An Interview with Radical Art Review about Dark Ecology

A series of mine - Go Be Forgotten - is being featured in Radical Art Review’s latest issue called “Farewell Earth,” and I was recently contacted by them to talk about the Dark Ecology movement, how I discovered it, and the conceptual ways in which informs my art practice. Here’s the text:

I happened upon Dark Ecology when I was researching for my graduate thesis in 2015. A core interest in my art practice and research was aimed at interrogating the history of sublime landscape painting. A lot of the nationalistic ideals of American progress and God-given-right to land ownership and westward expansion in the late 19th and early 20th century used the landscape paintings of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, Thomas Moran, Frederick Edwin Church and the like as a sort of propaganda. The art and writing of that time shifted the American perception of the wilderness from the devil's playground, into being more like the garden of eden. When that happened, we got our first national parks, conservation movements, environmentalism, Thoreau, John Muir, and Transcendentalism, but all at the cost of kicking out or eradicating the indigenous populations, and further planting the seed of a dangerous idea:  that "nature" has no intrinsic value beyond it's enjoyment and industrial use by humans (cue birth of the DNR).

It was hard to come to terms with that, and still make landscape art. My path forward through the consequence and shame of that discovery was to think of how I could offer a different approach, or better yet, turn it against itself. I found an essay called "Dark Ecology" by Paul Kingsnorth, who refers to himself a "recovered environmentalist" -read it here:  https://orionmagazine.org/article/dark-ecology/ This essay seemed to find a way through the grief surrounding what we've done to the land, and how we've characterized it, and combined a desire to "go back" to how things were before with a consideration of how we may have to adapt our lives to massive upheaval in the near future. Both Kingsnorth and Timothy Morton (author of Hyperobjects) argue for a "planetary grieving process" in order to unfreeze us from what seems like the disastrous tipping point of climate change, pollution, human consumption and civilization (I personally hope that it happens sooner than later because of the collateral devastation humans are causing to the other living things on this planet). What was clear to me was that we could not continue to "Use cleverness to save us from our own cleverness" as Kingsnorth said it. I kept reading Kingsnorth, and found a publication he co-founded called The Dark Mountain Project and discovered a community of people all writing and thinking about what comes next. 

Alongside and in response to my new findings, I began defining some visual and conceptual criteria for my artwork: a visceral experience of the unknown, nature on its own terms, human fallibility, and a shadow cast by industry and conquest. Where these concepts all connected for me was through the idea of darkness. So I asked myself: What would a "dark sublime" landscape look like? I came up with some rules for what my landscapes could and couldn't depict, and started tapping into my own feelings of grief and melancholy to drive the work forward. The supernatural element to my work came from wanting to exaggerate the feeling of a place, that it was somehow imbued with magic that we don't quite understand, but found undeniably alluring. The monochromatic black and white approach was a way of tapping deeper visually into that darkness, and as a latent rejection of the color-orgies of the history of sublime landscape. I decided I would "set a trap" for viewers: by creating a dramatic, aesthetically-pleasing landscape that referenced the compositional and virtuoso tactics of historical sublime paintings - landscapes that looked majestic, wondrous, and compelling - and then reveal it as overwhelmingly unappealing to travel to, where the land is quaking and splitting and reforming, and a place that the viewer could not survive. Dark Ecology flips these historic uses and notions on their heads, and still offers something positive at the end, although it requires a shift in perspective (or at least a dark sense of humour). Creating beautiful places that I could never travel to, whether by their non-reality or my own species' extinction, lead me to looking for what appreciation I might still find on the other side of grief for our world, even if there was effectively no hope for humanity. I think Dark Ecology would agree that even though we may be torn apart by our own consequence, there is a comfort in believing, as Kingsnorth said, "the end of humanity is not the end of the world full-stop" and that this cataclysm and upheaval is something beautiful, something to appreciate, something to love, even if we will not survive it. To me, that is the essence of Dark Ecology - the melancholy - the sweetness in despair, the good-grief, the appreciation for the way the planet will deal with us just like everything else. not out of spite or malevolence, but from necessity, and that ultimately, that's ok.

It will be ok.