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Art-Based Perceptual Ecology : An alternative monitoring method in the assessment of rainfall and vegetation in a ciénaga community

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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.
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artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
1
Art-Based Perceptual Ecology1: An alternative
monitoring method in the assessment of rainfall and
vegetation in a ciénaga community
By Lee Ann Woolery
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.
2
See Wilson, E.O. (1993, 1994).
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
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advancement, we rapidly move toward a global society united by mediated images, built
environments and lifestyles with a focus on things over experiences.
For example, the only connection many children possess with nature exists through the
Nature channel on television, movies, or in video games. These two-dimensional
relationships cannot offer the depth one might find in a phenomenological experience
with plants and animals found in the living landscape. Yet, mediated images are not the
only cause for callous connections with nature. Relationships with other humans formed
through technology communication via the web, email, text, and cell phones are
wireless relationships that move us nearer to the speed of light and away from the depth
and the dimensionality experienced through engagement and active participation with
the land.
3
The problem of loss of natural habitat
Contributing to this disconnect with nature is the rapid decline of diverse natural
ecosystems. Overt human impact on the earth’s surface can be seen in the deterioration
of natural areas, bringing species to the brink of extinction, the loss of indigenous
knowledge and ancient stories of plants and animals.
4
How we think about the human
condition remains of paramount significance. Some individuals believe that global
environmental change stems from systemic problems in our societies.
5
Yet, people need
interactions with nature because these interactions promote well-being on physical,
cognitive, and emotional levels.
6
Human disconnect with nature and loss of natural
habitat also leads to the loss of place-based knowledge.
7
Place-based knowledge comes from our perception of local natural history through
observation and experience, by being embedded in one’s ecological and cultural
community.
8
Gary Paul Nabhan and Sara St. Antoine surveyed the natural history
3
Depth and dimensionality experienced through engagement and active participation with the land is a
phenomenological engagement. Phenomenology: the study of direct experience through the senses; it is our body in
relationship to the world around us. Edmund Husserl in early 1900’s articulated phenomenology as the world as it is
experienced in its felt immediacy.
4
Botkin, D. (1990); Nabhan, G. (1997).
5
Thomashow, M. (2002). Global environmental change is recognized as the entire matrix of planetary-scale
ecological and evolutionary patterns. Typically, global environmental change refers to the challenges that confront the
human species climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, ozone depletion, pollution, and natural
resource extraction.
6
Kahn, P.H., Jr., & Kellert, S.R. (2002). (Eds.); Wilson, E.O. (1998).
7
Nabhan, G. (1997); Shepard, P. (1982); Thomashow, M. (2002); Basso, K. (1996).
8
Place-based knowledge comes from our perception of local natural history through observation and experience, by
being embedded in one’s ecological and cultural community. It also comes from the stories passed on by elders and
the animate beings of the landscape. By giving direct attention to, then recognizing the patterns and the particulars of
what is before you, the knowledge of the landscape or place-based knowledge comes into you and shapes you. David
Abram (1996) tells us that this knowledge comes from a reciprocal relationship between human senses and the
sensuous earth.
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knowledge of a young generation of Tohono O’odham and Yaqui Indians in Mexico and
Arizona and contrasted this with the knowledge of elders in the same community. They
found 4 key things that led to the loss of place-based knowledge in those communities:
(1) acculturation, accelerated by the advent of television, (2) linguistic assimilation, (3)
the disappearance of storytelling, and (4) the decline in direct outdoor experience.
9
And,
as our elders pass away, so does the knowledge of the land they carry, which warrants an
immediate urgency in garnering place-based knowledge through alternative methods. A
place-based approach that includes a deep physical and emotional connection with the
land to inform our need for species richness including both biodiversity as well as
cultural diversity presents an alternative to preventing species extinction and restoring
natural history knowledge.
10
Why do we need place-based knowledge?
What is the cost of not being aware of and not preserving this place-based language? As
a human species, loss of place-based stories keeps us from understanding something
more significant than the self; it keeps us from understanding our connections to nature
to the larger world. Writer Gary Nabhan tells us that each species offers a unique way
of living in the world just as different places contain distinctive stories that may vanish if
we continue degrading the environment at our current rate:
I am worried that as wild sheep slip out of sight, then out of mind, then out of
dreams, a vacuum is created not only among desert people but among all people. I
am worried that if we do not have their nature before us as a standard, we
ourselves will grow domesticated and lose the sense of deep-seated wildness that
lives within us.
11
Paul Shepard fears that the loss of the wild leaves us with nothing but our own image to
answer essential questions about our existence, especially in regards to who we are and
why we exist.
12
In modern times, we cannot consider the human condition as
independent of the global environmental condition.
13
9
G. Nabhan and Sara St. Antoine, “The Loss of Floral and Faunal Story: The Extinction Experience,” in S.R. Kellert
and E.O. Wilson, The Biophilia Hypothesis (1993).
10
Thomashow, M. (2002).
11
Nabhan, G. (1997) p.183.
12
Shepard, P. (1978).
13
Thomashow, M. (2002).
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This is my story
As an artist, researcher and scholar, I use art-making as a way to connect with the
natural world or landscape.
14
As an educator, I teach others how to engage in this
intentional art-making practice to experience a connection with the natural world.
Over fifteen years ago, I developed an art-based methodology called Art-Based
Perceptual Ecology (ABPE) to use in the field for ecological research. In Art-Based
Perceptual Ecology, all words hold equal weight. The term art-based acknowledges that
art-making provides frames of reference and context to one’s sensory experience in the
landscape.
15
Ecological perception refers to the body as the location of the connection
between self and the landscape.
16
Furthermore, ABPE affirms that perception is the
process of making meaning out of sensation.
17
When practicing ABPE, the body becomes
the instrument through which the creative process occurs and new knowledge is
acquired.
18
And, Ecology the science gives one a way to think about what one’s
senses apprehend in this place.
19
This practice of intentional art-making offers one an
embodied knowing of the subject through the exchange of earth, art, mind, and body.
The art-making acts as an interface to a direct physical, cognitive, emotional, and
sensory experience of one’s human-earth connection. In the following article, I explore
the making of an image with my hands when practicing ABPE as a way of extending my
understanding and knowing of the subject I am studying the landscape.
14
Landscape. See Allen, T. & Hoekstra, T. (1992), where they define landscape as a locality, the spatial matrix in
which organisms, populations, ecosystems, and the like are set. Landscapes or nature are the natural environment in
which we live.
15
Woolery, L.A. (1999). Art-making provides frames of reference and context to one’s sensory experience in the
landscape.
16
See Gibson, J. (1983), in his ecological model of perception, James Gibson says the world and we are inseparable,
we walk through this world; “with-the-eyes-in-the-head-on-the-body-resting-on-the-ground.” It is in this realm that we
recognize it is the body that is the location of the connection between self and the landscape
17
See Beres, D. (1965) & Klinger, E. (1981), perception is the larger process of making meaning out of sensation.
Perception and sensation work in tandem the raw information is meaningless if it is not referred to something inside
the organism that gives it meaning and sensation only takes action when something is there to guide the activity. In a
more poetic sense see Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962), perception is a reciprocal participation, bodily engagement with the
patterns and gestures of place it is the active relationship between my own flesh and the encompassing flesh of the
world, a silent conversation with the animate landscape that unfolds beneath my conscious realm.
18
Direct experience in landscapes is important to ABPE, recognizing that the self and world shape one another
through a reciprocal relationship, with the body as the connection. Edith Cobb suggests that observing young children
at play may give us the most dramatic understanding of the participatory relationship needed to ‘know’ nature, as the
child’s means of building knowledge is, “knowing by becoming” through “direct organic participation of the perceiving
nervous system in systems of nature” (1977, p.33).
19
Thomashow, M. (2002).
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Key concepts to ABPE
I recognize fundamental concepts integral to revealing and recognizing patterns in the
land important components of ABPE: inherent wisdom in the natural world, direct
experience in landscapes, mysticism, intuition, imagination, art making, and ways of
knowing. I assume that nature holds inherent wisdom.
20
In this article, I address these
key concepts: direct experience in landscapes, art making, ways of knowing, and
intuition.
Patterns as the land’s language
When practicing ABPE in the field, the investigator enters a temporal and spatial
dimension of a particular landscape, revealing a world that she could not see, know, or
otherwise understand before making art about it. In this practice the investigator
experiences the land as layers with patterns being the smallest element of the layer. To
understand patterns further we look to the definition of biology the science of life and
living organisms, which provides a simplification of the life process of organisms as it
involves growth about a point in space. Patterns are the tangible record of interactions
between and amongst organisms in the landscape. The land’s ecological memory, or
patterns are indicators of the land in flux energy systems moving at a spatiotemporal
scale. Patterns in the landscape embody the expressions of the land’s communication
system, they tell the investigator what was happening in that landscape at a certain time
in space.
Timothy Allen and Thomas Hoekstra define scale-independent patterns found in the
landscape as “meanders, spirals, explosions, and branching systems.”
21
These patterns,
Vladimir Vernadsky claims, result from the dynamic equilibrium of movement; they are
the patterns of organization common to all living organisms and continually taking place
all around us.
22
Yet, he says, we barely notice them. “What we do notice most readily is
the static result of the dynamic equilibrium of these movements resulting in the beauty
of nature its diversity of form, color, and rhythm.”
23
Ability to read the patterns
provides the investigator entrance to stories embedded in the land. These stories endure
as the environmental history of the landscape. From a Western science perspective, ice
cores, tree rings and fossils are recognized as the land’s stories, revealing something
about the evolution of the subject being studied.
20
Woolery, LA. (2006) Key concepts were explored in my research: Art-Based Perceptual Ecology as a way of
knowing the language of place. Doctoral dissertation.
21
Allen, T. & Hoekstra, T. (1992) p.87. Allen and Hoekstra define scale-independent patterns found in the landscape
as “meanders, spirals, explosions, and branching systems.”
22
Vernadsky, V. (1998).
23
Vernadsky, V. (1998), p. 61.
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Pattern-recognition
Our ancestors saw the significance of pattern recognition because it allowed them to
understand what could kill them and what they could eat.
24
David Abram describes the
language of the landscape as a sentient language an awareness and understanding of
the logos and signs of a place, whereby patterns exist as the language: . . . the invisible
shapes of smells, rhythms of cricket song, and the movement of shadows. . . . each
terrain, each ecology seems to have its own particular intelligence, its unique vernacular
of soil and leaf and sky.
25
Ernst Haeckel, artist and scientist, painted and drew multiple images of the organisms
he researched.
26
Contemporary scholars who study Haeckel’s work suggest he used the
image-making process to access the knowledge embedded in the organism, and through
this process, he understood the ontogeny and phylogeny or family tree of the organisms
he studied. Coelia Hesse-Honegger suggests pictures or images created within scientific
illustration may be “precognitive.”
27
In her studies of scientists/artists, such as Haeckel
and others, Hesse-Honegger recognizes that knowledge acquisition takes place during
and through the art-making process. Therefore, the image making extends nature’s
original knowledge to the artist/investigator. In Haeckel’s relational theory of nature, he
suggests it may not be so much an extension of nature’s knowledge as it is a
recapitulation of the original knowledge held within the organism.
28
The sacred qualities of landscapes, as well as the interactions between humans and their
environment, are heightened and remembered through symbolic art forms.
29
The arts,
an early human language, internalized the external world. In hunter-gatherer societies,
the arts codified one’s experience, acted as a language translator, and made possible the
information exchange necessary for survival.
30
Art-making as an intermediary, moves
one across boundaries, and specifically, as J. Davis and S. Lawrence-Lightfoot tell us in,
The art and science of portraiture, “boundaries between experience and representation,
the temporal boundaries between past and present, and the cultural boundaries between
individual and humankind.”
31
24
Liebenberg, L. (1990)
25
Abram, D. (1996) p.80.
26
See Haeckel, E. (1998) Art forms in nature: The prints of Ernst Haeckel.
27
Hesse-Honegger, C. (2001) p.7. I recognize that when practicing ABPE the investigator connects with a preverbal
or precognitive, subconscious level, revealing worlds unavailable to sight alone.
28
See Haeckel, E. (1998).
29
Shepard, P. (1996)
30
Biesele, M. (1983); Dissanayake, E. (1992); Liebenberg, L. (1990).
31
Davis, J. and Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (1997), p. 21.
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Art forms, such as dance and music began as an activity derived from the rhythmic
imitation of animals, of flowing waters and birdsong.
32
Congruent with history, many
contemporary artists see art as an expression of the experience of beingin the world. In
the gestalt art experience, the image, or marks drawn on the page, represents the artist
actively living through an event, the graphic record of the intelligence of the body in
relationship to place or phenomenon.
33
In the world of science, before photography, scientists/artists such as Goethe (1749-
1832), Darwin (1809-1882) and Haeckel (1834-1919) relied heavily on visual
communication to explain their discoveries.
34
Intentional questions asked by the
investigator of the subject being studied guided drawings and illustrations: What do you
look like? What are you made of? These intentional questions suggest a willingness of
the investigator to be a full participant in the process of knowing, recognition that self is
inconceivable without the Other.
35
Images exist as a universal phenomenon that everyone experiences in different venues,
through dreams, the mind’s eye, reverie, and imagination.
36
Art making is one process of
giving images form.
37
The arts offer a means of expression and communication, a
symbolic language. Ricoeur describes metaphor as a “figure of discourse.”
38
Metaphor
takes the seemingly unrelated and possibly ‘incompatible’ phenomena and produces a
new semantic relationship through their juxtaposition.”
39
Images, also known as
transitional objects,
40
like metaphor, cross the boundaries of the normal and everyday
use of language.
41
The arts support the construction of new knowledge, as art; in the
same way metaphor provides a breakthrough into a dimension of intelligibility
previously inaccessible.
42
32
Feld, S. and Basso, K. (1996); Nabhan. G. (1997); Shepard, P. (1978).
33
Rhyne, J. (1984).
34
Hesse-Honegger, C. (2001); Seamon, D. and A. Zajonc (1998).
35
Sloan, D. (1993) In modern science, physics recognizes that all knowing is a participation of the subject in the
object.
36
Allen, P. (1995); Bachelard, G. (1983).
37
See Allen, P. (1995). Art is energy made visible.
38
Ricoeur, P. (1984).
39
Gallas, K. (1994) p.100.
40
Beres, D. (1960 and 1965) Beres describes three levels to the system involved in the coding of human experiences.
At the first level is the sense-data collection of the primary modalities, the pre-perceptual phase. The next level is the
organization of these primary sensations into percepts. Perception becomes the process of making meaning out of
sensation; perception and sensation work in tandem as the body interfaces with the environment. The third level of
perception becomes a mental representation of something not actually present to the senses at that time. “Symbolism
is one type of mental representation among several, but a crucial one since it provides the building blocks for more
complex mental representation: images, fantasies, thoughts, concepts, dreams, hallucinations, symptoms, and
language” (1960 p.329). I suggest that the image as the symbol can also be considered a transitional object that
connects me to my relationship with place.
41
Gallas, K. (1994).
42
Sloan, D. (1993).
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In this article, I propose a way of thinking about landscapes and a method of art-making
in which people can experience the biosphere as it unfolds and refolds, on a perpetual
basis. When practicing ABPE, the land is revealed through the process of art-making
as levels of complexity, or layers. During the art-making process, these layers rise to the
surface of one’s consciousness and present a tangible awareness, an unveiling of sorts, of
the networks of relationships embedded in larger networks known as Earth’s systems. As
an art product, the image created during the artmaking process is important to the ABPE
process. I recognize the image as a symbol, or transitional object, that represents the
language of what one feels (intuition), with what can be touched (direct experience in
landscapes), and things that cannot be seen (mysticism), producing a new semantic
representation through their juxtaposition. And further, ABPE recognizes art as a
language within itself, which as J. Dewey says, “speaks an idiom that conveys what
cannot be said in another language and yet remains the same.”
43
Practicing ABPE in landscapes, allows the investigator/researcher to know multiple
dimensions of the land otherwise unknowable and unattainable by sight alone and
without the use of technology. This experience builds on an ecological knowing of
landscapes and provides the researcher with a greater understanding of the depth and
dimensionality inherent in the organism and in the landscape.
44
The image
The image, created when practicing ABPE, is a recapitulation of the subject being
studied, communicating the patterns or vernacular of place, offering an opportunity to
know the lands stories, first-hand. The image becomes a graphic record of the
intelligence of the researcher’s body in relationship to place an embodiment of the
knowledge held within a singular landscape, adding depth to one’s understanding and
ecological knowing of landscapes. The image makes the implicit explicit and the invisible
visible. When practicing ABPE, as the investigator, I recognize, “The image lent me the
ability to be aware of more than my eyes alone could see.”
When practicing the ABPE method, the knowledge of an organism being studied in its
basic form, which is energy transfers to the investigator, who then embodies the
organism’s knowledge through a phenomenological relationship. The image, which is
energy made tangible
45
emerges as the investigator kinesthetically engages with the
place. Through this kinesthetic act, the investigator transforms from viewer to active
43
Dewey, J. (1980) p.106.
44
Woolery, LA. (1999). The ten steps of ABPE lead the investigator to a deeper awareness of dimensionality in the
landscape. This experience builds on an ecological knowing of landscapes and provides the researcher with a greater
understanding of the depth and dimensionality inherent in the organism and in the landscape.
45
See Allen, P. (1995). Art is energy made visible.
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participant. I refer to this energy exchange as patterns of participation.
46
The body
becomes the graphic interpreter. In the act of art-making one actively lives through the
event as energy is exchanged between the investigator and the organism.
47
The energy
exchange remains vital to the ABPE process.
Development of place-based graphic facsimile method
I developed a new Art-Based Perceptual Ecology method called a place-based graphic
facsimile. This particular method stems from my professional training as an art
therapist, during my graduate studies, where I learned multiple methods of observation
and dialogue framed in various therapeutic modalities.
48
At that time, my subjects
included clients. As I continued to develop ABPE, I considered how the tools of
observation and dialogue for studying humans might translate to my current subject of
study: living organisms in the landscape.
As a student studying art therapy, one method that stuck with me due to my interest in
embodied knowledge was the facsimile. This method was introduced to me by a
supervisor at one of my practicum sites. The facsimile method requires a re-creation of
the client’s artwork an art making process in real time which provides a means to
know and understand the individual. Ideally, during the act of drawing the facsimile, the
art therapist lives the experience of the client (as closely as possible), by re-creating his
or her art in exact detail every point, line, and tint or shade of color. During the
creation of a facsimile, it remains important to create an exact replication of the art; but
equally significant to mirror the client’s body language as they engage in the art-making
process. Body language offers a nonverbal form of communication, where thoughts or
feelings are expressed by physical behaviors such as facial expressions, body posture,
gestures, and eye movement. Reading body language provides another way to know the
client through nonverbal communication.
Imagine the therapist, as she sits across the table from the client. In an attempt to match
the exact weight of a particular mark the client makes with her art tool, the therapist
uses the same brand of pencil on the same weight of paper and presses with the same
intensity. The therapist engages her body in a similar position used by the client,
applying more or less pressure depending on what was used by the client.
46
Woolery, LA. (1999). Patterns of participation.
47
See Rhyne, J. (1984). In the gestalt art experience, the image or marks drawn on the page represent the artist
actively living through an event, the graphic record of the intelligence of the body in relationship to place or
phenomenon.
48
I was trained in various art therapy theories and methods in the Art Therapy department at The School of the Art
Institute of Chicago during 1994-1996. The seminal authors I studied included: Edith Kramer, Margaret Naumburg,
Florence Cane, Don Sieden, Robert Ault, Judith Rubin, Janie Rhyne, Shaun McNiff, and Pat Allen among others.
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This time-consuming attention to detail leads to varying degrees of an embodied
knowing.
49
The client’s artwork and his or her body, in the making of the art
communicates something about the self. Creating a facsimile of the original art product,
in real time, allows the therapist to know another side of the client that may not be
revealed if only engaged in talk therapy. And creating a facsimile allows the therapist to
know what the client may be communicating through body language or expressing in the
artwork. Therefore, my studies in art therapy support my belief that the image links to
the unconscious. Later in the article I share how practicing ABPE in landscapes, the
image connects the researcher with the language of place.
ABPE: A way to monitor the assessment of rainfall and vegetation in a ciénaga
community at Sonoita Creek, Patagonia, Arizona, USA
My interest in art as a way of knowing the language of place, brings me to southeastern
Arizona. I am here to explore alternative or non-traditional monitoring methods of
rainfall and vegetation in this floodplain by practicing the place-based graphic facsimile
method. Here, I offer my story.
In the midmorning light of southeastern Arizona, I stand eye to eye with a spiny lizard,
its belly ripe and full, and movements sluggish, unperturbed by my presence. Typically,
this reptile offers a colorful display of pattern; however, this morning, the lizard’s colors
appear much darker as it continues to absorb heat warming its body after a night in
this cool, riparian ecosystem.
50
Sonoita Creek, a riparian corridor, its banks lined with cottonwood and sycamore trees is
an oasis, a green jewel glowing in the midst of an arid land. Only a few ciénagas remain.
51
As a registered natural landmark, Sonoita Creek maintains 300 acres of deciduous
woodland, with one of the largest stands of Freemont Cottonwood trees in the country.
In addition, the creek supports the Arizona black walnut, velvet mesquite, velvet ash,
canyon hackberry, and various willows.
49
Embodied knowing can be understood by looking at the definition for phenomenology: the study of direct
experience through the senses; it is our body in relationship to the world around us. Edmund Husserl in early 1900’s
articulated phenomenology as “the world as it is experienced in its felt immediacy.
50
A riparian ecosystem is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian is also the proper nomenclature
for one of the fifteen terrestrial biomes of the earth. Plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks
are called riparian vegetation, characterized by hydrophilic plants. These zones are important natural biofilters.
51
Dimmitt, M. (2000) Ciénega or Ciénaga is a spring that is usually a wet, marshy area at the foot of a mountain, in
a canyon, or on the edge of a grassland where groundwater bubbles to the surface. Often, a Ciénaga does not drain
into a stream, but evaporates, forming a small playa. Because evaporation usually causes the water to be alkaline,
vegetation around a Ciénaga commonly includes halophytes, including many unusual, rare, and endangered species
of plants and animals.
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This perennial stream feeds off surface and underground streams and sits at 4,900 feet
in elevation. The creek provides one of the last remaining riparian habitats in the
Arizona Upland region, a subdivision of the Sonoran Desert. The ecosystem’s rich
biodiversity is due to two wet seasons, which contribute an average of twelve inches of
rain per year.
52
This morning, I traveled to the ciénaga on foot from the Rio Santa Cruz, a
parent stream of Sonoita Creek. The Santa Cruz River, a predominately dry riverbed,
begins in the San Rafael Valley and follows the southern end of the Patagonia Mountains
in Sonora, Mexico before flowing back into the U.S., crossing the border at Nogales,
Arizona.
Rainfall in this region proves undependable, and lacks a consistent pattern. A single
storm may produce a full year’s amount of rainfall in one area; yet, the same storm
may offer only a sprinkling of rain within an adjacent area. The monsoon or rainy season
offers the first season of the cyclical calendar, as noted by the original people of the
desert landscape the Tohono O’odham. Monsoon season is followed by autumn (Oct. &
Nov.), then winter characterized by the gentler rains of the season (Dec. & Jan.),
spring (early to late Feb. to Apr.) and fore summer (May & June).
53
Sitting in the sandy bottom at the edge of Sonoita Creek looking up at the vast cloudless
turquoise sky, I think about the power of rain in this dry desert. I am visiting in the
middle of February, or the fourth season of the Arizona Upland Region. The temperature
offers mild: 70’s warmth in the daytime and low 30’s at night. The area is ringed by a
system of valleys and towering mountains. The Patagonia Mountains connect the
Chiricahua, forming the lower half of the Sierra Madre. This system of valleys and
mountains deter rain away from the region much of the year.
Directly in front of me resides a downed Freemont Cottonwood tree, sprawled across the
curvature of the bank where it meets the clear, seasonal waters of this stream. The log,
12-feet in circumference, captured a large quantity of detritus from earlier floods.
Detritus is dead organic material, such as leaves, bark, and needles, and fallen twigs, or
(in this case) twigs washed downstream. This organic material enriches the top layer of
surrounding soil, known as the litter layer, or O horizon.
54
The litter layer, also known as
litterfall, is characterized as fresh plant debris that is easily recognizable by species and
type. Ecologists remain interested in litterfall, as an instrumental factor in ecosystem
dynamics. Litterfall provides indicators of ecological productivity and aids ecologists in
predicting regional nutrient cycling and soil fertility.
55
52
Dimmitt, M. (2000).
53
Ibid.
54
Wikipedia (2016), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_litter.
55
Litterfall is an instrumental factor in ecosystem dynamics; it is indicative of ecological productivity, and it aids
ecologists in predicting regional nutrient cycling and soil fertility.
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
12
The organic shapes and forms of the tangled humus grab my eye and I take visual
measurements of the log’s position in relationship to the edge of the washed bank. I
notice the height, width, and depth of the duff, along the bank’s edge, the remains of the
flood. Since my last visit to this exact locale a year ago, I detect a reduction in
accumulated floodwater debris along the bank reflecting a decrease in rainfall.
With the downed cottonwood tree directly in front of me, I am now ready to make art
and practice the place-based graphic facsimile method. My plan includes recreating the
relationships between the floodwaters and the plant litter collected by this cottonwood
tree through this image-making process. I choose a black fine point marker and a
medium-weight drawing paper. In my attempt to recreate the view in front of me, I
match the weight of a particular line the lacey thin edge of the frayed sycamore leaf
by lessening the pressure on the pen. Next, I use a heavier touch of the pen to denote the
disintegration the breaking down of the leaf litter of the slender willow leaf. The
facsimile I create includes a visual graphic of the relationship of each natural element to
one another the lines, shapes, color, forms, and patterns communicating weight,
tension and balance among other things (Figure 1.).
Figure 1. The place-based graphic facsimile created at this site is a record of the intelligence of my body in
relationship to this place, the flooded debris. The image represents a translation of the language of place as I find
myself a fluent speaker of the native language of this landscape.
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
13
Figure 2. Detail of place-based graphic facsimile.
Recreating the build-up of layer upon layer of flood detritus through the image-making
process requires much time. I sit at this site for over three hours without standing,
continuously working back and forth between observation and drawing. Working in
black and white and eliminating color from my palette, allows me to concentrate on the
full gestalt of the landscape and not get distracted by individual elements in my view.
56
However, an investment of time proves critical to conveying the embodied knowing of
this section of plant litter, which I directly experience in the ABPE process; as such, I
begin to understand volume and velocity as they relate to the force of water that
manipulated and shaped mesquite limbs and animal scat against the downed log.
One way to think of this exercise is through these terms: in a gestalt notion, the whole
equals more than the sum of its parts. One can envision the total subject by seeing the
whole and seeing the relationship of the parts. When concentrating on the gestalt, one
perceives differences and similarities, light and dark, form and mass. By shifting one’s
focus of attention, details surface. The parts form patterns to which one can respond. By
developing a detailed graphic facsimile of the parts of the flooded area this singular
collection of detritus, and by observing the relationship of these parts, one sees the
whole the biogeochemical system or the nutrient cycling system of this ciénaga
56
Gestalt is the German word for organic form. Around the turn of the century Christian von Ehrenfels was first to use
the term gestalt in the sense of an irreducible perceptual pattern. Leading the way for systems thinking later, Ehrenfels
characterized gestalt as asserting the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Following in their footsteps were Gestalt
psychologist Wertheimer and Kohler “who saw the existence of irreducible wholes as a key aspect of perception.
Living organisms, they asserted, perceive things not in terms of isolated elements, but as integrated perceptual
patterns—meaningful organized wholes, which exhibit qualities that are absent in their parts.” (Capra, F. 1996, p.32)
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
14
community. The data offers detail of the organic material as well as providing
information on the volume of rainfall and velocity of the water during flooding. The
totality of this multi-layered data further informs the quality of life and the biodiversity
available in this one ciénaga community.
It should be noted that a place-based graphic facsimile differs from photographic
realism and observational nature drawing in that, the goal is not to reproduce the view
exactly as seen with the eyes. Rather, the graphic facsimile is an embodiment of place
synthesized through one’s body, through a full sensory exploration that results in the
recapitulation of place as revealed in the image.
57
In the art-making process, the
investigator internalizes and absorbs this organic entity through her senses, smelling its
lush warm deterioration, touching the velvet smoothness of microorganisms forming on
its skin, tasting the fine powdery dry air, organic material filtered over time. By sensing
the detritus through the whole body, a transference of energy is taking place, the energy
from the body of the earth is processed through one’s own body. The third step; as the
investigator creates the image, the earth’s energy is transferred and reflected in the
image through the kinesthetic act of drawing. In the act, the researcher actively lives
through the experience and the drawing becomes a visible, graphic record of the
sensorial exchange; a record of a sensation perceived.
58
In this practice, I know the
earth’s energy or wisdom is transferred through my body and reflected in the image. I
trust my experiential data as being accurate.
59
Patterns are the language. The image is the vocabulary
Another way to think of this practice resides in terms of capturing the language of the
land, as it speaks to us through its body. The land’s communication system expresses
itself in cues and codes, logos and signs. Practicing the place-based graphic facsimile
helps one to recognize, to become aware of what the land is telling us through these
gestures. In Figure 1, the land’s stories are expressed through the image as line, shape,
and form, communicating the codes, rhythms and patterns of the landscape depicting
the water’s movement, the biodiversity of the landscape and the phenology, as it engages
with the independent Other in this ciénaga community.
60
Practicing ABPE methods, the investigator takes one frame of the earth’s process and
57
See Haeckel, E. (1998) on recapitulation in Art forms in nature: The prints of Ernst Haeckel.
58
Beres, D. (1965)
59
See Rhyne, J. (1984) experiential data.
60
See Abram, D. (1996) for description of independent Others. Independent Others are our ancestors, mammals and
primates and are a part of the animate beings of the landscape. Animate does not only refer to that which we know to
be alive, animals, but all phenomena as it calls us to participate through our senses, as it influences and engages us
bodily.
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
15
fixes it in time the image freezes time on the page. Making art in this intentional way is
integral to and causes one to slow one’s pace. This allows the investigator to be more
present in the moment, enabling her to notice detail that she otherwise would not be
aware of.
61
Creating the image through the place-based graphic facsimile method changes one’s
perspective of the subject being studied and potentially leads the researcher to form new
questions in the mind. In the artmaking process, one opens to the unknown moving
between the abstract and metaphorical to the concrete the image framing the concrete
idea. When painting as a non-conventional personal narrative research methodology,
health care worker, Karen Scott-Hoy says the artmaking helps to work out, reorganize
and clarify questions that arise during the process.
62
Asking what if questions during this
process can also lead to the generation of new ideas and possibly to unexplored research
questions.
Additionally, the art-making clarifies these crucial points of inquiry through the process
of picturing; rendering embodied knowing into conscious understanding of the subject.
63
As an example of how the investigator would engage in ABPE, she meticulously draws
the thickness of the compressed detritus against the log, layer for layer. Questions arise
in the investigator’s mind: “If I count the number of swirls in the leaf litter and consider
the structure, depth, placement and density of each swirl, then can I know the volume
and velocity of water at the height of flooding? Or, if I investigate with fine detail the
composition of the compressed litter, could I know the terrestrial plant species within
this particular community? This non-traditional means of monitoring and assessing
rainfall and vegetation does not reveal all of the answers; however, when explored in
unison with Western scientific-based investigations, this method could surface questions
otherwise not considered by ecologists and thus provide unchartered direction for global
environmental change research and conservation efforts.
Traditional methods used by ecologists, such as litterfall sampling, center around one
piece of equipment known as a litterbag. Ecologists study decomposition of the litter
layer by placing fresh litter collected in the litterbag directly on the ground, allowing
time for decomposers to interact with the litter then collecting the data and analyzing the
data using an exponential decay pattern equation to quantify litterfall production and
chemical composition over time. Developing an art-based longitudinal study alongside
traditional Western science methods, to record historical changes in vegetation in this
riparian community, could provide outstanding results. Working collaboratively with
61
Woolery, LA. (1999) See the ten steps of ABPE that lead to ability to notice detail in the landscape in doctoral
dissertation (2006).
62
See Scott-Hoy, K. (2003).
63
See Scott-Hoy, K. (2003), the process of picturing.
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
16
researchers across the globe and sharing data could contribute to the further
understanding of biospheric changes at similar ciénaga communities around the world.
Summary
The results of my doctoral research published in 2006 Art-Based Perceptual Ecology
as a way of knowing the language of place demonstrated two outcomes: 1) that the
image created in ABPE practices reveals the land’s stories and leads one to clues of the
evolutionary history of the land; 2) that practicing ABPE leads to the emergence of
sensory capabilities beyond sight, which provide a shift in awareness, and open the
investigator to detail in the landscape, at scales previously unnoticed.
64
In this present
article, I propose ABPE methods such as the place-based graphic facsimile to detect
undiscovered capabilities of the human sensory system. The place-based graphic
facsimile offers an alternative way of experiencing our planet, experiencing phenomena
which remain invisible unless we activate this inherent and sensory process. What we
could experience through alternative methods are phenomena such as acoustic
emissions, bioelectrical charges, biogeochemical changes, or the electromagnetic
spectrum in the landscape. ABPE methodologies may offer the means by which humans
reconnect to a pre-discursive (mimetic) language, a sentient language our ancestors used
to communicate with the animate
65
world.
Investigating problems and solutions from an educator’s perspective
My investigations surfaced three substantive concerns that can often lead to our inability
as human beings to embody the knowledge and wisdom of nature: (a) emphasis on
singular modes of knowing in the current Western educational construct; (b) human
disconnect with the natural world; and (c) loss of natural habitat and place-based
knowledge. There is a direct relationship among these substantive issues. I presented (b)
and (c) in the beginning of the article and will explain (a) here.
The problem of valuing singular modes of knowing and thinking
A positivistic view of knowledge holds that only formal propositions can, in principle,
provide knowledge. Our Western educational systems strive for standardization in
64
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.
65
The word animate derives from a Latin word signifying soul or breath. Among its meanings in the dictionary are to
give spirit to” or to energize. See Abram, D. (1996) suggests that animate does not only refer to that which we know to
be alive: animals, but all phenomenon as it calls us to participate through our senses, as it influences and engages us
bodily.
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
17
imparting knowledge and assessing intelligence, focusing on a linear means of
investigation and narrowing the available constructs that ensure success. In most public
educational systems framed in a Western European paradigm, as soon as children enter
school they are persuaded to let go of their inherent ways of understanding the world.
Instead, as Karen Gallas tells us, they are required to adopt a “… linear language style in
which logic prevails, a style that represents almost exclusively a hierarchical, convergent,
‘scientific’ way of ordering the world.”
66
Missing in this monistic methodology is
recognition and support of students whose intelligence or learning style does not follow a
line of hierarchical, convergent way of ordering the world.
67
Additionally, we find little
support in public schools for students who would possibly benefit from having access to
other ways of knowing.
Scholars Galileo, Einstein, and McClintock have historically been known as divergent
thinkers non-conforming critical thinkers. Trusting in her intuition is what allowed
genetic scientist Barbara McClintock to reveal the deep mysteries of maize genetics.
McClintock acknowledged she used an internal vision in her scientific inquiry. She
admitted she took the time to look and hear what the maize had to say and the openness
to let it come to her. Her intuition was an internal knowing of that which was not evident
or deducible. She would say she had a feeling for the organism.
68
Another creative
process for knowledge construction is imagination, the means of forming images in the
mind.
69
Einstein acknowledged his use of imagination as he tested theories of science.
Honoring multiple truths or realities requires redefining our understandings of the very
nature of mind, knowledge, and intelligence.
70
This is not an easy task. Additionally, as
Eisner reminds us in his article, “On the differences between scientific and artistic
approaches to qualitative inquiry,” the language and system of discourse we choose
mediates and defines the very experience we attempt to describe so we must find
pluralistic methods of inquiry and ways of discourse.
71
Why do we need plurality in modes of knowing?
In the postmodern era, boundaries of traditional perspectives on inquiry and knowledge
are shifting to modes of expression and representation which yield a more holistic
understanding of the phenomenon being studied.
72
I encourage ecologists in the field
when choosing their research methods to consider new modes of knowing, for it is
66
Gallas, K. (1994) p.16.
67
Gardner, H. (1999); Guild, P. (1998).
68
Fox Keller, E. (1983).
69
Singer, J. (1980); Warnock, M. (1976)
70
Eisner, E. (1985).
71
Eisner, E. (1981).
72
Slattery, (2001).
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
18
important to recall what Hervey said, “the ultimate purpose of research, and art is to
communicate a new vision or understanding of a phenomenon.”
73
Many intelligent individuals with sensibilities beyond the norm are overlooked in our
society, because they do not represent the standards in our educational systems or
cultural constructs. It may be that these very individuals who are overlooked young
children, artists, poets, painters, musicians, and writers are the members of our
society most likely to hold the sensibilities necessary to cultivate the dialogue with the
animate landscape. A dialogue of grand proportions is needed to reverse the demise of
our current estranged relationship with nature.
In our current monistic society, the human species continues to move away from an
appreciation of divergent ways of knowing, such as intuitive, emotional and embodied as
well as indigenous ways of knowing. In this article, I assert the significance of
recognizing the self as whole: mind, body and spirit. Furthermore, I posit that the self is
not a singular entity; rather, it is nested in a whole cast of participating Others.
74
In an
increasingly divided and unstable environment, we can no longer think of ourselves as
being separate or delineated from the whole; alternatively, we must embrace the fact
that we exist as a part of the whole, thus reflecting Gibson’s ecological model of
perception the world and we are inseparable.
75
There is an ethical foundation for the work as well. To learn pluralistic ways in which to
perceive the landscape, we may come to know the place in which we live, finding
connections with the local habitat. Achieving this multi-dimensional sense of place may
contribute to a deep ethic of caring about the environment. Connected to landscapes, we
are more likely to be good stewards of our ecological and cultural communities.
76
Conclusion
Using a non-traditional means of monitoring the assessment of rainfall and vegetation,
such as the ABPE place-based graphic facsimile method, cannot reveal all of the
answers. Instead, I recommend employing this method in unison with Western science-
based methods. If we consider ecological systems through the lens of whole-systems
theory, then the investigator would do well to utilize methods and questions that adhere
to a holistic approach. Art as a way of knowing provides a good place to begin.
73
Hervey, L. (2000), p. 64.
74
See Abram, D. (1996) for description of independent Others.
75
Gibson, J. (1983) In his ecological model of perception, James Gibson says the world and we are inseparable, we
walk through this world; “with-the-eyes-in-the-head-on-the-body-resting-on-the-ground.”
76
Thomashow, M. (2002).
artizein: Arts & Teaching Journal Volume II/Issue II
19
In my ongoing dialogue around art-based research methods, I consider this quote from
Bochner and Ellis, “Imagination is as important as rigor, meanings as important as facts,
and the heart as important as the mind.
77
In our current situation, art and science can
complement one another by working together in the service of biospheric change and
environmental sustainability. As experienced when practicing ABPE in the Sonoran
Desert, I engaged in dialogue with the place, opened to the unknown and new questions
arose. Sharing my work with ecologists has stimulated interest in non-traditional ways of
knowing and led them to new perceptions and questions about their research in the
landscape. This is the first step awareness. As I have the opportunity to take more
researchers out into the field to engage in ABPE methods, it may lead to new research
and potentially new solutions to environmental issues. This is more than hope, it is a
plan that I am currently engaged in. It is a slow process but I believe we are moving in
the right direction toward a new vision and understanding of our world.
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Article
When clinicians refer to adult imagery or fantasies they are generally somewhat imprecise in terminology. Probably for scientific purposes it is best to view imagery as a function closely allied to perceptual processes, a basic capacity to reduplicate information gathered through specific sensory modalities. Thus, we can have auditory images or tactile images which roughly repeat information originally presented through the appropriate senses. Naturallyoccurring fantasies and daydreams and many of the “imagery” procedures employed clinically or in self-development programs are more complex. They include sequences of images in various modalities as well as self-instructions and related forms of interior monologue. Perhaps what these functions have in common is an overriding attitudinal set of pretending or, as the neurologist Kurt Goldstein used to say, “taking an attitude toward the possible”.
Article
First published in 1945, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s monumental Phénoménologie de la perception signalled the arrival of a major new philosophical and intellectual voice in post-war Europe. Breaking with the prevailing picture of existentialism and phenomenology at the time, it has become one of the landmark works of twentieth-century thought. This new translation, the first for over fifty years, makes this classic work of philosophy available to a new generation of readers.