Thursday, Oct 1 | 2:30-4:50 pm

PLACE(S) | Room 210 (Instrumental Hall)

Moonlight in the Pines: How Developing a Phenomenology of Forested Places Convinced a Forest Ecologist of the Need for Art in order to Communicate the Beauty of a Fire-Dependent Ecosystem

Brandon Craft

With the rising popularity of sense of place within theology, a natural outflow has been increasing interdisciplinary work between ecology and theology with a growing body of work suggesting this relationship as being crucial to our understanding of humans' place in this world. It was with this paradigm in mind that I began exploring a phenomenology of forested places with an emphasis on beauty. Why do forests engender such strong senses of both pragmatic stewarding and aesthetic reverence? Could the relationship between our practical use and passionate protection of forests help us form an ecological sense of place founded in the particularity of ecology? Focusing on the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystems of the southern U.S., I will attempt to form a phenomenological framework based on the role of fire as a natural process in these unique forested savannahs, taking Gaston Bachelard's Psychoanalysis of Fire as inspiration. Much like ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) forests, longleaf pine naturally experienced regular (every 2-4 years), low-intensity fires, and it is dependent on them for regeneration. A short walk through a remnant old-growth longleaf forest gives the distinct impression of a forest sustained in existence by vacillating between violence and serenity, fire and flowers. Not only could this paradoxical relationship form the basis for powerful art, but our understanding of the ecology of these systems could also be positively influenced by artistic engagement with the deep well of metaphors found within this ecosystem. Ecologists and artists might form mutually beneficial relationships that further not only each other's knowledge and familiarity with this system, but their conversation could lead to better public understanding of both the beauty and science of one of North America's most endangered ecosystems. Success in this endeavor could easily form the basis for similar relationships in reference to other ecosystems.

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Brandon Craft's sense of place is rooted in the piney woods of southwest Georgia. Living in Scotland for four years with his wife, Jenn, this need became painfully apparent. They both missed the thunderstorms whose lightning ignited the fires that formed the longleaf pine ecosystem. Since their return to make a home in Valley, Alabama, Brandon has been working on a Master of Natural Resources in Forestry at Auburn University. His research has focused on managing the aesthetics of longleaf pine forests. He considers himself blessed to be a part of the redemption of creation as a forest ecologist.

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John Luther Adams and the Ecological Change in Listening

Thom Jencks

John Luther Adams asks us “What is the value of art in a world on the verge of melting?” (Winter Music, 2003). In our current global situation some – rather unreasonably – deny that global warming is a problem. But, even those who accept that it is a problem only wish to solve it through changing our tools of living – energy and material production and usage, etc. Though helpful, they fail to change the way we think of nature and the way we think of our relationship with nature, our place as part of nature. By focusing on the works of John Luther Adams, notably Sila: The Breath of the World (2011), I plan to argue that art – and in this case music – is essential for solving global warming and other environmental problems through its potential to realize new visions and give voice to new truths about our relationship with the world and ecosystems of which we inhabit. Fundamental to this idea is Adams’ idea that “My music is going inexorably from being about place to becoming place” (Interview with Alex Ross, 2008). By being a place, his music encourages us – I argue – to listen, see, and be with our environment in different ways.  

To do this, I will first briefly discuss Sila within the context of how it challenges us to listen differently through the displacement of performers, audience, and methods of performance. Secondly, I will argue – utilizing ideas from hybrid-geography – that through this change in listening and ultimately consciousness, this music becomes a means for reconceiving the environment as a sacred place. Third, I will argue that by rethinking our place with and within nature, it is possible to overcome the concept of the “Other”, hopefully resulting in a reduction of alienation from both humans and non-humans.

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Thom Jencks is a graduate student currently applying for PhD programs focusing on the ideas of place in and of music. He completed his MMus at Royal Holloway University of London with a dissertation studying the idea of place as an ecosystem within music with a case study of Ives’ piano trio. He completed his BA in Music and Philosophy at Augustana College in Illinois. He has broad research interests such as but not limited to, aesthetics, politics of music, feminist theory, contemporary music, “landscape”, environmentalism, and hybrid-geographies/topologies of music.

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The Artist’s Gift of Wild Hope in a Homeless Culture

Alexandra Harper

It is a mistake to limit ecological concerns to political vote, future technologies or unfortunate evils of modern industry. While many factors shape the cultural narrative, American evangelicalism has been influenced by Keynesian economics. The correlative economic term that describes our current epoch is known as the Age of Resource Depletion. Alongside fossil fuel depletion, seminal Christian aesthetic instincts and environmental virtues are dying out with the rise of cultural homelessness. Christian scripture presents a high view of creativity, creation and human responsibility to wisely care for the Earth. However, many evangelical churches have lost sight of this vision and practice economic habits that drive ecological and cultural suffering.

Imagination and the arts are irrevocably tied to a sense of place. Sacred images seen and performed in different art forms inhabit time and space in ways that create culture and care for the earth. Orthodox theological commitments without artistic sensibilities and ecological care promotes a culture of compromise and ideology.  The result is the industrialization of individuals who share only a sense of homesickness and the shame of homelessness without knowing how to account for it. They are restless and displaced without legitimate care for beauty, generational vision or gratuitous generosity.

This paper presents various images in the arts as ways to see the sacred union between personal actions, liturgy and place. It shows that the confluence of aesthetics, images and spiritual disciplines serve and safeguard the capacity to see and care for the earth in personal and communal landscapes. It offers ways in which artists encounter, invite and inhabit visions of hospitality in realms of displacement and cultural homelessness. Recovering artistic sensibilities as an imaginative discipleship community is key to recover who we are as image bearers, caretakers and homemakers on God’s good earth.

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Alexandra Harper is a ministry consultant and her research supports the Fujimura Institute (a branch of the International Arts Movement). Her work is grounded in the biblical idea of Sabbath shalom expanding from personal righteousness (redemptive moments, salvation) outwards into authentic community membership and justice through Christian ethics and imaginative discipleship pedagogy.  Her work presents a theological, anthropological and creative framework to move from individualism towards a distinctively Christian vision that cultivates the Kingdom of God through the local church. She received an MLitt from Saint Andrews in Theology, Imagination and the Arts (2012) and an MDiv from Southeastern in Apologetics (2011)

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Bioart, Decay and the Lost Icons of Industry

Pamela MacKenzie

In Maurizo Montalti's Continuous Bodies: The Ephemeral Icon, an iconic plastic chair is slowly decomposed by fungi. Montalti combines his research in the laboratory with the display culture of institutional gallery spaces, exhibiting the decay and detritus of ubiquitous 20th-century objects that are reduced to mere morsels by the hungry fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium. Through his research and experimentation, Montalti provides an opportunity to reassess the categorization of plastic as separate from nature, and furthermore to challenge the idea of the non-natural altogether. The organic remains from the process Montalti employs are nothing more than decomposed matter, which are nutritionally rich and can be used subsequently as fertilizer to support of new life. “Immortal” plastic is shown to lose its form and colour and melt away through interaction with organic entities. 

Montalti's project carries resonances with both contemporary bio-art and posthuman theories, presenting constructive and creative solutions to the problem of industrial plastic production and accumulation. In this paper I will address concerns about the ontological status of different objects in the traditional hierarchical taxonomy of life, organic matter and the non-living. I will examine how Montalti employs new technologies in order to evaluate the meanings and definitions of those same technologies, especially towards the project of blurring and/or redrawing the conceptual lines that separate the human from the environment. By examining the complex environmental interactions between traditionally “natural” objects and ecologies with those more recent creations

of a human origin, I will discuss the artist's use of biotechnology in experimental ways that are often troublesome for current ethical and metaphysical paradigms.

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Pamela Mackenzie is a first-year Doctoral student studying Art History at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include historical and contemporary constructions of the concept of the natural, which includes studying the relationship between art, diagrams, epistemological systems and vitalist philosophies of nature. Her current project is concerned with representations of nature in print culture of the Early Modern Period, including diagrams and illustrations accompanying botanical and alchemic treatises. 

Her recently completed MA thesis dealt with contemporary iterations of the natural. That research, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), centred on contemporary artworks that use the physical and symbolic properties of plastics in order to challenge the distinction between the natural and the artificial.

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