ECOPOESIS: The Beauty of Embodied Conversation or…I don’t want you alone and terrified when you think about climate change

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I want to share some ECOPOESIS Movement thinkings and feelings that came before, during, and after a recent talk I gave at Maldives National University. Every time I talk about the ECOPOESIS Movement, I fall deeper into what it is inviting us to do as humans.

<<<<There were close to 180 people in the MNU auditorium that night – architects, designers, politicians, university administrators, faculty, and many many students — and that was so beautiful — they came to hear the headliner act, my brilliant colleagues from California College of the Arts, Margaret Ikeda and Evan Jones, who were presenting their work as part of BUOYANT ECOLOGIES. My work with ECOPOESIS is part of the Architectural Ecologies Lab at CCA, founded with Adam Marcus, also an architect and someone who sometimes works with ice.  I was honored to be there, to share some words about ECOPOESIS. We were also humbled by the fact former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed attended; President Nasheed offered key leadership to the climate talks in Copenhagen in 2008 and continues to be a global thought leader and inspiration around climate. >>>>

((Adam, Chris Falliers, also an architect, and I founded ECOPOESIS at CCA in 2018-19 and the idea is beautifully simple. We have three more years of ECOPOESIS activities, so please reach out if you interested in joining.))

ECOPOESIS: Confronting//Confronting Our Demons

Let’s call the times we live in Confronting Our Demons. But as we confront our Demons, something else, unexpected happened: The search for solutions became part of the problem.

Stay with me, please, while I explain. Discussions about how horrible humans are and our disgusting waste problems have elevated to a grotesque level. I am often in these discussions and I hear my own words and think, Oh my god! How awful I sound! I engage in a caricature of a discussion, often including only the most rarefied group.

The ECOPOESIS Movement is about re-focusing our dialogues, our chats, about the process of speaking to and hearing each other.  It is about how we don’t need to be alone and terrified, it is about how we can create circles of people as a means and an end in and of themselves. We can create messages we can share with each other to hold the terror at bay.

A key part of these discussions is how we use our hands and creativity to connect.

ECOPOESIS is braided activities, making and talking, and we draw, write, cut, paste, create audio and video, so the conversations are embodied. We edge closer to some realizations about our realities and how we understand what our realities are and what they might be.

ECOPOESIS is about feeling. How do you feel about climate change? Our feelings about climate, life on Earth, and all the tentacles that emerge from climate discussions — racism, speciesism, misogny, hate speech, economic justice, and on and on.

The ECOPOESIS Movement is about leveling the field, a place where we can look at and feel these complex feelings while creating embodied messages.

Some people may feel that they want to scream. That’s OK. Screaming is a good, artful, and biological response. The messages we collectively make help us decide what sort of postures we might want to get into as humans.

Remain, resist, retreat, were our three, key words shaping the group chats of ECOPOESIS 1, in April, 2019. These RE- words allowed us to give shape to our discussions. Each gathering will focus on RE- words.

The ECOPOESIS Movement is also about playing in language that emanates from ideas of LOVE.

What do we love enough to take care of?

Do you love yourself, your partner, your dog, your teaspoon, your oceans, your birch trees, your Milky Way, your plastic, your satellites enough to take care of them?

<<<<<I want to acknowledge how generous these architects are with me, and how much they teach me each and every day I am with them. They see the world with such specific imaginaries — thinking about ways to create forms to help us all, humans and non-humans, survive the Sixth Mass Extinction. How’s that for a work brief?>>>>>


Plastic, I Love You

red and white mouth plastic toy and food plastic toys
Photo by on

(This is the first image that came up when I searched “Plastic Love” in Free Photos. Interesting. As a lover of plastic food models, the cupcake is particularly appealing.) This is the beginning of an essay I am writing for my next collection, The Late Great Golden State. (The title essay comes out Fall 2019 with The Bellingham Review — thanks so much Suzanne Paola for inviting a piece and for accepting it.) Here is the current draft. I am really vibe-ing on writing short these days. Let me know what you think.

On Plastic

Plastic is a miracle and I love it. Right now we are all talking about how we hate plastic but why should we do that? It’s like burning your own house down. Plastic is in all of us and in everything. Plastic is better at existing on Earth than humans are! It takes so many forms and it never, ever vanishes, like human bodies do. No! Not plastic. Resilient. Noble. Forever.

My forever love.

Think of this substance with tenderness: We can mold it into anything. It absorbs and emits light, it can be ductile or rigid, it is so strong, yet so magnificently light. You can see why humans fell in love with it. A substance of our design imbued with so many gorgeous qualities. It seals, it insulates, it protects. Plastic serves us. 

However. Now are days when we wish this service had been more curtailed. We love you, plastic, but we are also now terrified by you. What have we created? And, gulp, can we get rid of you? Yet you are our intimate. Each day, I touch you in your many forms. I sit on a plastic toilet seat at dawn, I drizzle eucalyptus-scented soap across my arms in the shower — from a plastic bottle. (I think about how glass bottles in the bath would be so dangerous!) 

And so I meditate on your brilliance. How many of us have you saved? I know you saved me after a car crash, formed into so many tubes lacing into so many holes in my body. Plastic: Stranger blood flowed into me, guided by plastic. Nourishment came to me. You protected all the sterile gauze and pads when my babies were born. 

But oh! Plastic how we misunderstood you. How we had this craven desire for you, how we pushed you to be all things to all people. Yes! How we enslaved you to our capitalist markets, how we found you could be made into cheap versions of coveted animal materials — tortoise, bone — how we called you vegan leather. 

Capitalism: You made this possible in the late 20th century. You were ready to serve, unjudging, ready to be useful. And now what is your recompense? You are 

Or. Maybe you had a plan from the beginning. Maybe you wanted to be not simply of us but in us. And so you waited and waited and saw how with each painful accommodation, the heat, the chemicals, the hours of molding, you might have a shot. What if you could break free from our systems and, for instance, go for a swim in the ocean? Your larger plastic brain saw the ocean from so many perspectives, from sunscreen bottle to chair to strap around handsome lifeguard to buoy slung across handsome lifeguard, to straw, to cup lid. What if, you imagined, you could find a way to live in that ocean, that great gelatinous sea? What if indeed? 

And so. Here we are. I am you and you are me. You made it into that ocean, so hard to see you there, you exist as a microscopic cloud, you fold into my skin as I dive into the waves. Uncapturable. 

I hesitate to say this but now I wonder: Do I get a vibe of you do you, and I do me? Is that what we have here? Because I want you to know, I do not blame you. I am deeply, madly, deeply in love with you.

What did Roland Barthes say: Ubiquity made beautiful.

We Are the Loop: Feel Its Tug and Pull


We are the loop. And we love the loop, don’t we, particularly the delusional but understandable idealism that is applied to how we buy and use objects, stuff, all the many things we tote around. Late-Capitalism has us in a very fast loop now and we buy, consume, and discard at a rate that boggles zee mind. Except that it doesn’t really boggle our minds — that is, create a sense of marvel (and if you spell “boggle” with one “g” it means demon or phantom, which I secretly love.)

The thing is, there are people in the world who know this is a real problem, all this buying and trash sorting and not using things for more than five seconds. The thing is we are the loop and we can create some friction to slow it down. How do we do this? Through words and symbols. Through creating processes to slooooooow things dooooooown. Through pausing with people, known and strange to us, to talk about how we feel about it all. Every time we pause to speak to this, read to this, write to this, we slow down the loop.

I gave a talk at the Maldives National University on July 24, 2019, about the ECOPOESIS Movement, which I founded with Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, and a loop image-object came along for the discussion.

But not any old loop: This is the loop we humans were gifted in 1970, to describe structured reintegration of our waste, through industrial systems, and then back in new and exciting forms. We were not creating too much, for instance, plastic. We were energizing the loop.

ECOPOESIS wants to react to many things: The dearth of language, our need for new signs, the instantiation of ecological discussions in science/political/philosophical circles — often feeling far from the rest of us humans and non-humans. The speed of the loop.

Some of the words I said: “We are also reacting to the current state of ecological messaging and symbols, which we feel are out of date. For example, this ubiquitous American recycling symbol that proposes our plastics are in a perfect loop of reuse. One swim in any of the world’s oceans proves this wrong in the 21st century.”  Gary Anderson, then a 23-year-old student at USC, submitted this design in 1970 for a contest run by the Container Corporation of America — and the brief was to illustrate the path for recycled paper.

I then took off one of my shoes, designed by Rothy’s here in SF, that used re-cycled plastic as its material. I feel good about myself for buying shoes made from plastic (a fantastic material, by the way, which we choose to falsely deify and then demonize to keep Sauren’s Eye off of us as individuals? Perhaps?) To make this point: There is a loop, it is not one that is over there — a glyph to assuage feelings of guilt about your stuff.

You are the loop and the loop is you.

My next post is going to talk about my own love affair with plastics.




But How Do You Feel? July 10, Ganges, France


***This is the third in a series of posts tracing some thoughts and notes from my July 2019 trip around the world. I stopped for two weeks in France followed by two weeks in The Maldives. Very different ecosystems, very different vibes. Many moments of clarity and feelings — about ecologies, climate change, life with other humans and non-humans. One of the best things I heard came from a Swedish designer at the residency in France, as our group, up late, talking, talking, talking in the still (heat-wave) night: “But how do you feel?”  What do we feel as we head deeper into the sixth mass extinction, sitting in a very old market town in the Cevennes, in baking heat? How do the rest of us talk about being ecological — away from theory, science, philosophy, technological solutions, ecological artists? What does it mean to be human in these times? Is it a scream? A dance? A long, loud laugh?

We are in Ganges as the huge heatwave (round 1) begins to abate. But. It is still stifling and so most days we work in the early hours, thinking largely about large-scale, participatory design projects — from edible forests, to refugee resettlement, to urban food systems. My own contribution to this conversation is ECOPOESIS.

My own thinking about this movement is being nudged along by the brilliant John Thackara and Kristi Van Riet, who once ran Doors of Perception out of Amsterdam. A lot of their insights will serve to up-end my internal gyroscope about how people come together.

They are at home now in Ganges, in a 17th-century manse with many nooks for gathering and talking. The idea of ECOPOESIS is to create dialogue around climate change — and what we are finding is that people are eager to share their feelings about this. There are so many feelings to feel. There are so many ways to come at this — philosophically etc. One evening in Ganges, I presented the project rather informally to a group that included Danish technologists. The group was quite intent on trying to understand what ECOPOESIS is — and really helped me learn that I need to use words like “process” and “solution” (we are a process, we are not trying to be a center for creating solutions) — and I felt a moment of almost cartoonish “DOH!” Why? Because it is so easy to get caught in the rabbit hole of the process, entangled in larger aspirations, and to use language that does not necessarily warm and draw in the listener. Which is particularly odd because the project is about dialogues, which means hearing. How did I not hear the lack of accessibility in our language? I also started to think about, based on John and Kristi’s insights — that we might be slightly off our mark in how we initially designed ECOPOESIS. That is, how can we have more events with fewer people — rather than one event, as we did April, 2019, with a few dozen people and a specific intellectual “thought leader” — offering us guiding principles? We have an opportunity to better understand what it means to have feelings about ecologies — and climate change — across smaller-scale events, largely located outside, en plein air. This shift fascinates me, as a writer. One of our goals is to have publications emerge from our work — so if that is the case, then why not meet more frequently, in a more scaled way?

One fascinating thoughts  we all share and come back to — how we can get to talking about ecologies and all the tentacles, economic justice, misogyny, racism, outside of the halls of privilege — like the Academy, like San Francisco, like a design retreat in a small market town in France? Back in SF, we are being crushed by gentrification and economic warfare against all but the extremely wealthy. Gentrification cannot be “conquered” but we need to look at the bizarre irony of being in a place long known for its innovative and discursive cultures and what we have now.

So. One of the insights is that in order to make this movement, this ECOPOESIS, we need to stay in motion, we need to stay vulnerable, and we need to stay close to the edge of hope. And we have to deliver better words. We need better words to better describe what it means to be human (and non-human) in these times.


ECOPOESIS Goes Global in the Maldives, July 2019


Dhangeti Island, The Maldives
ECOPOESIS at MALDIVES NATIONAL UNIVERSITY – my talk starts around the 8 minute mark
Hiiiiii — As many of you know, I founded the ECOPOESIS Movement with my colleagues from California College of the Arts, Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers (both teach in Architecture). I was invited, as part of the Architectural Ecologies Lab (Adam is a founder at CCA, with faculty members Evan Jones and Margaret Ikeda) on the 2019 expedition/site visit/research trip to the Maldives. Margaret and Evan teach an Architecture studio at CCA that prototypes buoyant housing and non-human habits as solving towards rising seas. Rising seas are at the front of the mind in the Maldives, where the 1,000-mile long string of atolls all sit at sea level. As they say, there are no hills in the Maldives. 
On July 24, we were invited to the Maldives National University to give talks about our respective projects — ECOPOESIS and BUOYANT ECOLOGIES.
It was a beautiful evening — more than 150 people attended, including the “Island President,” the brave and inspirational Mohammed Nasheed, who was elected president of the Maldives after years as a political prisoner and life in exile. President Nasheed played a crucial role at the Copenhagen climate talks. His brilliant mind and presence are beautifully portrayed in the documentary, The Island President (2011.) The former president continues to work towards climate solutions for his country. At the end of our lectures, he was invited to the stage and you can hear his electrifying discussion of how the Maldivian people will fight on and survive. Let me know what you think and where the ECOPOESIS Movement might pop up next. We are happy to travel to your place to share this dialogue, making, and writing about climate change.