In her book Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett considers different ways of interpreting our relationship with nonhuman objects.  She explains that all matter “must be reconfigured as an affective and active part of a political process now dominated by human subjectivity.”  In other words, to fully experience and understand the world, we need to recognize the active participation of nonhuman objects.  Bennett’s theories state that we as humans should be open to hearing “nonhuman arguments—the kind not expressed in words—and then figuring out how to respond.” 

Expanding upon Bennett’s theories, I explore my own empathy for objects, concentrating on those that hold a significant value.  In this body of work I investigate how our empathy for things might change when we have a personal connection with the object.

The object I focus on is an old weeping willow tree that grew in my hometown of Crete, Illinois.  The tree towered over my parents’ one-and-a-half-acre property and was the first thing I saw as I pulled into their driveway.  Its trunk reached five feet in diameter at its largest point.  I used to love watching its long branches hang and sway in the wind.  In 2011, a major storm hit my hometown and uprooted the tree.  Its colossal size rendered it impossible for our family to remove it.  In the same spot the tree once stood proud, it now slowly decays.

After considering Jane Bennett’s book, I began to think about the willow’s memorable presence and active participation in the world. The tree that stood as a symbol of home now lies on the ground, lifeless and immobilized.  What can I provide for it?

My work in Artificial Environments is made from a desire to answer this question.  General medical practices like MRIs, blood tests, and taking vital signs are the methods we often use to diagnose, treat, and care for other human beings.  Employing these techniques that go beyond mere observation, I seek a better understanding of the tree and its needs.


This body of work was created for my Senior BFA Thesis, in which I exhibited with Leah Burke.  The exhibit was located at Craft House in Grand Rapids, MI.

Photographs by Sam Brower and Akos Major.