Ecopoetics, Berkeley 2013

photo credit: jen coleman
photo credit: jen coleman

Location: Ecopoetics Conference, University of California, Berkeley
Date: February 24, 2013
Description: Participatory sad penguin painting at an academic panel, sumi ink , small paper cups, paper.

On a panel at the 2013 Ecopoetics conference, I proposed to start the session with participatory sad penguin painting. The conference panel session titled, “Ecopoetics, Object Relations, and Object-Oriented Ontology” included presentations from Anthony Camara, Julia Fiedorczuk, Devin King, Sarah Lewison, Eileen Myles, and Tze-Yin Teo. We, the presenters and the listeners, began by all painting sad penguins together for my fifteen minutes. I invited everyone to continue painting throughout the panel. sad penguins tuned the talks.

photo credit: jen coleman
photo credit: jen coleman

The proposal:
‘sad penguins’
“A participatory performance that invites the audience to paint sad penguins together. In the tradition of contemplative calligraphic practices, the painting of sad penguins is an embodied practice of mourning. It helps us to move the grief and sadness of accepting the claustrophobic consequences of the anthropocene. The physical operation of painting the penguins is an act of self-compassion. And possibly, it is something like contact with non-humans entities, allowing the penguins to penguin-pomorphize us.

I propose to do a 20 minute participatory performance piece that could be performed as a paper in a regular session or in another context. I would need a room with tables or desks so that participants can paint (the ground or floor could suffice). First, I will distribute paper, brushes, and ink. Then I will briefly introduce how to paint sad penguins in two or four simple calligraphic gestures. I might paint with an overhead projector and the participants could paint along. We would just quietly paint sad penguins together for 5 minutes or so. Then I will briefly talk about how and why I started this performance and practice. I will speak about the aesthetics of beauty, sadness, ecology, climate changed and object oriented ontology. Participants will be invited to continue painting sad penguins as I talk. I will fall silent and we will paint together for a few more minutes. I close by relating the performance to climate justice activism, sentient glaciers, indigenous jurisprudence, and the work of Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier.”


We painted penguins and arrayed them on the floor and taped them to the podium.


Tze-Yin Teo reading her delightful and cogent essay about Gertrude Stein’s “maybe” and “may be.”


photo credit: jen coleman
photo credit: jen coleman

poet CA Conrad
‘s collection of sad penguins painted during the session.