Umwelt

  • “We now know that there is not one space and one time only, but that there are as many spaces and times as there are subjects, as each subject is contained by its own environment which possesses its own space and time.” 
     
    -  Jacob von Uexkull, Theoretical Biology
     
    I am Interested in the complex definition of an object and how we decide from which viewpoint an object changes identity. A tree has bark and leaves. If we focus just on the bark, is it still a tree? If yes, at what level of magnification does it separate out into a new object? Zoom out, the tree is in a forest, and the tree is a habitat for birds and for insects. Are those creatures also part of the tree? 
     
    Environment is everything; it includes: space, air, wind, heat, and even culture. Living things are born into environment, but are also part of what defines it. There is no creature who can perceive all that is and all that takes place. For example, dogs smell things that go unnoticed by humans, but they are still experiencing the same environment that humans are. They are experiencing their own umwelt. Umwelt is a word that Jacob von Uexkull, a biologist, created to describe the world around a living thing as that specific creature experiences it. Umwelt expresses something different than “world,” “environment,” “nature,” or “reality.” It acknowledges the experience that is not shared by all creatures, but is special to each. 
    The answer to the question about the tree then, depends upon one’s reality, one’s existence, one’s understanding, and one’s knowledge. It is a variable; it has multiple truths. Organisms experience multiple realities that are equally true, yet depend upon the perspective of the viewer.
     
    This project examines the breakpoints of an object and from what perspective they are considered a separate object with a unique name or are separated out from something with which they interact. Scale is the method used to represent the different realities of a seemingly singular object. Observing different scales reveals how objects can be simultaneously independent and interconnected. Using paper cuts, I will represent a sunflower, a dragonfly, and coral, showing each object at a variety of scales. A sunflower, for example, will be shown as a flower on a stem with leaves and seeds, then as one component of that, only examining the leaf and its structure. Lastly, I will show the interior form of a sunflower stem, something that cannot be seen by the unassisted vision of a human. I will continue in this manner for all three objects that I am examining. I have chosen paper as my medium because it is an analogy for the “mesh” that is the environment. Representing all objects through one medium, I am highlighting the interconnection of everything. And circling back to the initial question about a tree, one should ask: is this piece of paper a tree?