Cary Wolfe

April 11-15, 2022
9 am – 11 am (MST)

Zoom meeting at this link
In person @DAR, Digital Arts Ranch


Ecological Poetics

These seminars will be built around two distinct but related art projects that channel ecological philosophy, and ecological questioning, through creative practice.  The first project began as a companion essay/artist’s statement for a photographic triptych based on a small, primitive hut on a clear-cut site in the mountains of Colorado, and evolved into a companion book entitled Ecology/Echography: Heidegger’s Hut—Three Displacements, which will be published by Routledge next year. It uses Heidegger’s iconic hutte in the Black Forest (itself a technology, a means of “enframing,” as he put it in “The Question Concerning Technology”) as our jumping off point, and explores the relationship between philosophy, ecology, and violence through three displacements. The first displacement concerns a famous visit to the hutte by the poet Paul Celan (whose Jewish parents were killed in the camps during World War II) and the poem he wrote about it. The second displacement expands the terrain into the broader iconicity of huts in the history of philosophy and ecology, focusing on a suite of projects by artist and experimental film-maker James Benning. In particular, we’ll focus on his project Two Cabins, which brings into conversation the cabin of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond (but also his interest in civil disobedience and his support of John Brown’s anti-slavery uprising) and the primitive dwelling of Theodore Kaczynski (also known as “the Unabomber”) in Montana, whose serial bombings are motivated by principles laid out in a lengthy treatise on “technological society” that is not unrelated to Heidegger’s writings on technology, ecology, and modernity. Benning forces us to ask, how different is Thoreau’s support of violence in the battle against abolitionism and Kaczynski’s use of violence to the protect the earth from becoming what Heidegger called bestand, or “standing reserve”? The last displacement returns to the clear-cut in Colorado to explore the relationship between representationalism, landscape, violence, and ecology, revisiting and revising Heidegger’s notion of “dwelling” as an environmental concept and material practice.


The second project, “Experimental Forest,” is based in the high alpine zone of the Vasquez Range in Colorado, near the headwaters of the Colorado River, at the Fraser Experimental Forest, a 23,000 acre site that is part of the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Experimental Forest and Range System, founded in 1908. “Experimental Forest” is in part a loving portrait of this particular place in the tradition of landscape photography stretching from Ansel Adams to Edward Burtynsky, and in part a forensic documentation of the weird and often low-tech aesthetics of scientific practice of the sort we find in the biopolitical forensic projects of Taryn Simon. In any case, it is an inquiry into the changing meanings of the concept of “eco-system” as those are materialized, visibly and invisibly, on the site. The project centers on how the strange and uncanny experience of stumbling upon the symbolic and material network of scientific monitoring, tagging and cataloging devices in the middle of a seemingly primeval forest—like stumbling upon the lost symbolic system of another civilization for which one does not have the key—is a kind of visual equivalent for the contrasting, asynchronous communications and monitoring networks that we have before us: one visible above ground (a network of monitoring stations scattered throughout the forest, devoted to air quality, hydrology, forest management, and snowpack–the latter in partnership with NASA satellite monitoring systems); and one invisible and beneath the soil, what has recently been labeled the “Wood Wide Web”: a vast and complex network of interconnections between plants and trees in the forest made possible by the fine network of mychorrizal fungi connecting root system to root system, a network that some have compared to a kind of “brain” in the forest itself, by which seemingly discreet and separate organisms are dynamically conjoined in real time—and which makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that the forest is monitoring us as we monitor it. But what has followed hard on the heels of this reconceptualization (in the best-selling work of Peter Wollheben, Suzanne Simard, and others) is a thoroughgoing anthropomorphization of the forest. By returning us to a more radicalized sense of the mutual imbrication of technology and ecology, not just in posthumanist philosophy and science, but also in tree-centric and forest-centric artworks by Mark Dion, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and others, this project asks what it would mean to make good on its self-proclaimed slogan: “Keep the Forest Weird.”