Hi, I’m Judy Motion, and I’m here with Susie Pratt. Today we’re going to talk about the relationship between art and Environmental Humanities. Susie, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to Environmental Humanities? Sure. So I’m an artist, and why I was attracted to Environmental Humanities is the potential to conduct practice-based research. So that means research that is driven by an art practise. Because Environmental Humanities offer scope for combining qualitative research, such as conducting in-depth interviews or ethnography, alongside using approaches from humanities, such as arts, to conduct research and create different interventions into environmental issues.
And through this interdisciplinary focus, it allows one to intervene in spaces which are not just places of fact-based modes of intervention, because environmental issues are not just driven by the facts. There’s so many values and politics and ideologies laden into that, and so through arts and aesthetic interventions, you have the space to intervene in a more value-laden approach using different aesthetic means. So as part of my PhD, which was a practice-based PhD conducted in Environmental Humanities at UNSW. I looked into the implications, or environmental health implications, on people living in the Hunter Valley by open-cut coal mines.
And what I was surprised to discover was actually that, rather than the major health implications being solely from dust, what the implication that sort of surprised me was the impact of infrasound, low frequency sound, on people living there. And so that’s this constant vibrations which affected them both physically, but also in terms of their mental health. And so what I wanted to do was translate this kind of invisible phenomena, that coal mining and resource and extraction is often a really invisible phenomena for a lot of people living in Australia, but also taking infrasound.
So the art installation that I created consisted of recordings I’d made by these coal mining sites played on large speakers with metal trays set on top of it and water and coal dust in these trays. So as the speakers performed the sound, the infrasound vibrated through, so you get these rippling effects on the trays, and speaking about the different impacts of coal mining on both water and people and the different lifestyles in the Hunter Valley. So, Susie, it’s really clear that having a sense of curiosity and being open to new possibilities is a really critical part of your art work. Can you talk about that relationship between art and Environmental Humanities? Sure.
Actually, yeah, so part of my research was also looking at different artist case studies, such as Natalie Jeremijenko’s Environmental Health Clinic based at NYU in new York. And also Britta Riley, who does a project called Windowfarms, which is urban farming within city spaces. And what I discovered from these different case studies was the role of how art can be a mode of kind of intervening in these different sites of concern, such as agriculture or health issues in urban environments, to provoke curiosity so people can be surprised. So for example, Natalie Jeremijenko refers to the patients that come to the clinic as “impatients,” because they’re too impatient for legislative change– and creates these spectacles that people engage in.
And so I think art has a real potential to kind of provide moments of curiosity, which then engage people in the issues to develop and attend to the different concerns. The other thing that I’ve seen playing out in your work is a notion of care. And can you talk a little bit for us about how care is a central concern of Environmental Humanities? Sure. So once you have that kind of curiosity captured, it’s how do you attend to and engage with these issues through what Maria Puig de la Bellacasa refers to as “matters of care.” And so that’s bringing in an ethic to the modes of engagement.
And so how art as an aesthetic form of intervention can intervene in these issues through both spectacle and creating practises that people get engaged in, such as with Britta Riley and creating these urban farms and Windowfarms, tending to these plants, and caring for them, and seeing the beauty in them as they evolve. You recounted to me a story of how you learned about the importance of tending. Yeah. Would you like to share that? Yeah, so I experimented myself with windowfarms, and I had a period of lapsed care for this windowfarm. And my plant shrivelled up and died after all the effort I put into it. So it was kind of– yeah, that reconfirmed for me that notion. Thank you, Susie.
That was really inspiring. It gave us a great insight into that relationship between art and Environmental Humanities. I hope you found that really helpful, and that it inspires you to think about that relationship between art and the Environmental Humanities, that it creates a sense of curiosity and concern about how we use art to bring about positive change.