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“the ecocidal eye” by cathy fitzgerald

2012 May 6
Re-posted at the author’s request from

I  was recently accepted to present my work in progress at the UK/International art ecology conference The Home and The World  June 19-21, 2012. 
The Home and the World Summit addresses:
‘how creative people interact with the world around them, how the arts can speak about nature and the challenges facing the world, how place and community can be at the heart of creative choices, how our identities and place in the world is defined by what we call home...  Many writers have suggested that our increasing alienation from the natural world has had a profound effect on the human condition and the psyche.  Ecophilosopher Paul Shephard suggests that human societies have always persisted in destroying their habitat –– but that now this is compounded by our apparent loss of knowledge about the interdependence of all living things.’
‘This summit explores existential questions such as:  what does it mean to be at home in the world? what does home mean to us? how can we be more aware of our ‘inhabited place’ in the world? why do we all too often fail to understand the impact we have on the world around us? It’s been more than fifteen years since Gablik suggested that art can re-enchant our connection to the world – how have we responded?’ (see more here e-brochure)
This is the abstract I sent in below – it’s basically the working abstract of my entire artistic inquiry 
A few definitions first though. The concepts and new terms I’m presenting took a long while to come together. From thinking about how we ‘view’ or more correctly, how we construct our ‘views’ of the living world I see as maybe something akin to what feminist theory has revealed in cultural works – the politics of power  in the predominantly ‘male gaze’ . ‘Theories of the ‘gaze’ reject the idea that perception is ever merely passive reception. All of these approaches assume that vision, the quintessential aesthetic sense, possesses power: power to objectify—to subject the object of vision to scrutiny and possession. The ‘male gaze’ has been a theoretical tool of inestimable value in calling attention to the fact that looking is rarely a neutral operation of the visual sense. As Naomi Scheman states:

Vision is the sense best adapted to express this dehumanization: it works at a distance and need not be reciprocal, it provides a great deal of easily categorized information, it enables the perceiver accurately to locate (pin down) the object, and it provides the gaze, a way of making the visual object aware that she is a visual object. Vision is political, as is visual art, whatever (else) it may be about (Scheman, 1993, p. 159). ‘ (Korsmeyer, 2008)

In my general review of the state of the planet in regards to our species involvement in activities of gross and globalised ecocide (see my previous post on what ‘ecocide’ is here) that is having a recognised negative effect on the earth’s entire planetary systems (such as the largest mass extinction in the last 65 million years, climate change, ocean acidification, peak oil, peak nitrogen, peak phosphorous, peak uranium, peak everything etc), I’ve also found myself adopting the word ‘biosphere‘ – a relatively new scientific word that encompasses not just all living ecosystems but the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (our oceans), the lithosphere (the elements that make up the earth’s crust) of the earth.
The idea of the ‘ecocidal eye’ arose as ‘ecocide’  seems to capture the argument  of what I’m trying to present in my enquiry – that the way we culturally represent the living world is never passive and in fact has often been complicit in how we continue to exploit the earth which now even  threatens our own living support systems. It took me simply ages to come up with a phrase which would somehow connect ecocide and cinema – I had it as the ‘lazy eye’, ‘the destructive eye’, ‘the forgetting eye’ … and then suddenly arrived at the ecocidal eye!

Abstract for my Home and World presentation, June 2012

Questions arising from a long term art and ecology project in which film-making has a significant part, have directed an artistic enquiry into the conceptual conventions and limitations of the predominant and what could be called the anthropocentric (human centered) gaze in cinema in how it presents nature. For example, while the nature documentary genre, is popular and has obviously played an important role in nature education and conservation, its anthropocentric, environmentalist gaze and its ecopornographic characteristics have often unwittingly supported and blinded industrial society’s ecocidal behaviour towards the complexly dynamic, interconnected and sensitive ecosystems on which humanity and all other species are part of and on which they depend. As cinema in all its forms has a powerful global position in displaying humanity’s behaviours and perspectives towards other living communities to large audiences, post-environmentalist, ecofeminist perspectives in this Anthropocene age (‘age of man’) of rapid biosphere  instability would argue the need to adopt more ecocentric philosophies and perspectives. As such, in-depth examination of the limitations of the anthropocentric gaze in cultural works such as cinema, are critically overdue, urgent and important in the evolution of cinema that would seek to more ably reflect more considered relations to the more-than-human earth and its inhabitants.
In this qualitative artistic practice and theory enquiry, work to present and examine more recent ecosophical thought and ethics will be examined through an interplay of cinematic experimentation in artists experimental cinema and relevant theory. The artistic practice element of this enquiry will seek to examine the potential of experimental cinema in particular, in retraining perspectives towards a more relational gaze that is more cognisant of the complexity and interdependence of living communities and systems, of which humanity and other species survival depends. These cinematic works will respond to evolving interactions in a long-term art & ecology project that aims to present the transformation of a monoculture conifer plantation into a diverse permanent forest in the artist’s immediate environment. A review of recent ecocriticism as it applies primarily to cinema will be performed, and case studies of works or works-in-process that display or aspire to more ecocentric cinematic perspectives or moments will be examined.
By employing and addressing recent ecosophical ideas/ethics and ecocriticism in specific experimental cinematic practices and works, the enquiry will seek to create and make explicit cultural practices and perspectives that may contribute to more relational cinematic works. Such cultural work will be increasingly important if wider society is to more fully acknowledge and better connect to the fragile, interconnected and interdependent living communities on which all life depends.


about cathy fitzgerald

Cathy Fitzgerald is a rural-based experimental filmmaker / visual artist with a background in research biology. Born in New Zealand she has lived in Ireland for 15 years. She is presently a Visual Culture PhD Scholar at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD/, Dublin, Ireland. She is looking at experimental cinema (practice and theory) and ecology in this age of biospheric crisis. Her research work can be seen at



Korsmeyer, Carolyn, “Feminist Aesthetics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =. Accessed 1.5.12

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    May 9, 2012

    These ideas of anthropocentrism and gaze reminded me of a line I was just re-reading in Jane Bennett:
    “Maybe it’s worth running the risks associated with anthropomorphizing (superstition, the divination of nature, romanticism) because it, oddly enough, works against anthropocentrism: a chord is struck between person and thing, and I am no longer above or outside a nonhuman ‘environment’”

    • May 13, 2012

      Thanks Andy,
      that’s really interesting to think of it that way. Food for thought…

  2. smonani permalink
    May 10, 2012

    Thanks for the post, Cathy. I look forward to a post on the whole conference too. Here’s a bit more food for thought: Andy raises an interesting point about anthropocentrism, which perhaps has its analogies in anthropomorphism, a term that was critically out of favor, and now approached with more circumspection than before thanks to works such as Lorraine Daston and Greg Mitman’s edited Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism (2006).
    I’m also curious about the provenance and evolving definitions of the term biosphere, as I seem to remember it from middle school biology classes, which is dating myself a bit, but also brings up questions of its use compared to say words such as ecosphere or ecology.

    • May 13, 2012

      Thanks for the reminder re: Daston and Mitman’s works.

      In regards to term ‘biosphere’ – it has much greater currency than ecosphere in science at the moment but they do appear to be used interchangeably.

      Ecosphere was more used in the 60s/70s I believe. ‘Biosphere’ I’ve seen defined as the sum of all ecosystems: all living things, the lithosphere, the atmosphere and the hydrosphere. I’m finding I’m using biosphere to have a broader term in which to use as so much discourse is around climate change (atmosphere) and ecocide has affected change on so many levels, aspects of the earth.

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