Nominee Threshold Award Autonomous Practices
Meet Milah van Zuilen! Milah was nominated for the 2021 Threshold Award Autonomous Practices with her graduation project ‘Terrafuturism’. In this interview, Milah tells us about her work and future plans.
Can you tell us a bit about your graduation project and how it came about?
My graduation project is titled ‘Terrafuturism’. With this project I investigate a different approach to ecological fieldwork. It consists of a series of pseudoscientific fieldwork experiments for which I collected leaves and dried them, then cut them into squares and neatly arranged them into a grid structure. I made use of grids because they are used by people to impose order onto a landscape. They are also used to understand or oversee nature. In taxonomy (plant classification), for example, and in cartography. Grids also appear physically in the landscape through agricultural land use. The Dutch landscape is a perfect example.
I am intrigued by the contradiction between nature's complexity and people's urge to neatly arrange, classify and organize. My project embraces these anthropocentric grid structures and human shapes while questioning our sense of ownership that comes with them. As part of my research, I followed classes on forest ecology at Wageningen University. There, I realised that scientific ways of observing, analyzing and capturing are similar to artistic ways of seeing, which pushed my project in this direction.
Which themes or societal concerns are you addressing in your work, and how?
I obviously concern myself with the environment, but I am especially intrigued by humanity’s urge to cultivate and shape the landscape. I have always been interested in seeing these landscapes from a more scientific point of view, and that is why I attended a course on forest ecology at the University of Wageningen. It was really incredible to suddenly be amongst people whose minds are completely committed to nature. This fueled my interest in ecological fieldwork and scientific ways of seeing. What was also striking to me, was that, when people research landscapes, this often comes with a sense of ownership over the landscape. This sense of ownership over the land is what I intend to question with this project.
I made use of the shape of the grid because I see this as the ultimate form of human cultivation. I strip the fieldwork from its human first values, but I still make use of a very human shape. To some extent, you could say I still engage in a conversation through a human gaze, but without imposing anthropocentrism onto the landscape. Through this conversation, I search for an earth-centric way of looking at our environment, rather than a human-centric one.
What will you be working on in the near future? What are your next steps?
I would like to expand the project by simply doing more fieldwork and being outside walking, looking, gathering plant material. In addition to that, I want to deepen the series qualitatively by learning more about ecology.
The project is site-specific in the sense that the fieldwork I do, and the rules that I create, are directly dependent on the area that I am in. This autumn I will be an artist-in-residence at Tuo Tuo, a beautiful space for art in Finland. I am looking forward to seeing my project take on a different shape depending on the landscape I find there.
To read more about Milah’s work, pay a visit to her Graduation Catalogue Page. Furthermore, her journey can be followed on Instagram and her Website. The winner of the Threshold Award Autonomous Practices will be announced during a festive ceremony as part of the Graduation Show. Keep an eye on our Graduation Show page for more information.