Meet 2014 Artist-in-Residence Susie O'Keeffe

Susie O’Keeffe was the WMNF Artist in Residence for 2014 as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.


Susie spent her residency in solitary contemplation in the Wild River Wilderness. She is working on sharing her experience through combining poetry, prose, and photos with field recordings and music.

“The arts allow us to convey what is indescribable in our encounters with other animals and the land,” Susie says. “So, this is what I try to do. I tell the story of my own effort to connect with this indefinable aspect of the natural world, what the poet Jane Hirshfield calls, 'the inexpressible presence in things.' I think the arts are what get us connected to this, and it seems to me we need this connection for a whole number of reasons.”

Susie is a poet, teacher, researcher and photographer. She is exploring how contemplative inquiry can be developed as a field practice. Entitled Art of Reciprocity, her work is based on the understanding that the ecological crisis is ultimately a problem of limited human consciousness—an incomplete awareness arising out of a delusion of separation from “nature,” and human exceptionalism.

Art of Reciprocity explores how consciousness is deepened through unique, individual experiences that can’t be reproduced, repeated, or imposed. It relies on the development of four areas: the commitment to exploring one’s inner world, the practice of stilling body and mind, and the development of creative perception and expression through connection with, and affection for, one’s subject of study. Or, more simply: consciousness, contemplation, creativity and contact.

Susie recently completed her first body of work from a month of solitary contemplation on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska. This text-based performance is entitled: Art of Reciprocity: Rekindling the Exchange of Wild Affection. It combines images (below), music and sounds from the field with a story in poetry and prose. She is also working on a field practice in conjunction with Unity College’s Hemlock Ecosystem Management Study (HEMS) in Freedom, Maine. Future projects will include anadromous fish and re-wilding rivers and streams.

Previously Susie worked with a variety of environmental organizations in the United States and Europe. She holds a Master’s of Science with distinction in Environmental Management from Oxford University, England. Susie's professional experience ranges from comprehensive environmental policy planning to program creation and direction in the fields of local, organic agriculture and wildlife conservation. Her writing has appeared in Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, and Naropa University’s Phylogeny.