REIMAGINING ECOLOGY: art and design in community with nature

APRIL 13, 1998

RISD Auditorium
Providence, Rhode Island



Introduction by Karen Idoine Curator, RISD Nature Lab: (Standard Bio and Project description)

I.            Coyotes Banter:            A diatribe of ideas that defy description.  Intangibles that illustrate or manifest themselves as Coyote logic.  The coyote bureaucracy or notes from a common intelligence.

II.            Students Questions.

Student Questions:  Two students male and female rotate reading questions in the spotlight.  Narrator responds.

III.            Conclusion:
                                                Days of Grace.

Propspodium and microphone for narrator
Microphone on stand for student speakers,
Spotlight and handouts available of the questions they submitted.

Acknowledge Coyote consultants:  Dan Wildcat (Euchee), George Longfish (Seneca), Gloria Emerson (Navajo), Rick Sunderland (?) Eli Gottlieb, Tim Mcarthy (German-Irish-Lakota Sioux)





The people had gathered food for tomorrow’s green corn dance.  The bread was baked, there was posole, and three different types of meat dishes.  It was in the desert.  The encampment was deliberately located at the foot of a deep cliff.  Because, you see, last year Coyote had stolen all the food for his own green corn dance, now the people were not taking any chances.  They stored the food at the foot of a ravine with guards posted in front of the bounty.  Coyote caught wind of the food and was tantalized by the challenge of the steal.  He stared down over the cliff and plotted a way to acquire the people’s food.  Using the coyote hotline he rounded up all his relations.  With over a hundred coyotes present they planned to form a huge chain to lower themselves into the ravine.  Once down below they could pass the food up the chain and the party would commence.  Each coyote bit down on the tail of another coyote to form this chain.

            Picture a long chain of coyotes tangling from the edge of the cliff.

When 65 coyotes formed the chain, one of the coyotes nearest the top suddenly broke wind: he expelled gas; we call it flatulence.  The coyote who was the link to the gas coyote was in pain.  His eyes were watering and his sensitive nose was insulted.  Then without thinking we shouted out, “Who farted?”  And with that shout he had released his grip from the chain and all 60 of the coyotes below him fell to their death at the foot of the ravine.

A.            Diatribe

He is somebody’s C.I. A.  He is somebody’s F.B.I.  He is somebody’s F.D.A.  He is somebody’s OSHA and he has come to tell you that without proper ventilation; you are going to die.  He is someone’s I.R.S.: a kinder and friendlier version.  He stands outside smiling in the deep ass blackness of night waiting for your cat or your uptight poodle.  He licks his chops and stares you down as you glare at his intrusion into his favorite restaurant.

I am sorry that he upset your narrative.

He’s the one who attempted to use food stamps to pay his hotel bill.
He pastes hi picture over flattening words in your dictionary.



He inscribes his language next to yours:
Gnarly = moich
Symbiosis = bush-ee-doo
Machismo = Meh-tah-muh


He draws acne on the supermodel and plans a similar demise for you before your big date Saturday night.  He agrees with Lawrence:  there is an opposite to a two-car garage.  Barbara had hip surgery and in recovery she discovered the doctors had accidently made one leg two inches shorter than the other:  She said it was the old man coyotes doings – and now she is paying her penence on earth.

He is the CIA incarnate!
He is the FBI!!
He is the CIA squared!
He is an asshole!
And he is crass.  He is unforgiving.  He is relentless. You think you can hold a grudge?  His grudge is over 500 years old and
….oh man
It…. Is……global

All of what we call the third world had a relationship with nature that you will die for.
He is not ruled by reason but by his appetites; and they are incredible task masters.

There is no pity in Coyote City.
Beep-Beep my ass…..he has no shame.
Your manners are foreign, rude and unbecoming.
He is not a dog at all.
Watch your throat.
He believes in the kindness of relatives and other plants and animals;
Because when he died;
Over and over and over again and again
The animals brought him back to life
He doesn’t trust an artist who titles paintings after art theory buzzwords.
Of a painting titled: Martha Stewart:
He said,  “Now there’s the illusion of control.”

 Have even seen him bark at rocks: Why!?! Why!?! Why!?!

He is wise and articulates in a manner that is his own.
During your last millennium,
They said the trickster was gone,
And now,
You needn’t bother asking people,
They will never tell you,
What you want to know.


B.         An Indigenous World View

The question is:  What is the relationship between art and Nature?
A coyote response begins by asking the question:  What is cultural in nature?
Issues and constructs of worldviews or racial distinctions and taxonomies, are inherent to a discussion on nature.  It is after all, unconscionable to think that the cultural in nature can be separated and discussed in isolation.  The historical distinction between the first African-Americans and Native-Americans is a concrete example.  Writer, Vine Deloria points out:  because the African American labored they were considered to be farm animals.  The western world constructed a view of nature that acted as enabling legislation for the institution of slavery.  These hierarchies accurately reflect the cultural in nature.  A form of rationalization that allowed subjugation on a mass scale and continue to impact black communities today.  The Indian was seen as a wild animal not a farm animal.  What distinguished them in the concept of the cultural in nature was the concept of private property.  This concept of ownership alongside the manifest of Christianity and capitalism, acted as enabling legislation for the genocidal-paternalistic handling of Indian affairs.  Indians as property owners or occupants of large tracts of land were ultimately entitled to rights and privileges accorded to all white landowners.  But we were after all only Indians, wild animals incapable of utilizing their resources.  Our customs were unintelligible.  Our skin was brown and our world view involving nature was obsolete. 

Indigenous people did not acknowledge the supremacy of human over nature.  The wing-ged people, the four leg-geds, and the plant people existed on a lateral plane.  Even in hunting the animal was thanked for surrendering its physical-being so that people might live.  A primary distinction in comparing the western world view and the Indigenous world view rests in the view of nature.  Where as the white man saw only resource, the Indigenous man saw relations.

A double standard in the objective world of science is yet another example of how the cultural in nature manifests itself.  Indian country today fights for the return of human remains.  Anthropologists and archeologists continue to view our cultural specimens suited for the killing jar.  Our relative’s bones are held captive by institutions such as the Smithsonian Institute, whose basements are stuffed with our dead.  In Zuni, white archeologists stole the War Gods and robbed family cemeteries of human remains.  The Zunis recovered everything through the courts but rejected the return of the human remains.  For Native people the cycle of mourning for the deceased lasts four years.  The return of those remains to Zuni families would only have reinitiated the mourning process and caused great economic, emotional and spiritual pain for the families.  For the crime of cultural insensitivity and violence towards the deceased the archeologists are now banned from Zuni.

The cultural in Nature has evolved to include Native people in symposiums like this; where too often we exist as frozen images in 19th century, black and white photographs; romanticized shaman whose existence serves to remind you of your own primitive state.  We are a group of living people denied their humanity.  In California, I heard the new ae white man tell the white audience; “ In everyone’s history there is a shaman beating a drum.”  The weight of such expectations stirs resentment in Native communities who are quick to remind you that no sovereign tribal nation is seeking converts to their religions; and given the history of the cultural in nature—sharing will only occur on a conditional basis.



Dear Students:

An underlying assumption to your questions has been that art by its very nature is opposed to nature.  This is a very westernized idea.  The coyote writing to you now requests you re-think your position.  He asks:  what is the nature of communication?

Is it speech?
Is it writing or is it an interaction?
He holds that an interaction is the foundation of communication, not necessarily symbols.  Anytime an artist uses materials he or she interacts with the material and the natural world.
Paint is made of minerals
Canvas is made from plants
Paper is made from trees
A criteria for the indigenous artist world deals with the respect or honor accorded your materials.  What is the nature of that relationship?

The separation of art and nature is impossible.  You cannot have art without air.
You cannot have art without water.  You cannot have art without sunlight, you cannot have art without wind.  The inter-relatedness of all these base elements and supports make you possible.  From the Indigenous world view; the decision white man made to see himself as borne apart from the natural world was arbitrary, reckless and ultimately destructive.






Dear Coyote;
How is it even possible to communicate with nature through art?

Dear Coyote;
Since art is technically a man made fabrication, do we as artists actually go against nature?

Dear Coyote;
What obligation does art have to nature, if any? And Why?
And aren’t they mutually exclusive?

Dear Coyote;
Who do you find most dangerous:            People? Coyotes? Other?

Answer: This is my list of things I find dangerous, not necessarily in this order: nationalistic ideologies, lawyers, most adults, well intentioned liberals offering hot dogs, Disney, and George W. Bush.

Dear Coyote;
Who do you find most helpful:  People? Coyotes? Other?

Answer: This is my list of most helpful; children, the black rhino, termites, earthworms, rain-forests, artists and artists assistants, good professional grant writers and George W. Bush.

How does this purport to help us understand the Indian culture?

What does coyote think of house pets, especially dogs?  Signed, Fifi
Dear Fifi                        Answer:              Good eating

If Coyote could have what Coyote wants what would Coyote have?

Are the Casino’s in Connecticut a form of expression for the Native Americans?
-Signed,  Casino Chip

Dear Casino Chip,
As a form of expression it might be saying;
“The Buffalo have returned.”

Why does Art and Nature remain on the fringes of society; as a luxury and a diversion instead of an everyday thing?  Signed, An Enquiring Mind


Dear Enquiring Mind,
Look at the culture you are in.  How does late capitalist consumer driven society teach its subjects to value art?  Think of the phenomena of the eighties:  Brice Marden sold a drawing for half a million dollars!  Why is that?  Are his lines more interesting than yours?  Is this truly about art?  Why does this system need commodity?  What does that tell you about the nature of this activity?

How can art be compared to anything in nature?

If God made Nature and man makes art.  Are artists saying they are Gods of our society?

Dear Coyote;

Are the souls of coyote and other creatures aided by our creative endeavors? 
Signed, Process Artist

Dear Process Artist,
Your question opens onto a metaphysical level.  To enter it requires a leap of faith:  Is there such a thing as a soul?  How do you imagine souls?  Included in your question is a generous serving of human altruism:  How does your activity help me?  I cannot say that I know you.  I cannot say I have ever seen your work or fully understand your endeavors: 
But I trust you.

I base my assumptions on the formation of your question.  You create a ripple effect by speculating that there may in fact be an interconnectedness between your actions and my well-being.  How you imagine this is important.

Have we humans gone too far with our technology or is there a chance for a “natural” evolution?

How can we really stop the absurd amount of waste that is produced?

How can we make art that won’t become trash or waste?  Signed, Abstraction

Dear Abstraction,
Make art out of air, water, wind, biodegradable materials, conversation, recycling, cast offs and situations.  Once you have achieved a stride then stop sweating this issue of product outcome or your expectations will outweigh the experience of your work.




How powerful can art be in informing people who don’t respect nature?

What are (some of the) roles art can play in community building?

How can one inspire rapture?

How can one inspire a sense of integrity (compatible with) the power of nature?  Signed Small World

Dear Small World,
Begin by aspiring to live that integrity yourself.

To what extent is art offering a sacrifice?

To what extent is art a presumptuous ego trip?

Why is it that when first-world countries produce more food to feed the famine stricken third-world countries, all that ends up is a higher global population with still as many starving people?

How can you help a world where so many have the power to affect change on a destructive, negative, self-serving, greedy, monetary level?

Is there a way of being that provides a fertile ground for the seed of the divine to grow and flourish in ones sphere?

How can art be used to inspire a breaking out of a limiting way of thinking and acting that has taken over many peoples lives?

Is this a performance or a ritual?

If Coyote is a sacred animal, is a public discussion like this appropriate?

Why can I see my reflection when I look onto the surface of Water?

Why do trees grow such nice flowers when it starts to get warm?
Will they always bloom every spring?  What will happen if they don’t?

What is it about springtime that makes the urge for adventure and mischief virtually irrepressible?

Why is the financial aid at RISD really poor?



I was in NYC and I felt like I was surrounded by people who were not thinking.  Am I just being cynical?  Signed,  Can you Believe It?

Dear Can you Believe it?,                                    YES

Do you believe in a higher being, Christ the Lord?

Is it OK to want?

I am 18 and I am balding.  What will this do to me when I am 25 and totally hairless?

I fell in love with a trail.  Should we make it a road?  Signed, Detour

Dear Detour,  What are you Majoring in?

Dear Coyote;
I want to know if there is a place in nature for love. What I see (in nature) is grim and bloody, a struggle.  No one can drop his guard.
Coyote, What about love?

Dear Coyote;

I read that the Gypsy culture bans keeping cats or any other animal as a pet that cleans by licking its “nether regions” with its tongue.  Is this true?  What do you think is the right thing to do?  I have a cat.  I want her to be clean but maybe the gypsies are right. Is it wrong to have a pet like mine?
Should I have a pet at all – or is it against nature?

Sincerely, Furball

Dear Furball:  We are a mosh of ideas and lost root causes.  Transgressors and transformers who aspire to be cultural shape shifters and fish who leave dirty water.  We visit ourselves upon an other and in earnest we read what the wide-eyed, white anthropologist dutifully noted in his hand-held narrow note pad, the one with the wire-binder.  He says, “I am here under the guise of objectivity.  I am the living embodiment of Captain Picard’s beloved prime directive.  Tell me that which reflects your attitude toward sexual reproduction, tell me why you never sleep with your head against a window or why you are forbidden to whistle at night.  Tell me quick, as I am late for my next grant proposal.”




The people by their very nature sit silently listening to the man with his notebook.  And the people say:
The clouds are sick,
So the rain isn’t well anymore.
The thunder tells us when Coyote is gone.
We eat flowers and spew funk.
The hands are provided by the fingers.
We love all of our oppressors and we tell glad tales of
            each of our scars because Jesus told us so.
A casino opens on the rez and suddenly Indian Men
             look good to White Women.
The color blue is profane because it mocks the eyes of the transcriber
We wore black socks when we crossed the land bridge.
At the Bearing Strait and I don’t know what it was those
            Navajo’s were wearing.
We belive that the animals are crass and dirty and
            They had it coming.
In narrative traditions, to tell the story of tragedy one must always begin by telling the end first.
We once believed the weight of such expectations
Functioned as a cultural given for the artist of Native American descent.
Its rules stated that we cry for a vision and accept our
Place in a single grand narrative of history and

But the laughter of Coyote saturated and filled our daily lives.  It echoed through histories grand lecture halls and it was so powerful and it was so distracting that We forgot our place in linear time, and now we work from an untraceable present.

Dear Coyote:
I read that the Gypsy culture bans keeping cats or any other animal as a pet that cleans by licking its “nether regions” with its tongue.  Is this true? 

Dear Furball:  It is true.  Cats do indeed clean their “nether regions” with their tongue.


But Dear Coyote, What do you think is the right thing to do? 

Dear Furball:  Have you considered giving your cat a flea dip?

But Dear Coyote,  I have a cat.  I want her to be clean but maybe the gypies are right. Is it wrong to have a pet like mine?

Dear Furball:  It depends on the nature of your relationship.

But Dear Coyote:  Should I have a pet at all – or is it against nature?

Dear Furball:  Nature is tainted beyond repair.  Its character has changed to the point where we literally have a paw in deciding what goes to the future and what does not.
How do you plan to participate Furball?  Your cat needs to know these things so that she may make some decisions about you…



Dear Coyote:  How did the moon come to control the ocean tides? 
                                                                                    Signed, Just Wondering

Dear Just Wondering,

Let me tell you what I know:
And I am only going to say about this much

The word for the day is grace
We never thought it in the cards, that I might live to respond to you today.
So I must use this time to set right what I need to set right.
And then
I am only going to say about this much.

We have never been given one more hour and one more day to finish the tasks that were never completed.  Don’t go back to sleep.
The creator loathes the individual who doesn’t appreciate Grace.
The clock is running.  The meter is in overtime.
The frogs are dying and I do not know why.
I will never cure HIV
These are tasks too large for just one coyote
….so I am only going to say about this much.

If Coyote could have what Coyote wants, what would Coyote have?
I will never again allow my relatives to accept THEIR vision of our future; the future where we only exist as ghosts, or mascots or names of cities and rivers.
I want you, just wondering, to find yourself in me as I will find the coyote in you
I will not forget
The dreams I had about living in the 90’s.  The one where Nature crashed and I had to call you to consciousness;
And tell you that
You must tolerate what you allow.

Sincerely,   Coyote