Ecology: Interwoven lines of entanglement
THINK: Ecology has a variety of conventional meanings and usages, often resting on the disciplinary contexts in which the term is invoked. The term ‘ecology’ is derived from the Greek word oikos, meaning ‘household’. Ecology, in this etymological sense, is orientated towards the cohabitation of environments by diverse forms of life that manage to sustain a worldly existence. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (2014, n.p.) further provides two primary definitions of ecology: ‘a branch of science concerned with the interrelationships of organisms and their environments’; and ‘the totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their environment’. Ecology, in this sense, is about the study of patterns of relation as they emerge between living organisms and the environments which they co-inhabit with others. This is in itself a complex concept, but it quickly begins to unravel with the realisation that there are no hard, fast boundaries between what constitutes an ‘organism’ and an ‘environment’, a ‘body’ and a ‘habitat’.
Conventional understandings of ecology bring up many more questions than can possibly be answered with any claim to empirical accuracy. Recent innovations in the life sciences have revealed the radical porosity and permeability of ecological, organismic, cellular and genetic functioning through the continuous trafficking of molecules in and out of bodies and cells (Frost, 2016, p. 52). Moreover, the advancement of climate change, biodiversity loss, radioactive contamination and other geo-traumatic events associated with the Anthropocene have rendered predetermined boundaries between organisms, species and environments ‘unthinkable in the best sciences, whether natural or social’ (Haraway, 2016, p. 38). Alternative approaches to ecology are becoming necessary which are flexible enough to grapple with the radical porosity, uncertainty and precarity of life in the Anthropocene epoch.
WATCH: Videos integrating alternative understandings and approaches to ecology in response to changing social, technological, and environmental conditions.
Andy Goldworthy: Shaking hands with the place Tomas Saraceno: Cloud Cities
Natalie Jeremijenko: Radical Design for Environmental Health Olafur Elliason: A River in the Museum
DO: Explore the distribution patterns of human and nonhuman life in the ecological systems of a local environment. Document your interactions with the environment, including the living creatures you encounter there. Consider and record responses to the following questions:
What is an ecology? How would you describe it? What does it look like, feel like?
How does an ecology operate or function?
How would you describe your relationship with the ecologies you inhabit and interact with ?
What kinds of relationships and differences do you see between nonhuman ecologies and social or cultural ecologies?
In what ways do you think human impacts are altering ecological systems at the local and regional level?
What potentials do you see for the arts, media, and design to intersect with and transform these ecologies?
DISCUSS: Use the forum below to discuss your thoughts and experiences of mediation, design, architecture and engineering.