Each moment in time presents a unique stage in the evolutionary cycle of any ecosystem, being representative of the interconnectivity among all living and nonliving entities. Growth and Decay… Life and Death… Action and Impact… Bound and Unbound… Here, these seemingly rigid dualisms merge into coexistence, which is translated into a complex series of lines that intersect and cling to one another across space. My gaze is constantly fixed on this linear language presented in the uppermost branches above, where our individual and collective actions are documented in the dynamic metamorphosis of the forest, and moreover our societies. My focus on the intricate branching systems of trees, originally entirely aesthetic, has become ontological, as I’ve come to realize the ramifications of our actions on a global scale. As the impacts of the Climate Crisis accelerate, our chances of walking into a charred forest increase as we continue to establish rigid boundaries and break off into separate limbs. What started as a small and controlled flame becomes a massive wildfire, devastating the ties that bind our lives together.
I’ve always been drawn to woodlands and forests from an early age, forming a deep attachment to those behind my house in the area of Maryland, USA where I grew up. Having such a strong presence in my life, they’ve always represented a place of imaginative retreat and boundless exploration in the natural world. In this place of interconnectivity, each visitor is seeking connection in some form or another, whether with oneself, with others, or with the landscape. This unbounded connection with the natural world is present in the absence of boundaries and borders. However, what does boundless connection look like in our emerging future? How will our relations with all living beings be impacted by rising tensions over borders and the exploitation of our planet’s resources? My concerns with these issues seek to explore how humans have become powerful geophysical forces in our current global environmental crisis. My practice, which is based upon tension, boundaries, and interconnectivity, seeks to examine notions of boundedness and unboundedness through linear complexity.
Gaining a sense of place through direct immersion and engagement with my immediate environment plays a vital role in my creative process. Whether it is camping in a local wood or exploring the backcountry of a national park, these experiences help me to seek new awareness and union with the natural world. My experiences exploring landscapes have also led me to observe environmental destruction, from remnants of wildfires in Yosemite National Park California, USA to deforestation in the Amazon cloud forest in Peru. These direct observations and immersions into devastated environments have formed the basis of my practice-led research in an effort to establish a dialogue between our actions and the natural world.
My interest in woodlands and forests led me to undertake a residency at Pishwanton Wood, near Edinburgh, in January 2019. When I first visited the site, I became fascinated by a dense patch of birch wood and how tightly spaced these trees were together, many as close as one arm’s length distance. When exploring the woods, I could not help but notice that the views into the tree canopies above presented a uniquely complex interconnected language that amazed me, as an endless series of lines cross one another against the moving sky. Although appearing static against the sky, these lines are dynamic in their own right, moving across a spatio-temporal continuum.
I cannot help but think that what is in these canopies reflects what is below ground, and essentially what is all around us in the world: the inextricable links among all phenomena in life. Following these lines presents us with this idea that they can head almost anywhere and that in a world of life, everything is in movement and nothing is certain . This idea makes me wonder whether this sense of connection I seek in the woods can be traced to these overlapping and intersecting lines in what anthropologist Tim Ingold describes as the meshwork .
This idea of the meshwork has influenced a great deal of my practice-led research when exploring interconnectedness. My first encounter with this insight occurred during my first visit to the Blackwood of Rannoch back in March 2018. Being one of Scotland’s iconic landscapes, the Blackwood is one of the only remaining ancient Caledonian Pine Forests. This is due to a long history of deforestation and land clearances dating back to Neolithic times. The rich social, cultural, and political narratives embedded in the forest, from the 18th – 19th Century highland clearances to timber exploitation during World War II, influenced my perspective on what constitutes the evolution of a landscape beneath its surface.
During my experience in the Blackwood, I became particularly interested in a fallen granny pine spread across the forest floor. Although dead, its sprawling branches and striking form made its monumental presence in the landscape. Noticing the many directions these branches took across space led me to consider the temporal markings of the forest’s evolution embedded in these linear forms. Having survived for hundreds of years, the impacts of human activity throughout time can be uncovered in these markings. The inevitable role humans play as powerful geophysical forces in shaping landscapes made me realize that this too is included in the meshwork, or as author and philosopher Timothy Morton calls it: the ecological entanglement.
In his book The Ecological Thought, Timothy Morton claims that, “no being, construct, or object can exist independently from the ecological entanglement . This interconnectivity constitutes a vast entangling mesh, in which life-forms constitute a nontotalizable, open-ended concatenation of interrelations that blur and confound boundaries at practically any level: between species, between the living and non-living, between organism and environment” . When reflecting on this notion of the mesh, I cannot help but think about how our everyday actions as humans impact this entanglement and what this means for our future existence in an age of environmental catastrophe.
MOSAICS, 2019. In collaboration with and photography by Audrey Yeo.
This idea of the ecological entanglement has led me to explore how I could imagine myself being entangled with the landscape. In MOSAICS, merging with my immediate environment through direct sensory engagement becomes an intimate and embodied experience in the woodland. This idea of delicate empiricism  by J.W. Goethe influenced my understanding of how close observation and direct engagement with the natural world can be imperative in introducing a sense of unboundedness and renewal for humanity’s relationship with nature.
As our world becomes more connected due to globalization, so do our impacts in the ecological entanglement. We are vastly connected yet disconnected, or rather disassociated, from the impacts of our actions. This tension manifests itself in everyday life, resulting in endless consumerism and neglect in ecological preservation. Reflecting on these ideas brings into question what Eco feminists Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva describe as the objectification and exploitation of nature, like women and other minorities, in our globalized world . My concerns with this disconnect from our impacts have led to an ongoing series of sculptural works which explore the tension between our actions and the natural world.
The moment I step foot into the landscape is when I become completely embodied in the process of my work. Following the lines of my intuition become key when searching for fallen limbs. Which forms strike me most? The thought that these ecosystems may vanish with time slowly sinks into my consciousness. Impermanence prevails in a world of life as clearly evidenced with our warming planet.
As global catastrophic wildfires and deforestation activities are on the rise, we can no longer live in denial about Climate Breakdown. With 2018 being the fourth hottest year on record and with scientific predictions of Earth’s rise in temperature to reach 1.5°C by 2030, how can we imagine the state of our forests then? How can we imagine our forests and societies by the end of the century? Where will we fit in that picture? I cannot help but think that global tensions will only heighten if we continue to progress into a significantly warmer world. It’s like being trapped with several people in an enclosed space without enough resources to keep us cool in the middle of a long heat wave. I worry that aggression and hostility will thrive in the name of survival. Our actions will follow the lines that bind as environmental destruction and violence become so tightly entwined.
CAPITAL ‘N’ NATURE, 2019.
As I reflect on these aforementioned concerns, complexities and tensions, I come to question what unboundedness entails in a world where humans tend to keep both other humans and nature bound. The ecological entanglement is unbound; however, we continue to create rigid boundaries and fragments of life. As people and the rest of life are restricted to boundaries, capital can move freely across borders. Has global capitalism really become the exception to boundedness? With these questions in mind, I seek to understand how this notion of boundedness contributes to the heightening of geopolitical tensions in our current global environmental crisis.
When we look at maps of the world, we observe the dividing lines that mark territorial boundaries at the macroscale level. These boundaries being dynamic are constantly changing with time and are embedded with endless power relations and tensions. Zooming into one of these territories shows us more and more subdivisions until we finally arrive at the experience of walking along these borders. Wall after wall… fence after fence… this feels strangely ordinary until the sudden realisation that these barriers are merely social and political constructs — anthropocentric attempts at separating from the ecological entanglement.
The privatization of land, and therefore establishing of borders, can be traced to what author Jason W. Moore calls the Capitalocene, which focuses on the endless accumulation of wealth and commodification of the natural world in our current era . This global drive for endless capital has strong links to environmental degradation, systematic oppression, and geopolitical conflict. The idea of capitalism as a way of organising nature is one that troubles me deeply as I actively attempt to bring attention to these issues through my practice.
List of 21 current and emerging border conflicts (displayed from left to right):
Antarctica (UK) Overlapping Claim • Antarctica (Argentina) Overlapping Claim • Antarctica (Chile) Overlapping Claim • South Sudan – Sudan • North Korea – South Korea • Palk Bay (India – Sri Lanka) • Taiwan – China • Western Sahara (Morocco – Polisario Front) • Afghanistan – Pakistan • Gaza (Israel – Palestine) • West Bank (Palestine – Israel) • Golan Heights (Syria – Israel) • Kashmir (India – Pakistan) • Cyprus (Turkey – Greece) • Tibet – China • Kosovo – Serbia • Crimea (Russia – Ukraine) • Arctic (U.S. – Canada claims) • Arctic (Norway – Russia claims) • Arctic (Russia claim) • Arctic (Denmark – Canada claims)
Reflecting on these ideas directs me with a newfound perspective on boundaries and borders, viewing them as false lines carved into the landscape that attempt to further disconnect from the ecological entanglement. These lines are meaningless in the face of environmental catastrophe, but are the cause of so much violence and outrage in many parts of the world. To think that the expanding threats of border restrictions and conflicts can be closely tied to the Capitalocene greatly concerns me.
Ecologist C.S. Holling, in his theory of Panarchy, makes connections between the forest and human societies, claiming that these complex systems become less stable and resilient to change as they have completely adapted to rising connectedness and efficiency in their production cycles. During the late stage of its growth phase, the forest becomes extremely efficient as it effectively adapts to maximize the production of biomass from the flows of energy and nutrients in the environment. Comparatively, our societies have become extremely efficient and productive in maximizing profits from the exploitation of natural resources. However, this growth phase cannot go on forever; the high connectedness and efficiency of these systems eventually produce diminishing returns by reducing their capacity to cope with severe outside shocks . As a result, these systems become more vulnerable to these shocks, which can trigger the collapse of the whole ecosystem.
We have become completely adapted to ‘the way things are’ in society: the endless accumulation of wealth and race towards exhausting our planet’s finite resources in the name of advancement. These measures have become unbounded and self-regulated in a sense whereas life has become heavily regulated to the confines of its boundaries. There is something about Panarchy that resonates with the idea of what it means to be civilised in a world in urgent need of a healing and transformation. I believe achieving an unbounded connection with the natural world requires a radical shift of our ideas on boundaries and advancement, and deep consideration of what it means to be human in the ecological entanglement.
Throughout my work, I have sought to capture the complexity of interconnectedness through drawing, sculpture, installation, and printmaking. Investigating the role of humans as lines in shaping our planet forms the basis of my practice as I explore the tension between our actions and the natural world through notions of boundedness and unboundedness. The processes embodied in my work, from exploring the landscape to entwining branches, constitute an integral component of this inquiry in understanding what it means to be human in our current ecological crisis. When gazing up above in the forest, can we see the coexistence among all phenomena in life? Can we realize that the ramifications of our actions will inevitably impact us as the Climate Crisis progresses? Perhaps that gaze must be held a little longer for us to gain a deeper understanding of how to achieve healing and renewal for the human condition.
Ingold, T., 2016. Redrawing Anthropology: Materials, Movements, Lines. 2nd ed. London, England; New York, New York: Routledge.
Ingold, T., 2015. The Life of Lines. 1st ed. London, England; New York, New York: Routledge.
Morton, T., 2012. The Ecological Thought. 1st ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press.
Morton, T., 2010. Guest Column: Queer Ecology. Modern Language Association of America, [Online]. 125, 273-282. Available at: www.jstor.org/stable/25704424 [Accessed 22 May 2019].
Mies, M. and Shiva, V., 2014. Ecofeminism. 2nd ed. London, England; New York, New York: Zed Books Ltd.
Homer-Dixon, T., 2007. The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilisation. 1st ed. London, England: Souvenir Press Ltd.
Moore, J.W., 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. 1st ed. London, England; Brooklyn, New York: Verso.
Robbins, B., 2006. The Delicate Empiricism of Goethe: Phenomenology as a Rigorous Science of Nature. Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, [Online]. 6, 1-13. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/20797222.2006.11433928 [Accessed 22 May 2019].
 (T. Ingold, 2016, p. 2)
 (T. Ingold, 2015, p. 3)
 (T. Morton, 2012)
 (T. Morton, 2010, p. 275 – 276)
 (B. Robbins, 2006, p. 5)
 (M. Mies and V. Shiva, 2014)
 (J. W. Moore, 2015, p. 26)
 (T. Homer-Dixon, 2007, p. 227)