Facing contemporary ecological challenges with critically attuned and creatively oriented tools
2021 Ecotopian Toolkit
Tool making is a signature trait of the human species. What tools can we make, and might we require, in the age of the human, the anthropocene: a name for the present geological epoch when humans are the most potent force shaping earth’s systems? Global warming and other anthropocene challenges, including the ongoing sixth mass extinction event, often lead to apocalyptic visions, or apathy. Through the Ecotopian Toolkit initiative, we explore a longer history of the anthropocene to help represent—and respond to—our contemporary moment. Might a utopian approach to the problem of global warming help us navigate warmer, rising waters and build forms of refuge? What tools can STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) educators in universities, museums, and nonprofits design and develop via the history of utopia and its hope for better futures?
In 2017, PPEH hosted our first design competition and a series of workshops to build ecotopian tools for WetLand, the art boat-meets-science lab conceived by then-PPEH Artist-in-Residence Mary Mattingly, in cooperation with Bartram’s Garden. In 2018 we partnered with Bartram's Garden and ran a design competition inviting proposals for tools designed with the Schuylkill River at Bartram's in mind, and in 2019 we worked with the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum to do much the same. Each year "toolmakers" were selected from the pool of applicants, provided a stipend by PPEH to realize their design proposal (or a prototype), and asked to offer a public workshop about the tool. Workshops ranged from community build sessions to construct Jacob Rivkin and Eric Blasco’s floating bio-remediating water filter and bird habitat, to more traditional lectures like Deirdre Murphy’s discussion of her process of creating prints from historic and current migratory data. Other toolmakers offered book-writing and design workshops for children, guided trash walks, multi-species movement and listening studios, and more.
Now in 2021, PPEH is supporting the creation of another cohort of human toolmakers who will retain an engagement with floating on/sinking in/and otherwise living with urban waters; and will similarly explore what it might mean to face contemporary ecological challenges with critically attuned and creatively oriented tools. In partnership with the Independence Seaport Museum (ISM), we will turn our focus to the Delaware River and to water justice. Each artist/team's project will be highlighted in a public demonstration led by the artist/team, documented on the PPEH and Schuylkill Corps websites, and archived and included in ongoing Toolkit initiatives.
This collaboration will begin in Bethany Wiggin’s Fall 2021 “Environmental Humanities: Theory, Methods, Practice” class, which will guide the call to toolmakers. Together with the ISM curatorial and educational teams, particularly the high school students in their River Ambassadors hands-on learning programs, we will consider what kind of tools we need with and for the Delaware River and watershed. With the Delaware as muse and teacher, selected artists, River Ambassadors, community members, and ISM visitors alike will embark on a year long practice as visionary toolmakers for healthy and just futures for all humans and non-humans along, and in, its waters. Through workshops, publicly interactive spaces, research and deep inquiry, the Ecotopian Toolkit project calls on each of us to intentionally imagine what we and this landscape can be—and to then actively build the tools we need to become.
Each step of the process will be documented and shared through an evolving exhibit at ISM and via a companion digital platform, intended to engage visitors in reflection, participation, and action. In the first phase, we will ask Museum visitors and River Ambassadors to suggest what tools they need for water justice. The second phase will announce the selected toolmakers and share their proposals, followed by documentation of their tool creation process. In the final phase, we will document how the River Ambassadors play-test the new tools in and around the Delaware.
This work will culminate in a companion print catalog and collaborative online resource for future visionaries to use in their own inquiry, conversation, and craft. We are hopeful that these outcomes will become tools themselves, ensuring that our home environment is tended to, well-considered, equitable, resilient, and dynamic for generations of future Philadelphians.
2018 Ecotopian Toolkit
Deirdre Murphy, "Mapping Movements: The Invisible Highways of Urban Birds at the Water's Edge"
FICTILIS, "Wastewater Walk"
Environmental Performance Agency, "Embodied Scientist Parkour"
2017 Ecotopian Toolkit for the Anthropocene Conference Keynote Speakers:
Click here for the 2017 Ecotopian Toolkit for the Anthropocene Conference full site.
Writer, historian, environmental and human rights activist
Director at Earth Institute; former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for
A PERIOD OF ANIMATE EXISTENCE
(Dan Rothenberg, Mimi Lien, Troy Herion)
Kathering Unger Ballie (April 10,2017) Penn Program in Environmental Humanities Competiton Winners Presented at Bartram's Garden. Penn News
Samantha Melamed (May 25, 2017) A Giant Water Filter for the Schuylkill? Philly Artists Respond to Environmental Challenge. Philly.com
Bethany Wiggin (Spring 2017) Forgotten Places and Radical Hope on Philadelphia's Tidal Schuylkill River. Open Rivers:Rethinking The Mississippi, no. 6