Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds So one of the questions I’m interested in is how to find hope in blasted landscapes, places like a clear-cut forest, where the very worst sort of environmental disaster has already happened. How do you find hope? And this project right here, it’s called “Thneeds Reseeds” by Deanna Pindell. And it helps me think about that question. What she’s done is created these small little sculptures, these tiny little felted balls, out of discarded sweaters. And they’re meant to be habitat for one kind of critter in particular, Bryum argenteum, this moss that you can find on airport runways in New York City or roof tiles in Quito, Ecuador. And this moss is really good at flourishing in blasted landscapes.
Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds And it’s also a companion of other kinds of plants. She imagines that these balls will also become habitat for things like voles or salamanders. But the moss is really the key player in this multispecies community that helps other kinds of plants germinate and then survive in this very dry, sun-drenched landscape. So Deanna isn’t saying that we should all create these little balls and put them in forests. But it’s about getting us to think about other sorts of blasted landscapes, bleak places, and how to care for them and how to create sites of hope amidst disaster.
Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds So one disaster is pictured here behind me. So what we’ve got is this suburban landscape that is not such a great place to live anymore if you happen to be a frog. So what we’re going to do today is work with a bathtub. We’re creating sort of a new kind of frog pond, a new way of flourishing. We’re not trying to recreate the past but imagine what’s around us here in the present. What sort of detritus can we work with? Things that are left over from capitalist production. So we’ve also got a little pump that we’re going to add to the mix to get the chemistry and the water circulation just right.
Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds The multispecies community that we’re creating isn’t just about the frog, we’re going to add some plants that are good for frogs to live with, but also really the key players are some microbes. So we have a whole sort of microbial environment that we’ll be trying to manage by keeping that water flow right, keeping the right sort of shade from the plants, and also having little patches of sunlight. So this project, which is again called multispecies community, it’s a recipe that we’ve written down for creating this kind of flourishing, is about thinking outside of the box, thinking about how to be creative in the spaces that you have, how to create flourishings in your own backyard or in your apartment.
Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds So we invite you to interpret this in as wild a way you want and to create flourishings of your own.
Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second So what we’ve done is filled this tub with rainwater. You don’t want to use, if you’re trying to care for frogs or fish, you don’t want to use water out of the tap because it’s got bad chemicals in it. It’s got chlorine in it. What you want to have is a really robust microbial population in there that’s going to be good for both frogs and fish to live with. You want fish in there, in particular, if you’re human and you don’t want to get bitten by mosquitoes.
Skip to 3 minutes and 24 seconds You’re not only trying to create an ideal world for the frog but you want to have a world that’s good for you and your neighbours so that the neighbours don’t complain and call the authorities and put a stop to your frog project. The fish, it turns out, is a whole other issue to explore. So you’ll want to do a lot of research. You’ll want to figure out what fish live nearby. What’s the conditions for flourishing for these fish? You also want to make sure that the fish aren’t going to eat all your frogs and tadpoles and frog eggs. So what we’ve done here is we’ve got two different containers.
Skip to 3 minutes and 58 seconds We’ve got one that has very shallow water, which is sort of a mosquito trap. We’re going to try to get the mosquitoes to lay the eggs in the shallow water, which will then be gobbled up by the fish. We’re not going to put the fish in the place where we’re going to put the frogs. And you’re not going to actually go out there and buy a frog. You’re not going to get one from a pet store and put it in your backyard.
Skip to 4 minutes and 18 seconds What you want to try to do is create an environment where they’re going to emerge, where they’re going to sort of be going around the neighbourhood looking for good places to live, and you’ve created a good place for them to live. So they’re going to settle down and hunker down. We’ve actually got a banjo frog living under the bathtub that we found here this morning. In the wintertime here in Sydney, that’s what frogs do. They basically hunker down and are looking for a nice place to stay out of the cold and be protected. So you’re going to find frogs emerging in the spring, breeding, you’ll have tadpoles, you’ll have eggs, you’ll hopefully have a multispecies flourishing.
Mode 2: Narrating possible natures
In this video, Eben Kirksey explores ways of remaking nature in blasted landscapes through a multispecies approach.
The video features a “recipe” for enlivening places that have been neglected and abandoned in urban environments — in this instance a backyard in Sydney, Australia. Eben uses Deanna Pindell’s sculptural recipe, “Thneeds ReSeed”, a project aimed at enlivening clear cut forests, as a point of departure.
This backyard project, as well as Eben’s broader research efforts, highlight the importance of multispecies studies in Environmental Humanities research, as discussed in Step 3.9.
What do you think?
How might a multispecies ethnography approach promote new narratives, and possible futures, about the environment in relation to your chosen issue?
Does Eben’s project meet the EH goals discussed in this course: Does it promote a narrative that is more responsible, just, care-ful, and attentive to the more-than-human world? Does it resonate with different stakeholder values? Is it situated?
Further optional reading
Eben Kirksey, “Possible Futures,” in Emergent Ecologies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015): 190-216
Quoting from the Multispecies Salon website:
A novel approach to writing culture, multispecies ethnography, has come of age. Plants, animals, fungi, and microbes are appearing alongside humans in accounts of natural and cultural history. Anthropologists have collaborated with artists and biological scientists to illuminate how diverse organisms are entangled in political, economic, and cultural systems. Delectable mushrooms flourishing in the aftermath of ecological disaster, microbial cultures enlivening the politics and value of food, and emergent life forms running wild in the age of biotechnology all figure in to this curated collection of written prose and artifacts.
- Eben Kirksey, “Recipe 3: Multispecies Communities,” in The Multispecies Salon (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014): 145-253.
- Deanna Pindell, Thneeds ReSeed, (artwork, 2010-ongoing).
- Eben Kirksey, “Species: A Praxiographic Study,” Journal of the Anthropological Institute 21, no 4 (2015): 758–80.
- Eben Kirksey, Emergent Ecologies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015).
© UNSW Australia 2016