Socially Engaged Art and Tech at the Intersections of Ecology, Disability and History (2022-2023)


The future of human life on earth requires a transformation of humanity’s relationship with the living world. This “new” relationship must engage embodied knowledges and imagination, and it must bring together diverse communities and distinct histories to form an ecological consciousness based on justice and care.

Art and technology that combine to explore the relationships between the human and more-than-human world are vital to attend to wounded ecosystems, disabled ecologies, fraught histories and fractured relations. 

Project Description

This project team will contribute to the research, design and prototyping of specific elements of Soil and Spirit, a large-scale kinetic puppet installation in endangered forests. Interested applicants can learn more about this long-term project by checking out Animate Earth (Orion Magazine, December 2021).

The team will engage hands-on and highly-interdisciplinary artistic research to observe the architectures of diverse soils, the communication and growth patterns of mycorrhizal fungal networks, and chosen forest ecologies. 

This research will contribute to the development of the visual structure of the kinetic puppet installation, the movement vocabularies of the choreography, elements of the sound composition, and the design of the sensor communication network. The Bass Team will work in collaboration and dialogue with the project’s artistic production team in NYC.

The resulting installation will be accessible to diverse disability communities, support Indigenous sovereignty and non-extractive land relations, and will be designed to tour to chosen endangered and/or destroyed forests around the country.

Team members will work in sub-teams along five interconnected research themes:

  1. Soil, Mycorrhizae and Forest Research: Building on the work of a Story+ team, team members will engage soil and fungi microscopy, building a visual and movement reference library for Soil and Spirit.
  2. Design of Modular Performing Objects: Based on the microscopy work, team members will design and refine 1 - 3 prototypes of modular components of the kinetic puppet installation that will be built by communities.
  3. Technology (sensor communication architecture): Portions of the puppet-body will be made of silk-flower sensors. Team members will develop a refined prototype of the mechanical flowers and the architecture/logic of the sensor communication network that will guide sensor-flower behavior.
  4. Ethical Practice: Collectively, we will develop artistic research protocols and practices that uphold anti-colonial and anti-ableist commitments.  
  5. Forest Policy: A team member will research previous artistic works that were done on public forest lands, as well as environmental policies, to learn what State and Federal forest and park policies need to be considered. 

Check out this teams downloadable flyer.

Team Outputs to Date

Encountering Place: Disability, Art, and Anticolonial Enchantment in Endangered Forests. Marina Heron (Tsaplina) in conversation with Julia Watts Belser. Disability and Climate Change: A Public Archive Project. October 25, 2022.

Soil Stories

Where Art Meets Science in the Forest: An Evening with Artist Marina Heron (Tsaplina)


Fall 2022 – Spring 2023

  • Fall 2022: Mycorrhizal, soil and forest research reference library; community Soil ceremony and workshop; development of anti-colonial artistic research ethics and practices; prototype of 2 mechanical flowers; design and prototype of sensor communication network; draft forest policy manual
  • Spring 2023: Refine mechanical flower schematics; translation of mycorrhizal and soil research into design and prototype of 1 - 3 performing objects for the kinetic puppet installation; design of community-facing soil workshop; prototype of sensor communication network with integrated mechanical flowers.

This Team in the News

Rediscovering Connections to the Land and Each Other

See related Story+ summer project, Art as Relation and Repair Across Disabled Ecologies and Histories (2022).


Image: Dream puppet by Marina Tsaplina. Photograph by Brian Christianson (Orion Magazine, December 2021)

Dream puppet by Marina Tsaplina. Photograph by Brian Christianson (Orion Magazine, December 2021).

Team Leaders

  • Kevin Caves, School of Medicine-Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences
  • Jules Odendahl-James, Arts & Sciences-Theater Studies
  • Marina Tsaplina, Artist, Kienle Scholar in Medical Humanities

/graduate Team Members

  • Savannah Fitzpatrick, Digital Art Hist/Comp Media-AM
  • Kate Guillen, Art and Art History-PHD
  • Jessica Orzulak, Art and Art History-PHD
  • Suhana Posani, Global Health - MSc
  • Lepeng Wei, Masters of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Surya Cannon, Art History (AB)
  • Joseph Diaz, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Anna Meares

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Torry Bend, Arts & Sciences-Theater Studies
  • Saskia Cornes, Franklin Humanities Institute
  • Michael Klien, Arts & Sciences-Dance
  • Mark Olson, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • Rytas Vilgalys, Arts & Sciences-Biology
  • Leonard White, School of Medicine-Neurology

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Alan Macy, Founder and Director of Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science and Technology (SBCast)
  • Guy Meilleur, Historic Tree Care
  • Julia Watts Belser, Georgetown University