A panel discussion with Jane D. Marsching, Cary Peppermint, and Brooke Singer, moderated by Shane Brennan.
by Shane Brennan

Thank you all for coming. I’m very excited to be moderating this panel and sitting in the company of such accomplished and compelling artists.

There is no doubt that our planet—the climate, wilderness, all that is "natural"—is changing. It is vitally important for us as artists to redefine our somatic and experiential connection to what we are transforming. In the community of artists using new technologies in particular, an electric storm—of hybrid, interactive, and performative art—is brewing.

I first encountered the work of Jane D. Marsching, Cary Peppermint and Brooke Singer when I started curating a project called New Climates. This project brings together artwork responding to global climate change and networked culture using a constantly evolving video blog. These artists are working at (and re-working) the boundary of nature and civilization, and the threshold of artistic practice and technological implementation. I was particularly drawn to Marsching’s Arctic Listening Post, Peppermint’s A Series of Practical Performances in the Wilderness and Singer’s A-I-R. These works expand our conceptions of how we inhabit, see, and make art with (and within) nature. In this introduction, I’d like to touch upon a few of what I see as common threads in their work.

The discipline of eco-philosophy has theorized that technologies of communication, art, and entertainment can act as prostheses to extend human experience and interaction into the non-human world. I would like to propose that the work of Marsching, Peppermint and Singer is not simply concerned with interpenetrating “the human” and “the natural,” nor are they only employing technology as a static representational filter through which we see “nature.” Instead, these artists are establishing a participatory relationship between artist, environment and viewer. They are demonstrating that the biosphere, human culture and technology are not always discordant. In fact, they have the potential to harmonize in ways that expand our awareness of nature and ourselves.
The work of these artists redefines nature’s “remoteness” or “otherness” as productive rather than prohibitive. They use technology to connect disparate viewers to places that popular imagination has seen as inaccessible, uninhabited, ahistorical, or even mystical. In the book The Machine in the Garden, Leo Marx discusses the poetic art of integrating nature and technology. He writes: “If technology is the creation of man, who is a product of nature, then how can the machine in the landscape be thought to represent an irresolvable conflict?” Marsching, Peppermint and Singer are poets of integration; they are engineers in the figurative garden. In their projects, the “natural” is brought into the global information network with immediacy and urgency—it is as if they become part of the same “ecosystem.”

Robert Smithson once wrote, “Art can become a resource that mediates between the ecologist and the industrialist.” He created land art and earthworks, which laid the groundwork for artists to respond to, and reconfigure, natural landscapes. New media projects go one step further: They employ technology to reveal current environmental changes and to look into the future. In their explorations at the limits of nature, these artists share an interest in imagining a sustainable future—even while excavating geological, technological, and individual histories. Their projects suggest that art can, and indeed must, operate within the larger network of environmental politics, science and social action. Their influence continues well beyond their institutional or Web-based presentations into the many pathways of our networked culture.

As you may already know, each of these artists skillfully engages the World Wide Web. In dialog with the “real” natural spaces made visible in the art of Marsching, Peppermint and Singer, there exists the “wilderness” (as one could call it) of the Internet, blogosphere, and the planetary information environment. These three artists navigate and perform in this virtual terrain—a terrain as vast, rich and occasionally unfamiliar as its organic analogue. Their work mirrors and layers these natural and digital “wilds.” And we come to see both nature and emerging technologies as contingent and malleable.

Finally, I want to emphasize the common interest of these artists in dialogical structures of information exchange. They spark communication across scientific, artistic and broader communities—as well as between humans and the non-human world. In doing so, these artists highlight dialog as a powerful tool for instigating political, social, and ecological change. I am sure that hearing about their work will inspire a similarly effective and stimulating conversation this evening—a sharing of ideas, facilitated by technology and organically unfurling, that is truly—and productively—“wild.”


Ecological, interdisciplinary, hybrid, conversational, exploratory, historical, imaginative, virtual, activist, networked. (That was my version of Jane’s work as a series of descriptive tags.) Arctic Listening Post, Marsching’s recent, multifaceted project “all about the Arctic,” evidences a kind of “distant touring” of the truly remote and nearly inaccessible landscape of the Arctic. The Arctic and the North Pole are as much symbolic and cultural destinations as geographical ones, and, as Marsching says, “technology allows us to go there.” Her use of scientific data, Web-based technology, and cultural history not only portrays the Arctic, but also serves as a vehicle for imaginary and visual transportation. Marsching’s work brings together art and science, sensation and information. And in so doing, she creates an electronic interface between aesthetics and environmentalism.

Marsching is currently an assistant professor of studio foundation at the Massachusetts College of Art, and her work has been exhibited at numerous spaces across the country. She was recently showcased as a Foster Prize Finalist at the ICA in Boston, where she exhibited Arctic Listening Post, a project that combines prints of computer-rendered Arctic landscapes, a remixed web-cam video of the North Pole, and Climate Commons, an interactive weblog discussion on climate change. I had the privilege of meeting with Jane inside her exhibition earlier this year, and I can attest to its inventiveness, collaborative spirit and rigorous multiplicity.


Cary Peppermint’s relationship with nature could be seen as both ancient and contemporary—his interventions in wild spaces in A Series of Practical Performances involve foraging for sustenance, constructing a home, and moving rocks. And yet they are presented and distributed as a DVD and database of Quicktime videos. His websites, Restless-culture.net and Eco-art-tech.net serve as hubs for his artistic practice and research as well as constitute digital performances of convergent media in and of themselves. Peppermint’s “exposure”—to use one of his own terms—to nature, and nature’s “exposure” to Peppermint, is documented in a form that questions the separation of modern human life and “natural” environments.

Another of Peppermint’s videos, Wilderness Trouble Version 1.0 (which is included in the New Climates exhibition) further collapses the spheres of nature and human-made digital technologies in a blend of what we might call “wild information.” Are the technological means by which we “connect” with one another and our attempts to connect to the natural world fundamentally different, or simply variations on a common effort? Peppermint’s work suggests that we can use new media technology to communicate with the “ecological other,” a task that is of utmost importance given the increasing destructiveness of this relationship. His work is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Rhizome.org and The Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. He is an assistant professor of digital art at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY.


Brooke Singer, collaborating with a group of artists, activists and technologists under the name Preemptive Media, engages emerging policies and technologies to create interactive experiments in the public realm. A-I-R (or Area’s Immediate Reading) allows participants to confront the “inconvenient truth” of atmospheric pollution, conveying the immediacy of our impact on climate change. By exploring, monitoring and mapping their local urban environment, participants render visible pollution and fossil fuel burning hotspots—a wilderness of sorts superimposed on our industrialized reality. While navigating city streets, users discover and take measurements that are transferred to a central database, which doubles as a discussion forum.

The project evokes the theme of dispersal—from the diffusion of molecules in the air, to the distribution of the artwork itself in the form of portable devices that serve as microcosmic air quality monitoring stations. And since every participant will contribute and have access to the same data stream, the project provides a sense of networked community, suggesting a model through which we may begin discussing and altering our collective role in climate change. Singer is currently Assistant Professor of New Media at Purchase College, State University of New York. She has exhibited and lectured internationally and was, with Preemptive Media, awarded the first Social Sculpture Commission by Eyebeam and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in 2005. She will collaborate with Brian Hubbard on an upcoming feature documentary about the EPA and government accountability for health and the environment.

Shane Brennan is an artist, curator and writer based in New York City, Providence and Seattle. He will graduate in May 2007 from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Semiotics (combining art history and production, media studies and critical theory). Shane attended Goldsmiths College in London in 2006 where he practiced art administration and fine art photography. He has interned at Creative Time in New York City and the Lisson Gallery in London. He was the assistant director of the public art event Port Huron Project, and completed a curatorial fellowship at Rhizome.org, an affiliate of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Shane edits two publications: The College Hill Independent, a weekly newspaper, and 68 Degrees, a journal of photography. He is currently producing New Climates, an online curatorial project exploring the relationship between art, global climate change and networked culture.

A 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival event made possible by the LEF Foundation

Jane D. Marsching
Cary Peppermint
Brooke Singer
New Climates