Art and Ecology Create a Strong Message With “Plague Phase”

February 18, 2021

Kathryn DePauw
Editor in Chief

There is no better time than in the middle of a snow-buried February to remember that we are all at the mercy of nature. Winter is the perfect time to really examine our place in the world and it is with this mindset that you should watch “Plague Phase,” a short film presented by Nature Change and Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology. The film was locally supported by the Traverse Area District Library, Old Town Playhouse, Title Track, NMEAC, and Traverse Area Media in addition to the local commentators, who created pre-recorded responses to the film, and panelists who participated in a live discussion.


The film is a mix of poetry, sculpture, and ecological storytelling that glimpses into the future of a world whose equilibrium is disrupted by human influences. The visually somber, dark tones combine with the meditative and echoey sounds to create a sacred space for the viewer to imbibe the poetry and reflect on humanity’s reliance on a natural diversity that we are quickly stripping away.

Inspired by William E. Rees’s academic article “Ecological economics for humanity’s plague phase,” which lays out the argument that human’s competitive-based economic theory is “exploiting the ecosphere beyond ecosystems’ regenerative capacity,” the film highlights the inability of the earth to sustain continuous human growth and our reliance on ecological diversity.


In a time of loss, the emotional response to the film’s message is easily felt. In this moment, when the reality of climate change is hitting home for many, in the midst of a global pandemic and its economic downturn, the problems are overwhelming and the future unknowable. After the film, local voices address these issues, and while solutions may be hard to come by, insight and inspiration can be found in their thoughtful words.


To avoid the ecological fallout painted in the production, a new story of humanity must be written. A new definition of success and growth created, and a new path forged. “Plague Phase” makes the case that this new path must be wider, expanding beyond established consumerism. It requires a collective imagination, a unified vision of what could be—something that artists are uniquely suited to explore.

In the gray isolation of winter, the film asks us to remember and prioritize the interconnectedness of all life and question how we define our personal needs.  The words of Barry Lopez, mentioned in the film, are worthy of reflection: “We cannot, of course, save the World because we do not have authority over its parts.  We can serve the world though. That is everyone’s calling, to lead a life that helps.”


“Plague Phase” can be streamed on NatureChange.org or, for a complete recording including the comments and panel discussion, visit Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology’s Facebook page.

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