Wildlife: Trans-Species Habitats


Catherine Harris

Assistant Professor, Art and Ecology, and Landscape Architecture
The University of New Mexico

Try to give words to a non-hierarchical relationship of humans to their surroundings. A cognitive silence ensues. Any subject creates an alienated binary, a human brain describing a human relationship to “an other.” I propose a transpecies habitat investigation – a theory of space no longer divided between us and them, urban and wilderness, nature and culture, human and other (species). This new color of habitat includes the designed, the human pattern, the brilliance of Times Square.  “Habitat” (from the Latin habitare – he/she/it lives/dwells) has acquired a greenish brown tinge, a locale for flora and fauna, losing its non-species specific linguistic origins. Paired with “diminishing,” “endangered,” and “frail,” spatially, it signifies curvy lines and dotted shrubs.

A transpecies investigation of living requires experimentation. The following collected papers articulate art experiments in transpecies habitat. The artists’ writings take us into the research and theory we experience eidetically as viewers of their works. Barbier argues that land management has changed since the pre-Columbian era and with the change came a fundamentally different landscape and species composition. Implicit in her aestheticized archiving lies the Wunderkammer, the collecting impulse characterizing the decimations of resources both living and geologic, beginning during the Enlightenment and ramping up since. Her work borrows the language of collection to challenge its assumptions–to iterate specificity for each species lost.

Implicit in Yankowitz and Reiser’s Truth or Consequences: Global Warming Game, is parametric design/art created by the real time responses of a viewing audience. Mapping these responses and participating in a process where a viewer’s data becomes part of the piece being mapped, creates a whole different zone of agency. The agency to be heard and counted, when the topic is potential global catastrophe, eases our solastalgia in an embrace of shared virtual community, and perhaps indicates avenues for action. Doo-Sung Yoo experiments with a cyborg reality reminiscent of both dystopia, such as the Farmer’s fictional House of the Scorpion where human clones are farmed to provide donor organs to the supremely wealthy, and utopia, such as MIT’s interactive robot design group where robots help humans stick to exercise routines or resolve conflicts during disasters. Yoo’s experimental reality “improves” on the human body, even as his creations collaborate with human performers and reference emergent complexities.

Transspecies denotes species living together–an integrative mix, rather than segregation. Coined by philosopher Peter Singer, [1] (anecdotally while in his bath) from the Linnaean system: (species, class, family) “speciesism” refers to the Great Chain of Being, and discrimination based on species. “Trans” (from the Latin, across, beyond, through) used in chemistry–“a prefix denoting a geometric isomer having a pair of identical atoms or groups on the opposite sides of two atoms linked by a double bond,” [2] shifts “species” from hierarchy into the language of fluidity, connection, and linkage. Transpecies redefines relationships to land, creating a shared imperative beyond lines, boundaries, property, and value and ruptures human sovereignty for the benefit of all beings.


1. Peter Albert David Singer, born in 1946. is an Australian moral philosopher.
2. Dictionary definition, http://dictionary.reference.com/idioms/trans


Catherine Page Harris, Interdisciplinary Assistant Professor, teaches Art and Ecology and Landscape Architecture at the University of New Mexico. She received her BA from Harvard University, 1988, MLA from UC Berkeley, 1997, and MFA from Stanford University, 2005. Harris works in art/design, and digital/analog expressions. Her built work resides at Deep Springs College, White Mountains, California, McCovey Field, San Francisco, California, and The Violin Shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, among other sites. Transpecies habitat, ecological flow, and morphogenesis, are current theoretical foci.