Environmental Video Art


MAKE TWO one-shot VIDEOS: 1-5 minutes each (one-shot or minimal editing) in the Arboretum.

Perform a FEAT, and a DISCREET INTERVENTION – in nature.

Brainstorming, testing and discussion on MONDAY in next class. We will go to the Arboretum together.

On Wednesday, we will be shooting video during class time. Be organized for your shoot.


A FEAT: Is a gesture you attempt that is heroic, challenging, special, difficult, impossible – you may or may not accomplish your feat. It may be absurd, it may be funny, it may be critical – and you may fail. The failure might be part of the work. You may use your body to perform a feat, or objects/materials/things.

A DISCREET INTERVENTION: Is where you go somewhere that you should not be.* Somewhere exceptional. Somewhere out of bounds, or unusual, or unlikely, or impossible. Some place funny, or surprising, or absurd, or out of character. You may use your body to cross a boundary, or use objects/materials out of place.

Videos should be shot in the arboretum. You will work with a partner, and share the labour of shooting, performing, editing, posting. The works must include natural materials/sites. How does the inclusion of environmental sites/things contribute to a conversation about nature and culture, and our relationships to land, water, plants, fungi, weather, trees, sky… etc.

Consider artworks discussed in class presentations, and refer to environmental artists in your final video descriptions on the blog.

Be adventurous, but SAFE and RESPECTFUL at all times. See below:



As with all student projects and activities in Extended Practices and while a student at the University of Guelph you should never do anything illegal, unethical, or that can harm yourself or others in any way. And dangerous/hazardous materials and tools are not allowed on campus or in the studios.

By agreeing to participate in this course you must adhere to these guidelines.

You must discuss your idea with your instructor if there can be any question about the safety of your projects. Students who do not follow this process will receive 0 on assignments, in addition to facing other academic or legal consequences.

Be careful, be safe, use good sense, and be considerate of others always.

Artists Reckoning with Climate Change

  1. Read the article attached:

What is the ethical duty of artists?

Environmentalist Bill McKibben asked –

“Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he wrote in an op-ed for Grist. “Compare it to, say, the horror of AIDS … which has produced a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.” For future generations looking back on the present, “the single most significant item will doubtless be the sudden spiking temperature. But they’ll have a hell of a time figuring out what it meant to us.”

What can art and artists actually do?

Chicago-based curator and early supporter of environmental art Stephanie Smith cautioned that a glut of superficially righteous exhibitions could give hits of easy virtue to viewers and museums alike –

“If sustainability or climate change become art trends du jour, we risk providing a palliative to ourselves and to our audiences without contributing much to artistic production, nuanced debate or lasting social change”

How are artists representing the environment?

Representing nature as the sublime and untouched – Thomas Cole

Spoiled and poisoned, developed – Ed Burtinsky


How are contemporary artists re-imagining our place in the natural world, and proposing alternative relationships with our environment?

Imagining alternative relationships – Mary Mattingly, Future Farmers

Just over a mile up the Bronx River from Hunts Point, Mary Mattingly has docked her newest floating project, Swale, a garden on a 130-by-40-foot steel barge. After discovering it is illegal to forage or even grow food in public parks in New York City, Mattingly conceived of producing a forest of edible plants on the water, to circumvent those laws and let people gather food for free.


Educating/making the scope of the catastrophe felt – and ACTUAL remediation: Alana Bartol


Bartol is interested in reciprocal relationships to land, and asks – “How do (I and other settlers) actually relate to land, and to what it’s already communicating?

She is exploring “extractive capitalism” while simultaneously “entangled with and benefitting from it.”

Transform our experience of time/scale of our lives relative to the world – John Cage, Katie Patterson


KP: Fossil Necklace

KP: Future Library


Modelling/embodying alternative cultures and worldviews –Tania Willard, Bush Gallery



Protest, as a public performance – Public Studio

From the Declaration of Responsibilities and Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms, Public Studio, 2018, Toronto.

Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan Presentation

Was really surprised to find two different books with Liberace LOL. I these books are all from the Scottish History and Food sections on the second floor. I was really curious about representation and abstraction with the books and how a lack of text can be just as powerful a tool. In trying to connect the first and last book, I worked to assemble books to tell a story of Liberace cooking, something going wrong, and then him dying and becoming a ghost.

I tried to illustrate this idea through colour and book size juxtaposition. The first is happy, floral (also about geography) as if he’s happily performing. The next two are exactly the same size but different shades and quality, as if to represent the cooking has begun but something goes sour. The large red book is much bigger and louder in my mind, representing an explosion. The black to me represents a kind of stasis..the white book following is haggard, brighter, and same length as the black, representing a kind of harmoniousness.

Looking at it a week later, I agree that the story doesn’t really come across through…However, fun warm up and I enjoyed getting to surf through the stacks!

I branched out from the second floor and looked at titles from the military, social studies, and women & gender studies stacks on the third floor.

I think at this point, I got too focused on the text and creating a poem. I was feeling reminiscent and cumbersome while making this. I was thinking about some kind of tumultuous affair between two enemies/lovers. Loved finding two different, yet connected texts that had to do with dance. I was also very curious about the use of punctuation….do you read it as the end of a sentence? or can it just be ignored. In the case, I tried to use the punctuation to illicit a break in the sentence.

Seeing how the stacks tilts from weight distribution is making me think I should look at smaller stacks.

I ran out of time at the library and sought to play around from the books in my apartment. These…don’t really have much connection to nature but I had fun coming up with different arrangements. In this stack, I was thinking of myself….First week of classes are always a bit chaotic and I was finding myself running late, having tech problems, and apologizing a lot….Feeling like Wendy Master of Art, The Disaster Artist. This to me reads like an omnipresent voice giving some kind of prophetic or spiritual advice. Not bad advice for sure. I’m curious by the shape of the stack – how it descends and returns to place at the last book.

At the top is “13 ways to kill your community” and 13 books below describing just that. I loved the mix and contrast between the fonts and subject matter. As I built this stack, I began thinking of this more from a writing perspective and less of a visual or material perspective. I used to write satire part-time and so to me, the stack took on more of a script.

While assembling the stack, I was thinking a lot about the fonts could work with and against each other . I began thinking through the voices of two characters that would be on a  “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” sketch. I was imagining two men filming some kind of Alex Jones-ish propaganda ad. The first guy is really mad, listing off progressive things that would contribute to a community’s decline. The camera would flip to the second guy, and carrying the same energy, he would list off things that just make him mad; “GRAPE FRUIT” “DUTY FREE AT THE AIRPORT” “LARRY GORMAN that sonofaBItch”.

I thought it would be funny to add a (fittingly New Brunswick centred) cookbook underneath a book about publicized family conflict as if to stick a quaint, nostalgic, maybe even satirical PR bandaid over them.

I also don’t consider NB as a great food hub so the idea of a New Brunswick centred cookbook from from members of a rich, white, loyalist family who probably have hired cooks is funny to me. Like something out of Succession.

Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan Presentation


From: Sunrise & Sunset at Praiano combines Lewitt’s minimal formalism with organic imagery. Lewitt presents photographs of the sky taken on the coast of Praiano, Italy over ocean waters. Though the images themselves are unruly in a literal sense—the sky does not adhere to imposed structures of logic—Lewitt integrates them into his familiar systems and organization . There are four images per page, neatly arranged in a square grid, reminiscent of Lewitt’s former publications comprising only lines and other drawn elements. Sol Lewitt, 1980.

Collaborative Artist Book Assignment:

See ongoing deadlines for work in progress, design workshops and final templates on class schedule.

Together with the class we will create the content for, and design and publish an original artist book on the motifs of “The Wind”, “The Weather” and “The Water”.

The artist book for our class will emphasize image over text and be an artwork in its own right. It can be any length or size available on Blurb.com under a budget of $30.

Throughout the term we will be collecting images from class exercises, field trips, assignments and research. You can also capture new images and spontaneous moments related to the themes. Post high resolution images on your blog pages, and prepare to share them, and potentially have them used in spreads along with other images in our final book.

In class we will participate in a book publishing workshop, and see a collection of artist books, in addition to the works of other artists on the theme.


Shawna Dempsey and Lori Milan, Lesbian Parks and Services



DURATION: 5-10 MINUTES (presentations will be strictly timed)

Present the work of a contemporary artist working with environmental themes and materials.

You must present images and/or video to illustrate the work of the artist. Describe three  of the artist’s works in detail (or ONE major project), from past works to more recent projects.

Discuss the themes, ideas, and media at play in the works, and the artist’s unique methods of producing and presenting artworks. Select works that specifically deal with themes from nature and the environment, weather/climate, or other relevant topics.

All of the works should be presented as a concise post on the course blog. Use images and embedded videos as needed. You may cut and paste descriptive segments, but this must be indicated and sources should be linked/credited.

Presentations will be evaluated for:

 Evidence of intensive research, depth of engagement

Understanding of ideas, artistic strategies and external contexts at play in the work

  Readability of images/texts/video as posted

  Comprehensibility and flow of oral presentation

Artists (will be assigned in class):

Future Farmers

Shawna Dempsey and Lori Milan

Jae Rhim Lee

Jason Logan/Make Ink

Nina Katchadourian

Tim Knowles

Ron Benner

Mark Dion

Mary Mattingly

Andrea Zittel

Terrence Houle and Trevor Freeman

Ursula Johnson

Jenny Kendler

Lindsay Dobbin

Week 2


Critique for Book Stacks on the theme of WEATHER.

All work must be posted on blog.


  1. THE WIND/THE WEATHER/THE WATER: Collaborative book project- see ongoing deadlines in schedule. Students will post works and images on the themes on blog page – throughout the term.
  2. ENVIRONMENTAL ARTIST PRESENTATIONS: Due Wednesday Sept. 28th in class.


Meet in the class – discuss snapshot exercise.

SNAPSHOT EXERCISE Take snapshots of the following things during our arboretum walk:

  1. Round things
  2. A piece of sky – let’s try to capture the whole thing together
  3. WEED NOTICING – see Alana Bartol:https://alanabartol.com/section/514344-Weed%20Notice%21%20%26%20Other%20Acts%20of%20Noticing.html

Walk together to the arboretum to meet Michelle.

All photos may be used in our class book.

HOMEWORK: On Monday next week, you will be discussing this reading in class: How Should Art Reckon with Climate Change https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/25/t-magazine/art-climate-change.html

On Wednesday your ARTIST PRESENTATION is due – maximum time is 10 minutes!

Book Stacks

LOOK AT: Nina Katchadourian’s Book Stacks projects

“The Sorted Books project began in 1993, and it has has taken place on many different sites over the years, ranging form private homes to specialized book collections. The process is the same in every case: I sort through a collection of books, pull particular titles, and eventually group the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence. The final results are shown either as photographs of the book clusters or as the actual stacks themselves, often shown on the shelves of the library they came from. Taken as a whole, the clusters are a cross-section of that library’s holdings that reflect that particular library’s focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies. They sometimes also function as a portrait of the particular book owner. The Sorted Books project is an ongoing project which I add to almost each year, and there there are hundreds of images in the ongoing archive to date.”

Pictured above: What is Art?
C-prints, each 12.5 x 19 inches, 1996/2008
The series Sorting Shark from the Sorted Books project
Pictured above: A Day at the Beach
C-prints, each 12.5 x 19 inches, 2001

Read Katchadourian’s descriptions of the unique libraries she worked in to make the series Sorted Books.

The series Kansas Cut-Up from the Sorted Books project
Pictured above: Only Yesterday
C-prints, each 12.5 x 19 inches, 2014

Dave Dyment:

A collection of books pertaining to the past and future, arranged chronologically from One Billion Years Ago to The Next Billion Years.

Ryan Park:

Ryan Park, 2009, Untitled


Nina Katchadourian discusses a new Sorted Books project in William S Burroughs’ library.

 What are some of the strategies Katchadourian, Dyment and Park used to select and order books in their final works? What were their decisions based on, and how do the final compositions expand the meaning of each individual book, or come together to have a new and surprising meaning about the library, the family, about language and books, or about anything else?

Book Stacks Assignment:

Make 3 of your own Sorted Books stacks – include at least one book with a reference to WEATHER.

Consider some recent films and books on weather and climate as a research reference.

Consider images, language, and concepts as an artist – to bring strategies into working at the library.

We will be working in the library to make book stacks. Be respectful of library patrons and staff when collecting books and taking photographs, and return books to trolleys/follow rules please.

Create a composition, with as many books as you may need, and photograph it. Look for concise messages, play with words and concepts with what is at hand. Consider other features of the books – scale, material, colours, and context in the library in your stacks. Avoid clichés and easy statements – be open to accidents and funny surprises, experiment with different titles in relation to one another in different ways. Try to limit yourself to one shelf, or one section of the library – or to find weather references in an area that has nothing to do with science, geography or meteorology…

Include the images, a short description of your stacks, and your process of creating the compositions on your blog page. DUE MONDAY SEPT 9 in class for discussion.

Week 1


Syllabus and assignments

Tech orientation to studio, blogs, equipment, computers with Nathan

Assignment: Book Stacks – On Weather

Demo on using cameras/phones for fast in the world shooting/high res. with Nathan

On Wednesday we will meet in class and walk together to the library to work on site.

Artists who explore weather:


Meet in class to sign out photography equipment.

We will go together to the library to work on Book Stacks on the theme of ‘weather’.

ALL posts with 3 book stack images, including notes and prep work due on the blog for discussion in class on MONDAY (week 3)

Julianna’s work

Nina Katchadourian

Nina is an interdisciplinary artist, this includes video, performance, sound, sculpture, photography and much more. She was born in California in 1968 then ent on to graduate Brown University with a double Bachelors of Arts. Then she received her Masters of Fine Arts from the University of California.

The first piece I looked at which fascinated me was “Survive the Savage Sea” which was based on the story of Dougal Robertson. He was sailing with his family in 1972 when the boat was attacked by a pod of killer whales. The family only had 2 minutes to grab all of their belongings and jump into a lifeboat before their boat went down. They all survived 38 days on the ocean against 20ft waves, circling sharks, thirst and starvation. Nina came across the riveting story of “Survive the Savage Sea” at the age of 7 and has consistently read the novel throughout her life. To convey the story Nina starts with the whale and its full scale stretching across the gallery depicted in a painted cutout. She made sure that the size and everything was accurate, collaborating with marine biologists and even sent the whale cutout to Robertson. and then on the ground is an outline of the dinghy that is the approximate size of the one the Robertson’s survived on. She also provides drawings of how the family slept on the dinghy, essentially were like human sardines. Dougal Robertson recalls hunting sea creatures for sustenance and delves into further description of the experience. He remembers the fights with his parents, the hunger but also the beauty of the wide sky. This prompted Nina to create wire sculptures of the creatures they caught: sea turtles, dorado and flying fish. They float against the blue of the gallery and are reminiscent of a skeleton and a memory. She commits the show to knowledge teaching people how to survive at sea but the ultimate focus is on human empathy. When Nina was interviewed she states “The Robertson story bears resemblance to how we’ve all been living this year, isolated from each other in our own little shipwrecks. But it’s also about the incredible invention, resourcefulness and creativity they bring to their predicament. They have an optimism I find striking – they just keep at it.” I

“To feel something that was not of our world”, zoom walkthrough, Catharine Clark Gallery

Here is a fantastic video of Nina talking about the gallery in detail and does a walkthrough. She also interviews Dougal Robertson in the video.

Resources for this art work

New York Times


Another piece I adored was Natural Cross Dressing. She was inspired by caterpillar eating a birch tree outside of her window and she thought that these wiggly creatures would make perfect moustaches. She discusses the difficulties of getting the bugs to remain in one spot on her face so she used honey on her upper lip to keep them from wandering. She wanted to get the point across that in society crossdressing is seen as unnatural so she uses completely natural materials to crossdress.


Natural cross dressing

She has so many fascinating pieces and I thoroughly enjoyed looking more into the works that she does. Nina approaches art in such a creative and playful way that is inspiring.

Week 2, Walk in the Arboretum

The circular things that I found.

Some weedy photos and plants that I found interesting either in appearance or location

Here are my photos of the sky

And then finally here are photos of others taking their photos

Week 1, Book Stacking

Initially before the library trip I was thinking largely of creating maps and imagery through the spines of the books, however once arriving at the library I realized the large number of books necessary to produce the images I wanted. I really struggled coming up with ideas for this project so I thought I would turn to Nina Katchadourian’s artworks and I came to really appreciate the simplicity of her works as well as her quick quippy sentences. To incorporate weather, I did some research by watching one of the documentaries and learned of the consequences that climate change is having on the environment. In some ways this reminded me of the Icarus complex, it feels as though we are heading too close to the sun and as the saying goes “don’t fly too close to the sun or you’ll get burned.” My second photo was in similar spirit to the first. I always found it interesting how there are so many rich billionaires that are flying out into space and there has been so much research done on what other planets are inhabitable rather than putting more resources into saving our planet. So I wanted to attempt to create a short sentence surrounding space travel.

For the third photo I was inspired by art history. I am currently taking an art history course and as I was perusing the library I came across a huge section of William Turner books and I thought of looking through the art history section for other artists that had notable landscape paintings and then I organized them in order of movement. It was interesting looking at the selection of books that the library had and it was a test of memory for myself trying to remember the order of the art movements. I appreciated the process of this because the end result became a colourful artwork. I also opened to books and the spines laid out on each other created sculptural shapes.

I ended up doing one more experiment. As I was looking at my own bookshelf for inspiration I became very interested in how people organize their personal library. So I went around to my friends and family members and requested photos of any bookshelves around their house. I believe that it is telling of a person and their life as to where they put their books and what books that they own.

Samantha’s work

Book Stacks – Assignment One

A few weeks ago, while giving a tour of the U of G campus, I ended up getting lost in the library. As I searched for the exit, I ended up in the basement of the library – a place I always found myself too nervous to enter previously. I wandered the space and curiously approached the bookshelves. The basement is home to lots of government publications and periodicals with topics ranging from natural resources to psychological journals to food consumption. I found this collection extremely interesting due to the richness of its history, as well as the feeling of loneliness that accompanied it. The sign-out cards hint that most of this collection of literature has not been touched in years – decades even. For these reasons I chose to isolate the basement of the library as my first focus for the bookstack assignment. 

My process started with finding an area that would be suitable for photos, while also not bothering any students who may be working in the space. After I found a spot to set up, I browsed several shelves of text, and picked out titles that I thought sounded interesting. I found it much easier to work with books that had short titles compared to longer titles, so as I returned to the shelves to pick out more books I tried to focus on titles one to three words long. 

For the weather component I found titles that were organized based on season. I find it interesting how seasons and weather are a telling sign of the passage of time, yet also highlight the cyclical nature of time itself. Even the university uses seasons to express the passage of time from one semester to another, while also bringing to light the cyclical nature of a school setting.

The equipment that I used to take my photos included a DSLR camera borrowed from the Univeristy, as well as a ringlight that I brought from home. It was fun to play around with the camera settings and lighting, and I think in the end I got several usable photos. I am not very experienced with photography, but as I started to get used to the camera settings I found that my images came out much better than I inticipated. There is certainly a huge learning curve when it comes to using a DSLR in comparison to a simple point-and-shoot camera, but the payoff is very evident.

Stack #1Wordplay/Poetry

My first book stack was an attempt at a rhyming poem

Stack #2Framing

Stack #3Mood/Atmosphere/Lighting

Library/Camera Comparison – Personal Bookshelf

Stack A – What’s in a Name

Stack B – Wordplay

Stack C – Forecast Pattern

Re-shoot with DSLR

Walk in the Arboretum

During the walk in the Arboretum I really wanted to challenge myself to take high quality images with my phone camera.

Round Things



White balance – cloudy vs sunny settings



b. 1980, New York City

Jenny Kendler is an ‘ecological’ artist and activist who is credited with work that focuses on climate change and biodiversity loss. She is passionate about otherness and the de-centreing of humans in a more-than-human world – a common theme in the work she produces. Kendler tends to make sculptural representations of thought provoking ecological subject matter using materials that are reclaimed and repurposed. She has also used organic mediums like bones and fossilized genetic material of endangered species in her work, and prompts discussion surrounding extinction and what we currently stand to lose.

Amber Archive (2018-ongoing)

Amber Archive is a project that started in 2018 and is still in progress. The piece is composed of amber nodules that contain a piece of genetic material (fur, leaf, bone, scale, feather, insect wing) of a species that is currently endangered. The piece acts as an analog genetic time capsule that will preserve the DNA of a species for millennia, and outlast cyrobanks that rely on energy.

Forget Me Not (2020)

vintage boombox

in the late 18th & 19th cen. “Sailor’s Valentines” – elaborate mosaics more w colourful seashells – were popular gifts given by those returning from long oceanic voyages

contained messages “think of me, when far away”, “forget me not”

vintage boombox covered in shells – love letter to the sea

acidification of the ocean, linked to burning fossil fuels and climate change

boombox plays a vintage tape labeled “soothing ocean sounds: recorded over by the artist with ‘the sound of ocean acidification’ – miccing one of the artist’s baby teeth while it dissolves in acid

Whale Balls (2019-ongoing)

ombre glass, Miocene-era fossilized whale ear bones

1985 moratorium on commercial whaling was finally enacted, but only 5% of humpbacks remained

populations since recovering, but other threats such as commercial shipping noise, fossil fuel seismic exploration and military sonar

Humpback’s unique sonic culture and future survival of species are jeopardized by the acoustic pollution of our oceans. 

bells clappers are Miocene Epoch fossilized ear bones: tympanic bullae from an ancient species of rorqual whale related to modern humpbacks

the part of the ear which once received sound, now creates a new fragile resonance, a mournful echo, a ghost knell-suggesting a message from these long extinct whales to today’s endangered whales

Shroud for an Atheist (2020)

digitally printed silk textile, Textile Cone (Conus textile) shell

Conus textile is a species of marine snail with a beautiful patterned shell known as the Textile Cone or Cloth of Gold Cone

they are infact predatory, venomous mollusks with toxins deadly to huans

collage of digital images of the shell’s patterns to create a textile 

presented atop a burial mound of sand, likeness of a shroud

whose death are we to lament? – the patterns of Conus textile recall cellular automata

Conway’s Game of Life or Wolfram’s Rule 30 

  • computational models said to prove that complex design and intelligent organization can arise in the absence of a “designer”

Heirloom (in private collection)


amorphous hydrated silicon oxide – technically a precious gemstone opal 

seeds also contain high concentration of carbon-14, making them useful for archeological radiocarbon dating – a valuable technology used by archeologists and paleobotanists to date prehistoric sites – which may be endangered due to the ancient carbon released into the atmosphere where we burn fossil fuels

fear in science community that radiocarbon dating will no longer be viable as early as 2030 – yet another infrequently mentioned threat of climate change

Mending Wall (2021-2024)

collaborative project with the public, Kendler and the Field Museum’s Pandemic Collections Team, with support from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)

drawing on the American vernacular form of the stone wall – Mending Wall offers a space to honor our collective grief – and share individual hopes and fears in the moment of intersecting crises

global pandemic, gun violence epidemic, the worsening climate crisis, and interrelated struggle for racial justice

piece inspired by Robert Frost’s classic poem, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels and the artist’s childhood visit to the Wailing Wall

25 ft fragment of dry-stacked stone wall made of reclaimed Chicago cobble stone

surrounding wall is natural area of perennial plants and organic stone seating to provide space for contemplation and appreciation of the natural world

wall as something that keeps us apart, as well as how we the people can constitute form, building city stone by stone

public invited to leave a message from this moment of crisis to be archived by the Pandemic Collactions team at the Field Museum

Public events held in the space, including guided meditations, dance performances, poetry readings and mending workshops