Environmental Art: The temporalities of non-human species & climate change dining

Event Recap of Environmental Art: Re-Imagining Art, Science, and the Humanities, 10/16/18

By Sariah Bunker

On October 16th, Elaine Gan (Center for Experimental Humanities Faculty Fellow, NYU) and Marina Zurkow (Professor of Art, Tisch School of Arts, NYU), discussed their work in the context of the Environmental Humanities.

Gan discussed her work on rice, one of the most land, labor, and water intensive crops grown today. Because people have grown rice since the beginning of agriculture, people have had the opportunity to learn and development new techniques for harvest for a long time. Gan discussed IR36, also known as miracle rice. IR36 was bred in the 1960s by the International Rice Research Institute and it paved the way for an industrial revolution in Southeast Asia. IR36 rapdidly became the preferred strain because of its ability to harvest in 160 days, much more quickly than other strains.However, the chemical saturation of nitrogen and the genetic consolidation that made IR36 was also it’s downfall, as IR36 crops were devoured by a bug called the Brown Planthopper due to increased nitrogen in the soil. Gan sees rice as a non-linear time machine, transporting us to a multi species temporality through her piece, A Fungal Clock, an interactive website which tells the story of the Matsutake mushroom illustrated by the seasonal rhythms of a Japanese ecosystem where human activity is but one factor in the web of dependability. The Matsutake’s health changes as time passes on, and A Fungal Clock and the surrounding ecosystem is changed. Gan’s work dwells on how multi-species temporailites make and unmake worlds.

Zurkow began by asking “How can we metabolise climate change?”, prompting us to consider how the realities of global climate change will influence our diet. Zurkow wanted to map hydrocarbon formation through kitchen techniques and presented her participants with a dining experience that lead them to think about and experience climate change in new ways. She presented dishes including a drinkable algae bloom; mullet cooked in salt; deconstructed gumbo, jellyfish and gulf oyster, and a dessert where participants had to drill for their alcoholic treat. Halfway through the meal,  the waitstaff stacked the dirty plates into strange formations on the table.The soiled plates were not cleared when a new course was presented, forcing the participants to deal with the waste from their meal immediately after consuming it. Zurkow also discussed another project, Making the Best of It, a public installation exploring dandelions. The second year of this project included a staged funeral of the human species, where participants were given non-human roles, such as chewing gum, and instructed to eulogize the human race.  

Gan and Zurkow then discussed their work with Yanoula Athanassakis (Director of Environmental Humanities Initiative, NYU) and Una Chaudhuri (Professor of English & Animal Studies, NYU) and took questions from the audience.

Listen to the full event below: