Biophilia: Art

For Starters

If you’re wondering what the bleep is biophilia, here is a definition from my dictionary:

Biophilia: (according to a theory of the biologist E. O. Wilson) an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.

The artwork featured in this post deals with the concept of biophilia, and it’s both food for thought and eye candy.


“Becoming” – Clay, wax, sheep’s wool, moss (2014)

What can emerge from a well-balanced unison of research and artistic craft?

Achieving a balance between the often conplex conceptual roots that underlie a body of artworks, and a set of aethetic qualities that effectively convey the core of such concepts, represents a huge challenge for academic artists working in any medium. In this post you may find how Ashley Snook, a student in OCAD University’s Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, goes about successfully bridging such gap. I had the fortune of meeting Ashley and seeing her mesmerizing thesis exhibit titled INTERSPECIATION in Toronto’s Allan Gardens.  The level of craft, substance and mysticism involved in her multi-media artworks was so impressive that I could not resist asking her to do an interview about her exhibit over Facebook messages. Hah! Lucky for me, she accepted. Here are some images of the show (which may not do justice to the affect of how her work florished amongst the beauty of the gardens) as well as Ashley’s response to what I thought would be insighful prompts on her creative processes:


I N T E R S P E C I A T I O N – Exhibition shot, Allan Gardens, Toronto

What originated your artistic inquiry into biophilia?

I come from a small town in Northern Ontario where there are no street lights or concrete. I grew up surrounded by pets, wild animals, fresh lakes and forests. It wasn’t until the research I conducted in my Master’s where I came to know the biophilia hypothesis. Living in Toronto has made me realize how connected I am to elements of nature, which brought me to the realization that I am a biophiliac—someone who has an innate connection to nonhuman species and the biosphere.


“Hybrid (In)synced” – Drawing with chia seeds and seed paper (2015-2016)

When working three-dimensionally, what’s involved in the trajectory of your artworks from beginning to end? 

My sculptural works typically represent areas of the human figure that amalgamates animal characteristics—this could be done by physically adding animalistic elements or contorting the body in a way that illustrates animality. I think about what narratives can be told when investigating relationships between co-species, then what materials would most appropriately express what I’m thinking. For an example, I cast an area of my body and from this mould, I fill the cavities with various waxes, plaster, or plastics in which I usually embed organic materials such as dog fur, seeds, moss, dirt, etc. Within the process of embedding these materials in areas of my body, this application turns into a performative process of reclaiming animality to the human form.


“(Intra)terior Vessel” – Wax, dog fur, plaster (2016)

How is this process different than when working on a two-dimensional surface?

Working with three-dimensional works differs from two-dimensional surfaces by the tactility that it brings. My sculptural and installation work posses a fleshliness to the topics that I focus on and bring a more intimate view of human animality through a physical and tangible dialogue between human, animal and botanical species.


“Cerebral Soil” Wax, dog fur, soil (2015)

Where do you think the need for using multiple materials and approaches to explore the subject matter of your work lies?

In using materials of synthetic and organic in conjunction with one another focuses my aim in breaking barriers of the human/animal divide. In most cases, I use synthetic materials and surround or embed it with organic matter as an active process of reclaiming human animality and unveiling connections amongst species.


“An Interspecies Memoir” – Resin, hair (2016)

What’s the link between the variation in the formal qualities of your work and the concept of biophilia?

I use subject matters that involve the exploration of animal representation to create dialogues between various species and to address biophilia by representing, and physically incorporating organic material that we are innately drawn to. By creating hybrid bodies of human, animal and plant, I use the connectivity that is addressed in the concept of biophilia to lead to the notion of intraspeciation. Intraspeciation is a process and term I have developed that stands as a perspective towards evolutionary theories of phylogenetic exploration where one identifies a rooted animality in their being, takes keen interest in other living organisms and rejects the hierarchical notion of humans as superior to other existences.


“Sampling Kinship” – Glass test tubes, soil, chia seeds, plaster, wax, organic materials (2015-2016)

While working on this series of artworks, how did you know if an artwork served the purpose of what you were trying to achieve?

My approach to art making is very intuitive and self-reflexive. Each work explores a particular narrative and idea and was achieved once it manifested in material form. For the particular exhibition, it wasn’t until the body of work was cohesively together in the conservatory that I felt my exploration of human animality and biophilia was completely achieved. I think the space intensified the work and addressed the concepts I was speaking to in relation to my art practice.


Allen Gardens – Perfect place to go on a date (19 Horticultural Ave, Toronto, ON M5A 2P2)



Ashley Snook’s next show is in a group exhibition with her Master’s cohort for OCAD’s annual graduating students show, GradEx (May 4 at 6:30 PM to May 8 at 5:00). Her work will be located in the Student Gallery at 52 McCaul St.

You may find out more about this up-and-coming artist by visiting her website

In my next post I’ll be featuring work by at least three of the most talented but underrated artists, at least according to me, in this year’s GradEx.

E. Osorio


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