The Center for Creative Ecologies researches the intersection of art, culture, and environment. The aim is to develop useful arts-led interdisciplinary research tools to examine how cultural practitioners—filmmakers, new media strategists, photojournalists, architects, writers, activists, and interdisciplinary theorists—critically address and creatively negotiate environmental concerns in the local, regional, and global field. These concerns include anthropogenic climate change and global warming, and relate to factors such as habitat destruction, drought, species extinction, and environmental degradation, in relation to which we ask: how are creative practitioners imagining alternative narratives that cultivate ecological wellbeing, support a just transition to a post-carbon future, and regard the nonhuman world as other than an anthropocentric resource for wealth accumulation? Drawing on such wide-ranging fields as visual culture and art history, political ecology and economics, anthropology and sociology, Earth jurisprudence and new materialism philosophy, Indigenous cosmopolitics and climate justice activism, and insisting on addressing ecology from a justice-oriented framework, the Center energizes the formation of the emerging environmental arts and humanities at UC Santa Cruz.
Embedded in the Department of History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC), the Center supports and strengthens its PhD program in Visual Culture, and provides a dynamic space of interdisciplinary thinking that merges undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels. It addresses a wide arena of cultural experience, within and beyond artistic practice, including ecological theory, mass media narratives, governmental and intergovernmental policy, and science communication, where environmental matters are discussed, represented, and negotiated. The Center aims to be an inclusive space of dialogue—operating between university disciplines, community groups, nongovernmental organizations, and social movements—welcoming diverse participants to consider ecological conflicts and creative sustainable alternatives, to widen our knowledge society and abilities to respond to environmental transformation, and to assess and contribute to informed approaches to policy-making in the widest sense of the term.
* Image: Video still from Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares, Forest Law, 2014. The passage shows Julio Tiwiram, situated in the Ecuadoran Amazon, laying out the elements of his “forest pharmacy,” a display of plants with medicinal and pharmaceutical properties known to local Indigenous traditions. Tiwiram is an internationally known Shuar shaman, and holder of a university medical degree, who lives in Kupiamais, near Gualaquiza. This region of the Amazon continues to be threatened by corporate and state oil interests, contested by Indigenous groups taking recourse to the "rights of nature" enshrined in Ecuador's 2008 constitution. (Image courtesy of Ursula Biemann)
In this November 2017 essay contribution to the CCE Journal, writer and curator Rachel Nelson provides a piercing analysis of Berlin-based artists Angela Melitopoulos and Angela Anderson’s Unearthing Disaster I & II (pictured above), which document socio-environmental injustice in Greece’s Halkidiki Peninsula. During May-June 2017, the Institute of the Arts and Sciences of UC Santa Cruz, in coordination with the 2017 Extraction research project organized by A. Laurie Palmer and T.J. Demos of the Center for Creative Ecologies, presented Unearthing Disaster I & II. Expertly curated by IAS founding director John Weber at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco, the double video project examines the destruction of a pristine, mountainous forest region in Northeastern Greece by a Canadian mining company, set within the anti-democratic conditions of EU-imposed Greek austerity, and considers what resistance means. Read more...
In May 2017, Vienna-based artist Oliver Ressler visited UC Santa Cruz and the Center for Creative Ecologies, where he spoke about Everything’s Coming Together While Everything’s Falling Apart, his recent series of films from 2016-17. The three short pieces, each between 12 and 36 minutes, address international climate governance, its challenges and failures, and showcase select artist-activist grassroots movements seeking to transform the ways we live and how we organize society on the most fundamental of levels. Another world is indeed possible. Ressler’s extensive body of moving-image-based work—established over more than two decades of practice at the intersection of experimental art and radical politics—is exemplary for its seeking out viable and collectively organized political-cultural forms of life, which might be termed the arts of living otherwise, that represent radical alternatives to the disastrous course of petrocapitalism. That bankrupt regime is based on corrupt political governance, growing economic inequality, and violent social injustice founded upon the destructive exploitation and transformation of Earth’s natural systems. For Ressler, “The story of this ongoing film project may turn out to be a story of the beginning of the climate revolution, the moment when popular resistance began to reconfigure the world.” Let us hope for just that. Read more...
On the Power of the Humusities for a Habitable Multispecies Muddle”: A Salon Evening With Donna Haraway*
Please join us for an informal dinner discussion with Donna Haraway on the occasion of the publication of her new book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, 2016).
Wednesday, October 5, 2016, 6:30pm
In its pages, Donna Haraway writes of the sustained imperative of our new geological epoch: “we must cultivate “response-ability; that is also collective knowing and doing, an ecology of practices.” In that spirit, the Center for Creative Ecologies—dedicated to exploring precisely creative practices of response-ability and promoting ecologies of interdisciplinary connection —invites guests to consider the significance of the terminological proposals for our time, such as Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Chthulucene. The latter is Haraway’s own conceptualization for describing and cultivating a post-anthropocentric era of multi-species mutualities, sympoiesis, and creative kin-ful co-becomings. For these may be our best chance of fending off the incursions of the regressive individualism and human exceptionalism of Anthropocenic hegemony and equally the petrocapitalist exterminism of the Capitalocene’s financialization and colonization of all remaining natures. Please join us for what will be a fascinating humusities discussion with Donna—akin to a muddy exchange of organisms, a composting of ideas in the pluriversity of humus—of how we might make life habitable amidst this multispecies muddle.
Becoming Indigenous, Feb 18, 2016
Salon discussion with Jim Clifford, Santa Cruz, Feb 18, 2016. The informal topic of the event is "becoming indigenous," a term mobilized by Clifford in his 2013 book Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century. In addition to proposing ways to think about the multiple meanings of Indigenous becomings in relation to the uncertain postcolonial, media-networked forms of native life today, how might the phrase also relate to the conditions of people living locally with ethico-political consciousness? Can the suggestive phrase also characterize becoming local at a time of global uprootedness, migration (forced and voluntary), and virtual presence/absence, sending down roots when nature, nativity, and nationality--and thus the nature of locality--have all begun to break down, at least as uncomplicated, uncontested words? Does it make sense to think about "becoming local" as an ecological act, linked to solidarity with assorted Indigenous becomings in an era of extractivism, climate chaos, and growing political inequality?
*Thanks to Jim Clifford for the above shot of Paris' Luxembourg Gardens and its mobile indigenizing flora!
Global Climate Justice Today
UC Santa Cruz, October 13-27, 2015
This series of talks at UC Santa Cruz—featuring Valentin Lopez (Amah Mutsun Tribal Band), Flora Lu (UC Santa Cruz), Néstor L. Silva (Stanford University), Leila Salazar-Lopez (Amazon Watch), Andy Szasz (UC Santa Cruz), T.J. Demos (UC Santa Cruz), and Paulo Tavares (Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London/Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador)—investigates the current meanings of climate justice for communities from California to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Climate Justice is built on the realization that addressing environmental change must be accompanied by attentiveness to structural inequalities, and that any solution must prioritize socio-political and economic justice and include the participation of those most vulnerable to environmental impacts. As such, climate justice raises ongoing questions of political-ecological urgency for artists and activists alike.
Organized by T.J. Demos and the Center for Creative Ecologies, Climate Justice Today responds to these pressing questions related to how we address the social, economic, and ecological impacts of our changing environment, and what political recourse and sites of agency remain. Climate Justice Today is generously sponsored by UCSC’s Arts Dean’s Fund for Excellence, UCSC’s Colleges Nine and Ten, UCSC's American Indian Resource Center, and the Institute of the Arts and Sciences.
The Center for Creative Ecologies (CCE) hosts a regular reading group for interested faculty and students.
We encourage participants from any discipline or area of interest to join. The CCE Reading Group was initiated in Fall of 2016 and represents an interdisciplinary assembly of academics and graduate students interested in engaging with current texts written at the intersection of art, culture, politics, and ecology. The group meets every two or three weeks during the school year. Meetings are held across the UCSC campus at various locations, usually outside or in non-formal settings. The aim of the reading group is to develop useful arts-led interdisciplinary research dialogue to examine and explore how cultural practitioners critically address and creatively negotiate environmental concerns in the local, regional, and global field. These concerns include anthropogenic climate change and global warming, and relate to factors such as habitat destruction, drought, species extinction, and environmental degradation. We strive to create an inclusive atmosphere to collectively share and explore new avenues of thought and practice.
Recent texts considered: Donna Haraway’s (2016) Staying with the Trouble, McKenzie Wark’s (2015) Molecular Red, Jason Moore’s (2016) Capitalism in the Web of Life, and Glen Coulthard’s (2014) Red Skin, White Masks, and Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey’s Undercommons (2013), among others. Readings are collectively determined and aligned with current events, recent publications, and exhibitions at and around UCSC.
More information can be found at the CCE Reading Group website.
To the Barricades! Culture and Politics at the Centenary of the October Revolution
As we approach October in the year 2017, we come upon the hundredth anniversary of the momentous event that was the Russian Revolution. Reconfiguring the fundamental conditions of modernity from a radically anti-capitalist perspective, the Revolution realized the potential for a collective form of life according to an emancipatory cultural-political horizon. The Revolution made the seemingly impossible suddenly inevitable, even as its incredible potentiality gradually diminished through its unfortunate unfoldings, ultimately rendering lived communism co-terminus with tyranny. Initiated by T.J. Demos, Amber Hickey, and Chessa Adsit-Morris, the Center for Creative Ecologies invites responses from leading cultural producers, artists, theorists, and activists, to a short questionnaire to see where radical imagination and practice exist in a contemporary world that has entered new levels of unsustainability and injustice.
A Public Conversation with Donna Haraway and Starhawk: Magic, Figuration & Speculative Fiction as Calls to Action
On October 18, 2017, the Center for Creative Ecologies co-sponsored A Public Conversation with Donna Haraway and Starhawk: Magic, Figuration & Speculative Fiction as Calls to Action, an event in collaboration with the Science and Justice Research Center (SJRC)*, bringing together Donna Haraway and Starhawk to dialogue around questions about their lifetimes of activism and writing in a conversation moderated by SJRC Visiting Scholar and organizer of the event, Joan Haran. Chessa Adsit-Morris provides a report-back on the event, which explored the convergences and divergences of Haraway’s and Starhawk’s work, particularly focusing on the role of imagination and science in shaping narratives of the near future.
Book Talk with T.J. Demos, Anna Tsing, and Jennifer González:
Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today
T.J. Demos, Anna Tsing, and Jennifer González will be in conversation to launch UC Santa Cruz History of Art and Visual Culture Professor T.J. Demos' new book: Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today. Addressing the current upswing of humanities-based, scientific and environmental arts and attention in relation to the recent proposition that we have entered a new human-driven epoch called the Anthropocene, this new book by cultural critic and art historian T.J. Demos presents a critical overview of that thesis, and its limitations in conceptualisation and in practice. Looking at multiple examples of visual culture — including popular science websites, remote sensing and SatNav imagery, photographic documentation, eco-activist mobilizations, and experimental art projects — the book argues that the Anthropocene terminology works ideologically in support of neoliberalism’s financialization of nature, anthropocentrism’s political economy, and the endorsement of geoengineering as the preferred — but likely disastrous — method of addressing climate change, constituting further modes of environmental violence. To democratise decisions about the world’s near future, Demos proposes that we urgently need to subject the Anthropocene thesis to critical scrutiny and develop creative alternatives in our precarious present — which is the ultimate goal of Against the Anthropocene.
Extraction: Decolonial Visual Cultures in the Age of the Capitalocene
During Winter and Spring 2017, T.J. Demos of UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Creative Ecologies in collaboration with the artist Laurie Palmer of UC Santa Cruz’s Arts Department will initiate the Arts-led research project EXTRACTION, co-sponsored by the Arts Research Institute and the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. The project comprises a series of interlinked activities directed toward critically analyzing extraction as an industrial operation of natural resource mining and labor exploitation, investigating its ecological, economic, philosophical, and aesthetic factors and implications. Including a film series and artist lecture program—with guest presentations by practitioners such as the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Subhankar Banerjee, Claire Pentecost, Brian Holmes, and Elizabeth Knafo—the project also entails a number of workshops, a student-faculty reading group, field trips to regional extraction sites, and a two-day conference in May. EXTRACTION will draw together artists and researchers at UCSC, and leading thinkers in the field locally, regionally, and nationally. (View details)
Art and Climate Activism: KZSC, Santa Cruz Radio, Nov. 14, 2016
As the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Marrakesh, Morocco, KZSC spoke to TJ Demos, a UCSC Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture and the Founder and Director of the Center for Creative Ecologies. Demos appeared on KZSC’s Talkabout, and Tamyra Rice and John Sandidge interviewed him about his new book “Decolonizing Nature” as well as the intersections between political protests, art, and ecologies. [link]
What are Creative Ecologies? T.J. Demos answers the question in Take Magazine (Delhi), Spring 2017
“Proposing a notion of creative ecology means decolonising nature—not in the sense of reclaiming some sort of original wilderness or pure nonhuman environment (these represent fictions of a colonised world), but instead releasing the environment from its reduction to “natural resources,” as if it exists purely for human exploitation and consumption.”
Spring 2016: Climate Justice Now! Art, Activism, Environment Today
UC Santa Cruz
As climate change threats grow more severe, and in the absence of government leadership, artists and activists are inventing creative strategies of consciousness-raising, mass mobilization, and ecologically sustainable thinking and living. This class and public lecture series, joined by a diverse array of guest speakers, all leaders in the area of climate justice and cultural politics, will explore current imperatives for making a just transition to a post-carbon future. View recent publicity here. Download Climate Justice Now Poster and class syllabus. And check out the Sonic Climate Justice Playlist, accompanying the course. Videos of lectures are available here.
Cultural Politics of Sustainability at UC Santa Cruz (more here, including videos...)
Funded by the UCSC Sustainability Office, this two-quarter-long project comprises a series of UCSC interdisciplinary symposia and workshops dedicated to the topic of sustainability. Organized in relation to the research and practice of the Arts-based Center for Creative Ecology, the series intends to bring to campus speakers representing expertise in diverse areas of sustainability studies, and with them organize discussions with interdisciplinary members of UC faculty and graduate and undergraduate students on the history, meaning, and conflictual elements of sustainability. The project will also focus on critical discussion of UCSC’s Campus Sustainability Plan.