Panel 10: Plants and the Nonhuman



Panel 10: Plants and the Nonhuman


“To Instill a Love for Them: Plant Cinematography and Botanical Ethics”

John Ryan (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Arts at the University of New England in Australia; Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Humanities, University of Western Australia)

“The Nonhuman Gazes Back: Ecological Potentials in the Pixarvolts, Mother!, The Ornithology, and iAnimal”

Inez Zhou (Research Fellow, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UC Santa Barbara)

Q & A

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7 replies
  1. John Ryan, University of Western Australia says:

    Thank you, Inez, for a fascinating and wonderfully produced talk on the non-human gaze in ecomedia.

    You mentioned the emergence of empathy through VR. I couldn’t help but think of Derrida’s essay ‘The Animal That Therefore I Am’ and, in particular, the effects/affects of the non-human gaze. Derrida characterises the cat’s gaze as uncanny, disarming yet frighteningly intimate.

    I wonder if you would care to speculate about the broader implications/resonances of the non-human gaze. How might ecomedia incorporate non-anthropocentric points-of-view to foster empathy, ethics and values? What are some of the potential pitfalls of recasting the perspective as such (i.e. anthropomorphism)?

    Thanks again for your talk, John

  2. Carenirr says:

    John, Thanks so much for your interesting talk on botanical documentaries. I wonder if you could say more about the reasons why what you call a “flora-centric excision” has proved so appealing to filmmakers. Are there particular ideologies of plant-human relations that need to be understood and overcome before filmmakers can move to a more ethical whole-plant perspective?

  3. John Ryan, University of Western Australia says:

    Hello Caren,
    Thanks for an interesting question! In terms of botanical documentaries and floracentrism, I think that there are a number of factors at work. The first is technical: the opening of the flower lends itself to time-lapse whereas such a perspective on the roots or the whole plant would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to acquire while maintaining a coherent visual narrative. The second is biopolitical: the flower, with its Linnaean sexual inflections, as a galvanising organ; the flower as a biopoliticised metonymy for the whole plant and its interrelations. The third is scientific: botanical documentary on the whole reflects a taxonomic ethos that depends on extracting (i.e. excising) certain species and certain plant parts (i.e. flowers) to impose order on a seemingly chaotic biological system. There are probably other factors as well.
    Many thanks,

    • Caren Irr says:

      Thanks for this response. Your point about a taxonomic ethos is so important, and it raises really interesting questions about what kind of narrative might prove at least partially adequate to complex biological systems. I wonder if Koyaanisqatsi-like experiments of the 80s and 90s need to be revived.

  4. John Ryan, University of Western Australia says:

    Hi Caren,
    That’s an intriguing point – perhaps non-linear narratives would offer a starting point. But I suspect there are forms of moving image narrative yet to be devised for the task. It’s interesting, then, to consider the emergence of image technologies such as time-lapse in relation to early twentieth-century developments in botanical science. I suggest that the recent rise of the field of plant cognition and behaviour presents a timely opportunity for advancing the moving image in new directions.

  5. EkinGunduz says:

    Hi Inez,
    Thank you for this talk, it’s impressive that you bring together such different film examples to support your argument. I am also interested in the formation of a cinematographic eco-awareness and capturing the non-human perspective is an important aspect of that. If you have further observations on how to create that through visual narrative other than the application of POV shots I would be happy to hear more.

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