IDISC/DM-1524 Ecocentric Practices

RISD Interdisciplinary Studies / Digital + Media
Spring 2014
Credits: 3.0
Instructors: Brian House (bhouse [at] risd [dot] edu), Bryan Quinn (bryan [at] onenaturellc [dot] com)
Fridays 1:10pm - 6:10pm
February 14, 2014 - May 16, 2013
Location: Waterman Building, Room 12

Course Description + Basics

Marine ducks travel great distances, inhabit multiple ecosystems, and are susceptible to a variety of human-related threats that have likely led to recent and drastic population decline in many species. Working closely with wildlife biologists, emerging technology, and data sets, studio participants will explore alternative methods to communicate ecocentric themes related to marine duck populations through studio work, field observation/study in coastal Rhode Island, and interaction with a diverse group of artists, designers, and scientists.

This studio is open to all mediums and no technical experience is required. However, we will spend time with geospatial systems (such as GIS) and open source tools such as Python and Processing. Theoretical grounding will be provided through readings of key texts in ecology, geography, data visualization, media theory, philosophy, illustration, and a survey of the wide range of artistic and design practices engaged with the biosphere. Students will also utilize to-be-determined hardware capable of collecting scientific data.

Students will work in a workshop-type environment that leverages individual interests. Student projects will encourage public dialogue about marine ducks. Student work will be compiled for a public exhibition at the end of the course.


Because participation and collaborative assignments are an important part of the course any unexcused absences will affect your grade. More than two unexcused absences and you risk failing the course. If you need to be absent for any reason, it is mandatory to give the Instructor advance notice. Please see for more information.

Academic Code of Conduct

Student work is expected to follow RISD's Academic Code of Conduct. Please see for more information.


This course involves going outside and exploring urban and natural spaces. It is your responsibility to:

Requirements + Evaluation

Ecocentric practices is a vast topic, and this course is a studio format. We will work together to survey the field and produce our own collective and individual interpretations of the issues in play.

Class participation: 10%

You are expected to come to class on time, with readings completed, and material posted to tumblr. Participation includes active engagement in discussions, in­-class workshops, and critiques. Giving full attention during class and generous feedback to your classmates in critiques are both encouraged and required.


The course has a tumblr: We'll use this blog to document our work, react to the reading, and post examples of Ecocentric Practices.

Most weeks you will be required to post a link or related media. Do must do this by 11:59pm the day before class.


Readings are mandatory and must be completed as indicated on the syllabus. For each text, post one thought and one question on the class tumblr by 11:59pm the day before class.

No textbooks are required — readings will be provided by the instructor.


A large percentage of classes will feature visiting artists, designers, and scientists. Full attention and participation in accompanying lectures and activities is expected.

Out-of-class participation: 10%

Several times over the course of the semester we will travel to duck habitats in Rhode Island. This may require some flexibility in scheduling which we will work out, TBD, and additional visits outside of class time are encouraged. Keep in mind the safety responsibilities posted above.

Independent research presentation: 10%

Each student will give a 15 minute presentation on an artist, technology, life form, media event, or architecture relating to the themes of the course. Presentations will happen throughout the semester — we will choose presentation days in the first weeks of the course.

Look at the tumblr for suggested research topics. You must discuss your topics with the instructors.

Assignments: 30%

In the first half of the course, you will complete a series of assignments. This work may be conducted in groups.

Final Project + Exhibition: 40%

You are required to develop and present a significant final project as part of this course. You are encouraged to expand on and synthesize ideas and material from prior work in the class, the scientific presentations, and the workshops, but are welcome to explore new territory as well. Any media or format is acceptable, and it is up to you to determine how to situate your work among art, science, and design.


Note: This syllabus and schedule will likely change throughout the semester to adapt to student interests, course composition, guests, etc. Please always check this website for the most up-to-date version.

Week 1 Feb 14

Week 2 Feb 21

Reading due: C.S. Elton, "The Animal Community" and Aldo Leopold, "The Land Ethic"

Review Waterfowl ID

Week 3 Feb 28

Reading due: Gary Snyder, "Etiquette of Freedom"

Week 4 Mar 7

Reading due: Donna Harraway, When Species Meet (intro)

Week 5 Mar 14

Reading due: Pickett et al., "The New Paradigm in Ecology" and Mary Power, "Top-Down and Bottom-Up Forces in Food Webs: Do Plants Have Primacy"

Week 6 Mar 21 MIDTERM

Week 7 Apr 4

Week 8 Apr 11

Reading due: Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (excerpts)

Final project

Develop an artistic research project that poses a set of questions about the ecology of marine ducks and explores them through concrete artifacts, interventions, and process documents. Your work should build on themes explored in the first half of the class and be informed by scientific, design, and artistic discourses. You may use any medium or method, but you must have some output that can stand alone in a gallery space and speak to an audience of both scientists and the general public. Your work must be thoroughly documented, and in addition to the gallery show, you must submit material for a class publication. You will also have the opportunity to display your work at an ornithology conference in June, via Jim Chace.


- 4/11: Be ready to discuss developed ideas for a final project with the instructors and visiting artist. By the end of class, you should post a one-paragraph description to the blog.

- 4/18: Annotated bibliography due.
Use the resources available at the Fleet Library (both online and print) to develop an annotated bibliography of AT LEAST five sources that will directly inform your work. You must include precedents from the discipline in which you are working (architecture, media art, etc) in addition to scientific research.

"An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited." source:

- 4/25: Project prototype presentation
Present progress on your project to the class for review.

- 5/2: Work day/desk Crits
In class work day with desk crits.

- 5/9: Final gallery work due: hang show in Waterman Building gallery
Assist in pinning up work for our final show and presentation. Submit final work products.

- 5/11-23: Final show

- 5/16: Final presentation, guest critics

- 5/23: Documentation due
Submit all material for class publication. You must submit complete final documentation to receive a grade for the course.

- 5/29: Present work at ornithology conference at Salve Regina

Week 9 Apr 18

Annotated bibliography due

Week 10 Apr 25

Final project prototype due

Week 11 May 2

Week 12 May 9


Week 13 May 15 (Thurs) FINAL REVIEW

Final review with Dr. Peter Paton, Dr. Jameson Chace, and others TBD

Week 14 By appointment

Documentation due May 23rd, no exceptions