My Creative Partner: Reflecting on our More-than-human (MtH) Interactions

Marcia Higuchi, Zahra Jalali and Kimia Gholami

Part l

Facing our current socio-environmental crisis, we can recognize the damage to the Earth caused by modern human society and the capitalist structures; often by overlooking our relationship with more-than-human beings. It seems to be more than urgent to challenge human-centred values, and perceive a More-than-Human perspective that asks:

How can we create more sustainable ways of living by accounting for more-than-human knowledge, agency, and collaboration?”

Facilitated by Marcia Higuchi, Zahra Jalali and Kimia Gholami (MDes 2022), and hosted by Emily Carr DESIS LAB, a workshop took place at Emily Carr University in March 2022, aiming to encourage participants to practice reflecting and creating with More-than-Human beings as their Creative Partners. As part of the facilitators’ graduate theses, the goal of this workshop was to investigate our relationship with the MtH world; how we interact with them, relate to them, learn from them, and how we can act responsibly towards them.

This workshop had been broken down into three main parts

  1. A short guided meditation followed by storytelling
  2. Filling out an MtH empathy map
  3. Practicing making as an act of care towards the MtH world
Choosing their More-than-Human Partner

On the day of the workshop, as participants entered the room, they encountered a big table filled with rocks, leaves, sand, seawater, etc. who were our More-than-Human guests. Before getting started, they were prompted to choose one of the beings as their creative partner for the workshop and were encouraged to hold their MtH being during meditation as well. The meditation guided participants to get to know their MtH partner through their sensory and tactile experiences and reflect on their memories or previous encounters with them. Afterward, participants shared personal stories about why they chose a certain being and what they discovered from them as they held them during the meditation.

In the second part, participants were asked to write down their understanding of their MtH partner on the paper by using empathy maps, as a way to learn how much we know or do not know about them. Filling out the empathy maps and thinking about feelings or thoughts of More-than-Human beings was challenging for many. However, the group was creative in their approach and ended up with varied ways of expressing empathy and relationality for their MtH partner. After discussion, the group concluded that there is power in acknowledging contradictions and accepting our lack of knowledge of the MtH world. This exercise also helped us recognize more-than-humans as beings who have unique life experiences, histories, and interactions.

Part II
In the final part, the participants were presented with a range of making materials to choose from. All materials were driven from natural resources. This prompt was focused on the act of making as a way of freely practicing reciprocity and creating in collaboration with an MtH partner. Some chose to make symbolic offerings: a water slide for the seawater, or a container that held the soil (since the soil usually supports and “holds” other beings). Others recreated the forms and shapes of the beings, as a way of learning and being guided by their MtH partners.

In the end, we discussed how having space for exploring with MtH beings as collaborators encourages experimenting and active learning without having to worry about a potential “design” solution. Everyone engaged and related to their MtH partner in their own unique way and contributed to the workshop by embracing the unknowing. In the end, the participants left their makings behind so all the beings could be brought back to where they were found, and the materials to be recycled. Leaving behind the makings was another attempt to acknowledge how we were not to “own” any of the beings or the creations but to encounter them, collaborate with them, and part ways.

Makings at the end of the workshop

Images by Yun Xiao, 2022