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Art-Based Perceptual Ecology, a novel research method used in collaboration with scientific inquiry

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Lee Ann Woolery
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As an art-based researcher, scholar and educator, my desire is to engage people in methodologies that lead them to an understanding of global environmental change that does not rely solely on the Western scientific paradigm. In our current environmental crisis, I recognize the need to address our problems in as many ways as they are experienced and understood. Why do we need connections to nature? I write from the premise of E.O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis, whereby he suggests humans possess a genetically programmed affinity with other life forms – or a need for periodic contact with them. 2 Humans have an innate appreciation of nature as they have evolved outdoors and amidst nature for most of the last two million years. However, many still deny their relationship with the ocean and fish, savannah and mammal, tree and primate. The lack of interest humans have to engage in nature and/or the limited accessibility to nature is placing a heavy toll on the health and well-being of a global population. The problem of human disconnect with the natural world Today Americans are moving indoors in mass numbers rather than forming close bonds with nature. Negative health consequences are shown to come from a life indoors exclusive of contact with nature: anxiety, depression and heart disease. Richard Louv encourages parents to save their children from what he calls nature-deficit disorder. Louv's call provides a magnificent case for unplugging our youth from the Internet and getting them outside. Yet this remains challenging. With continued technological 1 Woolery, L.A. (1999) developed this research methodology – Art-Based Perceptual Ecology – to use in the field.
Background/Question/Methods The environmental challenges of the 21st century—notably climate change and loss of biodiversity—require creative and inspiring collaborations. Art and science often placed at opposite ends of the continuum of ways of knowing can complement one another and offer new approaches to ecological research. This presentation will highlight a biodiversity inventory conducted in a cactus forest employing Art-Based Perceptual Ecology (ABPE), a novel research methodology used in combination with scientific inquiry. Techniques included a traditional line transect and the shadow drawing, an ABPE method providing a visual narrative of the environmental history of the land through patterns. In the term, ABPE, all words are given equal weight. “Art-Based” recognizes that the art-making process provides a context to one’s experience in the landscape. “Perception” recognizes it is the body that is the location of the connection between humans and nature. “Ecology” gives us a way to think about what our senses apprehend in this place. The image, created in the ABPE practice, communicates the active engagement of the researcher with the landscape through a new language, opening the researcher to a new way of “seeing” and knowing their study systems. Results/Conclusions Findings from the researcher’s study: Art-Based Perceptual Ecology as a way of knowing the language of place, demonstrate that practicing ABPE in the field provides a shift in awareness, opening the researcher to detail in the landscape at scales previously unnoticed, engaging sensory capabilities beyond sight. The ABPE practice lends itself well to ecological research, as accessibility to multiple scales in ecosystems is of great relevance to scientists studying global environmental change. Art-based research methods lend themselves to examine problems from different angles and engage with information in different ways from traditional scientific methods. Art-Based Perceptual Ecology does not reveal all of the answers, but it does offer a new language that may generate good questions and work synergistically with scientific inquiry providing fresh solutions for ecological research. In this rapidly changing world, it is critical that we attract and recruit new creative minds to the field of science—novel research strategies such as ABPE may be one way. Explore science; enter through the arts.