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artful eco workings that cycle through: Close-to-Nature continuous cover forestry, experimental film-making, the eco-humanities field (deep ecology, ecocriticism, ecosophy, ecofeminism), writing & forest policy development; by cathy fitzgerald, visual culture, ncad, ireland

             video sketch: observe/r (30 april 2012) - see film details below*
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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

Working title and abstract

THE ECOCIDAL EYE : BEYOND THE ANTHROPOCENTRIC (human centered) GAZE TO A RELATIONAL GAZE IN CINEMA
Questions arising from a long term art and ecology project in which film-making has a significant part, have directed an artistic enquiry into the conceptual conventions and limitations of the predominant and what could be called the anthropocentric (human centered) gaze in cinema in how it presents nature. For example, while the nature documentary genre, is popular and has obviously played an important role in nature education and conservation, its anthropocentric, environmentalist gaze and its ecopornographic characteristics have often unwittingly supported and blinded industrial society’s ecocidal behaviour towards the complexly dynamic, interconnected and sensitive ecosystems on which humanity and all other species are part of and on which they depend. As cinema in all its forms has a powerful global position in displaying humanity’s behaviours and perspectives towards other living communities to large audiences, post-environmentalist, ecofeminist perspectives in this Anthropocene age (‘age of man’) of rapid biosphere  instability would argue the need to adopt more ecocentric philosophies and perspectives. As such, in-depth examination of the limitations of the anthropocentric gaze in cultural works such as cinema, are critically overdue, urgent and important in the evolution of cinema that would seek to more ably reflect more considered relations to the more-than-human earth and its inhabitants.
In this qualitative artistic practice and theory enquiry, work to present and examine more recent ecosophical thought and ethics will be examined through an interplay of cinematic experimentation in artists experimental cinema and relevant theory. The artistic practice element of this enquiry will seek to examine the potential of experimental cinema in particular, in retraining perspectives towards a more relational gaze that is more cognisant of the complexity and interdependence of living communities and systems, of which humanity and other species survival depends. These cinematic works will respond to evolving interactions in a long-term art & ecology project that aims to present the transformation of a monoculture conifer plantation into a diverse permanent forest in the artist’s immediate environment. A review of recent ecocriticism as it applies primarily to cinema will be performed, and case studies of works or works-in-process that display or aspire to more ecocentric cinematic perspectives or moments will be examined.
By employing and addressing recent ecosophical ideas/ethics and ecocriticism in specific experimental cinematic practices and works, the enquiry will seek to create and make explicit cultural practices and perspectives that may contribute to more relational cinematic works. Such cultural work will be increasingly important if wider society is to more fully acknowledge and better connect to the fragile, interconnected and interdependent living communities on which all life depends.

____________________________________

My presentation:

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.[1][2]‘. 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)

references:

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.

Comments

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  1. May 7, 2012

    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!

    Adam

    • May 7, 2012

      Thanks Adam,

      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.

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