Rachel Pimm, Hevea Brasiliensis, from (The Great Exhibition of the Works of) Cash Crops, 2019; courtesy the artist
Luiza Prado de O. Martins, Multispecies Banquet, 2019; courtesy the artist

Emergent Ecologies

How can we rethink our relationships to our environments on non-human scales? Who are our non-human neighbours and how do they participate in shaping social relations, cultural frameworks and economic systems? What might more-than-human forms of governance and organisation look like? What alternative practices and infrastructures could they enable?

 
Industrial processes, resource extraction and geoengineering are altering the planet on a massive scale, affecting ecosystems and relations between bodies and landscapes in deeply complex ways. Our interactions with other beings, activities, systems and processes continually make and remake our shared environments, entangling us with unwelcome neighbours and disruptive agents — invasive species, pathogens and the byproducts of chemical processes — on both micro and macro scales. 
 
Toxic infrastructures and their harmful effects — from sediment in canal networks which deprives fish of oxygen to cancer-causing pesticides used in industrial food systems — require alternative ways of being in relationship to and with our environments. Informed by case studies and research into interspecies politics, the rights of nature and practices of commoning with non-humans, Emergent Ecologies considers how rethinking concepts of citizenship, community and collaboration to include the non-human might enable more caring and generative ways of co-existing. 
 
The programme will unfold in response to particular sites and contexts, beginning in 2021 with an inquiry into the ecology of Sheffield in South Yorkshire — Arts Catalyst’s new home — bringing together artists, scientists, communities and activists to engage with the distinctive topography of the city and its animal, vegetable, mineral and bacterial constituents. 
 
Through residencies, co-inquiries and new commissions, Emergent Ecologies will explore how thinking at different scales and with slow and symbiotic processes of collaboration — such as digestion, distillation and fermentation — might provide tools and tactics to reimagine the ways in which artistic, administrative and institutional practices could enable new forms of governance and alternative organisational structures to emerge, and nurture the flourishing of more-than-human life. 
 
Emergent Ecologies borrows its title from anthropologist Eben Kirksey’s publication of the same name, and is informed by the work of scientists, academics and cultural theorists including Donna Haraway, Astrida Neimanis, Suzanne Pierre, Paul B. Preciado, Vandana Shiva and Anna Tsing, among many others, as well as the activism of groups and people across the planet.
 
KEY TERMS
 
Queer ecologies
We refer to the The Institute of Queer Ecology’s definition to guide our approach, which draws on “queer and feminist theory and decolonial thinking [...] to undo dangerously destructive human-centric hierarchies” in understanding the agency and interconnectedness of all living beings.
 
Multi-species thinking
How human gestures, thoughts, and practices are shaped by encounters with other beings.
 
Reparative approaches
Practices of care, restoration and stewardship of the planet, such as rewilding landscapes and creating circular food economies, as opposed to colonial/industrial models of discipline, destruction and ownership. 
 
Geopolitical narratives 
The ways in which state powers reinscribe colonial logics and notions of ‘otherness’ through the reinforcement of territorial borders as a way to define national identity and to determine what ‘belongs’ and what is a ‘threat’ to that identity.