HUMANS OF THE U: CLAIRE TAYLOR

Originally posted on @theU on August 10, 2018

“My artwork is focused on wildlife and ecology. I am inspired by my encounters with wildlife—how I react, what biases come up.

Friends of Red Butte Creek and the Global Change & Sustainability Center awarded me a grant to create art of the wildlife in the Red Butte Creek area and I was able to combine that with my master’s degree project. I spent a year working in the Research Natural Area above Red Butte Garden, and the creek below it.

I wanted to know what the wildlife I encountered thought of me, but there wasn’t a way to do that. So, I paid attention to the emotions and feelings I had and worked to capture that.

One day I came across a snake. I’ve always been afraid of snakes, even non-venomous snakes. This snake’s eyes reminded me of my cat’s eyes. Given this familiarity, I felt affection toward the snake. I considered why I feel differently about a cat versus a snake. Is it the way it looks? The way it moves? It shifted the way I view snakes.

Another time I was working along the edge of the creek in Research Park. To avoid poison ivy, I ended up walking in the creek. I was photographing an insect egg structure when two fawns came down behind me to drink water. They were surprised, very curious and aggressive for fawns. I wondered if I was the first human they had seen, which was bizarre and exciting, and may have informed their odd behavior.

Through this project I considered what it would be like to be another species and challenged my biases toward particular species.”

— Claire Taylor, BFA ’07, M.S. ’16. Claire’s artwork will be featured on the U’s 2018-19 sustainability events calendar.

Exploring the Politics of Space

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Sarah Kanouse was aware of the ways Los Angeles transformed from a desert community to a bustling city by building water and power structure. Later, when Kanouse found herself in “small college communities surrounded by cornfields,” she began to realize that rural landscapes are not as bucolic as they are portrayed.

“Being a person curious about where I am and what is surrounding me made me realize that the idealized landscape of rural America was heavily industrialized and engineered,” said Kanouse. “It is just as engineered as the city of Los Angeles.”

Landscapes, both urban and rural, are actively produced. Sarah Kanouse, Department of Art + Design at Northeastern University, works towards uncovering the historical, material, and social processes that have shaped a landscape through a range of artistic mediums.

Kanouse will present several of her recent works that address the ways in which environment and society influence one another at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Kanouse identifies with an emerging area of creative work known as artistic research or practice-based research. A single medium does not define this artistic practice, rather it is defined by ones’ inquiry.

“For artistic research, the media you select needs to align with the set of ideas you are working with,” explained Kanouse. “Artistic design realizes that mediums are not neutral carriers of meaning. They have legacies that can be used productively, critically, or skeptically in your work.”

Kanouse’s artistic research is focused on the social production of landscape. The social production of a landscape recognizes the social and cultural processes that have shaped our ecological surroundings—sometimes in overlapping and conflicting ways. Kanouse researches these social landscapes by looking both at the way we create pictures of the land, but also the social practices that shape how we and perceive it. 

“Both the art genre [of landscape painting] and social expectations tend to make landscapes seem monumental and eternal. They generally conceal the ways [landscapes] are the product of historical, material, and ecological processes that have been going on for a long time,” said Kanouse.

This inquiry inspired Kanouse to create a film titled Around Crab Orchard—which she will share clips from in her presentation. Kanouse, along with many others, enjoyed spending time in Crab Orchard as a place of recreation. Crab Orchard is the only wildlife refuge in the United States who hosts active industry. What began as defense contracting site in WWII has evolved over time to address the economic needs the community and the state’s desire to open a maximum-security prison, said Kanouse.

The Monsanto Hearings by Sarah Kanouse. Used with permission.

“The film weaves together all these different stories of Crab Orchard that are usually told separately, or not at all,” said Kanouse. “It does so in a way that unpacks how the visual manifestation of recreation, hiking, and camping conceals all of the other aspects of this space.”

Kanouse’s work often alternates between solo projects and collaborative socially engaged projects. In the collaborative projects, Kanouse takes on the role of a facilitator who enables the creative expression and participation of people who may not identify as artists. One socially engaged project Kanouse has facilitated is The Monsanto Hearings. In this performative series, the courtroom became a stage for small communities dependent on agriculture to share their stories.

“We created this space for people to present evidence about how the decade-long practices of Monsanto had negatively impacted their community,” said Kanouse.

To learn more, attend Sarah Kanouse’s lecture, “Entanglements: artistic strategies for complex ecologies” on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo: Around Crab Orchard by Sarah Kanouse. Used with permission. 

Embodied Sustainability

By: Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant

As a socially engaged artistic process, dance can be a powerful medium for communicating the ideas, facts, and figures of sustainability and environmental justice. Engaging with these ideas on a physical level can lead to a new perspective of the interconnections between our bodies and the environment.

Dr. Ananya Chatterjea, professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance and founder/artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre, will explain how dance can connect and ground us at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, October 24, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

For Chatterjea, the body is both at the center of her work and in the middle of the environmental justice movement. Through dance, Chatterjea has been able to understand her connectivity to the world and engage with environmental justice in a different way than she would have without art.

 “Everything ultimately filters through the body,” Chatterjea explained. “When you cannot breathe in the way you need to, or when the food you eat or the water you drink does not refresh or rejuvenate your physical body, your humanity begins to diminish.”

Dance is a way to connect with our bodies to help us understand ourselves and how we interact with others. Chatterjea knows that for some, the idea of dancing may seem intimidating.

“Dance has been taken over by this idea that only people with highly able and fit bodies are the people who can dance,” Chatterjea noted.

Pushing against the way dance has been taken over by reality shows and single body types, Chatterjea works to create a form of dance that allows for femininity and resistance by embracing the body’s strength and beauty. In her dances, Chatterjea layers Odissi — a classical Indian dance form — the martial art form Chhau, and vinyasa and pranayama yoga.

All these different movement forms are connected through the idea of being grounded. While each form brings different ideas and aesthetics to the piece, weaving them together creates a language that allows for a powerful feminist presence.

“Women are constantly doing beautiful work,” Chatterjea said. “They are the sustainers of humanity, but a lot of their work doesn’t go down into ‘history’ with a capital H. We have to tell these stories and archive them through our bodies.”

The narrative arc Chatterjea creates in each dance is partly remembered, partly researched, and partly imagined. The stories told in the choreography come from a collective voice. Chatterjea describes her choreographic process as collecting stories. Sometimes through story circles or workshops, voices come together to create a collaborative, connected narrative.

Bringing different voices and bodies into dance is at the core of the Ananya Dance Theatre’s work. The company is comprised of women artists of color who create socially engaged, embodied art.

“I want to fill dance with the most unlikely bodies and the most unlikely of faces and to see dance everywhere,” Chatterjea said.

To hear more about how embodied art can be resistance, attend Chatterjea’s seminar, “Choreographies of Resistance: Dancing Ecosystems” on Tuesday, October 24, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB. The entire company will perform their latest work, “Shyamali: Sprouting Words” as part of UtahPresents’ 2017-18 season on Saturday, October 28, 7:30 pm. 

Animating Sustainability

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant

Lien Fan Shen is an Associate Professor in the Film & Media Arts Department at the University of Utah. She has published five manga (Japanese-styled graphic novels) in Taiwan, was awarded The Best Romantic Comic in Taiwan, and has won several international awards for her animation. Shen participated in the Wasatch Experience in 2015, and last month shared how she integrates sustainability into her courses at the interdisciplinary Sustainability Faculty Learning Community, a joint initiative of the Sustainability Office and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.

I sat down with Lien after her presentation to discuss current projects, teaching strategies, and what the Wasatch Experience has to do with it.

The Ukiyo-e landscape print “The Great Wave” by Katsushika Hokusai is considered an icon of world art. What inspired your current project of using 3D technology to create Ukiyo-e style prints of Utah’s polluted landscapes?

I am interested in Japanese prints. But, I am not a printmaking artist. I have a very limited knowledge in terms of producing printmaking artworks. I’m a 3D animator, therefore I am wondering about new ways to utilize 3D printing technology actually connecting to the form of art.

Historically Japanese woodblock prints were more like popular art than high art, such as comic books and movie posters today. They were produced for the general public. One major subject matter in Japanese woodblock prints are landscapes. At the time, people weren’t able to travel around. So, if they wanted to see something from somewhere else, they would look at prints, just like we look at landscape photos today.

At the same time, I love Utah. I have traveled many places in Utah, and I think the environmental issues in Utah are huge. We have such amazing landscapes but often they present complex environmental issues. I thought about how landscapes are such a big subject in Japanese woodblock prints and thought “Why don’t I bring Utah’s landscape to that medium of art with new ways of making?”

Utah does have some magnificent landscapes. I am always disappointed when I can’t see the Oquirrh Mountains or Wasatch during the inversion. What role do you see the digital arts, or the digital artist, having in sustainability conversations?

All artists are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. I don’t think that is something specific to the digital arts. And what is not “digital” now anyway? I think it is some driving force to try something new by connecting us to, more importantly, the new idea of the human interaction with the computer.

I am not aware of any other computer animation artists trying to build a connection between computer animation and sustainability. I have seen a lot of digital photography about sustainability, but not 3D technology and computer generated arts.  Computer generated images are often built upon a virtual world. When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about a lot of real issues in reality. We often separate the two—the real and the virtual world. I think this is a direction we should work on. We should connect the virtual world with the real world.

3D technology has been used widely in the issue of sustainability—as data-driven visual representation, serving specific scientific purposes, I would like to utilize this technology to incite some kind of feelings, expressions, emotions, that raises awareness of or challenges the unsustainable norms we have in society.

That is interesting idea—blending virtual and physical reality through sustainability. How do you incorporate sustainability into your animation courses?

In my animation production course, the students must learn the skills to make animation shorts. For our midterm project, I asked them to find a place that is significant for them and create an animation about it. Their final project is to create an interactive animation about a sustainability issue. To prepare, the students look for and analyze animation examples. What is the characters’ view of the environment surrounding them? What are the different points of view presented in this particular example of animation? I want them to see the complexity of issues in sustainability.

Animation/Film/Art is always about something. I try to design a project for students to get interested in the topics related to the environment. When I teach, I don’t call it sustainability. I get them interested in the environment and connect them with their environment.

Have you found any surprising connections to sustainability in your teaching?

I told them the idea of sustainability is open to your interpretation as long as you can convince me. I have some students working on the more personal side of sustainability. One project was about an eating disorder and more about sustaining herself as an individual. Another project was about depression. They argued it is about sustainable lives. One student did a great animation of silly/funny fights among characters. They were all shouting the word “sustainability” but they  weren’t really doing anything. I don’t want to limit them, so I let them do all kinds of projects as long as they present a case of their view .

In the end, I always have something that is quite fun and interesting

What challenges have you faced incorporating sustainability into your courses?

The learning objectives of my animation courses are to learn how to make animation. I don’t have a lot of time to discuss the issues, impacts, and why these issues are complicated. I asked my students to do their own research, but during the class time, we spend the majority of our time on learning animation techniques.

The class I incorporated the topic of sustainability in is actually a freshman/fundamental technique course. It is our basic course for animation students. So, I really hope we can have a more in-depth course where students already have the skills so they don’t have to spend too much time in terms of learning how to make animation and thus we can spend more time on investigating the issues they are engaged in their animations. So that is one of the challenges I am facing.

How has your involvement with the Wasatch Experience impacted your teaching?

By going through the Wasatch Experience, workshops, and chatting with folks, I received a lot of help in designing this course project. For example, I always have an assignment of animation analyses. I ask my students to analyze the techniques, story, character design, art styles, and other elements in order to understand the medium (animation) better. But after the Wasatch Experience workshop, I ask them to focus on the topics of sustainability while analyzing animation techniques, styles, character development, and other stuff. That was the idea from one of my Wasatch Experience peers during a group discussion. Implementing this made this particular assignment more solid and I think my students’ analyses now are more focused than before.

Also, my Wasatch Experience peers gave me a lot of accessible readings that I was able to incorporate into my assignments. I am not an expert on sustainability or environmental studies. I think not only I learned a great deal from others, but also now I am backed up with the network and resources for my teaching and research projects.

What advice do you have for faculty and teaching assistants who want to incorporate sustainability into their courses?

I think if someone wants to teach sustainability, the best approach is trying to not say the word. For a lot of students, this word becomes a barrier. In a way, you want to gradually bring them into what you want them to learn. Instead of telling them this big word that, in a sense, may mean nothing to them, my idea is always to think about how I can make them aware of their environment.

Image of Lien Fan Shen via the Utah Daily Chronicle article further highlighting her creative research and art-making.