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 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. 

This project team contributed to the research, design and prototyping of specific elements of Soil and Spirit, a large-scale kinetic puppet installation in endangered forests. The team engaged in hands-on and highly interdisciplinary artistic research to observe the architectures of diverse soils, the communication and growth patterns of mycorrhizal fungal networks and selected forest ecologies. 

During the first semester, the team broke into three subteams, each tackling a different aspect of research. The first group collaborated with a corresponding EGR 101 team to create a prototype for a mechanical flower to be used in the later installation; another began research for a Forest Policy Handbook that future participating artists and others could use to learn about the history of forest management in the United States; and a third created a database called the Living Archive, which will live on and grow as the project evolves beyond its presence at Duke.

During the second semester, the team explored how to produce an artistic land-based artwork while also supporting Indigenous sovereignty and practicing non-extractive land relations. In support of this goal, the forest policy subteam conducted archival research on State Forest Action Plans, treaty histories between Native American Nations and Federal and State governments reaching back to the sixteenth century, and histories of land dispossession in North America.  


Fall 2022 – Spring 2023

Team Outputs

Soil and Spirit (2023 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

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)

Preliminary research for Forest Policy Handbook

Mechanical flower prototype for public art installation

Interactive workshops

This Team in the News

To Remember Amid Dismemberment

Rediscovering Connections to the Land and Each Other

Soil and Spirit: Artist-in-Residence Marina Tsaplina

Community: Soil Stories

Reconnecting Humans to the Earth with Marina Tsaplina’s Soil and Spirit

Graduate and Professional Student Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2023

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

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

/undergraduate Team Members

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

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

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