PROJECT: Create a deep ecology work of art that elicits at least two kinds of sensory experience from an outdoor situation that are typically experienced indoors. Your work should commune with a non-human force, condition, and/or entity.

Deep ecologists strive to heighten humanity’s sensual capacities and awaken aspects of its suppressed intelligence. This psychological/spiritual path is pursued by Dr. Michael J. Cohen who believes that people are more likely to act as respectful stewards of the Earth if they cultivate the full potential of their sensory apparatus. His recommendation far exceeds the five familiar senses: touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing. Cohen identifies 53 sensory functions! He asserts that all these anatomical, neurological, and perceptual connectors evolved to serve people who live in the midst of the perpetually shifting conditions that occur out of doors. He reports, “…in contemporary society over 95 percent of our time and 99.9 percent of our thinking is disconnected from contact with our inherently supportive biological, sensory and spiritual origins in nature.”10 The personal anxieties that characterize today’s lifestyles are also responsible for environmental neglect. Cohen states, “We are part of nature and Earth; we contain this multisensory intelligence. Nature’s sensitive ways do not produce violent, addictive, or abusive behavior. Our separation from nature has torn us from nature’s nurturance. Without it, we lose our ability to build sensible relationships.”11 The only way to activate senses is through direct experience.


Cohen identifies four sensory categories to reinstate the connection with our ‘spiritual origins in nature’:

Radiation senses (e.g. light, color, temperature) 

Feeling senses (e.g. pressure, gravity, weight, balance, proximity, motion) 

Chemical senses (e.g. smell, taste, appetite, thirst, humidity, pheromones) 

Mental senses (e.g. fear, procreative urges, play, time, weather, pain, distress, friendship)


READ TO LIFE! Any three chapters mentioned in the following paragraph.

Examples of the fickle quality of human interactions with the planet dominate this book. These eco artworks demonstrate that we humans engineer, emulate, and exploit as well as replenish, refurbish, and restore. The eco artworks that represent deep ecology add ‘comply’, ‘connect’, and ‘commune’ to the list of human interactions with the planet. Fournier, Gelitin, Schneemann, and Kaprow, for example, invite participants to actually ‘touch’ the physical components of their works of art. But the material world is not their final destination. In each instance, matter serves as a catalyst for harmonizing with the rhythms and functions of the planet. Krajcberg practiced joyful enrichment in material immersions early in his career. However, growing awareness of the devastation of the rain forest transformed his joy into horror later in his career. Merz evokes the essence of the planet’s substances through his choice of elemental materials and his compositional relationships. Red Earth’s evocations take the form of enactments that refer to primeval rituals. Lin enlists the power of images to awaken the human capacity for empathy, sorrow, and shame.  

PROJECT: Many humans live their entire lives walking on concrete, not soil; occupying steady-state architectural interiors, not fluctuating outdoor environments; utilizing power channeled through a grid, not derived directly from the sun, water, fire, or wind; associating rain with clogged traffic instead of healthy crops. The following excerpt from a news story epitomizes this separation: 

“Welcome to the camp experience in the age of the mosquito. For the first time in at least a decade when the skies were clear, the 92nd Street Y camp’s fabled overnight event under the stars would take place indoors in Manhattan instead of at the Henry Kaufmann campground in Pearl River, N.Y. Instead of a campfire, there would be a circle of flashlights. The s’mores would be made with Marshmallow Fluff. Officials at the Y said that out of concern for the safety of the children and parents’ fears about the West Nile virus, they did not want campers exposed to mosquitoes during the active feeding hours at night.”12 

Create a deep ecology work of art that elicits at least two kinds of sensory experience from an outdoor situation that are typically experienced indoors. Your work should commune with a non-human force, condition, and/or entity. For example, create a sundial to reestablish awareness of your position in relation to the sun; or travel to an undeveloped location, close your eyes and identify the sound that is closest and the sound that is most distant from you; or walk barefoot on an unpaved surface outdoors and report on the temperature, shapes, inclines, textures, moisture of the site through the sensations you feel with your feet; or identify where you live in terms of biotic and geologic characteristics, not a street address. The goal is to develop the sense of kinship with the non-human world that is essential to Deep Ecology, healing the environment by healing the human spirit one person at a time.  

RESEARCH / DISCUSSION: The Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess (1937 – 2004), coined two terms to clarify opposing ways that humans interface with the non-human realm. He referred to reliance upon practical information and technical skills as ‘shallow ecology’, and cultivation of affinity with non-human entities as ‘deep ecology’. Compare the potential of shallow and deep ecology to protect the planet from being harmed by human actions and/or neglect. 

-Is it more important to overcome spiritual dislocation from the dynamic forces of the planet or to seek pragmatic solutions to existing problems? 

-Is metaphysical unification, sometimes referred to as
“re-earthing,” as likely to accomplish environmental reforms as scientific research that objectifies the components of the physical environment?

-Although deep ecologists tend to reject technical and legislative fixes, might they affirm a rigorous scientific model called “earth system science”? This scientific discipline approaches the earth as a vital, self-regulating organism.