ANN ROSENTHAL – artist/educator/writer


There are too many answers and too few questions for the complex world we inhabit. As much as we try to “do the right thing” and “just get along,” we continue to make the same mistakes. Clearly, our desire for a better world is not enough to bring it about. In our attention-deficit-disordered world, with instant communication and sound-bite analysis, having the time and patience to think and act deeply borders on the subversive. Success in the 21st century is measured in speed, efficiency, and packaging. Where are places for contemplation, deep listening, and thoughtful action?

Postmodern theory tells us that our experience is socially constructed. If “reality” is of our own collective making, then we can fashion a different world, but we must fi rst cultivate a deep understanding of how things came to be the way they are. Of course, there is no single answer. The process of questioning, however, can lead to insights and, eventually, to more sustainable solutions—in contrast to the “crisis responses” that have become the mainstay of postmodernity.


My work and my life are guided by the following quotation by bell hooks:

Since the disruption of the colonized/colonizer mind-set is necessary for border crossings to not simply reinscribe old patterns, we need strategies for decolonization that aim to change the minds and habits of everyone involved in cultural criticism
(hooks 4).

Through text and image, I seek to expose old patterns and disrupt the colonized/colonizer mindset through asking questions that destabilize what we assume to be immutable.

A potent strategy for decolonization is offering alternative histories. With the Western narrative of progress still firmly in place, environmental history is rarely acknowledged, let alone integrated into historical and cultural analysis. Whereas postcolonial theory has offered deep insights into relationships between humans, it has yet to be applied to our relationship with non-human nature. (Ecofeminist theorists are a notable exception and
have made important contributions in this regard.)

Given the above insights and shortfalls of postmodern theory and historical critique, I have taken as my project over the last several years to challenge historical narratives and offer
“alter-tales” (Haraway).

My professional background is a hybrid of writing and image making. As
a result, my interests in design, publishing, artist books, collage, and
installation have been consistent over 30 years. Integrating these forms
and processes, my current practice complicates the social and natural
histories of “place” through:

  • Reframing the local urban/rural environment to see it anew;
  • Suggesting how the nature/culture boundary has evolved; Questioning how personal and public decisions have been determined;
  • Opening a dialogue to re-vision what we want our eco/social communities to be.

Underlying the above is an attempt to transform the way in which we relate to one another and the planet, including:

  • Shifting from instrumentalist to systems/relational thinking;
  • Perceiving the environment as “Self” rather than “Other”;
  • Extending “community” to include non-human nature (Leopold);
  • Rekindling our social desire for sustainable cultures and environments (Heller).

I acknowledge that this process of transformation must be refl ected in my own life and cultural production. Thus the following are the values toward which I strive, as well as those I believe are common to ecoart practice:

  1. Land Ethic—recognizing that we are members of an interdependent “community” that includes not only humans, but “…soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively: the land.” (Leopold).
  2. Systems Thinking—visualizing patterns and relationships across disparate information and knowledge systems; applying the lessons of ecosystems to our human communities (Capra).
  3. Sustainability—designing our lives, work, products, social systems, and relationships to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (World Commission on Environment and Development).
  4. Social and Biological Diversity—understanding that diversity among disciplines, cultures, and species is a prerequisite for systems health and resilience.
  5. Social and Environmental Justice—insisting that all species have a right to a clean environment that supports our health and the integrity of the ecological systems that sustain life.
  6. Collaboration—bridging the boundaries between disciplines, communities, cultures, classes, genders, and species, respecting what each contributes to designing solutions that work for everyone.
  7. Integrity—closing the gap between what we value and how we act in the world.

If the work is intended to foster activism, then opportunities for individual and community involvement must be integrated into the work. I have found it highly effective to contextualize the work within a related public event, such as an environmental conference, an arts fair, or Earth Day/community celebration. Follow-up events could include a roundtable discussion with local environmental, community, and academic leaders who address issues suggested by the work. This is an ideal opportunity to involve and connect the many people and institutions who have contributed to the project.

Ann Rosenthal