Instructor: Edward Morris

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TRM 300/500: Art & Ecology: Looking at Animals

WED 5:15-9:15 PM

Smith Hall, 220

Instructor: Edward Morris


Office Hours: Thursday, 10:30-12:30 in Smith 220

Overview The Canary Lab is a hub for research-based, interdisciplinary art and media focused on ecology. Housed within the College of Visual and Performing Arts / Transmedia Department, The Canary Lab hosts a variety of programming and offers courses open to students across the university. Each semester, we focus on a particular topic (food, shelter, animals, climate change, etc.). Students read, research and make projects in response to that research, often in collaboration with each other.

This semester’s class is on the theme of “Looking at Animals.” How do we look at animals? How do animals look at us? Are humans truly exceptional and different? In this interdisciplinary course, we will read and discuss a survey of current critical writing about animal consciousness and existence, look at various important art and media about animal life, and develop our own projects in response to these readings and examples. Student projects can include artwork, creative activism, journalism, blog entries, research, etc.  Collaboration is encouraged, as is further developing work begun in other classes and/or relevant thesis work. Class will result in a publication, exhibition, event and/or intervention designed by the class. We will maintain a class blog.
Learning objectives are as follows:

  • Understand overview of current issues surrounding the study of animals in the humanities, particularly with respect to the nature of animal consciousness and the animal / human binary. Develop skills for reading difficult texts.

  • Deepen understanding of animal life and general empathy for world.

  • Understand the arts as part of the humanities and what research-based art is; understand possible relationship of the arts to other disciplines. As a corollary, gain understanding of what non-rational understanding might be, why it is valuable and how to cultivate it.

  • Learn and practice alternative means of narrative.

  • Develop own research project (including the possibility of deepening or enhancing work already begun elsewhere) and essay.

  • Develop collaborative relationship with the class as a whole and possibly with discrete members of the class on collaborative projects.

  • Learn to take chances in your work.

  • Produce some end-product by the end of the semester (to be determined by class: exhibition, small publication, website, etc.).

Reading The required texts for this class are:

        • Excerpts from: Ramos, Filipa, ed. Animals. MIT Press, 2016.

        • Entire volume of: Calarco, Matthew. Thinking through Animals: Identity, Difference, Indistinction. Stanford, CA: Stanford, an Imprint of Stanford University Press, 2015.

        • Berger, John, “Why Look at Animals?”

        • Additional selections, TBD.

Reading Responses

and Creative

Assignments Each week there will be a complementary assignment to the readings that moves us forward in creating our own research and projects in the course of the semester. One type of assignment is a given “creative assignment.” These assignments are responses to a given prompt (observe and animal at the zoo; recount a memorable experience with an animal, etc). Your response can take really any form (written, still image, video, drawing, etc). The goal, as always in this class, is to demonstrate engagement. The other type of response is “free reading response.” For this type of assignment you can either write a short (250-word) essay on the readings, make your own creative response, etc. Same goal: engagement. Other weeks there will be no assigned reading response, but rather a project development goal (see below). Creative assignments and reading responses will be graded equally. You can collaborate on some of these assignments.



(Including Essay) This class is focused on the development of one substantial project/essay that can be fully executed in the course of the semester. Developing a project is difficult, particularly in a school atmosphere where you have so much else going on. As such, the class breaks the development of a project into steps that include an “essay” about one month into the course. I put essay in quotes because, as with creative assignments and reading responses, the essay in question can take any number of forms and I encourage you to experiment (per the idea of a lab) and ultimately to collaborate if there are others in the class pursuing similar topics/themes. Your development will have to be self-directed, though we will meet one-on-one during the course of the semester.

Final Project As the semester progresses, we will put more and more time and energy into focusing on our final projects/essays. These projects should grow out of the initial essay due on February 22, have their own research and readings, and ultimately be adaptable to a publication format.
Additional Grad

Requirements Graduate students taking this class at the 500 level must meet the additional requirements: 1) take lead in projects; 2) be primarily responsible for gathering and fine-tuning documentation of projects; 3) take a more active role in critiques.

Grading A (90 - 100%) Outstanding: pushing the limits of both the student's

creativity and the assignment.

B (80 - 89%) Thorough: thoughtful and creative

C (70 - 79%) Average: minimum project requirements met

D (60 - 69%) Poor: does not meet minimum requirements.

F (0 - 59%) Failure.

Attendance One unexcused absence will result in the reduction of a third a letter grade (A to A-, B+ to B, etc.). Two unexcused absences will result in the reduction of full letter grade. Three unexcused absences will result in a failure for the class. You are responsible for class materials missed due to any unexcused absence or tardiness. Only illness or family emergency with a signed excuse from your legal guardian or a physician are considered excusable absences according to university policy.
Assignments and Other Components of Grade
Project development including essay: 30%

Reading and creative assignments: 20%

Participation in discussions: 15%

Final Project, including presentation: 35%




Assignments Due


Intro to class

Art and Ecology defined
Discussion of Berger and additional examples from text
Screening of “Their World”, “Eclipse” + other examples (Blood of Beasts, Chris Marker (Bestiary), Burrow Cam, recent PBS series, etc)

Berger, John, “Why Look at Animals?”


Shortened Class Time: 6 pm – 8:30 pm
Examples from readings
Discussion of animal encounters, etc.
Public Screening: Brief selection from Jean Painleve / Winged Migration

Selections from, Ramos, Animals:
Filipa Ramos “Introduction: Art Across Species and Beings”, p.11-17
Thomas Nagel, “What is It Like to Be a Bat?”, p.127- 131
Chus Martinez, “The Octopus in Love”, p.39-42
Marcel Broodthaers, “Pense Bete”, 45-47

Other Selections:
“What’s Going on in Your Cat’s Head?”, Felicity Muth (Scientific American)
Julio Cortozar, “Axolotl”

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Black Cat”

WS Merwin, “After the Dragonflies”

Creative Assignment
Write a poem, academic abstract, or short vignette on a memorable experience you have had with an animal; post to blog.


Examples from readings

Discussion / Exercise (Death in the family)

Public Screening: Three Cheers for the Whale / Blackfish

From Calarco, Thinking Through Animals:
Introduction and Chapter 1 (Identity) p.1 – 27.
Other Selections
Cathryn Bailey, “On the Backs of Animals: The Valorization of Reason in Contemporary Animal Ethics,” 1-17.
Singer, Peter, “Introduction” in Animal Liberation (7-17) (Skim)
Ferris Jabr, “The Science is In: Elephants are Even Smarter Than We Thought,” (Skim) (Scientific American)
Free Reading Response


Examples from reading

Public Screening: Tropical Malady

From Calarco, Thinking Through Animals:
Chapter 2 (Difference), 28-47.
Selection from Ramos, Animals:
Seung-Hoon Jeong, “A Global Zone of Animal and Technology” 93-100
Jacques Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am” 84-86 (Optional)
Other Selection:
Jacob Von Uekull, Introduction and Conclusion to A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, 44-52, 133-135.
Dorion Sagan, “Umwelt After Uexkull” (1-34) (Optional)

Free Reading Response


Visiting Professor: Robert Wilson

Public Screening: Sweetgrass + Leviathan (double feature, only first movie required)

Selection from Ramos, Animals:
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspective” 132-141
Jimmy Durham, “Birds”, 216-220
Other Selections:
Robert Wilson, “Animals and the American Landscape”, 195-205.
Project Development
Submit essay topic and medium/approach


Professor Traveling
5:15 pm: Screening of Frederick Wiseman’s Primate
7:15 pm: Screening of Frederick Wiseman’s Zoo
(Both required)



Creative Assignment and Reading Discussion

Visiting Artist and Public Screening: Cooper Battersby and Emily Vey Duke: Art, Empathy and Animals (Vey Duke and Battersby, Dani Leventhal, Robert Todd, etc).

Selections from Ramos, Animals:
Simone Forti, “Oh, Tongue”, 76-77

Georges Didi Huberman, “The Paradox of the Phasmid”, 77-80

Ingo Niermann, “A Pig’s Life”, 53-56
Other Selections:
Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Panther”
Vey Duke and Batterysby, “Art is For Empathy”
Creative Assignment
Go to zoo and document/blog about experience; must spend at least 45 minutes looking at one particular animal (could be humans) without moving your position.


Discussion of reading and project proposals

Public Screening: Grizzly Man + Cave of Forgotten Dreams (double feature, only first movie required)

Goat Man, Selections (21-44 + all photos) +

Project Development

Rough project proposal or idea (250 words or less). Please submit more than one idea for a project if possible. The intent is to have a brainstorming session about projects and to look for possible collaborations.



Individual meetings throughout week

Reading discussion
Visiting Artist: Adam Zaretsky

From Calarco, Thinking Through Animals:
Chapter 3 (Indistinction), 28-47.
Adam Zaretsky, “Animal Enrichment and The VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd.”

Project Development
Submit project bibliography.



Visiting Professor: Eevie Smith

Selections from Ramos, Animals:
Walter Benjamin, “True Dog Stories,” 31-36
Miwon Koon, “Dogs in the City” 202-205
Donna Harraway, “Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Others” 191-201 (Optional)


Public screening: Sans Soleil

Kierran Argent Horner, “The Equality of the Gaze: The Animal Stares Back in Chris Marker’s Films”










Wrap-Up Discussion

University Policies
Disability Accommodation

Syracuse University is committed to full compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Our community values diversity and seeks to promote meaningful access to educational opportunities for all students. To be eligible for disability-related services, students must meet the definition of disability as stated within Section 504. Students seeking services must contact: The Office of Disability Services at Syracuse University, Room 309, 804 University Ave., Syracuse, New York 13244-2330, or call (315) 443-5019 (Voice/TDD) (315) 443-4498 (Voice only).

Academic Integrity

The Syracuse University Academic Integrity Policy holds students accountable for the integrity of the work they submit. Students should be familiar with the Policy and know that it is their responsibility to learn about instructor and general academic expectations with regard to proper citation of sources in written work. The policy also governs the integrity of work submitted in exams and assignments as well as the veracity of signatures on attendance sheets and other verifications of participation in class activities. Serious sanctions can result from academic dishonesty of any sort.
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