Death and Life

The goal of our project is to show that death is necessary to produce life.  Our idea changed many times throughout its creation. We originally intended to surround a flower with compostable materials to showcase decay giving way to life.  As we researched the nature of composting, we realized this was not the most realistic approach.  Instead, we opted to arrange stones in the outline of a human body and grow beans inside of the shape. The result was a public piece of bio art that represents deep ecology, and challenges our culture’s relationship to life and death.

Issues, Approaches, Strategy, Genre

  • This work is a public piece of bio art.
  • We focused on the issues of “waste,” and “systems.”  Waste because of the materials used to fertilize the beans, and systems because we are showcasing the relationship between decay and life. 
  • We took the approach of deep ecology, because we are challenging our culture’s relationship to the ideas of life and death.  
  • For strategy, we decided to celebrate the life that comes from death.

Relevant Artwork

Infinity Burial Project – Jae Rhim Lee

  • Examines modern funerary practices & embraces natural decomposition of the body
  • Uses fungi infused thread to remove toxins from within the body and soil around it, speed up decomposition, & return nutrients quicker 
  • Reinforces natural cycle of life

Throughout our research, we learned some fun facts regarding repurposing waste:

  • Composting can take as little as 10 minutes a week, on average.
  • Composting can reduce outdoor water expenses by up to 30%

Food for thought: If the 21.5 million annual tons of food waste were composted, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking over 2 million cars off the road.

Lending A Helping Hand

Feeding Chicken food scraps are not only good for the environment, but it is very beneficial for the chicken’s nutrition as well. Certain foods are proven to help speed up egg fertilization! Watermelon and other fruits carry Vitamins and antioxidants! Corn can help boost a chicken metabolism as well as regulate their body temperature! Any greens are a great treat for our feathered friends, they are full of vitamins and minerals that will help keep happy and healthy chickens!

Food Waste

Did you know that 14.7 million tons of food waste happen in the United States? The Land Fills are overflowing, but we can all take a step forward and prevent this! So how can you help? By composting or in this case by putting those scraps to good use! We can all come together and spread this awareness on how food waste affects our environment, also affects climate change. Landfills over time will decompose and release methane emissions. A greenhouse gas that is even more potent than carbon dioxide (Deer, 2022).

Community Giving Back

Community awareness of food waste is an important step for the future. By informing the community of where their scraps actually end up after they throw them in the garbage, we can create a ripple effect for the better. By feeding natural food waste to the chickens, we are eliminating the amount of waste that ends up in landfills as a community as well as giving back to the chickens that support us.

Why you should help?

By donating your scraps, you are helping to keep your food waste out of landfills and repurposing them for a greater good. We are feeding the food waste to chickens, but you can still help in other smaller ways at home by being conscious about what you are throwing away and even giving food scraps to other animals if it is safe for them to eat.

The Helpful Hand

We decided on the name “Helpful Hand” because the hand provides a natural symbol of generosity and vulnerability that brings out the themes that we wanted to express through our art piece. The idea of the Helpful Hand was to express gratitude and celebration for the chickens and their role in the environment as well as protecting their habitat. By making the hand out of food that the chickens could eat, we are not leaving a trace on the environment because we are building the sculpture to be completely eaten and essentially giving back to the chickens without leaving a footprint.

What makes up the Helping Hand?

The foundation of the Helping Hand is chicken wire, which the chickens are already familiar with being around so it will not disturb their natural habitat. The filling within the palm is lettuce scraps with larger lettuce leaves covering the chicken wire for aesthetic purposes and the fingers were constructed from corn on the cob fixed onto the base with wooden dowels. We decided on having the hand hold a apple. A natural bowl made out of half of a honeydew melon filled with food waste collected from the community as apart of the main structure for the chickens to eat. Some of the scraps that chickens are able to eat consist of other leafy greens, fruit peels (except for citrus) and other vegetable scraps.

Tree Mask Project

The Tree Mask is a public artwork demonstrating the personification of trees in reaction to deforestation. Our goal for the project was to create awareness about deforestation. On-campus there have been a number of trees removed, we wanted to educate others about the importance of trees because of the benefits that trees provide to society. Through the personification of the tree, we wanted to show the connection between humans and trees, both are living and breathing, striving to survive the waves of climate change.

Deforestation is the act of clearing land by humans for human use like grazing lands, croplands, or wood production (Deforestation). Deforestation presents a global issue in the face of global warming through the increase of greenhouse gasses from the large amounts of carbon dioxide produced from the machines or slash-and-burn method used to clear the forestland.

Eco Art students wanted to create a public artwork the dramatized and educated individuals about the concept of deforestation. From the issue of deforestation, we began looking at how trees, humans, and other living creatures interact with one another. This concept stemmed the concept of personifying the trees to have human or animal characteristics. Once the idea was established, they decided that using natural materials like leaves, tree bark, and sticks would appropriate for the structure of the face.

Eco Art – Deforestation

The project we created as a class was to bring awareness to and help combat deforestation. More specifically, we wanted to bring attention to the deforestation occurring on a more personal and local level; as in the deforestation occurring in our town due to new real estate developments.  Our project involved the creation of masks, made of eco materials, that we then attached to the trees on campus. We made the masks to bring attention to the trees that are around us.

Often times, especially in more urban settings, people do not ten to acknowledge the trees around them and therefore do not notice when those trees are cut down or removed for whatever reason. The masks we made were all different from one another and served different purposes. One purpose they had in common, however, was to enchant our audience. It is not often that you see faces on the trees on your way to class, so we wanted to provide a sense of wonder, curiosity, and enchantment to the students, faculty, and visitors on campus.

Written by Mindy Penelli

Students in the Eco Art course collaborated on a deforestation project, anthropomorphizing trees in an effort to bring awareness to the climate issue of deforestation. Creating masks from eco materials in conjunction with the “Leave No Trace” assignment, the masks were a way to bring attention to the trees. Students researched the species and symbolic meaning behind each tree as a way to further their message and help bring more awareness to their cause. During Monmouth University’s Scholarship Week, the class set up a table outside daily by the tree display to help fund the planting of new trees through the Arbor Day Foundation.

More research and photos can be found at the following link:

To donate:

The Veins of Mother Earth

At the beginning of my semester-long internship, we spent a lot of time looking at various nature symbols and really digging into their meaning, especially in terms of culture, religion, and science. One of the very first symbols I chose to look into was the river. I have no immediate connection to any particular river, but while being guided through a quick mediation I visualized myself in a jungle with my mom who led me to this long, wide, river running across our path. My mom is from the Philippines and she would often talk about bathing in the river near her village or helping her mom do laundry in it and watching her waist-length hair swirl in the water.

Taking what little connection I had to this body of water, I did some research. As I was reading through various sites and sources, one particular line stood out to me. “Waters rolling as Time itself, as if veins of the Great Mother Earth”. This struck something visceral within me and caught me off guard. Surprised by the emotional response, I let myself think about it more and sit with this intense feeling. Of course the rivers are the veins of Mother Earth. Scientifically, rivers can be defined as “large, natural channel containing water that flows downhill under gravity. A river system is a network of connecting channels”. So, what are veins if not networks of channels which carry life-sustaining fluid away? Fresh water is necessary for life and without it we wouldn’t be where we are today as a species, as an ecosystem, as a planet.

Rivers have been recognized as important fixtures in the natural world before written history, and as civilizations became more stable, their fascination and respect for them started to be documented through stories and myths. The Book of Symbols references various rivers mentioned throughout time, discussing familiar examples like those found in the depths of Tartarus in Greek mythology, such as the Lithe and Styx, which had magical properties or roles within the underworld. Rivers were also mentioned in Asian mythology, with one example being Chinese. First written in the pre-Qin period, this creation myth describes how the first humans came about. The goddess Nuwa created man using clay from the Yellow River. In my mom’s home country, the river was and are lifelines in a cultural and community sense as I’ve mentioned before. In mythology, some indigenous groups believed that humans came from eggs laid by the limokon bird with a man and a woman emerging on opposite sides of a river.

Rivers being so prevalent in culture and religious contexts for so long highlights our innate ability and desire to respect and care for the Earth as it provides us with so much. Things like fresh, drinkable water are taken for granted and the communities who were the first protectors of the Earth are often denied access to or stripped of this precious resource. In thinking of rivers in the context of the veins of Mother Earth, we will be better equipped to protect these vital bodies of water and by extension, the entirety of the Earth. Rivers and water are essential to life and should be protected and respected out of appreciation for all it has granted us. I would like to include one more quote from a Mojave-American poet and Native activist, Natalie Diaz: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving within me right now”.


Kuipers, Andre. Earth Observations Taken by the Expedition 31 Crew. Colorado River, 30 Apr. 2012.

“The First Water Is The Body.” Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz, Graywolf Press, 250 Third Avenue North, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN, 2020.

“River” UXL Encyclopedia of Science. . 15 Apr. 2021 <>.

Ronnberg, Ami, and Kathleen Martin. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Taschen, 2010.

Justin DeMattico – 2020 D-Eco-Self Intern

Introducing the 2020 D-Eco-Self Intern: Justin DeMattico is a studio art major pursuing his B.A. at Monmouth University. He has a background in all types of mediums including charcoal/graphite, clay sculpting, digital media, intaglio, and acrylic/oil paint to name a few but strongly prefers working in oils. A strong influence in some of his work is his faith and love for nature and animals.  He is interested in the Discovering the Ecological Self project due to his interest in nature and how humans not only influence the world around them but interpret them through symbolism and alternative meanings. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, DeMattico worked on the new D-Eco Self social media, merchandise and blog posts. In the future, DeMattico would like to become a professor at a university and help others discover and hone their love for art as well. Working with students like those from Aslan Youth Ministry on this project is beneficial in learning how to teach topics like these as well as bridging topics like the environment and art together in a classroom setting.

Student Scholarship Week – D-Eco-Self 2019

AR 218 Sculpture 2 Students participated in the 2019 Service Learning Scholarship Week Poster Session sharing their work about their D-Eco-Self collaboration project and artworks that they made with Aslan Youth Ministry and MU Science. Denice Michalchuk, our D-Eco-Self 2019 Research Assistant, created the poster, and Daniella Russo, our D-Eco-Self 2019 Project Assistant, presented to a packed crowd during the event.

To view pictures of images and artwork check out the gallery or read the blog posts!

Tree Rings=Lifespan 2019

The science students taught us about the life cycle of a tree, as well as dendrochronology, the study of tree rings. Each year a mature tree develops another tree ring, so when a tree is chopped down, we can count approximately how many years it has been alive.


We then learned about the symbolism of different colors in art, and how those colors are used in art throughout the ages. For example, in some paintings and artwork yellow symbolizes happiness, so we looked at Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, or pink represents femininity, as in Dancers in Pink by Degas, as well as other pieces. We then brought these two concepts together in order to create our own colorful tree rings. Each tree ring is assigned to an important person in the student’s life, from childhood to the present. Assigning a color based on its symbolic meaning to each person, each tree ring is unique to each individual.


For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here. 

Seeds=Potential 2019

We took a trip to the greenhouse on Monmouth University campus, once there, the science students exchanged thoughts regarding the importance of roots, and how they provide a tree with the water it needs to grow. They also discussed how water travels like pathways through the tree to evenly distribute water. Trees also bare leaves and fruit from their branches.


When we returned to the classroom, we looked at botanical drawings which were once a way of documenting herbs and their medicinal purposes. By taking inspiration from these drawings in how the roots, seed and plant are shown, we made our own botanical drawings on scrolls. Using gouache paint, we painted a seed to represent our hopes and dreams. From the seeds grow an imagined plant that represents the accomplishment of that hope or dream. The roots that extend below each plant creates a foundation for the seed to grow.


For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here. 

The Seasons 2019

There are many characteristics of a tree that we as humans can draw meaning from, as well as relate to our lives. Through studies regarding the science and symbolism in art, we have learned more about our relationship with nature.


We related the seasons to our own life cycles by looking at how a tree reacts to each season. The beginning of life is represented through spring, which is a time when trees begin to bloom with flowers and all living creatures are born and begin to grow. The summer is when trees begin to produce fruit and receive the most amount of sun. This is when trees do the most of their growing, so we related it to our youthful years of childhood to early adulthood. In autumn, the leaves on a tree begin to change color because they produce less chlorophyll, thereby turning the leaves yellow, orange and red. Eventually, the leaves fall off its branches which relates to adulthood and growing older. The last season, winter, is when the trees have no leaves. Since there’s little sun in the winter, it takes too much energy to grow and maintain leaves, so, instead, the trees stay dormant until spring. Together we read the poem, Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams, and related this season to the end of life, but a hope for new life again.


Our art project was a collage using color aid paper. The students made one tree that showed both spring and summer, then another collage of a tree that showed fall and winter. They were then able to use different colors from each of the seasons for their tree collages.

For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here.