Erotic Ecologies

Jenna John, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

Erotic Ecologies is an interdisciplinary performance, romance, and celebration of bodily collisions involving a hole and ecological study of soil, plant communities, and animal inhabitants within a 15 by 15 m plot of a forested ecosystem. In building a relationship with this place, I will bring scientific inquiry and artistic musing together to explore how we understand, see, and interact with the non-human world in order to reveal new ways of being and relating. This process begins with taking time each week to learn the site through sketching and photography as modes of observation and sensual engagement to explore erotic connections between my body, other bodies, and the land.

Then, in early December, I will physically deepen this relationship by digging a soil pit. With each layer of soil displaced, 13,000 years of secrets collected since the last glaciers melted will reveal geological, ecological, and anthropogenic histories that shaped this living place. Pieces of writing and notes collected alongside sketches and data will manifest as moments of reflection grappling with contradictions in this endeavor. This performance will be captured alongside other ongoings of this place with a motion-activated trail camera. By April, this ecological spectacle will accumulate in an exhibition of work collected from the field (recorded performances, photographs, and a field journal/sketchbook) alongside a series of paintings that commemorate this process, unfolding relationship, and erotic discoveries in the meeting of bodies.

The series will include 10 paintings completed between January and March. Each painting will be inspired by life present at the site and will contain elements derived from this place in pigment, texture, and materials. In doing so, the paintings will become a collaboration between me and this place in which barriers between figure and landscape, artist and muse, and human and non-human are transcended. After the exhibition, collaborators, researchers, and community members will be invited to a celebratory ceremony at the site in late April. In ceremony invitations, I will ask those attending to write love letters to the Earth that share memories of earthly experiences and dreams of futures full of flourishing. The ceremony will conclude with the letters shared and then placed in the hole to be buried, filling the Earth with love.

This project deeply entwines my academic journeys as a dual degree student caught between art and ecology. I will also be working with Donald Zak (Professor in SEAS and EEB) on ecological soil analysis and Holly Hughes (Professor in the School of Art & Design and the Department of Theatre and Drama) on performance aspects. All together, Erotic Ecologies facilitates a synergistic meeting place for art and ecology to explore human-nature relationships and inspire the imagining of radical futures.