Recipient of the 2016-2018 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, Maria Thereza Alves creates researched-based projects that begin in response to local needs and proceed through dialogues between material and environmental realities and social circumstances. While aware of Western binaries between nature and culture, art and politics, or art and daily life, Alves deliberately refuses to acknowledge them in her practice, choosing instead to create spaces of agency and visibility for oppressed cultures through relational practices of collaboration that require constant movement across all of these boundaries. Alves presents her video Time, Trade and Surplus Value, which calls to mind forced migration as a result of climate change, along with attendant threats to the ocean itself caused by pollution and regional neglect.
In Ursula Biemann’s video installation Forest Law (2016), the same legislation that protects against deforestation also confers agentic properties on plants and systems, and protects the sovereignty of Indigenous communities historically negated by settler colonialism. The video tells the story of a series of landmark legal cases, including one particular trial that has recently been won by the Indigenous people of Sarayaku based on their cosmology of the living forest.
Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) is a feminist marine science and technology lab, with the main goal of conducting science and building technology that foreground equity and justice, particularly for populations that are negatively affected by plastic pollution. The lab engages in action-oriented research through grassroots environmental monitoring that emphasizes that the process of research impacts the world. The lab is made up of: Dr. Max Liboiron, Justine Ammendolia, Hillary Bradshaw, Coco Coyle, Natalya Dawe, Elise Earle, Bojan Furst, France Liboiron, Dr. Charles Mather, Jessica Melvin, Melissa Novacefski, Natalie Richard, Jackie Sartuno, Taylor Stocks, Emily Wells, Kate Winsor, Sam Westscott, and Alex Zahara. Over 92% of marine plastic pollution is smaller than a grain of rice. At this size, eroded by wind and wave action, and passed through animal digestive tracts, these bits of plastic are difficult to identify. Plastic samples are presented alongside LADI (Low-tech Aquatic Debris Instrument, pronounced “lady”), a build-it-yourself research trawl that collects microplastics at the surface of the ocean when towed behind a boat (“trawling”). https://civiclaboratory.nl/1
Dennis RedMoon Darkeem, an active member of the Wind Clan within the Yamassee Yat’siminoli tribe living in the South Bronx, presents sculptures created through his ongoing Trade Blanket project. In Trade Blanket, RedMoon Darkeem exchanges hand-crafted items composed of parts found in his daily travels in return for anything the interested trader feels is of equal worth. For the artist, these interactions become opportunities to create dialogues around alternative economic structures, systems of commerce, reuse, and cultural values.
Futurefarmers presents work relating to their ongoing project Flatbread Society (2012-), a growing constellation of farmers, oven builders, astronomers, artists, soil scientists and bakers aligned through a common interest in our long and complex relation to grain. Flatbread Society’s initial activation of a disused site near Oslo, Norway’s harbor included the construction of a bakehouse and cultivated grain field which attracted the imagination of farmers, bakers, oven builders, artists, activists, soil scientists and city officials and simultaneously resulted in the formation of an urban gardening community called Herligheten. A related project, Seed Journey (2016-) relaunches in early April to continue its long sea journey on an 1895 wooden rescue sailboat, re-tracing the routes of ancient seeds from a 21st century vantage of having lost our way. http://www.flatbreadsociety.net/
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s Book of the Lagoons (1974-84) is an attempt to “scale down” the complex systems inherent in their sprawling Lagoon Cycle (1974-84) into a private performance, an intimate experience of both imagined and interpreted landscapes for the reader. Lagoon Cycle was constructed as an immersive opera that combined speculative maps, installations, text, photographs, collage elements, and living plants and animals, and focused on the life from the viewpoint of an estuarial lagoon. The Cycle is “proto-chaotic,” and “intended to have no completed arguments and many loose ends.”2 The Harrisons’ Cycle and Book posit a future existence even when our present seems endlessly compromised by conflicting spheres of humanity, catastrophe, and change.
Marianne Heier’s Mirage consists of ten drinking water wells with identical “Afridev” pumps. One was installed at Torsnesstølen on Gaular Mountain in Norway, and the other nine are located in the rural areas around the city of Blantyre, Malawi, in southeast Africa. Mirage speculates on the bonds that are created between two seemingly disconnected geographies—postcolonial Malawi and Norway, which it turns out, are not so distant from each other after all. In Mirage water is both a concrete element and a metaphor for the distribution of resources in the world. The work can also be seen as a critique of the aid industry and how it often acts as a thin cover over the continued exploitation of former colonies.
Haley Hughes, a New York City-based self-taught artist and visionary painter, posits painting as a political act and form of revolt, following in the lineage of Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, and Hannah Höch. Hughes’ paintings evoke both the genre of history painting that approaches grand subjects like war and catastrophe, and journalistic narratives inflected with science fiction, in which a post-natural nature rises up to fight against further degradation.
Cannupa Hanska Luger, who is of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, and Norwegian descent and grew up in Standing Rock, ND, is exhibiting Mirror Shields that were created for and by Standing Rock water protectors and employed during the large-scale mobilization against the Dakota Access Pipeline this past year.
Tanya Lukin Linklater’s work is compelled by relationships between bodies, histories, poetry, pedagogy, Indigenous conceptual spaces (and languages), and institutions. Her video Water (2013) was first presented in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (Canada) for the Indigenous Peoples Artist Collective. In 2011 and 2012, as part of a collaborative performance with the artist Duane Linklater, she gathered water from the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, drove the water back to the city of Prince Albert and boiled it while discussing “various things,” including how First Nations are denied access to clean water.
Anne Lydiat and Chris Wainwright investigate the trade of ideas and global artistic populations and a direct encounter with the sea and rising sea levels. What Has To Be Done? is an annual sea voyage that references an earlier series of trips inaugurated by the “social sculpture” artist Joseph Beuys, a founder of Germany’s Green Party. What Has To Be Done promotes living together and working together, bridging continents and political regimes, as the starting point for any potential solution.
Mary Mattingly’s work in the exhibition focuses on the mineral cobalt, considered a “strategic metal” by the United States government. Defined as a commodity integral to the national defense, aerospace, and energy industries, cobalt is threatened by supply disruptions due to limited domestic production. Worldwide, fifty percent of cobalt is used in the chemical industry to make pigments for glass, cloth, and porcelain as well as binders, drying agents, nuclear energy, and fertilizer. As part of a public program, Mattingly will work collaboratively with Haverford students and the public to create “bundles” of objects containing cobalt. Because of their ubiquity, these objects may veil their colonial histories, but in their modern replications, they implicate users in a massive extraction-based neocolonialism that can be deadly to the humans working in and living near mines. Such extraction also sacrifices the land, water, air, and animal life for economic gain.
Trade, exchange, and shipping occupy a pivotal place in the exhibition, and especially in the practice of More&More Unlimited (an Illogistics Company™), an art collective founded by Marina Zurkow, Sarah Rothberg, and Surya Mattu. The collective’s backgrounds range from animation to data science, infrastructure, ecosystems, anthropology, interaction design, and virtual reality, and converge around global systems. Their project INVESTING IN FUTURES (2017) includes an installation of hand-grown mushroom statuary in the shape of the world’s most commonly exported products. (The project is also a playable card game, an exercise in imagining global tomorrows through conversation, collaboration, and craft.) More&More’s work asks us to reconsider consumption and the unseen impacts in the ways that products travel to us from across the seas.
The collective Postcommodity (Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist) addresses land and landscape – not as an inert thing, but as a social construct, a (colonized) political situation, and a frame of mind. The collective is currently featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. In Resistance After Nature, Postcommodity has installed It’s My Second Home, But I have a Very Spiritual Connection With This Place, a video installation that reflects on the ebb and flow of the real estate markets, the environment, and its actors through an Indigenous lens.
Brie Ruais challenges Land Art’s insistence on the land as the base unit of reference. In her work, the body is reconfigured as a shade of the land, and the land as a shadow of the body. Ruais’ sculpture Spreading Outwards from Center, 125lbs, Red Test for Other Women’s Bodies, is concerned with form and connectivity as well as feminist modes of sharing knowledge. Her process is concerned with movement and how the body may be overcome by physically demanding processes. To create these works, Ruais uses clay weighed to her own body weight, or that of a collaborator, and then pushes, cuts, mashes, and pulls the clay in a defined direction.
WINTER COUNT (Cannupa Hanska Luger, Merritt Johnson, Nicholas Galanin, Ginger Dunnill, and Dylan McLaughlin), presents a video from their engagement with the #NODAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) direct struggle over water, land, and Indigenous sovereignty. Filmed with a low-flying drone, the video paints a picture of the landscape at the center of a great dispute.
- See also a list of what “the most #feministscience article in the world would include…” on Max Liboiron’s twitter feed: http://bit.ly/2lYKTHC.
- Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, The Time of the Force Majeure: After 45 Years Counterforce is on the Horizon, Prestel, New York, 2016.