Phillipa Klaiber and Michael Swann, Compost


Queer ecology is a perspective that views nature, biology and sexuality through the lens of Queer Theory. It rejects heteronormative views of nature and highlights that humanity & nature are not separate entities, as they are often considered to be. Compost is an on-going collaboration between Phillipa Klaiber and Michael Swann that queers the common practices of visualising sexuality and gender, using research and photographic experimentation.  

In his paper Queer Theory for Lichens, David Griffiths suggests that a symbiotic and “queer ecological perspective […] could go some way toward denaturalizing the primacy of heterosexuality and sexual reproduction in defining and legitimating bodies, practices and communities.” Queer ecology aims to break down the perceived separation between humanity and nature, arguing that this “us and them” mentality creates a closed-system in which humanity impacts a natural world that it is detached from. Simultaneously, Queer ecology applies the biological evidence of non-heteronormativity, that is found within the non-human species that we live alongside, to the way society views sexuality and gender.  

In an interview with William J. Simmons, Art Historian and Curator David J. Getsy discusses the tendency for artistic representations of queer identity to get caught up in the need to “testify to the existence of those who love and live differently”. The focus on representation, while vital within art and gender politics, doesn’t encapsulate the full complexities of queer existence. Through abstraction, metaphor and the use of thematically adjacent subject matters, we want to push the conversation off the beaten track.   

Prompted by this research, Compost centres on examples of non-heteronormative reproductive systems, symbiotic relationships in nature and metaphorical representations of the queer experience. From intimate abstractions of metamorphosis and self-pollinating waterlilies, we move through forests of lichen and well-trodden desire lines. Connections are drawn between the human and the natural through a game of cat’s cradle with a fruit tree and imagery of skin/leaf hybrids.

The imagery often veers into the horrific through dark representations of insects and monstrous creatures, representing the perceived threatening presence of the queer individual amongst the heteronormative, nuclear family structure. 

Compost is an ongoing project.