digital humanities, ecology, research

HCJM presents Feral Atlas
at Rice Solar Studios

April 1 - August 31, 2022
Past Exhibit at Rice University Campus
at the corner of Alumni Dr. & College Way

Artists: Ursula Andreeff, Mark Dion, Sierra Estes, Michelle Heinesen, Saúl Hernández-Vargas, Corneilia Hesse-Honegger, Cindee Travis Klement, Jessica Kreutter, Colleen Maynard, Cristina Rivera-Garza, Felipe Sanchez, Henry G. Sanchez, Cathy Stewart, and Feifei Zhou
A physical exhibit of Feral Atlas: The More-Than- Human Anthropocene
the digital humanities project curated and edited by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena and Feifei Zhou

John Doe

Aug 17

HCJM Contributors: Aaron Ambroso, Noura Jabir, Tiffany Jin, and Emily Weaver

Feral Atlas invites us to explore the ecological worlds created when nonhuman entities become entangled with human infrastructure projects.  Based on the online digital humanities project, Feral Atlas helps us recognize ‘feral’ ecologies, that is, the effects that emerge out of human projects, but grow beyond our control.

Working with artists and university collections, we gathered objects, specimens, and artworks to tell the multitude of feral stories presented in the Atlas, as well as identified and generated new research about Houston feral stories. We aimed to make physical the multi-dimensional and multi-modal exploratory qualities of Feral Atlas’s digital platform within the solar studio landscape. The stories of feral entities emerge through four historical conjunctions - landscape detonators that span space and time: Invasion, Empire, Capital, and Acceleration. Feral effects, however, can be good or bad; studying feral effects can lead to the new kinds of research needed for the reproduction of life.

Poster for exhibit, featuring Empire illustration by Feifei Zhou
Sketch of interior of one studio, Capital

One of the foundational principles of the Feral Atlas project is that ecological destruction did not occur on a linear timescale. Rather, various events and eras have accelerated changes and spurred different modes of environmental degradation. The landscape detonators are tools that can help us better understand how these events work alongside each other to inflict various modes of environmental damage.

In order to translate the Feral Atlas landscapes into a three-dimensional space, we will utilize the compartmentalized nature of the Solar Studios. The site consists of three converted shipping containers, with an outdoor wooden platform connecting them. We housed feral objects from the landscape detonators Acceleration, Empire, and Capital each in a separate studio, and displayed objects from Invasion in the outdoor patio and surrounding green space.


Wild sunflowers overgrow unused garden beds next to converted shipping containers. Each container features a “historical conjuncture,” an ongoing historical moment out of which feral entities emerge. “Acceleration,” named after the transformation of earth and human systems since 1945 dubbed The Great Acceleration, contains the stories of radioactive blueberries, herbicide resistant weeds, and marine plastic, among others.

A section of the Berlin Wall stands across the way from the Solar Studios, at the corner of Baker Hall. The Acceleration Room is marked by the post-war period and the Cold War era. Ideas of safety and security were promoted at national levels down to the ‘nuclear family’ at the suburban level, as the threat of nuclear war loomed large. In front of the entrance to the Acceleration Room, a domestic security bar (pictured in header image on this web page), is set in concrete and also held up by the shipping container itself to register the types of walls and secluded enclaves we build and to question what it is they keep out.

A video by Armin Linke, Hydroponic farms, Bahrain, 2014, illustrates the idea of ‘Grid’: how ecological simplifications give rise to feral effects including pests and pathogens. Also pictured here are palmer amaranth, a spilled-bottle of fish amoxicillin, and a fiber art representation of candida auris by Cathy Stewart.

Capitalism is that system that puts distant investors in charge of local ecologies; capitalists transform ecologies into profit-making resources without having to experience any of the deleterious effects of that transformation. In the 19th century, New World plantations used enslaved Africans to create the easy profits needed for European industrialization. In such transformations of city and countryside, feral effects sometimes block the aims of capital but often offer it new disasters within which to tighten capitalist control.

The rise of global supply chains in the 1990s radically changed capitalist practices that had previously been centered on industrial factories. Large multinationals pressured foreign subcontractors in the “race to the bottom” to find the cheapest labor and least environmental regulations. Meanwhile, advances in inventory management meant that outsourced labor conditions could be ignored when the product reached retailers. In this room, you’ll find objects organized as if they were within the space of the supply chain, divorced from their stories which can be found on the outside of the shipping container. 

Left: Installation view of exterior of Capital room - feral stories and descriptions of the objects are displayed on the outside of the containers.
Right: View looking into the Capital room - organized around the concept of supply chains and how objects become alienated from the labor and the contexts that produced them.


"Colonial empires have enacted governance through physical infrastructure—and the coerced labor that builds and maintains it...Colonial projects remade worlds in part through their feral effects. Today, they continue, although often without acknowledgment of their imperial legacies." - text from Feral Atlas

Feifei Zhou’s Empire landscape has been produced as a tapestry, found at the back of the container. Four pedestals hold the center of the room, and prop up various feral-related objects and stories: an Aedes aegypti specimen, antifouling paint, tap water, and sugarcane. The pedestals themselves are composed of concrete, soil, sand, rice, sugar, and oakum - materials that invoke industrial processes and plantation crops that were significant to the development Houston's own economies.

In the nineteenth century, botanical gardens were at the forefront of scientific research. The equivalent of big science labs today - botanical gardens played a critical role in the spread of imperial regimes. Through collecting - and often covertly stealing - plants and seeds from around the globe, botanical gardens were intimately responsible for creating plantation regimes. The Kew Royal Botanical Gardens for example transferred cinchona and rubber from their natural habitats in Latin America to become commercial crops in Asian colonies.

Left: Installation view of Empire room - the role that botanic gardens botanical gardens played in the spread of imperial regimes.
Right: Installation view of Empire room - Feifei Zhou’s Empire landscape has been produced as a tapestry, found at the back of the container, and four pedestals hold the center of the room.

Feral Objects

Michelle Heinesen
Coronavirus, 2022
Stoneware, wire, wood, and glaze

Photograph of twork layered with images from  Crowd video poem by Feifei Zhou, Isabelle Carbonell, & Duane Peterson.

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world. Today, more than half of the human race lives in cities, and this number is set to continue increasing as people migrate to urban areas in search of higher standards of living. Through pollination, seed dispersal, buffering against the invasion of exotic wildlife species, improving human quality of life, and much more, the presence of wildlife can boost the health and livelihoods of people living in urban environments. Non-human organisms in these areas bring much-needed diversity to ecosystems that risk becoming an anthropogenic monoculture.The urban environment is a melting pot of species, pathogens, and social dynamics. Understanding these interrelationships, with public health outcomes in mind, is a key area of focus for the future of science. The infectious disease research community has much to learn from the metapopulation approaches that might be taken in the field of ecology.

Text adapted from “Coronavirus stories are still emerging,” Jericho Brown; Lyle Fearnley and Christie Lynteris; Audrey T. Lin & Morgan Meyers; James Hassell et al.

Colleen Maynard
H1-A-389-A, Decomissioned Oil Platform with Coral, 2022
Graphite and mixed media on paper

Photograph of artwork layered with images from Feral Atlas.

Artist Colleen Maynard makes highly detailed drawings and collages of fossilized marine invertebrates, prehistoric life forms, and current day ecosystems and objects largely overlooked or compromised.

Her work here depicts an oil rig-turned-reef in the Gulf of Mexico. Installed by Mobil Oil in 1981, rig H1-A-289-A served as a site of production until 2012. By this time, a diverse community of marine organisms had formed around the rig, including sponges, oysters, fish, manta ray, and sea turtles.

Although the rig was slated for complete removal at the end of its life, the Sanctuary Advisory Council recommended partial removal, which would leave the lower part of the platform standing. In 2014, accepting the Council’s recommendation, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department adopted H1-A289-A as part of its Rigs-to-Reefs program. In 2018, the oil-producing, uppermost potion of the rig was removed; the bottom half remains in place as an artificial reef, and continues to support the rich array of wildlife surrounding it..

Henry G. Sanchez
[left] - Toxic Talisman: The Great Egret,  2013
[right] - Toxic Talisman: Banded Killifish, 2013 
Made of “black mayonnaise” sediment in Newtown Creek, specifically in English Kills. The sediment  of the creek is 15 feet thick containing over 100 years of historic refuse, petrochemical discharge, contaminates, etc

Photograph of sculptures layered with images of sediment and Newtown Creek  from ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT

Urbanized earth is cluttered with buried tanks, pipes, sewers, drains, tunnels, and other artifacts of civil and industrial engineering bravado. Sooner or later, these systems rust, leak, crack, or are abandoned — in short, they fail to do what they’re supposed to do. Over time, city soils become saturated with chemical residue. This fact is inescapable, although usually invisible. In coastal cities like Houston, a hurricane might stir up a toxic soup of chemicals and flood waters. Rising sea levels and increased flood risks stemming from climate change further facilitate the liberation of toxins from urban soils.

Local artist Henry G. Sanchez made sculptures out of “black mayonnaise” sediment from Newtown Creek, an urban estuary that forms a border between Brooklyn and Queens. A noxious mixture of petrochemical waste, sewage, and other pollutants, the sediment lies 15 feet thick in some sections of the creek — that’s nearly 100 years worth of muck.
Jessica Kreutter
Filling ourselves with the pink light of night , 2021 
porcelain, glaze, luster

Photo of sculpture layered with image from the Feral Atlas video poem by Anna Fritz & Rodrigo Ríos Zunino and image of an oak tree infected with Phytophtora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death disease).

Artist Jessica Kreutter explores the concept of Smooth/Speed with a porcelain work in the Capital room. Filling ourselves with the pink light of night reflects on the global crisis of pest-induced forest loss. “Encroaching” represents a cluster of jellyfish, or polyps, which can heavily impact marine and terrestrial ecosystems during periods of intense bloom.

Mark Dion
The Pest Series: Emerald Ash Borer, 2019
silkscreen on paper

Emerald Ash Borer layered with images of infested tree bark from the Feral Atlas

The solid wood shipping pallet is so ubiquitous that it has become nearly invisible, but the transport structure lies at the heart of the global shipping industry. In America alone there are around 2 billion pallets currently in circulation, and 94% of all goods in the U.S. once sat atop their slats. Even more invisible than the pallets themselves are the wood-boring insects that they move around the world. Devastating wood-boring beetle infestations, traceable to pallets, threaten forests at an unprecedented pace and with yet-unknown consequences.As pests spread, the harm to forests increases and the effectiveness of remediation efforts decreases. Homeowners and local municipalities incur hefty expenses to remove infested or dying trees — costs that are externalized by the trade system transporting the damaging insects. Communities are left with a scarred forest, or no forest at all.

As part of a series on pests, Artist Mark Dion created a biological illustration of one organism with close ties to the shipping pallet — the Emerald Ash Borer, a small green beetle with a voracious appetite for wood. Transplanted from East Asia to the U.S. via wooden shipping materials, the species has worked its way across American forests and is currently attacking trees in 31 states.
Cristina Rivera Garza
Monocropping, 2020

Boll weevils are not a planet-destroying phenomenon; they are a curse only to those who grow cotton. Their affinity with the plantation condition demonstrates the role of plantations in instituting Anthropocene terrors, including chattel slavery. Made possible by the kidnapping and selling of African laborers, cotton production in the American South grew in leaps and bounds until the Civil War and the subsequent abolition of slavery.

Even then, planters were able to ensure easy profits through sharecropping and tenancy arrangements with newly freed people. Increased concentrations of cotton on U.S. plantations during the 19th century corresponded with a boom in boll weevil populations. The insects were so pervasive in the South that they made their way into pop culture — renowned blues musician Huddie Ledbetter’s 1939 song He was looking for a home celebrates their resiliency.

In the poem Monocropping, author Cristina Rivera Garza reflects on the feral conditions under which boll weevils and other perceived parasites thrive.

Cathy Stewart
Banana Fungicides, 2022
various threads embroidered on found velvet fabric

Photo of sewn work layered with images by Alyssa Paredes, from the Feral Atlas website.

Bright yellow planes weave through the sky above the Philippines’ southernmost region, dipping and rising as their engines go in and out of earshot. Loaded with chemical fungicides, the crop dusters release about 30 liters of milky trails for each hectare of plantation land.

“Chemical cocktails,” or mixtures of several kinds of agrochemicals, are the banana industry’s response to the cycles of virulence and resistance that play out on its vast monocultures. The relentless “pesticide treadmill” persists despite the known fact that the more contact the pathogen has with the fungicides, the quicker it learns to adapt. Worse, the mixed use of fungicides makes it virtually impossible to link exposure to a particular chemical with the medical symptoms emerging in nearby human and non-human communities.

In her representation of Musa acuminata, artist Cathy Stewart  embroidered bits of thread onto found velvet fabric.
Cindee Travis Klement

Photograph of sculpture layered with images from Feral Atlas’s Grid video by Bruce Rhoads, Trevor Birkenholtz, and Armin Linke.

The ecological simplifications and chemical toxins of modern industrial agriculture that have come to be known as “conventional” do not affect bees randomly. Solitary and semi-social bees feeding on a few plant species cannot tolerate much ecological disruption and are the first to go into decline. Yet two bee species are succeeding precisely where other pollinators die: the Africanized honeybee (Apis mellifera) and the stingless bee Trigona amalthea.

These bees, perceived by local farmers as aggressive villains that threaten their crops, have produced a specific feral effect — they’ve replaced milder bee species that have disappeared over time. Houston-based artist Cindee Travis Klement used dried lemon bee balm to craft a found object sculpture, pictured at bottom right. A bee specimen rests atop a swatch of cloth, poised to intimidate.
Felipe Sanchez, Cow and Grasses, 2022, paper, spray paint, and colored pencil on found cement board.
Artist Felipe Sanchez works on his participatory mural, which illustrates the story of African grasses that were introduced into South America by the slave trade. These grasses were used to feed cattle and could out compete and replace native grasses. The way they spread and change the landscape facilitates another form of displacement of Indigenous peoples from the land.


Ursula Andreeff

Mark Dion

Sierra Estes

Michelle Heinesen

Saúl Hernández-Vargas

Corneilia Hesse-Honegger

Cindee Travis Klement

Jessica Kreutter

Colleen Maynard

Cristina Rivera-Garza

Felipe Sanchez

Henry G. Sanchez

Cathy Stewart

Feifei Zhou


Aaron Ambroso

Emily Weaver

Tiffany Jin


Magdah Omer

Preston Branton


Missouri Wilkinson

Tim Coward

Additional help from

Adriana Amaris

Alec Tobin

Alice Liu

AnDrea Guerrero

Anika Shethia

Annie Xu

Christina Palazzolo

Claudia Nagle

Daniella Lewis

David Guarneros

Elaine Ho

Eunice Aissi

Jacob Lurvey

Jacob Tate

Julia Lewis

Kevin Perez

Paul Shinneman

Payton Ohler

Stephani Leota

Suhail Khan

Sumin Hwang

Tommy Wan

Zing Jin

Special thanks to Dr. Joseph Campana, Weston Twardowski, and the Center for Environmental Studies
at Rice University, Dr. William Godwin and Sam Houston State Natural History Collections, Plant It
Forward Farms, Tom Yeager, and Feifei Zhou whose drawings feature prominently in each room.

Parts of the exhibit have been reprinted from Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene, Tsing, Anna L. and Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena, Feifei Zhou, published by Stanford University Press (c) 2020 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University.
All rights reserved. Licensed under the Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0,

Poster for exhibit, featuring Empire illustration by Feifei Zhou