Auguries of Elegy: The Art and Ethics of Ecological Grieving
Barr, Jessica Marion
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Elegy is an appropriate mode for expressing the complex feelings that may accompany an awareness of the state of human-caused climate change and the concomitant ailing health of the biosphere. In order to understand these contemporary concerns, I look back to the early part of the twentieth century, when the cataclysms of global wars and their destructive effects on human and other-than-human life inspired the first generation of modern ‘resistant’ elegists. Like modernist anti-war elegies, the contemporary ecological (visual) elegies – by artists such as Brandon Ballengée, Edward Burtynsky, Gwen Curry, Chris Jordan, Deborah Samuel, Kade Twist, and me – that I examine engage in deliberate, ethical mourning and melancholia to both express and demand affective engagement with ecological issues in an ultimately hopeful attempt to create a better future. It is my hope that such works inspire viewers to think critically about their own potential to engage in what Clifton Spargo would call “wishful interventions” with regard to climate crisis. The second part of the dissertation text is an ‘analytical archive’ of the ecological artworks that form the main component of my Ph.D. work, including Augury : Elegy, Indicator, National Elegy, 1,000 Flyers, and Vernal Pool.