presented new national forest policy for the Irish Green Party last year, The UK Save our Woods online campaign group, who were instrumental in bringing together many of the audiences of forest/environmental NGO’s in recent years contacted me. Their use of social media had helped successfully highlight and oppose the UK governments national forest privatisation, and they invited me to republish my article on their site, with links back to my films for their audience (this article will also be published in the upcoming proceedings from the UK Home and the World summit where I presented my research and films last June).
Recording and Disseminating my work
While the website has been a powerful to build a profile for this work and topic, this year also saw me attend my first conferences where I presented my film and theory work. These events have given me the opportunity to present and then receive feedback on my still forming theorectical framework and film work and introduced me to researchers in ecocriticism (ASLEC-ANZ who I have mentioned previously) and cultural geographers who are becoming interested in long term, place based art (I am a member of the UK initiated Land2 network established by Dr Iain Biggs). As I know not everyone can attend these conferences and for my own records, I recorded most of my talks (on Slideshare) and posted them on this site. They can be collectively seen online here.
Presenting at conferences also greatly challenged me to consider how to present my enquiry through practice. I was fortunate in this regard, that just before my first conference I was asked to exhibit a video work in the 9 Stones Artists group show in early June in Carlow during the Eigse arts festival (2012), in a room of a wonderful disused town hall. This was the first time in ages I had presented my work to the public and I was fortunate to have a room on my own for my video projection. I have long had a dilemma with my video works in that I had often considered them just as experimental fragments as I struggled to understand, articulate even, the concerns I have with much of nature cinema in general. My skills and resources too in comparison with big budget or experienced filmmakers working in the nature cinema area often made me wonder if my work had any validity even though I had come across the writings of film academic, Scott MacDonald. MacDonald, a long advocate of experimental film and instrumental in new studies of ecocinema, believes that there is value in experimental film practice to highlight the conventions and limitations of mainstream nature cinema. At other times, much of the recent theory that I have encountered, like ecopornography for instance, does make me wonder at the futility of using media that too easily conveys the beauty of the natural world and which may too easily obscure the realities of the slow ecocide around us (its a perspective I have found put forward recently by Ronald Tobias, who has a much celebrated career in natural history wildlife filmmaking).
Nevertheless, when considering how to exhibit my film work in Carlow, I found an answer, for the stage I am at now, by selecting what I considered the stronger experiments of my video work and putting them together sequentially. This showed a progression from my earlier attempts that are more like conventional environmental documentary burning bright, once i counted birds to my more recent video experiments, such as in transformation and neighbours. With this selection, and then framing the works with an introduction of NZ forests that have always inspired me, I was surprised and startled to see that my work, in this piece, was evolving, to my mind away from the conventions of environmental documentary (with its dominant human voice-overs and explanation) to a form, that was if not ecocentric (ecological), was more sensitive to thinking about the nonhuman perspectives in my forest (biocentric perhaps). The reception of this structure was well received in the gallery and I named this work ‘The Hollywood diaries 2008-12‘ (my forest is named Hollywood). I was then invited to show this film over a 2 week long exhibition in a group show at the inaugural Red Stables Art & Ecology summer school in July and my film work and theory and the project in general were reviewed in the Red Stables Art & Ecology summer school book by Cultural Geographer, Dr. Karen Till.
All in all its been a busy year with some unexpected long periods away from my forest. It has taken time to think about the key terms of my enquiry, map out the theory, present pretty much still forming ideas and practices as a researcher, not as an artist over the last year. In all of these meanderings, this site has been important and enabled me to present and connect with audiences in ways I never expected.
Lastly, while the audience for ecocritical examination of cinema is very small and recent in academia, the audience for nature cinema has never been greater…only 6.5 million watched the opening Africa episode!
- Ecopornography, slow violence and the deep art of place (ecoartfilm.com)
- The Anthropocene: 10 000 years of ecocide (ecoartfilm.com)
- The Anthropocene Project 2013-14 (ecoartfilm.com)
- The ‘taxonomy’ of nature cinema and popularising science (ecoartfilm.com)
- American nature film: representations of dominion and imperialism (ecoartfilm.com)