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The issue of climate change and environmental transformation is clearly one of the most significant challenges we face today. What is at stake in the ecological crises of the 21st century that raises specific questions and areas of concern for the arts, humanities, and cultural production? Who and what suffers or benefits from these crises and through what legal, economic, and political structures? How can we represent and narrate multi-scalar and multi-temporal phenomena to plan for and respond to uncertain futures? An era looms for which we have no clear template. The Critical Ecologies research stream tackles questions of global warming, environmental justice, colonial dispossession, climate migration, nuclear cultures, media geology and e-waste from an arts and humanities perspective that takes scientific research and practices seriously. The stream formalizes connections between existing areas of research and practice by bringing together established environment-focused initiatives from across Visual Cultures/Research Architecture, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Art, Sociology, Media & Communications, and English & Comparative Literature to develop collaborations, funding bids, and curricula. Our core aspiration is to evolve new academic platforms capable of shaping public debate.
Ele Carpenter (Art)
Ele Carpenter is a curator, artist and writer. Her Nuclear Culture curatorial research project investigates the contemporary lived experience of the nuclear economy and the deep time of the nuclear anthropocene. The Nuclear Culture project aims to establish a critical context for contemporary nuclear aesthetics and to enable art and curatorial knowledge to contribute to Nuclear Humanities discourse. The project involves organising artists field research at nuclear sites, commissioning new artwork, curating exhibitions, facilitating interdisciplinary cross-sector roundtable discussions; working in partnership with arts agencies, universities, nuclear industry and community stakeholder consultation groups, in the UK, Europe and Japan. Through regular public talks and participation in European research networks, Ele is enabling visual art to contribute to the international discourse on public consultation around nuclear dismantling and storage of radioactive waste. Ele Carpenter is editor of The Nuclear Culture Source Book (2016) which charts the emergence of nuclear material cultures understood both as technological infrastructures and aesthetic practices. The book investigates concepts such: the nuclear anthropocene, nuclear materiality, radioactive non-sites, radiological inheritance, nuclear modernity and radiation as a hyperobject. Recent curated exhibitions and roundtable discussions include: ‘Perpetual Uncertainty’ Bildmuseet, Umea University, Sweden (Oct 2016 – April 2017), Z33 House of Contemporary Art, Hasselt, Belgium (16 Sept – 10 Dec 2017) and Malmo Konstmuseum, Sweden (24 Feb – 26 August 2018); ‘Material Nuclear Culture’ KARST, Plymouth, UK (June-Aug 2016); ‘Actinium’, S-AIR, Sapporo, Japan (July 2014). Recent publications include: Nuclear Culture Source Book. Ed Ele Carpenter, Black Dog Publishing, Bildmuseet, Arts Catalyst (2016). Shifting the Nuclear Imaginary’ In: Cold War Legacies: Systems, Theories, Aesthetics, eds J. Beck, R. Bishop, Edinburgh University Press( 2016). The Smoke of Modernity drifts through the Anthropocene, In: Power of the Land, ed H. Grove-White (2016). The project has been supported by: Bildmuseet, Z33, Malmo Konstmuseum, The Arts Catalyst, Arts Council England, AHRC Early Career Research Fellowship, Daiwa Foundation, and Goldsmiths University of London, where Ele is the convenor of the Nuclear Culture Research Group and Senior Lecturer in MFA Curating in the Department of Art.
Rick Crownshaw (English and Comparative Literature)
Dr Rick Crownshaw is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Afterlife of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Literature and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan 2010), as well as numerous articles on American literature, memory studies, and trauma studies. He is the editor of Transcultural Memory (Routledge 2014), and co-editor of The Future of Memory (Berghahn 2010, 2013). He is currently working on a monograph, Remembering the Anthropocene in Contemporary American Fiction, which focuses on, among other things, the potential of cultural memory and trauma studies in analyzing literary narratives of climate change, extinction, pollution and toxicity, the resourcing of war, American petrocultures, and of post-oil imaginaries. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming special edition of Studies in the Novel on climate change fiction.
Sean Cubitt (Media, Communications and Cultural Studies)
I am working on a book with the working title Anecdotal Evidence: Ecocritique, Popular Cinema and the Mass Image about what ecocrique can give to understanding contemporary media culture. Previous books include Ecomedia and Finote Media: Environmental Implications of Digital Technology, and co-edited collections The Ecocinema Reader: Theory and Practice and Ecomedia: Key Issues with Stephen Rust and Salma Monani. I also edit the Leonardo Book Series, devoted to relations between art, science and technology. My interests span the media arts and art history, the history of media and media technologies, and the role of critical race and decolonial studies, feminism and science and technology studies in ecocritique, with a strong bias towards aesthetic politics, which is another working title for a large project I am embarking on with the current book. Though I was schooled in Marxist thought and influenced by political philosophy, I am increasingly persuaded that only an understanding of the mutual interaction of mediation and ecology, which I take to be descriptions of the same process, can provide the grounds for a new politics and a new economy.
Matthew Fuller (Media, Communications and Cultural Studies)
Prof. Matthew Fuller’s engagement with questions of ecology and their relations to culture range from approaches to ecology as a way into materialism, in “Media Ecologies” (MIT Press) and a number of other chapters and articles, to artistic engagements with seeds as agents of political force, as in the ‘Digger Barley’ project for the Manifesta Biennale in 2008. His work on the cross-overs between cultural studies and scientific objects is manifest in a number of works in Software Studies and in the recent monograph, “How to Sleep, the art, biology and culture of unconsciousness” (Bloomsbury). In the environmental humanities and posthumanities his monograph, “Bleak Joys”, co-authored with Olga Goriunova will be published by Minnesota UP in spring 2019. He is also the a researcher on Simon Pope’s “Discussion Island” project examining more-than-human forms of resilience around rising water levels in Toronto Bay. In 2018, Fuller is Distinguished Visiting Professor at The Seed Box, Environmental Humanities Collaboratory at Linkoping University, Sweden.
Jennifer Gabrys (Sociology)
Jennifer Gabrys is Professor in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, Citizen Sense, which engages with inventive approaches to environmental participation and monitoring in order to test and query environmental sensing technology. Gabrys’s books include a techno-geographical investigation of environmental sensing, Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2016); and a material-political analysis of electronic waste, Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011).Together with Gay Hawkins and Mike Michael, she has co-edited an interdisciplinary collection on plastics, Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic (Routledge, 2013). Prior to joining the Department of Sociology, she was Senior Lecturer and Convenor of the MA in Design and Environment in the Department of Design at Goldsmiths. She completed a PhD in Communication Studies at McGill University in Montreal, during which time she was engaged as a research fellow on the Culture of Cities and Digital Cities / Mobile Digital Commons projects. While in Montreal, she was also Researcher in Residence at the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, where she focused on archives from Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). Her work can be found on citizensense.net and jennifergabrys.net.
Ros Gray (Art)
Ros’s research has three strands that engage with the theme of Critical Ecologies in various ways. Her research on the trajectories of militant filmmaking in contexts of anti-colonial and revolutionary struggles in Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso has involved exploring the use of film and video in rural development, the setting up of cooperatives, and the denunciation of colonial exploitation of natural resources, as well as the representation of radical social change. She is preparing a monograph entitled Cinemas of the Mozambican Revolution (Boydell and Brewer, 2018). Ros has analysed the ecological and planetary resonances of work by artists including Renée Green, Antonio Ole and Kiluanji Kia Henda. Her research interests in environmental violence and the politics of the soil are currently being explored through special issue of Third Text (Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture), co-edited with Shela Sheikh, entitled ‘The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions’ (January 2018). Ros is the Coordinator of the Goldsmiths Allotment, which, as well as providing a space for plant cultivation for staff and students, is a platform for various seasonal cultural events, workshops on aspects of sustainable gardening and plant breeding, and a space for meditation and developing thinking around forms of ‘care’ in the context of an educational institution. Ros asks questions such as: What are the implications of this context for how we make art? How do we understand the inter-relations of mental, social, animal, plant and mineral ecologies? How do we understand the places we inhabit, occupy and exploit? How does it change the ways in which we understand ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, human subjectivity, temporality and inter-species relations? For the MFA Fine Art and Curating courses, I have delivered lectures on the concept of planetarity, on Goldsmiths Allotment and the concept of ‘care’ and conducted MFA workshops on artistic practice and ecology.
Graham Harwood (Media, Communications and Cultural Studies)
YoHa (Graham Harwood, Matsuko Yokokoji) work involves the use of art as a mode of enquiry into technical objects. Most recently their investigations have been carried out within the fields of health, war, oceans and death. The space of YoHa’s inquiry is usually populated by an interconnection of technical objects and other kinds of bodies as in a clinic, hospital, battlefield or at sea. YoHa’s focus of such an enquiry is where the flows of power can be reconfigured by the uncertain meaning, or intention of art, not necessarily to make art but to make use of its ambiguity within a wider enquiry. Currently YoHa is engaged in the flows of the sea, a distance from the norms of land, it’s state actors and fixed capital investments. We can think of this space in which boats travel as a kind of placelessness, a harbour for an ecological heterotopia that works to both shore up or reinvigorate established forms of power and at the same time sow seeds for utopian visions at the ecological/economic margins. This placelessness of the sea, allows for different scales of the imaginary to give birth to new social, political and physical bodies that are squeezed out from the contradictory pressures between freedom of movement for trade and control of more fixed assets, borders, shipping and undersea resources. Recent work in this area includes: Wrecked on the Intertidal Zone with Critical Art Ensemble, Fran Galardo and Andy Freeman. (http://yoha.co.uk/wrecked); Plastic Raft of Lamedusa, Shanghai Biennale 2016 – Transmediale, Berlin 2017 (http://yoha.co.uk/node/1076); Pitch Lake, a short film with Richard Pierre Davis, 2018
Jason Hickel (Anthropology)
Dr. Jason Hickel is an anthropologist, author, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He has taught at the London School of Economics, the University of Virginia, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where he convenes the MA in Anthropology and Cultural Politics. He serves on the Labour Party task force on international development, works as Policy Director for /The Rules collective, sits on the Executive Board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) and recently joined the International Editorial Advisory Board of Third World Quarterly. Jason’s research focuses on global inequality, political economy, post-development, and ecological economics. His most recent book, The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions, was published by Penguin Random House in 2017. Jason’s ethnographic work focuses on migrant labour and politics in South Africa, which is the subject of his first book, Democracy as Death: The Moral Order of Anti-Liberal Politics in South Africa (University of California Press, 2015), as well as the co-edited volume Ekhaya: The Politics of Home in KwaZulu-Natal (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2014). In addition to his academic work, Jason writes a column for The Guardian and contributes to a number of other online outlets, with bylines in Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Fast Company, Jacobin, Prospect, Le Monde Diplomatique, Red Pepper, Truthout, and Monthly Review. His media appearances include Viewsnight, the Financial Times, the BBC World Service, Business Matters, Thinking Allowed, Renegade TV, NPR, TRT World, the LA Times, and Russell Brand’s podcast Under the Skin. Jason has received a number of teaching awards, including the ASA/HEA National Award for Excellence in Teaching Anthropology, and his ethnographic research has been funded by Fulbright-Hays, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, and the Leverhulme Trust. He is originally from Swaziland.
Pauline von Hellermann (Anthropology)
Pauline von Hellermann is an environmental anthropologist combining political and historical ecology perspectives. Her doctoral research at SOAS and Sussex University, funded by an ESRC/NERC interdisciplinary studentship, challenged received wisdom on the causes of deforestation in Nigeria. She subsequently researched resource politics and conflict in Nigeria during a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Sussex University, and landscape change, memory and narratives in the Pare Mountains in Tanzania, as part of the Historical Ecologies of East African landscapes (HEEAL) research project at the University of York. In September 2018 she will commence new research on palm oil. Funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, Red Gold: A Global Environmental Anthropology of Palm Oil will be a holistic, multi-sited anthropological study of palm oil as a global phenomenon. Combining ethnographic, archival and online research, it will consist of three key strands: the historical ecology of the oil palm in West Africa and local cultural practices, meaning and symbolism around it; a diverse range contemporary global supply chains from plantation to consumer, including less well known ones such as India’s import of Indonesian palm oil and the global trade in unrefined red palm oil among the African diaspora; and activism, discourses, governance initiatives and corporate responses around the environmental impact of oil palm plantation. This research will result in an interactive blog and a film, as well as a monograph on palm oil, rooted in environmental anthropology but also contributing to the popular ‘one commodity’ genre. Pauline von Hellermann’s existing publications include Things Fall Apart? The Political Ecology of Forest Governance in Southern Nigeria (Berghahn 2013) and Multi-sited Ethnography: Problems and Possibilities in the Translocation of Research Methods (Routledge 2011), co-edited with Simon Coleman.
Wood Roberdeau (Visual Cultures)
Wood’s research explores modes of everyday experience through phenomenology and philosophical post-humanism to ask how a poetics of space and place or the ‘lived environment’ might resonate with climate change and futurity. Wood teaches an MA core course entitled Conceptual Ecologies as well as two undergraduate modules that engage these themes using the classical concept of ‘oikos’: Inhabitations considers artistic creativity’s historical connection to private or personal space and place. Modernist dreams of home, reconfigurations of everyday life within the historical and neo-avant-gardes, illusions of interiority and exteriority, theoretical reassessments of hospitality, and various localized experiences question what it means to dwell and how it has been developed within philosophy and visual culture. The inevitability of ‘domestic disturbances’ and works that critique, reveal, and extend the overlooked and mundane are also addressed; psychologies and global politics of home accompany concepts of the culinary, the unkempt, homelessness, and transience. Cohabitations considers the social production of art, attending to the potential for an ecologically engaged visual culture. By interrogating Romanticism in the arts and its revival within ‘deep ecology’, endeavours that have problematized landscape and the organic support an analysis of ‘geopoetics’. Study is extended to contemporary art theory and practice that expands an understanding of relationships to the planet at the register of everyday agency and psychosomatic experiences; themes of macrocosm, microcosm, eco-aesthetics, eco-politics, permaculture/sustainability (or models of art as life), and the philosophical problem of vitality are interrogated alongside emerging claims for ‘dark ecology’. Wood’s research-led teaching has produced publications that turn to ‘vital materialism’, visual practices, and the rural vs.the urban as a complex spatial paradigm for eco-critical thinking. Together with Shela Sheikh, Wood chairs the Critical Ecologies research stream.
Susan Schuppli (Visual Cultures/Research Architecture)
Susan Schuppli is an artist-researcher and writer. She is currently Director and Reader of the Centre for Research Architecture. Through investigative processes that involve an engagement with scientific and technical modes of inquiry, her work aims to open up new conceptual pathways into the material strata of our world. While many projects have examined media artefacts – photographs, film, video, and audio transmissions – that have emerged out of sites of contemporary conflict and state violence, current work explores the ways in which toxic ecologies from nuclear accidents and oil spills to the dark snow of the arctic are producing an ‘extreme image’ archive of material wrongs. Her creative projects have been exhibited throughout Europe as well as in Canada, Asia and the US. She has published widely within the context of media and politics and is the author of the forthcoming book Material Witness (MIT Press, 2018), which is also the subject of the experimental documentary. From 2011-14, Susan was Senior Research Fellow on the Forensic Architecture ERC project.
Shela Sheikh (Media, Communications and Cultural Studies)
Shela Sheikh teaches in the Department of Media and Communications, where she convenes the MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy and the PhD Cultural Studies. Prior to this, she was Research Fellow and Publications Coordinator on the ERC-funded “Forensic Architecture” project based in the Centre for Research Architecture, also Goldsmiths. She lectures and publishes internationally, with recent essays on the topics of environmental violence and the geopolitics of seed banks. She is currently working on a multi-platform research project around colonialism, botany and the politics of planting. As part of this, she is co-editing, with Ros Gray, a special issue of Third Text entitled “The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions” (Spring 2018); with Matthew Fuller, an edited collection entitled Cultivation: Vegetal Lives, Global Systems and the Politics of Planting; and, with Uriel Orlow, an anthology entitled Theatrum Botanicum (Sternberg Press, 2018). Together with Wood Roberdeau, Shela chairs the Critical Ecologies research stream.
Lynn Turner (Visual Cultures)
Lynn Turner’s research explores how animal and sexual differences matter in visual and aural culture as well as continental philosophy, literature and psychoanalysis. She is co-author, with Astrid Schmetterling, of Visual Cultures As…Recollection (Sternberg, 2013) and co-editor, with Lindsay Kelley, of a special issue of parallax on the poetics and politics of food called ‘bon appetit,’ (2013), the editor of The Animal Question in Deconstruction (Edinburgh University Press, 2013), and, most recently is the co-editor, with Undine Sellbach and Ron Broglio, of The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies (EUP, 2018). Her contribution to the latter volume explored the question of ‘voice’ in a more-than-human context looking at both the philosophical armatures that work to separate humans from other animals as well as anthropogenic noise pollution in the context of the extraordinary phenomena of whale song. Lynn is currently writing on the way that a poetics and technics of blood articulates the carno-phallogocentric ecology and its undoing foregrounded in the recent film White God (dir. Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary, 2015) as the concluding section of her forthcoming monograph called Exposing Deconstructions: Animal and Sexual Difference (Bloomsbury, 2019).
Nicole Wolf (Visual Cultures)
Nicole Wolf comes to Critical Ecologies through her research, writing and curatorial practice on and with the political aesthetics of the moving image and her training in anthropology as critique to neo/colonialist forms of knowledge production. Her passion for documentary film as proposing new radically democratic realities and her theoretical inquiries into how to be and act worldly, i.e. thinking relationality transculturally, transracial, transgender, transspecies, informs her current research into critical ecologies of knowledges. Her interest in political cinema as a relational, attuned and dissonant practice seeks an understanding of documentation and experimentation towards expansions of the possible, the imaginary, the sensory and futurity. Much of her research stems from a long-term engagement with the South Asian region and in particular with questions of evidence, witnessing, the mnemonic and how to rethink justice and the law through new forms of artistic and film making practices in conflict, e.g. in the context of Kashmir. Those questions align with propositions of indigenous cosmologies such as perspectivism, multinaturalism or place of thought towards an interest in possible artistic audio-visual articulations addressing ecological activism, climate change, queer inhumanisms and beyond the human world making that emerge or are being challenged through pluriverse epistemologies. In theory and practice this links closely to engagements in permaculture projects, perceiving permaculture as a speculative mode of design which can account for the chemical, political, military histories leading to layers of a wretchedness of land as well as imagine and practice becoming forms of ‘withness’, care and collectivities. Exploring links between histories and presents of diverse creole gardens, the politics of agriculture and the materialities, metabolisms and aesthetics of film and film archives entail the question of what a planetary cinema might be. Nicole is part of the curatorial team at Silent Green. Kulturquartier (Berlin) for the research and exhibition project Stoffwechsel/Metabolism (2017-2019), part of FilmFeldForschung.
Critical Ecologies Workshop (17 March 2018)
Our inaugural interdisciplinary workshop sought to redefine ‘critical ecologies’ in an expansive sense and in connection with contacts and partnerships outside the academy. All our guest speakers raised questions of collectivity, public knowledge, and the quantifiability of knowledgeable ‘outputs’ for an eco-critical world:
Arts Catalyst director Nicola Triscott explained and demonstrated her curatorial approach as that which follows Bruno Latour’s arguments for ‘matters of concern’ as those which might, through experimentation and exhibition, replace mere ‘matters of fact’ when thinking ‘political ecologies’.
Jaqueline Hannam’s experiences as a soil scientist based at Cranfield University revealed the past, present, and future for agroecology vs. agribusiness, technologies of farming, and ‘humanitarian de-mining’. Workshop participants engaged in useful debates around down-scaled models of sustainability or permaculture vs. accelerating models of First World ‘agritech’.
Sakina Sheikh of Platform (Activism, Education and the Arts) introduced work on climate justice within climate change that focuses on the issues and ramifications for thinking ‘environmental racism’ at work in the world today, with particular emphasis placed on the history of the Ogoni people of Nigeria and their relationship to colonization and oil extraction.
Reporting on their Seeds from Elsewhere project, artist-duo They Are Here (Helen Walker and Harun Morrison) introduced the global refugee crisis to local park space of North London using performance tactics to do with questions of cultivation and communication.
Annie Randall of Grow Heathrow confirmed a longstanding and effective form of sustained and lived environmental activism as ‘de-growth’ and a work in progress, which led to Ros Gray’s inspiring talk on how the Goldsmiths Allotment came into being as a potential site for new forms of ‘eco-pedagogy’.
Elizabeth A. Povinelli: The Toxic Earth and the Collapse of Political Concepts (17 March 2018)
Our first guest keynote lecture began with four axioms that emerge when politics enters the interstitial spacing among the whole earth, Gaia, and autonomous worlds. The four axioms are: the ‘extimacy’ of existence; the collapse of western distinctions and hierarchies of existence, most significantly that between Life and Nonlife, the biological and geological; the distribution of the effects of power and the power to affect a given terrain of existence; and the multiplicity and collapse of forms of the event. How does the straining of quasi-spaces and fuzzy things and of the efforts and forces of embankment of existence demand an accounting from western political concepts for their refusal to register their historical and current effects on the toxic earth?
Elizabeth A. Povinelli is Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and The Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality at Columbia University and one of the founding members of the Karrabing Film Collective. Her work has explored the governance of late liberalism as it manifests in settler colonial contexts across five books, most recently, Geontologies, A Requiem for Late Liberalism, which was the 2017 recipient of the Lionel Trilling Book Award; and six films and several installations with the Karrabing Collective. Karrabing films were awarded the 2015 Visible Award and the 2015 Cinema Nova Award Best Short Fiction Film, Melbourne International Film Festival and have shown internationally including in the Berlinale Forum Expanded, Sydney Biennale; MIFF, the Tate Modern, documenta-14, and the Contour Biennal
Amy Cutler: Hacking the Nature Documentary (10 November 2018)
As much as we need to rescue the word ‘nature’ from itself, we also need to rescue the nature documentary from itself. This talk and workshop considers the potential for new critical collectivity in the ‘useful fictions’ of the twenty-first century nature documentary. Rather than by abandoning the field for a more experimental eco-cinema, how can the work of the GeoHumanities critically inhabit existing, popular templates and their forms of global dissemination? Such media are undoubtedly connected to the production of contemporary geographical imaginations (and geo-fictions) in the Anthropocene. Yet, they are often passively consumed or chronically under-analysed. Given the power these narrations have to inform and police our own intimacies, as well as their role as trans-global environmental representatives, how can we open them up to new critical remits by hijacking their fables of love, labour, gender, environment, industry, order, ethics, desire, time, and species? How can we resist the nature documentary’s conformity in a time when we should be seeing a myriad of possibilities for geography, nature-cultures, and posthuman natures? This session includes an introduction to the rhetoric of natural history film-making and its media flows (production, curating, programming), which is then used as a frame for interdisciplinary provocation. We treat the nature documentary format not as a closed system of knowledge, but as a collaborative concept or device that can ‘broadcast’ new meanings.