UW–Madison’s Portlock discusses intersection of art, environmentalism on WORT

UW–Madison’s Tim Portlock, a professor with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the School of Education’s Art Department, beginning in fall 2023, was a guest on WORT 89.9 FM’s “A Public Affair” program recently.


Portlock joined host Douglas Haynes in the studio to talk about his new role, engaging students, and his art making process. Portlock, whose work merges art and environmental studies, also discussed the relationship between these two fields and how the visual arts can add to the conversation about environmental issues.

Portlock noted that art often articulates the major concerns of environmentalism, making the issues clear, and putting them “in very human terms.” There’s another component, however, which he said he’s more interested in: This is thinking about what “the idea of nature” is.

“Nature has meant many different things in many different time periods,” Portlock explained. “There is the idea of nature as wilderness, as feral, a source of abundance, nature as pure, nature as sublime… All of these are different definitions of nature that have come out of different time periods, and also different cultural contexts. And all of them exist simultaneously today.”

“I think of how artists can plug into environmentalism and environmental studies is thinking about how these definitions merge or mesh with things that are coming out of the science of environmental studies.”

Portlock’s current work uses 3D animation and drone footage to create somewhat eerie images of buildings in varying states of being. Uniting all of his work is a deep concern for the relationship between place, culture, and identity, especially in America’s deindustrializing cities.

To learn more about Portlock’s work, listen to the full episode.

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