Artist in Social Practice at the Environmental Resilience Institute and SoAAD, Indiana University
Vice President of Research, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN (Bethan Roberts, Elisabeth Andrews)
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.
By Joe Carson, Rice University Energy and Cultural Podcast with Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer
My choice this year for my favorite podcast is perhaps a bit biased—I had the opportunity to take part in the Rice Seminar “After Biopolitics” with Maria Whiteman in 2015. Since then, I’ve followed her various artistic endeavors, which I encourage all of you to do as well. As Dominic and Cymene point out early in the recording, it is a challenge to discuss Whiteman’s visual and tactical artwork through the aural format of a podcast so supplement your listening experience with her website! While Whiteman discusses several of her installations, I was drawn to the common theme of touch. From her installations such as, “Anthropocene: Traces of Another Time in Landscape Photographs and Visual” (where Whiteman focused on a particular rock where bison had rubbed against it centuries ago as a point to emphasize changes in landscapes and environments) to her piece, “Mycelia” 2018-2022 (which shows fungi growing on the back of a human body), Whiteman’s visual representations of the Anthropocene push us to recognize how we come into close contact and proximity with things beyond ourselves—beyond the human, beyond our current moment in time and beyond our comfort. As Whiteman comments, she is drawn to reach out and grasp the things we might not; the things that would give us pause do not phase her. From these moments, she is able to beautifully capture these tactical encounters and recreate them through poignant and powerful images. Her narrations on this podcast provide an interesting and illuminating backstory to the well theorized and curated images on her website.
Antennae: Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. p.5 INTERVIEWEE: CARY WOLFE. INTERVIEWER: GIOVANNI ALOI Since the very beginning, rethinking human/animal relations has entailed reconsidering epistemology, ontology, and ethics. Along the way, on this ambitious journey, contemporary art has constantly provided invaluable opportunities to push disciplinary boundaries and test philosophical notions to breaking point. Twenty years later, so much has happened in animal-studies and much more has changed in contemporary art and philosophical. ISSUE 38 – WINTER 2016 ISSN 1756-9575
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, Houston, Texas Roadside Kestrel and Mountain Pine Beetle (with Deke Weaver): http://houstoncinemaartsfestival.org/films/reception-for-wolf-and-roadside-kestrel
UVP: Urban Video Project, I.M PEI Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY. http://www.urbanvideoproject.com/artists/screening-panel-talk-between-species-2/ https://news.syr.edu/2016/02/uvp-features-between-species-21387/ Between Species Panel https://vimeo.com/166221073 Three Videos by Maria Whiteman http://www.urbanvideoproject.com/artists/between-species-maria-whiteman-touching-grizzly-far-from-your-home-loved-you-right-up-to-the-end/
MoW: Museum of Walking, Tempe, Arizona :http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=9f56b50de528ef467ec5e40bd&id=72030afe63&e=424215382c
MoW: http://www.museumofwalking.org/exhibitions-2/#/temporal-changes-in-the-landscape/Alex Macpherson, “Memories of a Naturalist,” Verb News, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, June 2013.
Art and Design professor TUFFs it out UAlberta News, by Lana Cuthbertson, September 11, 2012.
Bryan Alary, “Banff residency taps top scholars for acclaimed exhibit.” UAlberta News, August 15, 2012. Stephen Hunt, “dOCUMENTA at Banff Centre: a long conversation on art.” Calgary Herald, August 13, 2012. http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainment/dOCUMENTA+Banff+Centre+long+conversation/7073180/story.html “Artists strive to define our place in bigger picture.” Comox Valley Record, January 10, 2012. http://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/entertainment/137048293.html
Amanda Boetzkes, "The Eternal Image of the Animal: Maria Whiteman, Taxonomia" Latitude 53 Gallery, Edmonton, AB, 2011. http://www.latitude53.org/archive/2011/Whiteman