Ecological Possibilities in Interspecies Relations, Post-Human Environments, and the Anthropocene
Thursday, July 8, 2021 | 9:00 - 10:30
(Chair Sylvain Lavoie) Beth Osnes, Kelly Richmond & Charles Douglas
Live panel on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event.
Swallowed Whole - a performance experience for interspecies friendship and survivability
Under a bridge on Discovery Drive, there is a population of barn swallows who swoop from their nests beneath the bridge to catch bugs in their beaks and back to feed their chicks. The creek beneath the bridge runs as slowly as time on a hot summer day. Seven high-school aged young women-- social distancing and masked-- leisurely write poems and sketch the birds’ flight and note their behavior in relation to each other and their environment. Through multiple days of art/science observation of a population of barn swallows, these young women befriend the more than human world through this one group of swallows. These sketches inform the construction of multi-person puppets of various species of local birds—a heron, crow, magpie, turkey vultures—as a way of coming to know them. Performing them in Boulder’s Open Space Mountain Parks (BOSMP) marks our assertion of unity with these birds and the natural world. Although our planned BOSMP art hikes that would have included the puppets and poems by the young women were canceled due to COVID, we instead made a film of our offering to post on the BOSMP website and beyond. This paper is a methodological reflection on the approach taken this past summer as nurtured by the guiding theoretical foundation for this project, largely feminist scientists including Donna Haraway, Val Plumwood, and Karen Barad. Lessons learned from this art/science approach with youth will guide this coming summer’s offering.
Beth Osnes, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado. She is co-director of Inside the Greenhouse, an initiative for creative communication on climate (www.insidethegreenhouse.net). She recently toured an original musical Shine to cities in the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Initiative to facilitate local youth voices in resilience planning and published the book Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre. She is currently developing a method towards vocal empowerment for young women that she is researching in Guatemala, Tanzania and the USA (http://speak.world). Her book Theatre for Women’s Participation in Sustainable Development includes her work specific to gender equity in Panama, Guatemala, India, Nicaragua and the Navajo Nation. She is featured in the award-winning documentary Mother: Caring for 7 Billion (www.motherthefilm.com).
A Ritual Without Bodies: Performing the Ecological Uncanny in The Anthropocene Project
The uncanny is “a crisis of the natural, touching upon everything that one might have thought was ‘part of nature’: one’s own nature, human nature, the nature of reality and the world” writes literary critic Nicholas Royle. Simultaneously referring to a striking embodied sensation, a mode of un/familiar critical analysis, and an excessively spectral and queer something-else-ness, uncanny phenomena beg for a consideration of their performative and theatrical dimensions, especially in the face of such un/natural crises as COVID19, climate change, and the Anthropocene. How does understanding the ecological uncanny as a performance phenomenon reveal the boundaries of the un/natural and in/human? Is the ecological uncanny a practice that can be intentionally used by artists to explore and expand these liminal thresholds in times of crisis?
In this paper, I will turn my uncanny gaze toward Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier’s The Anthropocene Project, a multimedia multi-locational visual installation that debuted simultaneously at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in September 2018, as an example encounter with ecological uncanny performance. I will unpack how a mix of affective cuing, phenomenological haunting, and environmental anchoring generate an uncanny and ritualistic experience for the spectator as they move through the installation gallery. Finally, I que(e)ry how the installation establishes this interaction as a ritual without bodies, suggesting scripted forms that ecological uncanny performances might take.
Kelly Richmond is a PhD candidate in the Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University, living and studying transnationally across the traditional territory of the Cayuga Nation (Ithaca NY), the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe (Ottawa ON) and the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe, the Wendat and the Mississaugas of the Credit (Toronto ON). Her dissertation project “Spectral Ecologies: Performing Queer Hauntings at the Edge of Climate Crisis” examines intersecting moments of queer, haunted and ecological performances based on Turtle Island in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Anthropo(S)cene : Post-Psychophysical Consideration of Michael Chekhov’s Atmospheres and a Call for Sustainable Theatre Pedagogy
Disrupting human activity the world over, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted humanity’s fundamental relationship with air. The atmospheric medium in which we are immersed sustains life and underpins sensation (Ingold 2012: 77). Human embodiment takes place within, and is influenced by, a ‘weather world’ (Ingold 2012: 81). As theatre-makers increasingly grapple with the existential threat of climate change and inquire into sustainable practices, their efforts may be undermined by the humanist frame of mainstream pedagogies. Psychophysical techniques informed by Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body repaired the Cartesian divide by recognizing the indivisibility of an artist’s ‘bodymind’ (Zarrilli 2020: 106; Zarrilli 2009: 4). Yet, these practices institutionalized a dichotomy between the human and non-human (Camilleri 2019: Chapter 2: Para. 12). Professor Frank Camilleri (2019) of the University of Malta has therefore called for the adoption of postphenomenological theory within actor training. This requires shifting from the anthropocentric consideration of an actor’s ‘bodymind’ to the more embedded exploration of a ‘bodyworld’ (Camilleri 2020: 25-26). I argue that Chekhov’s atmospheric work represents a ‘post-psychophysical’ (Camilleri 2020: 27) approach to embodied technique. Applying this novel conception within my practice has allowed me to support actors in adopting a more ecocentric frame as they shape being-in-the-world through collaboration with the air. This paper weaves a necessary new thread into the growing tapestry of Chekhov-inspired research. It also prompts further consideration of the themes of ecology and sustainability within Chekhov’s technique. If storytellers are to play a role in considering the climate crisis and perhaps inspire post-human understanding of our collective situation, a twenty-first century re-imagining of the pedagogies underpinning their practices is required.
Charles Douglas is a Canadian who works internationally as an actor, movement and fight director, and teacher. He is a proud Chevening Alumnus and Fellow of the RSA. Charles has worked with the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre company, Neptune Theatre, the Charlottetown Festival, 2b theatre company, and others. He enjoyed making theatre on the land with Two Planks and, in 2020, was a facilitator for The Green Rooms, part of the NAC’s Climate Change Cycle and presented with partner organizations. Charles is currently a faculty member at the Vancouver Film School, a guest lecturer at Central Saint Martins, co-curator for the International Community for Movement, and a collaborator of Sheridan College’s SIRT Centre. He is a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (MA), Queen’s University (B.Ed.), and Sheridan College (BA, Hons). Visit: www.charlesdouglas.ca