Panel 6: Feral Art (1)

Feral gardening: Alternative horticultural methodologies in contemporary art
Paul Chartrand
Visual artist

Scared of the wild: Art as a tool for changing public attitudes to rewilding
Amy Corcoran
PhD Candidate, School of Law
Queen Mary University of London

Feralosophy and Feralism: Some untamed musings
Dr. Mel Mcree
Free Range Creativity

Comments 12

  1. Kia Ora Koutou,

    Welcome to this panel on Feral Art. Thanks Paul, Mel and Amy for a wonderful set of presentations with a range of aesthetically and conceptually rich examples. The panel will be live until November 25th if you have any questions or comments for Amy, Mel and Paul.

    Nga mihi

  2. Hello, Kia Ora! I really enjoyed your presentations Amy and Paul. I am looking for connections between our chosen approaches to discussing the feral. What I like is that in the realms of art, the focus is on our human encounters with the more-than-human. Through art, a space is created for dialogue, emotion and sensory responses, that help us to consider our place in the wider world. I like how these interventions happen, and you both discuss the agency of the more-than-human and how these artworks allow that. I really liked the icebergs in the COP21 Parisian street Amy, and Kendlar’s Milkweed balloons, Paul. Lovely examples throughout also in both your talks. A chance to get close and consider a particular species or element. I also liked the disruptive quality you both described, in plants and animals crossing artificial boundaries and inhabiting the space. That disruption invokes ideas of the feral, as do these more than human agents being more present in our domestic, everyday sphere, so we have to take notice of them. Maybe one feralist approach to art is to help species move ferally and take up residence in the opposite direction, from the so-called wild back into the domestic, so that humans have more chance to encounter them? Our role to support and increase multispecies agency is clear here, in what Paul calls community collaboration. More ideas but wanted to start the discussion….

    1. Kia Ora! Thanks so much for your comments, Mel. I really enjoyed both of your presentations, and there were many links between the examples and themes you both referred to and my own interests. For example, I am going to be reading Tsing’s book for an environmental humanities reading group in January, and I was going to discuss Taylor’s underwater exhibition in my presentation!

      But, anyway, I really enjoyed that you both gave examples which involved direct interventions in, and experiences of, feral spaces. I think you’re right, Mel, that something art can do is open up spaces for dialogue, but also bring certain spaces to us. Some of Paul’s examples reminded me of the idea of a ‘third landscape’ that Gilles Clément speaks of – spaces that are given over to nature as spaces of the future, such as Clément’s project where he raised an area of a French park out of reach. Or, the notion of le brocage, which I recently heard discussed as an in-between green space considered mostly ’empty’ and therefore at risk of human intervention. When it comes to thinking about these spaces then, the challenge is perhaps not to just block off spaces for the feral to develop, but to bring our attention back to the feral that exists around us already. As you say, Mel, to increase the likelihood of encounter with the feral – but also to notice and value it.

      For me, sound is potentially a way to (re)discover these spaces or connect with them. I recently created a sound installation that looked at the links between military activity and the mass stranding of cetacean species, and I think moving away from the visual was useful for that. Sound can show us that le brocage is not empty, it can provide an intimate experience, and of course, touch, smell and taste too. I think this also feeds into (pun intended) an appreciation of doing things that are direct rather than representational.

      I loved your activities in the woods, Mel, what an incredible ongoing project and I’ll definitely be investigating your website! I also really value fun as a method for engagement, I think it can provide a really useful ‘way in’, as can physicality. I also really like the idea of community collaboration for multispecies agency, and I’m wondering about creative practices that instigate clear feedback loops between human and non-human species for everyone’s benefit.

      Our role in these processes is certainly clear, and I enjoyed the child leaving the bark in the path to instigate further consideration – guerrilla gardening, for example, is a wonderful practice, but it is perhaps missed by many and therefore doesn’t achieve its full ambition. The milkweed balloons, on the other hand, provided a way of spreading – literally – that message and action, which I think is invaluable given our current circumstances.

      Sorry – epic comment – just so exciting and my brain is tingling with half-formed ideas for projects. Thank you so much for your presentations again!

      1. Hi Amy,

        The idea of borders and artificial barriers in your presentation was particularly interesting to me. Your emphasis on the EU was great too, as I do not have much experience with the Feral in a European context. I thought it was particularly timely how you related fears of wildlife like wolves and lynx as polarizing agents in discussions similar to “illegal migrants”. It’s important to note how you focused (I think quite rightly) on rewilding’s synonimity with top predators. It makes me wonder if we are unwilling to share this space with other apex predators because they act as a sort of competition (especially in economic/agricultural contexts)?

        The melting ice projects by Eliasson and Azevedo are particularly effective because of their implicit emphasis on time and urgency with regards to climate change. However, while I respect Eliasson’s work, I must challenge the environmental impact of actually bringing the iceberg chunks from so far away for a public spectacle. Can you imagine the emissions of that single act? How do we justify these artworks? Is this justification something that has become more prevalent in art rather than the “art for art’s sake” ethos? Is there a cost vs benefit side to these projects? It could certainly be argued that the function of this work is simply to drag “nature” into the public sphere, to force this confrontation with visceral truths. I am curious about your position on this?

        PS Sorry about the many questions!


        1. Hi Paul!

          Great questions – definitely no need to apologise!

          Thanks for the comments on references to borders, it’s something that really makes sense to me but I didn’t know if it’s just because I spend my life thinking about borders for my PhD! So, it’s really nice to hear that it resonates with someone else! Also, the point about rewilding becoming synonymous with top predators – it presents a strange challenge if you want to communicate with the wider public about issues of rewilding. On the one hand, moving away from just thinking about predators might be a ‘way in’ for people to understanding rewilding’s wider conceptualisation and benefits. On the other hand, there is the point which links to what you’ve mentioned – why shouldn’t we have top predators back? I think you’re right that they represent a competition. In the context of the UK, the places where wolves, for example, could be returned are often at least part-owned by wealthy landowners who do not want to give up their land to wolves because they make a lot of money from city folk coming up to a lodge to shoot deer! Or, landowners whose land is managed by sheep farmers, who do not want wolves or lynx back for their own reasons. Despite, as I said in the presentation, apparently lynx only eating 0.4 sheep a year on average.

          Overall, I think there is a lot of fear and confusion and misinformation around these processes and I am really keen to think of creative practices that might address this and break down some of those borders (haha).

          On the point about Eliasson’s icebergs, this is a really important question for consideration I think! There was an online article critiquing his installation and I’ll try and dig it out for you if you’re interested (or you might be able to find it yourself). There’s definitely this an issue in art that moves beyond ‘art for art’s sake’ around ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’, to put it crudely. I think if this in relation to academic conferences as well – is the sharing of ideas and knowledge beneficial to the world enough to warrant the damage the air travel causes?

          I do think that creative works on climate issues are undermined if their processes are not environmentally sound. The cost vs benefit analysis is so complicated – how do we begin to do that? Perhaps, with high-profile artworks, there is a justification there? However, I still feel uneasy with artists claiming to be ‘environmental artists’ if their methods are not so, regardless of how high profile the works are.

          Your last point is really interesting. It reminds me of Sierra’s work where he paid four heroin-addicted prostitutes the price of one hit in return for allowing him to tattoo them. His claim is around demonstrating exploitative labour, and that to demonstrate it he had to engage with it himself. It is then turned into a film shown in art galleries. While I almost understand the argument he is trying to convey, I can never bring myself to condone the work. While Eliasson’s icebergs are different I think they bring up similar arguments of what should art do or not do, where is the limit when conveying a message proves detrimental elsewhere?

          You asked for my position and I’ve not really given it so far – sorry! I veer more towards art that is created through ethically sound processes, even though its message may be sacrificed for this. I do acknowledge the power that works like Eliasson’s have though – though I wonder if it would have had pretty much the same impact for the general public if he’d just frozen some locally sourced water and positioned it exactly the same!

          Thanks so much for your comments and questions, I’m very happy you engaged with the presentation and took something from it. I have noted down a number of the artists you referenced in your presentation for future research!

          Thanks again!

          1. Hi Amy,

            Apologies for the late reply! Hopefully you still get this.

            Your comparison of Eliasson to Sierra, while more in a social realm is still appropriately analogous I think. I’ve never drawn that connection before but it is interesting to be sure! I do not think we will be answering the question of what art should/should not do or what can be justified anytime soon. In large part it is up to the artist and their corresponding audience, but I think there is still room for critiquing methods that seem incongruous with one’s intended message if that makes sense?

            Again, I enjoyed your presentation and your responses here. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at some point in the future!

    2. Hi Mel,

      I appreciate your idea about helping the feral to become integrated with the domestic. It’s all such tricky territory, really a mess because of our loaded language. For example, when humans “help” some Feral entity, does it become inherently “less” feral?

      One of the most important take aways for me from your talk was the idea of the “edge effect”, where if we relate it to the Feral, successful species draw from the resources of at least two environments. This relates to your later ideas about fusions and symbiosis. It was great to see in a visual way how the overlapping of environments creates new territory for species from either environment in addition to holding unique opportunities for species of its own. Definitely food for thought when considering the possibilities for the Feral in urban environments.


  3. Kia ora koutou,

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful presentations. Paul I really liked the critical genealogy of feral art that you mapped out which made me reconsider some of those works in a different light.

    My question is for Mel, do you think there are limitations to the feralosophy in terms of who can safely embody being feral in a public space and how can one avoid ableist constructions of becoming feral as unproblematically liberating?

    Kind regards,

  4. Lovely stuff I especially like the swooning ! George Monbiot in his book “Feral” speaks of the importance to the human psyche (soul) of being/feeling vulnerable – (being a prey animal for instance – I have never felt so alive as when I heard a Leopard cough just off the track was on in Nepal). Do you think Feral equates to being vulnerable?

    1. Hi Arainn,

      I think this vulnerability you mention is intriguing. I believe you are referring to human vulnerability here and will respond to that, but please correct me if this is wrong.

      Your psychological focus makes sense as there are indeed deeply ingrained fears of Feral things built into the hardware of neural biology. We instinctively “jump” when frightened by even the smallest cracking branch, or rustling bush. In the past, this jumpiness helped keep our ancestors alive by staying one step ahead of predators. However, it also results in some unnecessary fears as well, including xenophobic fear of the unknown which for me includes the Feral.

      I think that “Feral” is a very complex topic, as reflected by so many of the wonderful talks in this conference. However, in my opinion there is a strong correlation with human vulnerability to the Feral, especially considering our built urban environments. We often seek control in “human” environments, but the Feral always finds cracks in the facade in which to germinate and take root. Whether considering urban weeds or larger animals like deer, coyotes, raccoons, etc in North America, there is an incredible amount of space that can be inhabited by feral, wild, or “unwanted” species. These inhabitations point out vulnerabilities yes, but I think they also offer small glimpses of hope at what might be possible if we plan cities AROUND cohabitation rather than seeking to limit it entirely. This is becoming more and more acceptable in urban planning and landscape architectural realms, but for me it is really special to see these non-humans making their way without intentional help. Here is where they show their strength and agency most clearly; by simply existing “without permission”.


    2. Hi Árainn! I just wanted to respond very quickly to your comment as I think it also relates to some of the issues I was speaking about, in terms of people’s resistance to rewilding. Fear and vulnerability are closely related. I think an element of the Feral is that it represents a shift in how we view our place in the world, with the natural world not being so controllable or predictable. When it comes to fear, I think that this can also be an excuse when people simply do not want to share their spaces with certain species, for example. I totally agree with you the importance of vulnerability; I think Monbiot speaks of being in a forest and simply knowing that there are bears there too was a real thrill, even though he didn’t see one. (I think it was bears but I might be misremembering.) I think we’ve mostly lost that in the UK, though I think there’s more opportunity in North America, as Paul has said. Maybe a reawakening of vulnerability that manages to instil awe rather than fear (or other reactions I haven’t focused on here), would be a productive way of encouraging wider acceptance of the Feral and would start to chip away at this need to control environments? Thanks! Amy

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