Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Liberal Studies

Major Professor

Andrew Berish, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Priscilla Brewer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stacy Holman Jones, Ph.D.


art history, radical art, land art, earth art, postmodern art, ecology, deep ecology, ecofeminism, anarcha-feminist, feminism, cultural politics, social movements, New Social Movements, Environmental Movement, Direct Action, Nonviolence, Winnie Brienes, Noel Sturgeon, prefigurative politics, direct theory


Twentieth century modernity has provoked multiple problems ranging from environmental degradation to human rights violations. Globally, diverse communities of people have organized to promote, not just reactive reforms, but a fundamental alteration of the foundational worldview underlying these issues. Radical activists committed their work to promoting an alternative ethos based on egalitarian, democratic, and ecologically-wise concepts. An array of methodologies emerged from these endeavors. More radical political groups focused on cultural tools to engage people in the construction of an alternative worldview. Radical activists utilized two forms of cultural politics: prefigurative politics, the physical presentation of an envisioned future and direct theory, the constant interaction between theory and practice. Within the artistic community, Ecological Artists centered their practice on cultural activism, creating publicly accessible, site-specific collaborative pieces that illuminate and utilize ecosystem principles to promote an eco-wise worldview.

The concept of utilizing cultural production as a method for achieving social transformation has only recently been analyzed within the social movement discipline. Artists rarely utilize social movement vocabulary, or the term "activism" to describe their practices. To date, no correlation between artistic production and social movement strategies has been made. I argue in this thesis that Ecological Artists are cultural activists who simultaneously developed strategies and methods similar to those being worked out by radical social movement activists. While prefigurative politics and direct theory are terms defined within social movement discipline, the cultural activities are similar. Political activists' internal organization and external political work, prefigurative of an envisioned future and the result of constant interaction between theory and practice, correlates to the necessary collaborative organizations of Eco-Art and the physical presence of the work, a manifestation of the constant interaction between ecosystem theory and artistic practice. In this thesis I analyze the work of Ecological Artist Ruth Wallen as a form of cultural activism. I argue that the intention, execution, and content of her work are forms of prefigurative politics and direct theory. Ruth Wallen has been practicing Eco-Art for twenty years. Her work is focused on the heart of Eco-Art, its intention to produce an eco-wise future through artistic practice.