Monday, May 4, 2009

Human, Nature, Image. The order of words for the title of this course are arranged in a hierarchy. It seems like a simple sequence but if I have learned anything from this class, it is that these words, and their relationships to one another, are anything but simple.

We started the semester with a reading from Gary Snyder's book The Practice of the Wild. The chapter we read traversed many ways of defining wilderness and how different conceptions of this word construct different human identities. Though I did take issue with some of Snyder's romantic notions about 'native' cultures, I think this reading was an earlier indicator of just how specific I need to be when talking about things like nature, wilderness, the wild, culture, humanity, ect. It remains one of the highlights from the class for me.

I was also surprised by the idea of gene/culture co-evolution. I firmly believe that biological evolution is the root of many of our desires, beliefs and behaviors but this concept allowed me to let a little bit of culture into my gene-centric view of human behavior.

The chapter on biophilia was also good. I liked to read about the diverse ways we are emotionally inclined to react to other life forms.

Rebecca Solnit's chapter on Elliot Porter and environmentalism will be one that I will probably return to many times. Nature as it is defined by Porters pictures is so fascinating to me because it has romance and this idea of the pristine that has been examined over and over throughout art history and is still being examined today even while our impact on nature is shifting dramatically. One could argue that today there is no part of nature that remains unaffected by human impact and yet we still use imagery to imagine our ancestral home as intact and unblemished. (nod to William Fox)

After Nature or Post Nature is an idea I wish I understood better. I was frustrated by this section because I had wanted to be able to link a very current conception of nature, that is not yet fully accepted by the masses, with imagery about that concept. I think that the New Museum's exhibition was about narrative and imagined realities. While that is a useful tool for understanding the current mood of environmentalism, I wish there was more concrete theory or fact behind the section as a whole.

This is how I felt about most of the exhibitions that we looked at. They were fine to think about but I was hoping to more strongly connect them to theory. Even so, the class has had a tremendous impact on my ability to articulate my ideas about humans, nature and imagery. I came into the class wondering if the readings would break new ground for me or seem familiar and repetitive. I definately feel that I have come to many new conclusions about human's interconnection with nature and I have a reading list about a mile long that I can use to continue to use to refine my ideas after I graduate.

Now when I encounter works of art like this one (which is super cool), I will have a deep understanding of the types of thought and history the work might be rooted in.

Roxy Paine's Maelstrom - a new sculpture that is on view on the roof of The Metropolitan Museum of Art