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Sunday, March 29 • 10:30am - 12:00pm
Session 5 Paper Stream 2: Ecology in the Arts

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Session 5 Paper Stream 2: Ecology in the Arts

Michael Golden: "The Music In and Of Ecology"
It’s an interesting question to consider whether music has had a crucial role in the evolution of our species, but whether beneficial adaptation or “auditory cheesecake” (Pinker’s term), music adequately defined is a universal phenomenon among humans. If we consider this phenomenon in the context of developing work in ecology, systems science, and neurobiology, the musical activities of humans can be understood as continuing the development of essential processes common to all living things in their interactions with their environments. Human musicking is then an emergent property of the ecosystem, or, in other terms, it is dialogue with the environment. 

A brief survey of work by ethnomusicologists in cultures from around the world shows us that, although the specific functions attributed to music are diverse and numerous, a common thread is that they involve connecting us to our environments, social, physical, and/or metaphysical. The perspective of the Santiago theory of cognition and its successors offers one potential way of supporting our understanding of this function of musicking with ecological thinking. The theory places human cognitive processes in a continuum with all organisms, and includes two key features which are especially germane to this study: “structural coupling,” which is used to describe the changes an organism undergoes in an ongoing relationship with its environment, and the notion that, with a sufficiently complex nervous system, organisms such as ourselves can “bring forth” an interior world, and then integrate or connect it with the external world that we also bring forth through our senses.

These concepts may lead us in new directions, one of which is the possibility that understanding musicking as a fundamentally ecological behaviour might enable us to foster broader ecological awareness, through enhanced appreciation of our nature and our relationships with the environment.

Keith Armstrong and Lawrence English: "Black Nectar and Dark Ecologies: Site Specificities within the Ecological Mesh"
Black Nectar was a site- and season-specific installation, presented after dark as part of an environmental arts festival - Siteworks 2014 at Bundanon, Australia. The focus of this arts-science collaboration was to generate deep sensitisation to the installation site - a naturally occurring amphitheatre set within a dense forest - through subtle audiovisual engagement and augmentation. The work, which combined edge of perception illumination and porous sound interventions, sought to create deeply embodied, embedded experiences, through slowly attuning audience senses. 

The work’s design and aesthetic constructions referenced complex readings of Australian seasonal patterns provided by Grey Headed Flying Fox expert and behavioural ecologist Dr. Peggy Eby. To design the work we drew upon Peggy’s extensive data set that tracked the seasonal migrations of this important Australian mammalian species - as a way of correspondingly understanding seasonal fluctuations. As ‘nectar pulses’ sweep across the Australian landscape, corresponding to the flowering of the gum trees, so these animals follow, and so we used this as a mapping and orientation device within the installation. These reappropriated ‘pulses’, combined with the complex ambience of the location, allowed audiences to then chart personal courses through seasons of change, perception and animality.

Black Nectar drew on a range of theorists including recent work by Timothy Morton, who questions the very nature of what ecologies are, ascribing them as omniscient, entangling meshes, free of any central position that might privilege one form of being over another. Morton builds his arguments towards the idea of "Dark Ecologies", which he suggests create an absence of neutral theoretical ground upon which ecological claims may be made. Correspondingly, Black Nectar avoided any central experiential point nor sought to foreground any one spatial presence over another. Instead the work encouraged reflective, personal and intersubjective experiences as a tactic for foregrounding "improved cultural conditions" within which new forms of ecological thinking & practices may subsequently be triggered.

Kev Nemelka: "The Weight of the World: A Contemporary Art Exhibition of Affect, Reason, and Sustainability" 
The Weight of the World: A Contemporary Art Exhibition of Affect, Reason, and Sustainability deals first with the false division of logic and emotion. Contemporary artists like Greg Caldwell, Joseph Ostraff, Stephen Santore, Rachel Cardenas Stallings, Céline Trouillet, and others confront issues of dichotomized thinking—specifically how the affect/reason dichotomy has traditionally been made tantamount to a male/female, fact/fiction, or STEM/Humanities dichotomy, respectively—by suggesting the inevitability and dynamism of intersection. This paper pulls from the writings of Jacques Rancière and Christine Ross, established writers and theorists who have both discussed collapsed oppositional dyads and the notion of the Cartesian Error.

A second concentration of this exhibition explores ecological aesthetics and the art historical desire of artists to represent their natural milieu. Emphasizing a contemporary push for more conceptual or data-driven substance within environmental art, The Weight of the World considers the fact that affect and reason have always been simultaneously embedded in ecological aesthetics (hence the very scientific “environment” and the affective powers of “nature”). This portion of the exhibition’s thesis is informed by Andrew Brown’s Art and Ecology Now, William Cronon’s “The Trouble with Wilderness,” and N. Katherine Hayles’ “Simulated Nature and Natural Simulations,” all addressing our contemporary problems of romanticization and objectification of nature, which this exhibition aims to avoid. Artists Guy Brando, Edgar Cardenas, Leila Daw, Clark Goldsberry, Mary Neubauer, and others are considered within this subsection of the exhibition.

The final focus of The Weight of the World is the incorporation of sustainability and the necessary employment of both logic and emotion to better determine its prospects. Works by Dan Collins, Lisa Ferguson, Klaus Pinter, PlantBot Genetics Inc., and Buzzy Sullivan illustrate that decisions regarding the planet’s future are dependent on both a rational and a passionate examination of the current state of things in order to create awareness and encourage action within local, national, or global communities.


Julie Anand

Julie Anand is associate professor of Photography in the School of Art and Senior Sustainability Scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Her projects, informed by a background in Ecology and Geology, often explore material culture, body/land... Read More →


Keith Armstrong

Keith Armstrong has specialised for 18 years in collaborative, hybrid, new media works with an emphasis on innovative performance forms, site-specific electronic arts, networked interactive installations, alternative interfaces, public arts practices and art-science collaborations... Read More →

Lawrence English

Lawrence English is composer, media artist and curator based in Australia. Working across an array of aesthetic investigations, English’s work explores the politics of perception and prompts questions of field, perception and memory. English utilises a variety of approaches, including... Read More →

Michael Golden

Michael Golden (DMA) studied at the Universities of Oregon and Washington, and is currently Professor of Music Composition and Director of the Creative Arts Program at Soka University of America, in California, where he teaches composition, world music, and related courses. His composition... Read More →

Kev Nemelka

Kev Nemelka is an art history Master's candidate at Arizona State University. He received his BA at Brigham Young University for a thesis on contemporary Hungarian artist Béla Kondor, and is currently working with Dr. Meredith Hoy of UC Berkeley on contemporary faux-naïveté and... Read More →

Sunday March 29, 2015 10:30am - 12:00pm
Art 220 900 S. Forest Mall Tempe, AZ 85281

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