Two quick observations about art and ecology at Welcome to the Anthropocene:
1) I’m impressed with how well art has been integrated into the program, thanks in part to Jennifer Joy‘s work in weaving her own performances with a troupe of local artists and dancers throughout the events. (And how none of it is the cloying kind of art one sometimes finds when environmentalism and art meet.) This should be the goal of any interdisciplinary environmental conference or gathering; this conference, in many ways, raises the bar.
2) At the same time, I’m disappointed by how few people actually attend the sessions devoted to art. Some of these have featured well-known international artists like Natalie Jeremijenko, Betsy Damon, Elizabeth Demaray, Brandon Ballengée, and others. The best such artists — I’m thinking especially of Natalie, Betsy, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Maya Lin, Patricia Johansen, and others — provide a paradigm for the kind of engaged, creative work that twenty-first century environmentalism requires: it is experimental, pragmatic, transdisciplinary, trans-species (often), and hybrid in its mixing of art, aesthetics and narrative, ecological science, design and engineering, and social-ethical practice. And much of that work overlaps with the very issues of environmental communication and understanding that Andy Revkin (in his keynote) and the field of environmental communication have long been concerned with.
Part of my disappointment comes from knowing the longstanding challenges in creating spaces for artists, natural scientists, engineers, engineers, humanists, and the broader public to engage together around issues of common interest, but using tools that are specific to each. Academic conferences aren’t a welcoming place for that broader public, but they could be a place for the others to get together and generate common conceptual understandings.
The field of environmental studies has been attempting that for years (I’ve been part of it since co-founding the Environmental Studies of Canada in the mid-1990s), and I keep seeing the same challenge with other interdisciplinary venues (like the ISSRNC, ASLE, and one-off gatherings like this one in Nevada).
Here’s a TED talk by Natalie Jeremijenko that I like to show my students (and that they generally love). It emblematizes the kind of work we need much more of: