Artist in Social Practice at the Environmental Resilience Institute and SoAAD, Indiana University
Interconnectedness is at the heart of Maria Whiteman’s art. Engaging with animals, landscapes, and most recently fungi, she uses multiple media including photography and video to convey the deep and intrinsic ties between humans and other living things. As these interrelationships underlie environmental science, her goal at the Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) is to create a visual entry point for people to approach the science through a visceral, emotional experience.
For example, her ongoing “Mind, Body and Matter” series features a photograph of a man with turkey tail mushrooms appearing to grow from his back. This depiction of human skin as a medium for fungal growth underscores the reality of the many microorganisms that live on and in human bodies. In “Wildlife and Oil: In the Air,” images of a great white egret gliding among billowing smokestacks highlight the toxic emissions to which the bird is exposed – and, by, extension, the pollutants entering the lungs of nearby residents. This movement from compassion for animals to recognition of human vulnerability is also central to her work with taxidermy. Through video recorded in storage rooms of natural history museums, she uses the act of stroking the preserved bodies of polar and grizzly bears to capture the instinct to associate ourselves with these threatened species.
Moving to Indiana to join the ERI awakened Whiteman’s interest in fungi, as mushrooms are such a predominant feature of the local natural landscape. She is currently working with IU biologist Roger Hangarter to grow and observe live fungi in addition to studying their role within ecosystems, environmental impact and their nutritional and medicinal uses. A forthcoming outdoor/indoor art installation series that Whiteman calls BioFungi Art is the next phase of her larger project at IU. It will consist of art that grows, decomposes and lives as part of a LiveArt installation. The upcoming art exhibits will invite residents to encounter these fungi through increasingly immersive media: first photography, then video, followed by virtual reality, and finally a living, growing installation allowing visitors to physically enter a fungal space. Eventually Whiteman would like to integrate BioFungi and LiveArt into Museums and Gallery spaces as contemporary eco-art. In the meantime, Whiteman is experimenting with fungal bricks as building material and mycelium filament as living mortal.
The turn toward the environmental impact in which fungi plays an essential role also represents an acknowledgement of the irreversible changes that humans have made to the ecosystem. By orientating toward a kingdom of organisms that thrive on decaying matter, Whiteman aims to position her work in the present moment of ecological collapse. Whereas her earlier work with taxidermy represented a mournful remembrance of animals facing extinction, her current projects look ahead to eagerly; curiously, and even playfully anticipate the altered ecosystems that humankind will inhabit.
Maria has published critical texts in Public: Art/Culture/Ideas, Minnesota Review and Antennae and an essay on Visual Culture in the John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. In 2011, Whiteman was the recipient of an Interdisciplinary Course Seminar Grant from the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies was a scholar in the Canadian Institute for Research Computing in the Arts. In 2011, she had a solo exhibition at Latitude 53. Exhibited in the Alberta Biennial at the Art Gallery of Alberta 2013. Whiteman was a co-director of the 2012 (BRIC) Banff Research in Culture/ documenta 13 research residency and participated in the Geoffrey Farmer Residency at the Banff Centre in 2012. Whiteman's “Mountain Pine Beetle and Roadside Kestrel” most recent video/photography work premiered at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and Rice Media Centre, Houston, TX, Nov 2014. Whiteman attended the Caetani Culture Artist in Residence FRESH AIR! Okanagan, Vernon, BC, Alberta May-June 2015. In November, 2015 Co-organized "After BioPolitics" The SLSA Society for Literature, Science and the Arts, Curated "After Biopolitics in Contemporary Art" with Keynotes (Mark Dion and Vinciane Despret). Houston, Texas. She was the recipient of the Visiting Scholar Lynette S. Autrey Fellowship 2015-2016 Rice University. In Feb- March of 2016 "Touching" and "Loved you right up to the end" exhibited in the Urban Video Project “Between Species,” Curated by Anneka Herre at Syracuse University, New York. March-April 2016 a Solo exhibition "Visitor" at the Museum of Walking (MoW), Tempe, AZ. March 2016 Artist in Residence at the Laboratory for Criticism and Technics, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. April/End of May 2016 BAir Extended Artist Residency Program, Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta. Fall 2016, The School of Science, Arts and Technology, Artist in Residence with Xin Wei and Adam Nocek, Project workshop "Ecology of the Senses," Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. Banff for Arts and Creativity, BAIR Visual and Digital Arts Residency, Banff, AB Nov- April-May, 2016 and Dec, 2016 (https://www.banffcentre.ca/visual-and-digital-arts). Exhibition at Harry Wood Gallery, Tempe, Arizona Nov-Dec 2017. Elected as the Art Liaison 2018 And Second Vice President for The SLSA Society for Literature, Science and the Arts. August 2018- 2022 Environmental Resilience Institute for Research and Artistic Social Practice at Indiana University, Bloomington.
The main goal of my artistic practice over the past decade has been to investigate and interrogate the ways that we conceptualize, visualize and narrate our relationships to and understanding of the non-human world, ecology and environment. The main forms that I’ve employed to carry out my projects have been large format digital photography, video and installation art. I want to create a visual language to understand these intersections of the human-natural world in order to help us think the future in full awareness of the actual character of the physical and mental landscapes we currently inhabit.