Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Department

Intermedia

Advisor

Susan Smith

Second Committee Member

Gene Felice

Third Committee Member

Owen Smith

Abstract

The poet Ben Okri wrote: “Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals and nations live by and tell themselves, and you change the individuals and nations.” (Stibbe)

In the early 21st Century we are facing numerous environmental problems that are being caused by human activity. This era is termed the Anthropocene , a time when accumulated pollutants are causing detrimental ecological change. Ocean creatures are threatened by increasing seawater temperature, acidifying pH levels and melting ice. On land we are experiencing droughts, alteration of biomes, extinctions and an atmosphere that contains less oxygen per breath than it used to. I wondered how humanity had allowed this to happen. What tales have we told ourselves that led to this situation, and how might we devise new tales that might lead to a less polluted future?

I see our environment as a structure of surfaces. Material surfaces on which we live, existential surfaces that enfold our thoughts, and liminal surfaces that transition awareness of these through experiential learning. I researched non-toxic printmaking techniques to attach images to surfaces, both physical and cognitive, as a way to bring about recognition that we are part of the natural world, and need to reconnect to it. if we are to begin to solve human-caused environmental damage. The textured surfaces and prints I created in my thesis work are intended to be visually compelling, yet unsettling. An audience for my work would need to articulate new language if they are to assimilate the educable moments it offers.

The research presented here uses the concept of surface to unify information about language, cognition, biology and art history as they give context to my artwork about the Anthropocene. I present research that indicates humanity's present difficulty is not a sudden occurrence. Rather, it is the continuance of centuries of behavior built on faulty assumptions derived from metaphorical language and imagery that gave rise to generational practices of acquisitiveness and economic expansion at the expense of the environment. I present a real-world consequence of our actions: the invention of plastic, useful in many ways, but like the sorcerer's apprentice with too many water buckets, is now a profound danger to aquatic ecosystems.