Naming is Seeing | Seeing is Forgetting
A video by Ellen McMahon
As a participant in Art Lab: Border Biosphere Explorations, I spent a few days at El Coronado Ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains. Surrounded by hundreds of acres of grasslands restored by Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation, I began to learn the identifying characteristics and names of some of Arizona’s native grasses. This new knowledge transformed the field of grass in which I stood into a field of several kinds of grasses then into a field of Green sprangletop, Buffalograss Feather fingergrass, Plains lovegrass, Hall’s panicgrass, Poverty threeawn, Blue grama and many others. Looking closely enough to tell them apart, I saw these individual species of grasses for the first time.
During the residency I happened to be reading Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, a book by Lawrence Weschler about the artist, Robert Irwin. The paradox between my reading and my experience resulted in “Naming is Seeing | Seeing is Forgetting” a video about how naming and categorizing both sharpens and limits our perceptions of the world, whether we’re seeing as artists or scientists.