The Plot, Three Trees, photogrammetric model, May 2021. Alexandra Crouwers.

The Appeal of the Unreal

PhD in Arts in Animation 2019 – 2023
Keywords: ecology, ecological trauma, science-fiction, myth-building, inter-medial practices

Between October 2019 and the end of 2023, I’m working full time on a practice-based PhD in arts (with animation as a specialism) trajectory at the KU Leuven/LUCA School of Arts, Brussels conglomerate. In this context, I’m connected to Leuven University’s Associated Faculty of the Arts, LUCA’s Intermedia research unit, the Deep histories fragile memories research cluster, and the Lieven Gevaert Centre for Photography, Art and Visual Culture.

Some of the works-in-progress can be found at these blogs: and The latter is in the process of being moved to another domain, and aims to collect all research related to The Plot.


Promotor: Dr. Wendy Morris (KU Leuven/LUCA school of Arts, artist and artistic researcher). Co-promotor: Dr. Jan Verpooten (KU Leuven, evolutionary biologist and philosopher). Advisors: Theun Karelse (Amsterdam, NL, artist and artistic researcher), Dr. Sepideh Karami (Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Edinburgh/Edinburgh College of Art, writer, architect and researcher).

The original research proposal Through that which is seen: the diorama & The Appeal of The Unreal was initially focused on the more formal aspects of the various concepts of the diorama.

It looked at the way the diorama is embedded in the history of pre-cinema and visual illusions, and explored the origins of the more well known natural history – or habitat – installations involving a combination of prepared animals, painted backgrounds and imitations of natural elements, such as rocks, foliage and even light and shadows.

These investigations took up much of the first phase of the doctoral research. Various results can be found on

But very soon in the trajectory, the research shifted from the formal aspects of the diorama to content: (digital) models and simulations as archival vessels, related to ecological grief and eco-anxiety.

Triggered by the clearing of a family forest – a victim of the climatological and ecological system crisis – the research quickly zoomed in on a small hectare of land; a clearcut I dubbed The Plot, as a first step into building new mythologies around ecological grief, and future regeneration.

I used to describe my work as taking place in the realm of science fiction, with ‘escapism’ as my core business. It seems that due to the current global environmental circumstances which include a pandemic, my work has inadvertently shifted into ‘activism’.

In hindsight, many of my works of the past 20 years have been dealing with eco-anxiety. I just didn’t expect it all to unfold so soon and so relentless.

The Plot is located in a region that historically has extensively been subdued by people’s interventions. Here, missionaries for helping the population to reconnect to wilderness are desperately needed. The Plot functions as a gateway to deal with these issues.

To learn more about the first year of the trajectory, please watch Mistakes. The artist talk.

VIS, Nordic Journal for Artistic Research published my peer reviewed research catalogue exposition as part of issue #6: Contagion (October 2021). Many thanks to my peer reviewer Sepideh Karami.

The issue, which features five expositions, deals in different ways with touch, vulnerability, and transmission; contagion becomes a creative and destructive concept in the shadow of the pandemic. (Anna Lindal, Editor of VIS #6)

The Plot, The Compositor, and Mourning Mistakes.


Alexandra Crouwers is a visual artist working in the digital realm, and currently a doctoral artistic researcher in animation at KU Leuven/LUCA School of Arts, Brussels. She lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.

Keywords: ecology, ecological trauma, science-fiction, myth-building, inter-medial practices

In the Summer of 2019, a small family forest fell victim to a spruce bark beetle plague. Unusually mild winters caused larvae numbers to explode, and extreme drought weakened the otherwise more resilient trees. Expanding patches of dead forest can be found from the North Sea coast to the Baltics.

The cleared forest became The Plot: a witness to climate change, and a gateway to dealing with ecological grief. My own eco-anxiety is utilized as a case study: how to deal with this new kind of loss? What is The Plot telling us? How do we move forward without losing hope?

The exposition presents The Plot as fertile ground for artistic and collaborative research, including a contribution by Lisa Jeannin, a custom made font, moving image, and an audio work.

Visit the exposition on the Research Catalogue platform. The article is best viewed on a desktop computer. Update: it won something!

Related projects:

Click the play button to explore the 3D model.