Monday, March 9, 2009


The responses coming from UNM are being generated in the context of our Art & Ecology studio and seminar this semester. Bill’s provocation regarding the appropriation of scientific terms is most applicable to those endeavors. At UNM I have repeatedly heard the complaint from my colleagues in the “hard sciences” that the use of the term Ecology in naming our course has incorrectly appropriated the territory of science. I will leave it to historians of linguistics to sort out the true cultural location from which the term ecology has sprung.

German Ökologie, from öko- eco- + -logie –logy

1: a branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments
2: the totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their environment
3: human ecology
4: environment , climate , the moral ecology ; also : an often delicate or intricate system or complex, the ecology of language

I’d be interested in applying another of the terms supplied by our Walker contingent to the question. It seems to me that in the migration of scientific terms is the direct result of the current wave of trans-disciplinary collaboration that is happening in academia and the art world at large. The result is an inevitable Hybridity in which two or more disciplines bring their interpretations to any given term.

I have experienced this several times of late in my practice, one example being our project for Lucy Lippard’s Weather Report exhibition. For this show, artists were charged with finding a scientist with whom to partner in creating a work that addressed climate change. I put together a team at UNM consisting of myself, Erika Osborne, artist and colleague in the Land Arts of the American West program and Bruce Milne, biologist and head of Sustainability Studies. We also consulted with plant biologists at the US Forest Service station in Fort Collins, CO. The focus of the piece was to plant species at our chosen site at the National Center for Atmospheric Research that stood to prosper
over the long term as the climate warmed.

Central to the conception of the piece was the idea that our site was situated at an Ecotone (a scientific term) and would therefore demonstrate a significant and rapid change in plant community.

ec- + Greek tonos tension — more at tone

1: a transition area between two adjacent ecological communities

The question I brought to Bruce Milne was what scientific principle could we use to define the planting plan to maximize our possibility of success. He suggested we apply a fractal (another scientific term) algorithm.

frac·tal ,
French fractale, from Latin fractus broken,
1: any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size

The resulting proposal that we submitted contains a planting plan with Erika’s drawing of our chosen native species that is based on the “bough” fractal. In the end, the work combines several scientific concepts/terms in an art piece. It’s a hybrid.

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