This Institute of Critical Ecology is part research centre and part art project. As an artist-researcher, I bring together my interdisciplinary ways of working, using creative and critical approaches to investigating environmental issues. Drawing on the contemporary and historical fields of environmental history, political ecology, critical geography, critical race theory, and various other areas of investigation, I place my work in both the research and art worlds as a practitioner of research-creation.
This Institute is represented by mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. Mugwort is a plant used in Western and Chinese herbal medicine. In the western tradition, it is used for a variety of purposes. Often, it is used to induce vivid dreaming. The Institute seeks not only to investigate ongoing issues, but to dream of alternate futures. The mugwort plant is also naturalized in north america, something that Potawotami ecologist and scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer has spoken about in relationship to settler-indigenous relationships.
“Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit. To become naturalized is to know that your ancestors lie in this ground. Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.”
As a settler, I feel that the basis for critical work about the environment, nature and ecology requires a foundational understanding of settler colonialism and as someone with a practice that uses many land based subjects as a point of inquiry, it is imperative for me to be transparent about my relationship to the land and to those whose territory I live and work on as an uninvited guest.
Using the naming convention for ships, this research-creation vehicle (R/C/V) is the main field vehicle of the Institute. Research vessels are designed to carry out particular purposes, and the Putt-Putt is a 2010 Ford Transit Connect that has been outfitted to carry equipment and be a home base. Putt-Putt is capable of sleeping 2 comfortably for several day research excursions. Many of the containers for research gear were specifically fabricated for the vehicle. Putt-Putt is also used to transport program participants, to generate power, to hide from the elements, as a writing studio, and for a variety of other purposes. Putt-Putt takes it’s name for the slow but steady way it climbs hills with its 4 cylinder engine.
R/C/V Putt-Putt is pictured above collecting sound and video data from a bat colony in summer 2018.