By David T. Valentin
On Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend the Queer Rewilding: The Shadow of the Sun, a virtual event that addressed how “rewilding can promote new ways of thinking about human relationships to nature.” Moderated by Director of Arts & Chief Curator at Wave Hill, Gabriel De Guzman with featured panelists, Zachari Logan, an artist who integrates aspects of nature into his art, and Christian Murphy, an ecologist and environmentalist who works for the Bronx River Alliance.
The event kicked off at 2 P.M. sharp, wasting no time in getting the ball rolling. Firstly, they acknowledge the indigenous tribes existing and who have existed on the lands on which environmentalist and ecologist like Christian Murphy work. And then panelists moved in which an introduction to rewilding through introducing local plant life, cleaning up the area, and overall providing a more sustainable environment not only for the wildlife but for people as well.
After getting into the more technical and hands on work of rewilding, exhibition artist Zachari Logan joined in on the conversation to discuss how he integrates the ideas of wildlife, specifically the cycle of life, death and decay into his art and what it means as a mode of resistance. And while some of his art modeled after was a bit bland compared to his other pieces, I thought his commentary on how there really is no separation between what people consider “the wild” and the human mind and body and how natural spaces are important to keep a mindful and respectful outlook on wildlife.
His piece named Bones, a pile of bones buried beneath a blanket of flowers, which are added to every day, as a commentary not only to the natural decay of living things, but also as a commentary to the burying and extinction of native wildlife due to the hubris of humans, specifically the death of indigenous cultures and sacred animals, was certainly among my favorites.
One of the most important discussions were defining acts of resistance in a capitalist society that by nature seeks to mass produce without regard to finite resources or a way to sustainably produce. As an act of resistance, Zachari specifically noted walks as one of the simplest forms of resistance—to stroll through a pristine park, or pristine, untouched wildlife and to be bewildered by it is humbling.
Christian Murphy added that not only is the process of bewildering a step in rewilding, but it’s also one of the smallest steps people take to actively engage with the rewilding process. In other words, Murphy explains that to rewild is to be actively mindful to what you produce, what you consume, and what you do with that waste.
During the Q&A session, a member from the audience pointed out much of the panel has focused on rewilding from a masculine perspective but wanted to know how a feminine perspective differs.
To which Murphy cleverly, and comically, responded, “Loving flowers is gay,” which is quite possibly one of my favorite take aways from the event. He of course goes on to explain how as a photographer the attention to detail has always been a feminine thing and gawking at the larger picture has always been more masculine.
And Zachari chimed in to explain that through his art, specifically his art which featured his own body as a play on the mythical folklore of the green men, he engages with the male gaze and what’s attractive. He beautifully went on the describe maleness, specifically masculinity, as an “anxious performance.” And he’s right—pressure on men to look a certain way often comes through the male gaze. And so, a lot of it is a performance to appear masculine throughout your life, both mentally and physically.
Although he didn’t tie that into queerness when he should have, I would say queer people have to chance to break from naturally have the opportunity to break from that “anxious performance” by redefining beauty by one’s own standards, especially considering that many queer people don’t cleanly exist within a feminine and masculine binary both mentally and physically.
Overall, the virtual event was incredibly interesting, and I think it was a necessary conversation to have, and continue to have, as we come out of lockdown and enter back into the world. We’ve spent so much time stuffed within our homes that I feel many people crave more natural public spaces. During the panel Murphy mentioned that although city’s have been built a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be changed. And I agree—it’s time we start having a conversation to implement wild spaces and public art spaces to city’s that are more accessible to the everyday citizen, rather than keeping art barred within museums for the posh elite. Which also means creating a city that’s both functional and beautiful for the people of the city, rather than stripping away the aestheticisms of culture for bland and boring modernist architecture.
I would like to see another panel with a wider variety of panelists from different races and cultures. Specifically indigenous people because it was strange for them to be talking about rewilding and returning to natural spaces without having someone from an indigenous tribe. But maybe this is the first of many more environmental virtual events?