Welcome to the interpretive pathway

You identified the item we have called as and selected the question:

There is no right answer to this question. Maybe you already knew that. Each theme on this website—technology, ecology, religion, and art—is a socially constructed category. All four themes intersect. They are unstable, emergent, and creative.

Complexity can be difficult so we often simplify information by sorting it into familiar categories. For instance, the academic study of religion was built on the categories of sacred (religious) and profane (secular). The Periodic Table groups chemical elements into blocks with similar characteristics. The Dewey Decimal System organizes books according to pre-selected subjects. And in the natural sciences, Carl Linnaeus’ taxonomy subdivides living things based on morphology.

How we categorize the world matters. It structures how we create knowledge and make ethical decisions. Common categorical systems inherited from Europe and its settler colonies laid the groundwork for democratic states and legal human rights, along with new medicine and sciences. But these systems also ranked people along an evolutionary scale, obscured some forms of knowledge in favor of others, and encouraged a division between humanity and nature.

As scholars and artists in the TERA collective, we wanted to experiment with new organizational systems. Together, we asked: What if we refuse to accept inherited classifications as natural? What if we become knowledge makers and shapers? What if we organize our world differently?

Over a year, we gathered dozens of “artifacts” related to technology, ecology, religion, and art. We included all manner of things: texts, recordings, photos, and objects. Then we mapped our artifacts to classify them in new ways. And then we did it again. And again. Those experiments inspired the pathways that structure this site.

We invite you to think along with us.

Follow one attempt at reclassifying through the pathway by clicking here. Or you use the button below to learn more about the pathway.

This pathway emerged from the free association of artifacts that we identified as sharing affinities with one another. We began by sorting a group of artifacts we affectionately termed “creatures.” Upon reflection, it was clear that these artifacts did more than represent creatures: they were attempts to interpret, translate, hear, understand, or coerce the natural world. This pathway thus became a chart of attempts to know the natural world, but ultimately it really mapped ways in which humans become more knowable to themselves as they attempt to understand animals, plants, and other forces.

The pathway is mapped as a spiral to evoke the “spiral dance” in Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto where humans, technology, and the idea of nature are entangled in a co-constituting ontology. At the tightest inside coil of the spiral is the artifact Hungry Listening, which speaks not only to a human subject position, but to a colonial one. From there the spiral uncoils in its attempts to understand the world, through human articulations of Mother Nature, to voyeuristic attempts to see and know in Borealopelta, Seagrass Sonification, and Sea Sponge. Animal Songs unspirals the relationship between humans and non-humans further when the human calls to the cow in its own voice. Anthropologies Imaginaries prompts questions about the human attempt to know and categorize others and Picturing Sacred Birth exemplifies how people reinterpret belonging in the natural world through their bodies. In its final uncurling, the spiral presents God is alive and She unnames them as two attempts to encounter the natural world outside of human intentionally and control.

What kind of interpretive work goes into human relationships with the natural world? In what language can we speak to creatures? When is a human an animal and when is it not?