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Insights of an Eco Artist

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Creative Studio

Exploring the Synergy between Art and Forest Ecology with artist Milah van Zuilen

Today, we're honored to host Milah van Zuilen, a visionary visual artist and forest ecologist in training, dedicated to uniting art and ecology. Through her work, she delves into the intrinsic human desire to comprehend and classify landscapes, often employing squares—a symbol of our perception of land—as a focal point for exploration.

Episode: 22

Today we have⁠ Milah van Zuilen⁠, a visual artist and forest ecologist in training who aims to bridge the gap between art and ecology. She explores the human need to understand and categorize landscapes, particularly through the use of squares, a shape that characterizes our perspective on land.

Artist statement

Both as a visual artist and as a forest ecologist in training, it is my goal to bend the

disciplines of art and ecology closer together. With fieldwork as a fundamental method, I explore the human urge to understand, categorise and appropriate landscapes. Also central to my work is the square, a shape that characterizes this human perspective on the land.

During fieldwork, leaves and other plant materials are collected according to self-imposed rules. The rules depend on the area in which I move and the vegetation I encounter there; the focus can be on the occurrence of one species in an area, on the species composition in an area, or on vegetation along a certain route through an area. In some cases, I ask others to collect material in their surroundings for me.

The material is dried and cut into squares, which are then assembled into grids. Square structures are often used to impose a human order on landscapes. In cartography and taxonomy, for example, nature is coordinated and classified, landscape types and species are distinguished and theoretically placed in separate boxes. Square structures also occur physically, as a result of agricultural land use – the Dutch landscape, looked at from above, is the perfect example.

In my work, I wish to question the sense of ownership that comes with the physical and theoretical imposition of these structures. How could this power dynamic, dominated by a human order, transform into a conversation in which the square’s straight lines and the organic shapes found in the forest interact gently? What role could these anthropocentric shapes play in an earth-centric future?

My process is often supported by an ability to identify plants and other knowledge gained in the fields of ecology and forestry. Scientific ways of observing, analyzing and capturing can be very similar to artistic ways of looking. In my work, I investigate these similarities and question the anthropocentrisms within both perspectives.


Images courtesy of Milah Van Zuilen.

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