About Nature- Final Projects
My name is Saylor Soinski, and I'm a second-year anthropology major. I hope to go on to graduate school in anthropology and study human-animal interactions. I grew up in Utah, and I've always loved being outdoors. I originally planned on attending college to study animal behaviors and environmental policy, but ended up at UChicago and was looking for ways to keep thinking and talking about nature at a liberal arts school. When I saw the class About Nature: From Science to Sense, I was curious to see what kind of opportunities there were for just that.
I rode and worked with horses for over ten years before I moved to Chicago. It was something I had always done, but I never really took the time to think through the conceptual implications. While I love working with animals, this class encouraged me to think more deeply about these interactions and the power dynamics within them. Additionally, I found almost all of the pieces we read for class were centered on small--even microscopic--animals. As someone who has experienced the physical damage working with large animals can do, I was interested in considering the way the human-animal power dynamic was further shaped by size.Full project text
This project was inspired by one of the readings for the class, Elaine P. Miller’s The Vegetative Soul. In her work, Miller discusses the power of the commonly trivialized properties of plants - mainly elements of growth, passivity, and interconnectivity - to create. These elements are, in my opinion, also key elements of what makes techno so powerful. Within most forms of techno (most commonly individual tracks, live sets, and DJ mixes), musical themes grow into each other in a very “natural” way that is very reminiscent of a plant; growing from seed to stalk to leaf while still remaining all interconnected by a network of veins and rooted in the same network of roots. I wanted to touch upon these plant-like/vegetal aspects of techno in this project.
Together, the series of paintings and this poem, form my attempt to tease out the connections between slowness, spaces for emotional and relational exploration, and the possibility and limits to technological extensions of our senses. It was an attempt to enter a space where I know I can find calm and to see what can come out of that stillness in combination with laden concepts like the gaze. I found that not only am I ill-prepared to portray the gaze through art, the concept of the gaze is limited, even just purely physically, as I wanted to paint the gazes of mosquitos and flies with their multi-surface eyes as well as “gazes” of non-animal life, but both of those tasks were too difficult for my large, clumsy brushes and my clumsy understandings of those species.
A few years before I enrolled in About Nature, my family was gifted a Do It Yourself mushroom growing kit. I think I speak for us all when I say the gift seemed a little odd, but also intriguing. However, we were never able to make use of the kit and so it was out of my mind until this year. One of the first readings I encountered during the course was Anna Tsing’s essay on mushrooms as companion species. She claims “the presence of fungi often tell us of the changing practices of being human” and focuses on the idea of mushrooms as a species living on the edges of society. (145) As I was thinking about the essay, I remembered the mushroom kit and wondered what it might have to say about being human. To confess: at the time I was worried because I thought that this kit might diminish the value of the essay, since it was moving mushrooms from the edges of civilization into our homes. I spent much of the quarter thinking about that mushroom kit, so I decided to purchase one myself and see how it might or might not work with Tsing’s conception of mushrooms. In this essay I walk readers through the three questions I asked as the mushrooms were growing, and how my answers to these questions helped me to think more deeply about what the mushroom kit was trying to tell me.
|Elena De La Cancela||
This project was an attempt to show the productivity and the power that a love of nature an foster. The work (which I have labelled a zine, given its origin in collage and appropriated media) was a labor of love in itself. I had taken issue with the argument that a love of Nature could only contribute negatively to actually bettering our interactions with it. Political ecologist, like Timothy Morton and Bruno Latour, have compelling arguments that concluded that a romanticization of nature contributes to an essentialization that will ultimately not produce the change we seek. Instead, they argue, it is detrimental or unproductive, or perhaps naive to believe that the world can change through love.
All conceptual thinking is to a degree abstract. So 'concrete' a term as 'tree' does not refer simply to a singular 'concrete' tree but is an abstraction, drawn out of, away from, individual, sensible actuality; it refers to a concept which is neither this tree nor that tree but can apply to any tree. Each individual object that we style a tree is truly 'concrete', simply itself, not 'abstract' at all, but the term we apply to the individual object is in itself abstract. (Ong, 1982) Examining nature as a concept requires both abstract and conceptual thinking. It demands an open mind and also a focused perspective. One must recognize the concrete while dealing in the abstract. This project seeks to represent a few abstractions as concrete examples taken from the Hyde Park neighborhood. These five photos are engaged with to provide a local, productive understanding of a few authors from among the many read during the course of our class, About Nature: from Science to Sense.