Practicing plant-human solidarity : critical ecosocial art, phytocentric pedagogy, and the lawn (re)disturbance laboratory

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Irons, Ellen
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Using a plant-led methodology guided by vegetal beings commonly known as weeds, in this dissertation I provide an artistic and scholarly analysis of a field of artistic practice I am defining as critical ecosocial art (CEA). Indebted to but distinct from related fields of interdisciplinary artistic practice, CEA revolves around hands-on fieldwork, from public un-lawning sculptures to feral watercolor experiments, combining socially engaged art and ecological art through the lens of multispecies studies. With fields like urban ecology, critical plant studies, land-based pedagogies, and feminist and Indigenous science studies as key interlocutors, I outline the influences, conceptual frameworks, and methodologies that are central to this form of artistic practice. Particularly important to me are forms of CEA that cultivate plant-human solidarity in relationship with disturbed habitats impacted by resource extraction associated with capitalism, colonialism, and industrialization. I argue that building interspecies allyship in these settings has the potential to contribute in specific and specialized ways to the intertwined struggles to dismantle exclusionary forms of human supremacy and cultivate ecosocial justice, essential tasks for those of us who find ourselves alive in—and complicit with—the era now contestedly known as the Anthropocene. Through an analysis of my ongoing collaborative project the Lawn (Re)Disturbance Laboratory, I demonstrate how phytocentric pedagogy—one way of doing critical ecosocial art—provides a bundle of intertwined artistic strategies for teaching and learning with and from the weedy plants who dwell alongside us on damaged land. With these tools I join many others working to rebuild plant-human solidarity in a multitude of ways that resist extractive, commodification-based relationships to vegetal life and strive towards mutually beneficial forms of plant-human-land relationships that enable multispecies thriving for as many kinds of beings and lifeways as possible.
December 2021
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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