"To do interdisciplinary research is to be in a creative process. The researcher's job is to spin a web of connections that manifest in a novel pattern. It's fantastic and rewarding work." - Shane Scopatz


Shane Scopatz is a dancer, choreographer and multimedia artist. He grew up dancing in California and graduated from the University of Califonia, Irvine, with a BFA in Dance. He has spent the majority of his professional performance career in Tel Aviv, Israel dancing for the Batsheva Dance Company, the Inbal Dance Theater Company and freelancing. A desire to choreograph environmentally-themed works inspired him to move to the remote desert of the Colorado Plateau and then to Corvallis, Oregon, to study Environmental Arts and Humanities. Shane is passionate about building a world of ecological flourishing for humans and the more-than-human alike. And he believes art will play a critical role in constructing the climate and environmental justice movements that will bring that world into being. He graduated with an MA in Environmental Arts and Humanities from OSU in 2021. 

Carly Lettero, program manager of the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative, interviewed Shane about his graduate work and future plans during the fall of 2021. Shane's film, Steps and Strikes, is available here

You are a choreographer and dancer, and when you started your MA in Environmental Arts and Humanities, you envisioned doing an in-person performance for your culminating project. But the pandemic started the third term of your degree, and it became impossible to plan an in-person gathering. How did you adapt your scholarship and project in response to Covid restrictions? 

The first few months of the pandemic were a confusing time. There was a naive hopefulness that it would only last a few months. Before the second wave hit, I honestly believed that by spring 2021, there would be in-person gatherings again. That said, by fall 2020, it was clear it was time to transition to my plan B and shift the concept for Steps and Strikes from a theatrical performance to a film. This decision was an emotional one. I love performing, and I believe live performance is an essential and powerful medium. Additionally, as a creator, I would rather be in a studio, rehearsing, moving, and exhausting myself physically rather than sitting at a desk fixing sound levels and color-correcting images in Premiere Pro. But after getting over that initial hurdle, it was all systems go.

As an artist, I thrive on placing boundaries or a frame on the artistic process, and the pandemic provided many logistical restrictions. I found that these limits demanded creative solutions that often resulted in visual outcomes that I would never have thought of beforehand. Art is always a product of its time. Looking back, without being mentioned, I believe the pandemic is on full display in Steps and Strikes. When I dance alone in an empty cold space, the viewer is likely wondering, where are all the other people. By default, this image provides a timestamp that gives the film a very 2021 flavor.

Lastly, I'd like to mention that I feel I was fortunate to have designed a relatively independent project and research methodology. Meaning, I had no plan to interview people, and I had not budgeted any fieldwork for the film. So in that sense, compared to my graduate researching peers, there was less that I needed to modify. 

In your art film, Steps and Strikes, you ask a critical question: Why hasn't the environmental movement been more effective over the last several decades? As a student in EAH, you tried to answer that question from an interdisciplinary perspective. What perspectives did you use, and how did they work together to inform your answer?

The three disciplines that grounded my research of this question were environmental philosophy or ethics, history and sociology. Admittedly, to state it that way has a kind of stale tone to it when interdisciplinary research in practice is incredibly dynamic. To do interdisciplinary research is to be in a creative process. The researcher's job is to spin a web of connections that manifest in a novel pattern. It's fantastic and rewarding work.

"The more effective over the last several decades" part of the question begs an answer that points to a systemic issue. So the web I spun quickly became a kind of hunt for the system. I started the journey by reading deeply about environmental and climate justice. Within this research, I encountered critiques of capitalism, which smelled suspiciously like the system I was seeking. Diving deeper into these critiques, I read histories on how capitalism has continued to wreak havoc on the environment for the last 500 years. This eventually lead me to literature on eco-marxism, which lead me to contemporary critiques of the labor movement, which lead me to eco-utopian literature and futurisms. In the end, as an interdisciplinary researcher, it was my job to make the connections between these disciplines clear. They wound up working together to strengthen my argument because the picture these perspectives paint collectively is broader and more nuanced. This is interdisciplinary work's superpower, especially when it comes to investigations of systemic issues.

What roles do you think contemporary art plays in advocating for systematic change?

Contemporary art is essential in the struggle for systemic change. There are several roles contemporary art plays, and two I'd like to highlight. First, for both the maker and viewer, contemporary art is a practice of imagination. When art is made with a social critique, it will almost always be a practice of utopianism. The better world is present, whether in the foreground or background. Generally, art is unbounded by facts and figures and norms dictating what is possible and what's not. In this way, contemporary art is uniquely suited to envision a world of ecological flourishing and justice. This utopian imaginary practice is essential to the guiding visions for social movements. It is a muscle that must be flexed, and artists are the ones trained to flex it.

The other important role I believe contemporary art plays is that it is a prefigurative practice. Meaning by making or viewing art, you are in real-time making the world you wish to come into being, a world where the social order values art. The importance of this cannot be understated.


"[C]ontemporary art is uniquely suited to envision a world of ecological flourishing and justice." - Shane Scopatz
You challenge viewers to radically imagine the near future, including the next 20 minutes and 20 hours. How are you imagining this future today?

That's an excellent question! I spend a lot of time these days thinking about the climate emergency and how to build a broad, diverse and bold coalition in the climate action movement. I am currently abroad visiting my inlaws after not seeing them for close to three years. As a result, my social circles are small, and community reach is limited. That said, that does not mean I can't continue working to build the coalition I believe is needed. This morning, over pancakes, I spoke with family about the importance of local organic farming in addressing food insecurity. Being in conversation with others about how our ecological crises are social ones is a practice of radically imagining the near future. Radical because it is rooted in the idea that conversation and narrative can move people to action. On a personal level, I find that each conversation is an opportunity to practice organizing. And this helps improve my capacity for the next 20 hours, next 20 days.

What is next for you and Steps and Strikes?

I am planning on going back to school! The EAH program felt like a great new beginning to the career path I didn't know I wanted. After graduating from EAH, I found I want to keep researching and making art, so I plan to go back to school for an MFA. That being a terminal degree, I hope to find myself in a university position where I can continue to make art, research, and teach environmental art and values.

As for Steps and Strikes, I plan to try to share the film with a wider audience via film festivals. It is a project to research suitable festivals and budget for the application fees.

What advice do you have for performing artists who are considering applying to the EAH program?

For performing artists considering applying to the EAH program and are confident they want to make art for their projects, I recommend being surefooted in your art-making process. What I mean is, be sure you can create the work you want to make independently. There are, of course, art faculty on campus who will be happy to engage with you and your work, but the program is designed to develop you as an ecological thinker and researcher. If that is what you are looking for, the EAH program will undoubtedly give you a lot, and I assure you that your art will develop going through the program.