Julia Martin

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Julia Martin's MPhil/PhD Art research project

Ecocritical art in times of climate change: tracing ecological relationships between humans and nonhumans through the hyperextension of objects (2015)

In recent years, climate change has expanded from a scientific to a broadly cultural concern, fundamentally questioning ideas of nature, society, and ecology. This thesis looks at the contribution of eco-art to the discussions, which seems to lag behind current discourses in ecocriticism. An analysis of selected "climate change exhibitions" shows that, despite its intentions, much of eco-art keeps recreating the modernist Nature-Society dualism which ecocriticism sees as the main obstacle for ecological thinking.

Meanwhile, ecology models developed in ecocriticism are also far from resolved. A close look at Bruno Latour's Political Ecology and Timothy Morton's Ecological Thought reveals for example a theoretical alignment of ecology and democracy, which misjudges the behavioural capacities of ecological agents in practical ecology. The critique of eco-art and ecocriticism leads to questions regarding their contradictory artistic and political agency in environmental discourses.

To address these uncertainties, an ecocritical art is proposed, investigating the identified problems in eco-art: aesthetic distancing, unknown subject-object relationships, fixation on local environments, and misreadings of practical ecology. Following Donella Meadows' "systems thinking" approach, the thesis suggests focusing on the investigation of concrete ecological agents and their systemic behaviour. Rather than theorising relationships between "closed" objects, it introduces the idea of the "hyperextended object".

Hyperextension describes the investigative expansion of an object into an ecological agent, unfolding it contextually according to its social, material, and energetic relationships. The practical part of the thesis develops an artistic methodology, which traces and shapes hyperextended objects through long-term fieldwork, participant observation, site-specific performative actions, various documentary approaches, and their convergence in the exhibition. In two case studies exploring the (trans)regional infrastructures, sociopolitical ontologies, and ecological effects of two hydroelectricity projects in Iceland and Scotland, the process of hyperextension is shown to include the artist herself, as increasingly embedded ecological agent.