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Performance artist creates movement portraits of 10,000 plants and animals

by Cathy Fitzgerald on May 22, 2010

I am creating an archive of movement portraits of 10,000 plants and animals. This research lies at the intersection of embodied cognition, phenomenology, natural history, and performance. The Somatic Natural History Archive is a work of conceptual art and experiential geography research. Following direct physical encounters with plants and animals, I catalog a living memory of our interaction.

Karl Cronin, Artist, Independent Scholar, Experiential Geographer at

Today, 22 May 2010, is International Biodiversity Day 2010 (2010 is also the International Year of Biodiversity) and I thought I would show you an artist whose work is raising awareness about biodiversity in  a very unique way. Karl Cronin is creating a movement archive of 10,000 plants and animals. I discovered Karl’s work many months ago but never got around to doing a post but whenever I think of biodiversity and how art may engage us in the environment around us, his work springs to mind.

The best way to understand his work is to watch his films, see this promo film below and I’ve added another favourite below. (Readers, if you can’t see the videos below, go to my main site page here)

While I don’t know a great deal about somatic performance work, I am impressed by the little I have found out. The word ‘Soma’, as I know from my time in biology labs, refers to the ‘body, cells’, so somatic performance helps people become intimately aware of their bodies and somatic performance deals with how art and movement can help reflect on life. In a specific form of somatic research, practice and public performance, I believe Karl is showing us a way to relate to the world that is often overlooked, i.e starting with our bodies to become  more aware in an attempt to relate  to the species that surround us. There is something delightful and engaging about this approach of observation and learning. Doesn’t it brilliantly contrast the scientific analytical approach of cataloging species to make us think again of how we have become very accustomed to relating to the natural world in one particular way.

Karl has also created a training experience for what he calls Experiential Geography. ‘Experiential geography is a research discipline that uses performance research methods to explore  environments. Experiential geography offers performance practice as an alternate way of describing the natural environment, as well as provides methods for using embodied learning to study and communicate environmental concepts, see more here and his list of references.

And for you artists out there, Karl has not been afraid to ask for financial contributions for his projects - he has set up an online donation site – unfortunately, with all the cutbacks to the Arts, I think this is something we’ll see a lot more of in the future. Artists, why not engage your audience in a way that can support the development of your work.

And Arts Patrons, meet the internet – what better way to directly fund the work you would like to see more of.

Update 22 May

I just received a note from Karl to say his first project fund is now completed and he has moved onto the next funding stage for work on 200 species

Pledge $20 or more – Receive a hand-drawn postcard by snail mail. Pledge $40 or more – 1 year subscription to noema (the journal of the Somatic Natural History Archive)

help fund the dancing ecologist Karl Cronin


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