Session: Global Ecology and Art

Global Ecology and Culture Stream


Day 2, Parallel Session 2B: 1:30pm – 3:00pm

Location: Storey Hall (Building 16), Conference Room 1, Level 7, Room 7

Chair: Associate Professor Linda Williams (RMIT University)


Jen Rae Drawing as a Mnemonic Device Exploring the Complexity of Species Loss

  • Presenter and main author: Jen Rae (RMIT University)
  • Abstract: This presentation contends that artworks such as drawings have a particular form of rhetorical power that is better suited to conveying the complexity of global ecological change than standard visual formats such as bar graphs or pie charts. Drawing in its simplicity seems to be a very elemental and inherently human process of gaining understanding of one’s environment and deriving meaning, and for me this simple act creates a tangible bridge between the unknown and known, making visible what may be latent in the realm of the imagination. In an age of considerable uncertainty, it opens a space for a conceptual journey that begins with the present but also incorporates memory, and leads to potential configurations of the future. In this presentation, I will show how my use of drawing as a mnemonic device to retrieve and store complex information about the impact of environmental degradation on biodiversity in a visual exploration of the implications of species extinction.
  • About the presenter: Jen Rae is an interdisciplinary artist, cultural producer and PhD researcher at RMIT University in the School of Art’s AEGIS (Art, Ecology, Globalisation and the Interpretation of Science) Research Group.  Her practice-led research explores the ways in which artist-led ecological projects can enhance public engagement and foster cultural adaptation to environmental issues, including climate change.  She is the Co-founder and Director of The Riparian Project, a public art initiative that aims to influence a shift in livestock grazing practices in Victoria to improve river health (, and a fellow at The Centre for Sustainability Leadership and the School for Social Entrepreneurs. 
Jodi Newcombe Designing Interfaces Between Policy, the Public and Nature: Role of Public Art

  • Presenter and main author: Jodi Newcombe (Queensland University of Technology/Carbon Arts)
  • Abstract: With the current ecological crises facing the planet, much has been said about the need for new approaches to problem solving that break out of existing disciplinary silos and harness humanity’s collective creativity. While Joseph Beuys recognised decades ago the central role of creativity in bringing about a transformation of society, decision-making around sustainability at the highest levels of policy-making is still lacking in engagement of artists, designers or, more broadly, the creative sector. Can artist and designer-led projects lead the way in showing this new cross- and trans-disciplinary model of working to solve wickedly complex issues that transcend the abilities of scientists, economists, sociologists and artists, working alone to solve? The presentation will examine two case studies in public art addressing issues of sustainability: ‘Mussel Choir’ by artist Natalie Jeremijenko and ‘dotBlush’ by artist Pierre Proske, relating to water ecology and energy efficiency respectively. A framework for evidence collection through the case studies’ implementation aims to reveal the conditions necessary for artist-led urban design projects to break new ground in collective decision-making, and – crucially – actionable pathways to a more sustainable future.
  • About the presenter: Jodi is a creative producer generating innovative projects at the intersect of art, technology and sustainability. Trained as an engineer and environmental economist Jodi sees trans-disciplinary modes of thinking and collaborating as the way out of the current ecological crisis. After a 15 year consultancy career in natural resource management to public and private sector clients in Europe and Australia, Jodi set up Carbon Arts to bring a stronger creative voice to these challenges. She is currently developing a number of significant public artworks in partnership artists, developers and government that seek to influence the public’s stewardship of the environment. 
Harry Nankin Tragic Ecology: An Aesthetics of Place at a Time of Crisis

  • Presenter and main author: Harry Nankin (RMIT University)
  • Abstract: An ‘ecological gaze’ is a psycho-socially conditioned aesthetic stance informed by the insights of ecology in the context of epistemological and ethical human interests (Nankin, 2010). Given the uncertainties of ecological knowledge and the open-ended nature of artistic enquiry such a gaze cannot be prescriptive or normative, nor can it ignore the inescapable reality of ecological suffering and, increasingly, human loss. Timothy Morton argues our emerging ecological predicament must be apprehended from a stance of ‘dark ecology’ (Morton, 2007, 2010). However, by drawing on the western aesthetic heritage a credible contemporary ecological gaze may be more appropriately conceived in ecocritical theory as a form of tragic poetics. We apply the term ‘tragedy’ in three ways: as a colloquial descriptor of significant human misfortune; as a peculiarly western mode of dramatic fiction with roots in fifth century BCE Athenian theatre; and as part of a mode of thinking and feeling in which life in general and history in particular is interpreted using sentiments and concepts otherwise associated with tragic fiction. Although the first usage is a common descriptor of environmental events and the second has occasional environmental relevance, only the third–tragic sensibility–conjures poetic insight befitting an ecological gaze. This presentation speculates upon how tragedy may be applied to the human ecological condition to critically inform visual arts practice articulating an ecological gaze.
  • About the presenter: Harry Nankin is an Australian photographer and environmental artist. His focus of interest for two decades has been the contested meanings attributed to ‘nature’ and land at a time of ecological crisis, a preoccupation he describes as the search for an ‘ecological gaze’. Known for eerily poetic cameraless images made on location his work is a synthesis of land art, performance and photography. Harry Nankin has been the recipient of Arts Victoria and Australia Council grants and his work is included in many collections including the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library of Victoria and the Monash Gallery of Art. He teaches at RMIT University where he is completing a PhD entitled ‘Gathering Shadows: landscape, photography and the ecological gaze’. Website: