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From Sacrificial Lands to reciprocity: art and social engagement




Thornton, Janine, author
Lundberg, Thomas, advisor
Kissell, Kevin, committee member
Moore, Emily, committee member
Plastini, Johnny, committee member

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Oh I would touch with this love each wounded place - Anita Barrows, "Psalm" My thesis artworks focus on interconnection and on the Western cultural perception of a separation between humans and nature. This perception developed during the nineteenth-century Westward Expansion, which viewed nature as a source of resources to be utilized and tamed. Within this separation is an assumed hierarchy in which nature is viewed as lesser or expendable when compared to humans. Land continues to be sacrificed for human wants with no regard for the impacts that this land use has on nature and humans, or on our delicate ties of interconnection. The word interconnection is very broad with many meanings and interpretations. In this work, interconnection refers to relationships, especially from an environmental perspective, in which individual behaviors affect other life forms and natural systems. This interconnection is a web of cause and effect, in which actions of individuals have impacts that ripple out into the world. It is often difficult to understand the effects that individual actions have on others, as it requires a heightened awareness of our world and its issues – awareness that can be challenging to achieve. I believe more discussion and action are needed to help expand awareness and sensitivity towards environmental threats. The questions guiding my research ask, a) how I visually represent the concept of human/nature interconnection, b) how I express the environmental necessity of relationship and reciprocity in our actions, and c) how social engagement can help to expand awareness and discussion. I included social engagement in my thesis because I believe a greater depth of understanding can be encouraged through collaborative works with artists and other disciplines. I explored ideas of human/nature interconnection and relationship through studies of materials, place and the environment. Materials such as fibers, cement and plastic connote relationship, culture, consumption and waste. Fibers are reminders of everyday consumer items such as clothing and housewares, which also can provide a sense of status through the brands selected. Plastics link to consumer product consumption, and to trends, which lead to waste when the item is no longer of value. Plastic is another manufactured material used for packaging and consumer product integrity. My use of plastic ties back to product consumption and waste, as most plastics become landfill. Cement is a manufactured material most frequently seen in construction projects, which aligns with urban development and shifting relationships with nature. Following my work with materials, I looked to my relationship with place, focusing on where I live. This included developing a better understanding of how I relate to the land and wildlife around me, and impacts I make by living there. By making the subject matter of my work more personal, I am better able to see my particular relationship with nature and the impacts of decisions I make. Next, I expanded my personal perspective from my locale to a larger view of the rural environment through the collaborative development of the Sacrificial Lands exhibit, which includes my artwork along with work of other artists, poets, and scientists. The Sacrificial Lands project showcases individual perspectives, creativity, and research from a variety of fields. The objectives are to encourage expanded discussion of environmental topics and to promote collaborative endeavors that seek greater environmental awareness and restoration.


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environmental art
visual art


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