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Ecology and environmental art in public place: talking tree: won't you take a minute and listen to the plight of nature?

Goto Collins, Reiko


Reiko Goto Collins


Anne Douglas


My research started with a question: Is it possible to create change if we understand life is interdependent and interrelated with nature in our environment? I researched this question from the perspective of a practising artist in the field of environmental art in the context of ecology. I chose trees as the focal point of my enquiry as trees represent the largest living thing we encounter in our day-to-day activities. Empathy, particularly as defined in the work of Edith Stein, emerged as a significant critical construct which I used to examine the inter-dependence and interrelation of humans and trees as dynamic and diverse communities on earth. Empathy is related to metaphor, particularly Donald Schön's idea of a generative metaphor, and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's 'empathic projection'. These metaphorical conceptions can be relied upon to talk about trees without falling into anthropomorphising nature. The research was also informed by positions in the aesthetics of art. First Emily Brady positions human imagination as aesthetic mediation between human perceptions and scientific understanding of nature. Secondly Grant Kester's dialogical aesthetics that are informed by conversation, inter-subjective exchange and empathic relationship. I then sought to understand how empathy had been embedded in practices of art over the last thirty years. Particular artworks are selected because they are internationally relevant examples of work that intended to create change in a specific public sphere: Time Landscape (1978) by Alan Sonfist, 7000 Oaks (1982) by Joseph Beuys, and Serpentine Lattice (1993) by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. My interest in these works is focused on the potential for an empathic relationship with trees as living things that are embedded in specific environments. To meet this goal in my aesthetic practice, I have developed a discrete relational artwork in collaboration with a plant physiologist, a computer programmer and other artists to create the means to experience how trees breathe. This is accomplished by translating the plant physiological processes - photosynthesis and transpiration - to sound using, and extending, a custom software system. I also invented Plein Air, an easel that not only holds the plant's physiological system and the sound system but also becomes a small portable station to observe various trees in different places. In my conclusion I examined the implication of ecological and symbolic meanings that go beyond an artists authorship, which is created through this empathy-driven enquiry and shared experience between people, place and trees in public places.


GOTO COLLINS, R. 2012. Ecology and environmental art in public place: talking tree: won't you take a minute and listen to the plight of nature? Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Dec 18, 2012
Publicly Available Date Dec 18, 2012
Public URL
Award Date Feb 29, 2012


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