All Classical Radio James Depreist

In the trees at Lewis and Clark: Ecosexuality and sonic experiments

Famed performance artist Annie Sprinkle and her collaborator Beth Stephens were in residence at the college in early April. Their work, 'The Forest as Lover,' is in the college's EAR (Experimental Art Research) Forest through the end of June.

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group of four people in front of a sign hanging between two trees that says "Forest as Lover"
Left to right: Annie Sprinkle, Lewis & Clark Art Professor Dann Disciglio, Beth Stephens, and Lewis & Clark staff member and neon artist Angie Almukhametova in the EAR Forest sound installation; Photo by Lois Leveen

A little less than a month ago, I got an email from Lois Leveen, Director of Public Relations at Lewis and Clark College with an intriguing subject line: “Come report on queer artists-in-residence as they frolic in Portland’s EAR Forest.” At the time I received this email, I had no idea what the EAR Forest was, but the nomenclature piqued my curiosity. Upon scanning the body of Leveen’s email, my eyes lit up at the name “Annie Sprinkle,” the legendary porn star-turned-PhD who I had first learned of while in graduate school for Performance Studies. Digging deeper, I discovered Sprinkle would be in residence at Lewis & Clark with her wife and collaborator, artist and academic Beth Stephens, from April 1-10. Together, Sprinkle and Stephens would create a new sonic work in the mysterious EAR Forest in their capacity as proud ecosexuals.  

Ecosexual? A quick web search informed me that ecosexuality was founded by Sprinkle and Stephens as a mode of environmental activism, based on the premise of the earth as a lover. Ecosexuals addressed abuse of the earth’s resources through the language gendered violence and sought loving relationships to the earth through education, art, humor, and of course, sex. Sprinkle and Stephens integrated this way of being into their shared art practice, manifesting ecosexual ethics through their various marriages to the earth (among other endeavors). Working at a peculiar nexus of performance art and academic formality, they turned the tradition of a wedding on its head, affirming their continued commitment to lovingly care for the earth. 

What would these artists get up to next at Lewis and Clark I wondered? Knowing I could not miss the chance to experience Sprinkle and Stephens’s work in the flesh, I rounded up a caravan of my witchiest plant-loving friends – who I knew would have some affinity with ecosexuality – and headed over to the college for the artists’ opening reception on April 9th. 

sandwich board on a path, shape of an ear with trees in the center
Sign for the EAR Forest on the campus of Lewis and Clark College, photo by Lori Friedman

Lewis & Clark’s campus proved a little difficult for our caravan to navigate. But as I drove, I noticed a sign with the icon of an ear and some trees with an arrow pointing forward. Realizing that this must mark the route to the EAR Forest, my friends and I followed the sign into a campus parking lot. From there we proceeded on foot, following more of these signs past several college buildings into a nearby garden and then finally into a wooded area. 

This woods, I realized, was the EAR (Experimental Art Research) Forest – a project of the college’s Art Department. It housed a 16-channel audio system permanently installed in the trees overhead, intended for sound walks, auditory experiences, storytelling, and music created by faculty, students, and visiting artists. Upon entering the EAR Forest, I met Professors Jess Perlitz and Dann Disciglio, who oversaw its programming. Perlitz explained that they invited Sprinkle and Stephens as inaugural artists-in-residence to create a new sound work for this installation, a fitting choice given the artists’ affinity for creating in outdoor environments. 

In the EAR Forest, students buzzed around in ghillie suits and other festive gear, like antennas and hobbit feet. In the epicenter of the activity was a hand painted banner that read “FOREST as LOVER,” the title of Sprinkle and Stephens’ installation. I found Leveen among the fray, and she explained that some of these students were being paid to work the event, while others were just part of the college’s culture. My friends and I walked the cushy trails of the EAR Forest, coated in fresh-smelling wood chips and rose petals, which took us in a small winding loop past the installation of speakers. Above us, I could hear different movements of sound playing.

collage with purple background, central motif is a circle with photos of Sprinkle and Stephens
Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens

Someone speaking over the recording (I could not tell if it was Sprinkle or Stephens) stated: “One of the ways that we work to release our colonial privilege is by doing work of researching our own blood lineages.” A few seconds later, they added, “We attempt to restore our relatedness with Indigenous peoples everywhere by working in circles and spheres and creating a ritual container from the astral plane in a way that causes us to be right-sized.” This line caught my attention as we walked the looping path, turning my mind to the shape of the earth, its rotation and cycles.

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Another section, which I listened to while in the company of Perlitz and Disciglio, included breathy proclamations of “We love you Forest” and other similar sentiments. Perlitz and Disciglio laughed at this, disclosing to me that they had each voiced part of this recording, alongside Sprinkle and Stephens. Disciglio assisted the visiting artists with generating recordings, mixing the audio, and creating soundscape music for this installation, which can be listened to on Soundcloud in its entirety. The crowd began to dissipate but the recording continued, with Sprinkle and Stephens whispering something about “every molecule.” I looked up at the trees and let their easeful presence wash over me, and I felt the intention of this exhibition crystalize. Was this ecosexual intimacy? 

On my way out, I shyly caught Sprinkle for a moment and asked her how she felt about the work. “Good!” she said. During our brief exchange, she pointed me to a pamphlet, one I had picked up on my way in, noting the playlist for the installation. Each segment of audio reflected the arch of love-making, complete with a climax and aftercare – all directed, in ecosexual fashion, toward facilitating intimacy with the forest. 

partially camouflaged person in a forest between two trees
Grayson Smith at Lewis and Clark College in the EAR Forest, photo by Suhail Akram

Sprinkle wore red feathers in her hair, and I loved that her style fit right in with the vibrant student fashion. I found myself full of admiration for Sprinkle, Stephens, and the Lewis & Clark Faculty who work as both artists and academics, making space to be in life-changing relation to students. Amidst the pressure cooker of the brewing climate crisis, this whole experience at EAR Forest offered a breath of fresh air. 

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The Forest As Lover is available to listen to throughout the EAR Forest path, with the trees, every Thursday & Friday 12pm-4pm at Lewis and Clark College through the end of June. Directions are available here

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Hannah Krafcik (they/them) is a Portland-based interdisciplinary neuroqueer artist and writer whose work emerges from ongoing reflections on social patterning and censorship, (over)stimulation, perseveration, and intuition. Their practices span dance, writing, new media, and sound design. Hannah continues to be influenced by their collaboration with artistic partner Emily Jones.
Photo credit: Jo Silver
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