Story+ Project

Art as Relation and Repair across Disabled Ecologies and Histories


Story+ 2022 | Art as Relation and Repair Across Disabled Ecologies and Histories


Overview If we understand that “carbon” is only a symptom of the ecological crisis whose root cause is the broken relations between people, the earth, and each other, what stories and histories do we need to tell and illuminate, so that we can imagine ourselves into the future, living otherwise?


Art as Relation and Repair across Disabled Ecologies and Histories will search for how to tell stories of deforestation across the United States as interwoven with the ongoing violence of settler colonialism, while centering environmental and disability justice. The ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest literary texts in the Western world, will serve as a narrative springboard to think through our culture's relationship to consciousness, mortality, and the living world.

Story+ Project The goal is to hone in on seven potent geographic areas across time that reveal the way the colonial imaginary (and the eugenic ableism within it) shaped behaviors and actions towards forest ecologies and human communities, and the way this reverberates into the present.

We will create a digital story-map that will begin to tell these stories to a broader public, and will spend time in local forests (including Duke Forest) with a leading historic-tree arborist so we can learn from, and with, the land. The research we accomplish in Story+ will support the development of a multi-year project of large-scale artistic installations that will tour to endangered forests across the country, and internationally. You can learn more about the long-term project through this article, “Animate Earth,” from the Winter 2021 issue of Orion Magazine, a publication focused on environmental and social justice.

Team members may have interests and skills in the following areas:

  • Environmental history
  • Digital Humanities
  • Website design and basic web programming skills
  • Critical disability studies;
  • Critical race studies;
  • History and Archival research
  • Ecology

We are looking for team members interested in the intersecting topics of colonialism and/or ableism and environmental degradation. Applicants should have conceptual and/or theoretical groundings from disciplines in the humanities or the sciences but all should be open to the arts’ poetic, embodied research approaches. The ability to make imaginative leaps, engage in embodied reflection, and pursue intersections across formal and informal knowledge are essential for the work to be done. Most importantly, we are looking for collaborators who bring an open and supportive spirit to investigation, experimentation (including failure), and fabrication.

"Turning to the critical and generative understandings of health, limitation, woundedness, loss, adaptation, and care that have emerged from disabled [and illness] communities can help us as we navigate and salvage a changing, imperiled world." – Saunara Taylor “Age of Disability: On living well with impaired landscapes” Orion Magazine, December 2021.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Marina Tsaplina, Artist; Kienle Scholar in Medical Humanities

Kevin Caves, Clinical Associate in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences; Clinical Associate in the Department of Medicine, Instructor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering

Jules Odendahl-James, Dramaturg; Director of Academic Engagement, Arts & Humanities; Co-Director of Story+

Graduate Mentor(s): 

 Jessica Orzulak, Ph.D. candidate in Art History


Jaiyin (Joy) Liu, Kaley Sperling, Huiyin Zhou

Dream Puppet, peaking through the canopy of an illuminated endangered ancient forest in Yaak Valley, Montana. Photograph: Brian Christianson. Courtesy Marina Tsaplina and Orion Magazine.


  • Arts
  • Disability Studies
  • Environment
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Medicine
  • Mapping