The Provisional City: Observing, Imagining, and reMaking Home

Humans are builders. We consider in our building not only comfort and convenience but also ornamentation and aesthetics. Like many species--birds, beavers, ants, even plants--we believe we shape the world around us to fit our needs.

Or do we? The worlds we create work as much upon us as we on them. We build cities on favorable sites (location, location, location), usually near water and food sources that also attract other animals, channeling and storing that water and fashioning attractions like parks and attractive nuisances like garbage dumps. In so doing, we act according to our natures and as part of nature, even as we alter the nature that surrounds us. But brainpower and sheer numbers give us an outsized influence on the rest of nature, and bring a commensurate responsibility to become increasingly thoughtful about how to exercise that influence, raising an urgent question: If we accept that human beings are part of nature, not separate from it, how do we bring human nature to bear in a positive way on our built environment?

The Utah Symposium in Science and Literature will bring together poet Cole Swensen, biologist John Marzluff, and visual/environmental artist Mel Chin to consider these questions, alongside thinkers ranging from ecologists, psychologists, urban planners, engineers, and novelists. Together, we will discuss how our new knowledge and insights can, and perhaps must, give us a way to reconceive what nature is, and to manage the impact we now have on virtually every piece of land on earth, as well as the impact it has on us.

Cole Swensen

Cole Swensen (www.coleswensen.com) is the author of 17 collections of poetry, most recently On Walking On (Nightboat, 2017). Her work has won the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, the New American Writing Award, and the National Poetry Series and has been short-listed for both the National Book Award and the L.A. Times Book Award. Co-editor of the Norton anthology American Hybrid, she also translates contemporary French poetry and art criticism, and won the 2004 PEN USA Award in Literary Translation. She divides her time between Paris and Providence, R.I.

John Marzluff

John Marzluff is James W. Ridgeway Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington. His graduate (Northern Arizona University) and initial post-doctoral (University of Vermont) research focused on the social behavior and ecology of jays and ravens. He continues this theme investigating the intriguing behavior of crows, ravens, and jays. His current research focuses on the effects of urbanization on songbirds in the Seattle area. He teaches Ornithology, Governance and Conservation of Rare Species, Field Research in Yellowstone, and Natural and Cultural History of Costa Rica.

Professor Marzluff has written five books and edited several others. His most recent book Welcome to Subirdia (2014 Yale) discovers that moderately settled lands host a splendid array of biological diversity and suggests ways in which people can steward these riches to benefit birds and themselves.

Dr. Marzluff has mentored over 40 graduate students and authored over 140 scientific papers on various aspects of bird behavior and wildlife management. He is currently leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Team for the critically endangered Mariana Crow, a former member of the Washington Biodiversity Council, and a Fellow of the American Ornithologist's Union.

Mel Chin

Mel Chin, from Houston, Texas, is known for the broad range of approaches in his art, including works that require multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork and works that conjoin cross-cultural aesthetics with complex ideas. He developed Revival Field (1989-ongoing), a project that pioneered the field of "green remediation," the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil. A current project, Fundred Dollar Bill/Operation Paydirt, focuses on national awareness and prevention of childhood lead-poisoning through art-making. Mel is also well known for his iconic sculptures and installations, works that often address the importance of memory and collective identity, and for inserting art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility.

Panel Discussions

Attention: Moderated by Fred Adler

Post-human: Moderated by Lisa Swanstrom

Restoration: Moderated by Adrienne Cachelin

Visions of the Future: Moderated by Fred Adler