Notes on Photography, Edward Burtynsky, and Ending Neutrality

“A cube of objects I’ve acquired, used, and wrapped with Sisal rope. Shot with a Hasselblad 503cw with parts manufactured in Sweden and sourced from Europe and Russia, with Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 160S speed made from cellulose in Thailand, Silver Nitrate (iodine, bromide) from India, Aluminum smelting and ABS in China, scanned with a Hasselblad Imacon Flextight X5 scanner assembled in Japan… printed on Fujifilm Crystal Archive paper that uses Sulfur, Alum, Formaldehyde, Glyoxal, Saponin, Phenol, Thymol, Halide, Gelatin, Amoniac, and Silver Nitrate, with a no longer manufactured Lightjet printer… and diary entry written in Paper Mate Flair M pen made in Mexico purchased at Staples, Brooklyn, NY.”, 2013
Notes on Photography, Edward Burtynsky, and Ending Neutrality

Photography is often lauded for its ability to be ambivalent within narrative traditions. My work focuses on the framework surrounding photography as a subject, and collage as a method for describing webs of interconnections between geographies. I’m unable to separate a picture from the tools used to make it—including the cameras, computers, chemicals, inks, and papers—and the networked supply chains involved in their manufacture and distribution. From forensic photography to protestors recording police brutality, a photograph can operate as a form of justice, but the captured image is just one step in a process wrought with injustice.

In 2010 I received a grant from the Art Matters Foundation to travel to Bangladesh and study architecture in coastal areas that flood annually. It’s difficult to get in and out of Bangladesh, and for most people it’s nearly impossible to obtain or afford an exit visa. Many end up with company-sponsored documents, which are often linked to abuse and slavery. I was able to obtain a visa through a friend of a friend with a brother in Pakistan, whose uncle worked for the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI). The BEI had to approve my project and then lobby on my behalf. While in Bangladesh I interviewed people about living with flooding in an effort to bring ideas back to New York City. I went to Chittagong, a city known worldwide through the ship breaking industry. Along the way I met Mithu, a man who had assisted photographer Edward Burtynsky ten years earlier when he was documenting workers demolishing giant ships.

Edward Burtynsky, Shipbuilding #4, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2000. © Edward Burtynsky

Mithu told me kind stories about working with Burtynsky. When Burtynsky’s photographs were exhibited in San Francisco, he invited Mithu to the opening. Of course it would have been nearly impossible for Mithu to get to the USA. Even if Burtynsky could have secured a visa on his behalf, Mithu would have had to give up his job in Chittagong. That gesture meant something, though. When the photographs sold, Burtynsky sent money to the shipyards that he was able to photograph so they could purchase improved safety equipment. I’m familiar with the neutral position Burtynsky takes with his photography, so for me this story added some decisiveness to his work.

Burtynsky of course understands that a photograph means something different to every viewer, and he rarely shares his own stance publicly. This position makes sense. It has been defined through centuries of oppressive, authoritarian state ideologies that utilize mass media and propaganda to demoralize, control, sell wars, enforce racism, sexism, and fascist regimes largely by appealing to emotion through campaign. Justified fears of authoritarianism have led to strong opposition to a positioned subject, and the neutral observation became the voice of reason.

The impartial document, now called “democratic” media, has a strong history of presenting perspectives that diverge from the dominant discourse and give a larger audience access to these counter narratives. Over time though, making and viewing images impartially has augmented a more liberal personality that is focused less on a common political sphere and more on independent consumer pathways. This impartial personality played a substantial role in a neoliberal, free trade ideology and illusions of consumer choice. Point being, pictures without a position have become purely product. One can argue that Burtynsky’s pictures have many positions, but when he doesn’t take one, we have greater license to conveniently choose what we want to see and what we want to ignore.

SOCAR Oil Fields #6, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006 Digital Chromogenic Color Print 48 x 72” ed of 6 © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of HASTED HUNT KRAEUTLER, NYC / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.

We know that neutrality is nonexistent. For instance, none of us can look at a digital camera (with nickel most often sourced from Russia’s Kola Peninsula; carbon harvested in Inner Mongolia; PVC made in Guangzhou, China, lithium mined in Chile, Bolivia, and Guangdong, China; aluminum smelted in Tanzania; coltan for Tantalum mined in the DRC or South America) never mind a drone (Burtynsky’s current choice gadget), and believe that these tools—with their recent histories of social, political, and environmental oppression—can usurp that injustice because they are used to document. Can anyone truly claim neutrality today, and is the neutral position still a desirable one?

The jury may still be out on whether Burtynsky’s photography is art, but it doesn’t matter. Today we find ourselves inside of an authoritarian “democracy,” where so many have been disenfranchised for so long that they have given up the value of being heard. When I see someone in Burtynsky’s position of influence and power standing comfortably on a gold mine of self-proclaimed impartial, reflective pictures, I’m discouraged. When those who have power don’t take the challenge to let themselves be heard, then they end up further exploiting the exploited.

Looking at Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

https://archive.org/stream/ASandCountyAlmanacAndSketchesHereAndThere_201508/A%20Sand%20County%20Almanac%20[And%20Sketches%20Here%20And%20There]_djvu.txt

https://www.aldoleopold.org/AldoLeopold/LandEthic.pdf

For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun.” On a Monument to the Pigeon (1947)

THE COMMUNITY CONCEPT

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage.

Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves.

In the biotic community, a parallel situation exists. Abraham knew exactly what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abraham’s mouth. At the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is inverse to the degree of our education.

The ordinary citizen today assumes that science knows what makes the community clock tick; the scientist is equally sure that he does not. He knows that the biotic mechanism is so complex that its workings may never be fully understood. That man is, in fact, only a member of a biotic team is shown by an ecological interpretation of history. Many historical events, hitherto explained solely in terms of human enterprise, were actually biotic, interactions between people and land. The characteristics of the land determined the facts quite as potently as the characteristics of the men who lived on it.

Consider, for example, the settlement of the Mississippi valley. In the years following the Revolution, three groups were contending for its control: the native Indian, the French and English traders, and the American settlers. Historians wonder what would have happened if the English at Detroit had thrown a little more weight into the Indian side of those tipsy scales which decided the outcome of the colonial migration into the canelands of Kentucky. It is time now to ponder the fact that the cane-lands, when subjected to the particular mixture of forces represented by the cow, plow, fire, and axe of the pioneer, became bluegrass. What if the plant succession inherent in this dark and bloody ground had, under the impact of these forces, given us some worthless sedge, shrub, or weed? Would Boone and Kenton have held out? Would there have been any overflow into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri? Any Louisiana Purchase? Any transcontinental union of new states? Any Civil War?

Kentucky was one sentence in the drama of history. We are commonly told what the human actors in this drama tried to do, but we are seldom told that their success, or the lack of it, hung in large degree on the reaction of particular soils to the impact of the particular forces exerted by their occupancy. In the case of Kentucky, we do not even know where the bluegrass came from — whether it is a native species, or a stowaway from Europe.

Contrast the cane-lands with what hindsight tells us about the Southwest, where the pioneers were equally brave, resourceful, and persevering. The impact of occupancy here brought no bluegrass, or other plant fitted to withstand the bumps and buffetings of hard use. This region, when grazed by livestock, reverted through a series of more and more worthless grasses, shrubs, and weeds to a condition of unstable equilibrium. Each recession of plant types bred erosion; each increment to erosion bred a further recession of plants. The result today is a progressive and mutual deterioration, not only of plants and soils, but of the animal community subsisting thereon. The early settlers did not expect this: on the ciénegas of New Mexico some even cut ditches to hasten it.

So subtle has been its progress that few residents of the region are aware of it. It is quite invisible to the tourist who finds this wrecked landscape colorful and charming (as indeed it is, but it bears scant resemblance to what it was in 1848).

This same landscape was ‘developed’ once before, but with quite different results. The Pueblo Indians settled the Southwest in pre-Columbian times, but they happened not to be equipped with range livestock. Their civilization expired, but not because their land expired.

In India, regions devoid of any sod-forming grass have been settled, apparently without wrecking the land, by the simple expedient of carrying the grass to the cow, rather than vice versa. (Was this the result of some deep wisdom, or was it just good luck? I do not know.)

In short, the plant succession steered the course of history; the pioneer simply demonstrated, for good or ill, what successions inhered in the land. Is history taught in this spirit? It will be, once the concept of land as a community really penetrates our intellectual life.

THE ECOLOGICAL CONSCIENCE

Conservation is a state of harmony between man and land. Despite nearly a century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snail’s pace; progress still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. On the back forty we still slip two steps backward for each forward stride.

The usual answer to this dilemma is ‘more conservation education.’ No one will debate this, but is it certain that only the volume of education needs stepping up? Is something lacking in the content as well?

It is difficult to give a fair summary of its content in brief form, but, as I understand it, the content is substantially this: obey the law, vote right, join some organizations, and practice what conservation is profitable on your own land; the government will do the rest. Is not this formula too easy to accomplish anything worth-while? It defines no right or wrong, assigns no obligation, calls for no sacrifice, implies no change in the current philosophy of values. In respect of land use, it urges only enlightened self-interest. Just how far will such education take us? An example will perhaps yield a partial answer.

By 1930 it had become clear to all except the ecologically blind that southwestern Wisconsin’s topsoil was slipping seaward. In 1933 the farmers were told that if they would adopt certain remedial practices for five years, the public would donate CCC labor to install them, plus the necessary machinery and materials. The offer was widely accepted, but the practices were widely forgotten when the five-year contract period was up. The farmers continued only those practices that yielded an immediate and visible economic gain for themselves.

This led to the idea that maybe farmers would learn more quickly if they themselves wrote the rules. Accordingly the Wisconsin Legislature in 1937 passed the Soil Conservation District Law. This said to farmers, in effect: We, the public, will furnish you free technical service and loan you specialized machines, if you will write your own rules for land-use. Each county may write its own rules, and these will have the force of law.

Nearly all the counties promptly organized to accept the proffered help, but after a decade of operation, no county has yet written a single rule. There has been visible progress in such practices as strip-cropping, pasture renovation, and soil liming, but none in fencing woodlots against grazing, and none in excluding plow and cow from steep slopes. The farmers, in short, have selected those remedial practices which were profitable anyhow, and ignored those which were profitable to the community, but not clearly profitable to themselves.

When one asks why no rules have been written, one is told that the community is not yet ready to support them; education must precede rules. But the education actually in progress makes no mention of obligations to land over and above those dictated by selfinterest.

The net result is that we have more education but less soil, fewer healthy woods, and as many floods as in 1937. The puzzling aspect of such situations is that the existence of obligations over and above self-interest is taken for granted in such rural community enterprises as the betterment of roads, schools, churches, and baseball teams. Their existence is not taken for granted, nor as yet seriously discussed, in bettering the behavior of the water that falls on the land, or in the preserving of the beauty or diversity of the farm landscape. Land use ethics are still governed wholly by economic self-interest, just as social ethics were a century ago.

To sum up: we asked the farmer to do what he conveniently could to save his soil, and he has done just that, and only that. The farmer who clears the woods off a 75 per cent slope, turns his cows into the clearing, and dumps its rainfall, rocks, and soil into the community creek, is still (if otherwise decent) a respected member of society. If he puts lime on his fields and plants his crops on contour, he is still entitled to all the privileges and emoluments of his Soil Conservation District. The District is a beautiful piece of social machinery, but it is coughing along on two cylinders because we have been too timid, and too anxious for quick success, to tell the farmer the true magnitude of his obligations. Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land.

No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempt to make conservation easy, we have made it trivial.

SUBSTITUTES FOR A LAND ETHIC

When the logic of history hungers for bread and we hand out a stone, we are at pains to explain how much the stone resembles bread. I now describe some of the stones which serve in lieu of a land ethic.

One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Wildflowers and songbirds are examples. Of the 22,000 higher plants and animals native to Wisconsin, it is doubtful whether more than 5 per cent can be sold, fed, eaten, or otherwise put to economic use. Yet these creatures are members of the biotic community, and if (as I believe) its stability depends on its integrity, they are entitled to continuance.

When one of these non-economic categories is threatened, and if we happen to love it, we invent subterfuges to give it economic importance. At the beginning of the century songbirds were supposed to be disappearing. Ornithologists jumped to the rescue with some distinctly shaky evidence to the effect that insects would eat us up if birds failed to control them. The evidence had to be economic in order to be valid.

It is painful to read these circumlocutions today. We have no land ethic yet, but we have at least drawn nearer the point of admitting that birds should continue as a matter of biotic right, regardless of the presence or absence of economic advantage to us.

A parallel situation exists in respect of predatory mammals, raptoral birds, and fish eating birds. Time was when biologists somewhat overworked the evidence that these creatures preserve the health of game by killing weaklings, or that they control rodents for the farmer, or that they prey only on ‘worthless’ species. Here again, the evidence had to be economic in order to be valid. It is only in recent years that we hear the more honest argument that predators are members of the community, and that no special interest has the right to exterminate them for the sake of a benefit, real or fancied, to itself. Unfortunately this enlightened view is still in the talk stage. In the field the extermination of predators goes merrily on: witness the impending erasure of the timber wolf by fiat of Congress, the Conservation Bureaus, and many state legislatures.

Some species of trees have been ‘read out of the party’ by economics-minded foresters because they grow too slowly, or have too low a sale value to pay as timber crops: white cedar, tamarack, cypress, beech, and hemlock are examples. In Europe, where forestry is ecologically more advanced, the non-commercial tree species are recognized as members of the native forest community, to be preserved as such, within reason.

Moreover some (like beech) have been found to have a valuable function in building up soil fertility. The interdependence of the forest and its constituent tree species, ground flora, and fauna is taken for granted.

Lack of economic value is sometimes a character not only of species or groups, but of entire biotic communities: marshes, bogs, dunes, and ‘deserts’ are examples. Our formula in such cases is to relegate their conservation to government as refuges, monuments, or parks. The difficulty is that these communities are usually interspersed with more valuable private lands; the government cannot possibly own or control such scattered parcels. The net effect is that we have relegated some of them to ultimate extinction over large areas. If the private owner were ecologically minded, he would be proud to be the custodian of a reasonable proportion of such areas, which add diversity and beauty to his farm and to his community.

In some instances, the assumed lack of profit in these ‘waste’ areas has proved to be wrong, but only after most of them had been done away with. The present scramble to reflood muskrat marshes is a case in point.

There is a clear tendency in American conservation to relegate to government all necessary jobs that private landowners fail to perform. Government ownership, operation, subsidy, or regulation is now widely prevalent in forestry, range management, soil and watershed management, park and wilderness conservation, fisheries management, and migratory bird management, with more to come. Most of this growth in governmental conservation is proper and logical, some of it is inevitable. That I imply no disapproval of it is implicit in the fact that I have spent most of my life working for it.

Nevertheless the question arises: What is the ultimate magnitude of the enterprise? Will the tax base carry its eventual ramifications? At what point will governmental conservation, like the mastodon, become handicapped by its own dimensions? The answer, if there is any, seems to be in a land ethic, or some other force which assigns more obligation to the private landowner.

Industrial landowners and users, especially lumbermen and stockmen, are inclined to wail long and loudly about the extension of government ownership and regulation to land, but (with notable exceptions) they show little disposition to develop the only visible alternative: the voluntary practice of conservation on their own lands.

When the private landowner is asked to perform some unprofitable act for the good of the community, he today assents only with outstretched palm. If the act costs him cash this is fair and proper, but when it costs only forethought, open-mindedness, or time, the issue is at least debatable. The overwhelming growth of land-use subsidies in recent years must be ascribed, in large part, to the government’s own agencies for conservation education: the land bureaus, the agricultural colleges, and the extension services. As far as I can detect, no ethical obligation toward land is taught in these institutions.

To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. It tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning. It assumes, falsely, I think, that the economic parts of the biotic clock will function without the uneconomic parts. It tends to relegate to government many functions eventually too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed to be performed by government.

An ethical obligation on the part of the private owner is the only visible remedy for these situations.

THE LAND PYRAMID

An ethic to supplement and guide the economic relation to land presupposes the existence of some mental image of land as a biotic mechanism. We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.

The image commonly employed in conservation education is ‘the balance of nature.’ For reasons too lengthy to detail here, this figure of speech fails to describe accurately what little we know about the land mechanism. A much truer image is the one employed in ecology: the biotic pyramid. I shall first sketch the pyramid as a symbol of land, and later develop some of its implications in terms of land-use.

Plants absorb energy from the sun. This energy flows through a circuit called the biota, which may be represented by a pyramid consisting of layers. The bottom layer is the soil. A plant layer rests on the soil, an insect layer on the plants, a bird and rodent layer on the insects, and so on up through various animal groups to the apex layer, which consists of the large carnivores.

The species of a layer are alike not in where they came from, or in what they look like, but rather in what they eat. Each successive layer depends on those below it for food and often for other services, and each in turn furnishes food and services to those above. Proceeding upward, each successive layer decreases in numerical abundance. Thus, for every carnivore there are hundreds of his prey, thousands of their prey, millions of insects, uncountable plants. The pyramidal form of the system reflects this numerical progression from apex to base. Man shares an intermediate layer with the bears, raccoons, and squirrels which eat both meat and vegetables.

The lines of dependency for food and other services are called food chains. Thus soiloak-deer- Indian is a chain that has now been largely converted to ‘soil-corn-cowfarmer.’ Each species, including ourselves, is a link in many chains. The deer eats a hundred plants other than oak, and the cow a hundred plants other than corn. Both, then, are links in a hundred chains. The pyramid is a tangle of chains so complex as to seem disorderly, yet the stability of the system proves it to be a highly organized structure. Its functioning depends on the co-operation and competition of its diverse parts. In the beginning, the pyramid of life was low and squat; the food chains short and simple. Evolution has added layer after layer, link after link. Man is one of thousands of accretions to the height and complexity of the pyramid. Science has given us many doubts, but it has given us at least one certainty: the trend of evolution is to elaborate and diversify the biota.

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. Food chains are the living channels which conduct energy upward; death and decay return it to the soil. The circuit is not closed; some energy is dissipated in decay, some is added by absorption from the air, some is stored in soils, peats, and long-lived forests; but it is a sustained circuit, like a slowly augmented revolving fund of life. There is always a net loss by downhill wash, but this is normally small and offset by the decay of rocks. It is deposited in the ocean and, in the course of geological time, raised to form new lands and new pyramids.

The velocity and character of the upward flow of energy depend on the complex structure of the plant and animal community, much as the upward flow of sap in a tree depends on its complex cellular organization. Without this complexity, normal circulation would presumably not occur. Structure means the characteristic numbers, as well as the characteristic kinds and functions, of the component species. This interdependence between the complex structure of the land and its smooth functioning as an energy unit is one of its basic attributes.

When a change occurs in one part of the circuit, many other parts must adjust themselves to it. Change does not necessarily obstruct or divert the flow of energy; evolution is a long series of self-induced changes, the net result of which has been to elaborate the flow mechanism and to lengthen the circuit. Evolutionary changes, however, are usually slow and local. Man’ s invention of tools has enabled him to make changes of unprecedented violence, rapidity, and scope.

One change is in the composition of floras and faunas. The larger predators are lopped off the apex of the pyramid; food chains, for the first time in history, become shorter rather than longer. Domesticated species from other lands are substituted for wild ones, and wild ones are moved to new habitats. In this world-wide pooling of faunas and floras, some species get out of bounds as pests and diseases, others are extinguished.

Such effects are seldom intended or foreseen; they represent unpredicted and often untraceable readjustments in the structure. Agricultural science is largely a race between the emergence of new pests and the emergence of new techniques for their control.

Another change touches the flow of energy through plants and animals and its return to the soil. Fertility is the ability of soil to receive, store, and release energy. Agriculture, by overdrafts on the soil, or by too radical a substitution of domestic for native species in the superstructure, may derange the channels of flow or deplete storage. Soils depleted of their storage, or of the organic matter which anchors it, wash away faster than they form. This is erosion.

Waters, like soil, are part of the energy circuit. Industry, by polluting waters or obstructing them with dams, may exclude the plants and animals necessary to keep energy in circulation. Transportation brings about another basic change: the plants or animals grown in one region are now consumed and returned to the soil in another. Transportation taps the energy stored in rocks, and in the air, and uses it elsewhere; thus we fertilize the garden with nitrogen gleaned by the guano birds from the fishes of seas on the other side of the

Equator. Thus the formerly localized and self-contained circuits are pooled on a worldwide scale.

The process of altering the pyramid for human occupation releases stored energy, and this often gives rise, during the pioneering period, to a deceptive exuberance of plant and animal life, both wild and tame. These releases of biotic capital tend to becloud or postpone the penalties of violence.

 

WetLand How To Book in Progress – intro

HOW TO by Mary Mattingly.

Three quarters of American bird species depend on wetlands for rest, food, or nesting, but over the past two centuries we have destroyed 60 acres of wetlands every hour. – Lucy Lippard on Jane Gleeson-White

WETLAND: As environmental instability continues to transform our cities, how can we connect local networks and different individual efforts to work together more cohesively? How can we utilize the tools of resource decentralization and network interdependency to provide for each other, and how can these local supply chains more clearly account for the social and environmental traumas embedded in production? Recent volatility in global food and fuel costs has increased our awareness of the existing food supply’s vulnerability as well as the detrimental effects of industrialized food systems. As climate change increasingly affects our lives, we need to more fully consider environmental costs of our city’s dependence on exterior sources for food, water, and other goods. WetLand is a hub and a node. On WetLand participants eat food grown on board and drink available water sources through river water remediation and purifying rainwater. Free and open workshops and events promote skill sharing and local organizations working in similar ways. WetLand promotes and fosters movements that have been building in Philadelphia. More and more of us are growing some of our own food at home and in cooperative spaces, forming community-wide initiatives that support urban farms, rainwater collection, and storm water management.

In 2009 I founded the Waterpod Project: a public space, habitat, and living system on a barge that circumnavigated New York’s five boroughs. It was built on a flat deck barge and consisted of a fully functional ecosystem that provided food, energy, and clean water to inhabitants and guests through regenerating gardens, chickens for eggs, rainwater purification, greywater cycling, solar and human powered electrical energy. All food, water and human waste cycled through the on-board living systems into renewed soil and water, and the building materials used to make the structures were also from New York’s waste stream. One of the project inquiries was to see how possible it would be to subsist off of the food we grew, eggs from four chickens, solar and bike power, and purified rainwater. All of the materials were found or exchanged through a barter economy arranged with businesses and municipal agencies in NYC. I wanted to figure out how much time we spent maintaining these systems versus the time we spent working our day jobs to purchase these supplies outright. After an initial large investment of our own labor, we ended up with a system that supplied us with all of our basic needs for around 2.5 hours of upkeep a day. The Waterpod was a proposal for a potential future in New York, with more people contending with rising sea levels, and less useable or affordable land, but I also wanted the space to describe some of the ways people the world over are already living, to illustrate our interconnectedness. It was a stage and an experiment. Five friends lived with me on the Waterpod, and close to 200,000 people visited in the five months it traveled around New York.

In 2012 I embarked on the Flock House project: a group of three spherical public spaces that moved around New York City, and from there have moved to Omaha, NE. A significant difference was the Flock House living systems could not fully support a family or even one person. While the Waterpod’s structure was made cooperatively through a barter economy, in Flock Houses we established barter and trade systems with our neighbors to meet our most basic needs.

With each of these projects, I come to a greater understanding of the need to share basic resources with one another, and learn from each other. On countless occasions, I have thought I’ve known what I’m doing only to be shown a better way by a complete stranger. That is one of the biggest benefits of a working public space that incorporates habitation with openness. Art to me is as necessary as the basic human needs described in this booklet. Food, water, tools, their visible and invisible networks embody some of my deepest concerns and most hopeful aspirations. In late-stage capitalism everything is a commodity, from homes to objects, from land, to water, air, garbage, debt, and each of us. In one way or another, these are things that affect us all, and by working towards building stronger networks interdependent on one another, we can begin to reclaim common spaces, and more easily provide for each others’ basic needs.

One of the goals of this booklet is to emphasize working together and sharing tools that can empower each other. It asks, Can we together build a world where we connect through differences, instead of indifference? It explores local ecologies, resource exchange, and practical techniques for small-scale water and food systems. The Networks section is a small asset map of Philadelphia-based groups already invested in interdependency. It is in no way complete.

Thank you: The James L. Knight Foundation, Skidmutro, AT&T, Organic Mechanics Soil, Dow, Door to Door Organics, The Workshop School, Philadelphia Academies, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

 

 

 

 

The Flock House Project Omaha

Working on a long interview with Alex Priest about Flock House Omaha. Wanted to share this point early, along with this picture of one of the Flock Houses that was designed by 30 people and built by around 15 people. I’m amused re-reading my comment about fetishizing design. We used Alumilite panels located inside the Bemis building, flooring from Carver Bank and an old gym in Iowa, and hardware. The size of the Alumilite panels led us to resort to triangles to build with. We retained strength while being able to piece together materials.

Alex: We keep talking about designing a new Flock House for Omaha but what do you really mean by “design” and are Flock Houses even “designed”?

Mary: Well, in a way whenever we are making something we can’t get away from thinking about design. I’m not interested whatsoever in fetishizing design. In a modernist sense, I’m anti-design, anti gloss, anti anything that looks packaged. That said, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to transform materials into something unrecognizable from their original intention. As far as making Flock Houses for Omaha, their design is based on the materials we have, so that’s how we will begin. It’s still design by collaboration, but the materials become one of our collaborators. We have to take them into account and work with them from the very beginning. 
Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 6.54.04 PM

March 13 – August 16, 2014

From their site: What if migratory homes with autonomous systems for rainwater collection and food production were the building blocks of the city of the future? Omaha residents will have an opportunity to consider just how our urban landscape might look in the decades to come when Mary Mattingly brings her Flock House Project to the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Inspired by patterns of global human migration and pilgrimage, the Flock House Project is a group of mobile, sculptural, public habitats and self-contained ecosystems that are movable, modular, and scalable. This multi-phase project is part fantastic and part practical. It kicks off in Omaha on March 13, 2014, with an exhibition of Mattingly’s previous work at the Bemis Center. Unlike traditional exhibitions, however, the display will serve as the artist’s active research hub while she is in residence at the Bemis Center, offering a space where she can engage the local community to develop plans for, and fabricate, new mobile living systems to be installed outdoors at both the Bemis Center in the Old Market and at Carver Bank in North Omaha. Omaha artists will then be invited to occupy these living systems in order to promote and implement a broader integration between Omaha’s creative and urban design communities.

At a time when urban populations are faced with environmental, political and economic instability, dislocation and relocation become increasingly important to consider and reconcile. Addressing these themes and concerns, Mattingly first presented three Flock Houses across New York City during the summer of 2012. Her intention is to choreograph Flock Houses throughout urban centers across the United States. By constructing them, she seeks to enhance community-based interdependence, resourcefulness, learning, curiosity and creative exploration. Interactive community programs, workshops, lectures, performances and narrated tours focusing on Omaha’s history, current surroundings and future opportunities will occur throughout the summer. By engaging in a direct dialogue with Omaha’s history of community and innovation, the Flock House Project will provide area residents and visitors with an opportunity to ponder the future of urban living.

Flock House Project: Omaha would not be possible without the active participation of community members. We would like to thank the following individuals, who volunteered their time and expertise during our Design/Build Workshops in May to create and install both the Old Market and Carver Bank Flock Houses:

Travis Apel: Artist/Organic Gardener/Builder; Dwayne Brown: Architect /Writer for Edible Omaha; Denise Chapman: Carver Bank Artist-in-Residence/Performer; Devel Crisp: Carver Bank Artist-in-Residence/Performer; Matt Cronin: Gardener/Community Activist; Tricia Custer: Video Production/Artist/Gardener; Angela Drakeford: Artist; Chance Frank: Artist/Gardener; Matt Freeman: Community Gardener; Cynthia Gehrie: Artist/Gardener
Neil Griess: Artist/Urban Activist; Catherine Harrington: Gardener/Builder/Cook; George Hewitt: Artist, Post Hurricane Katrina Rebuild Volunteer, Furniture; Dr. David J. Hibler, Sr.: Gardening, Community Activism; Maya Jeffereis: Bemis Center Artist-in-Residence/Installation/Sculpture/New Media/Performance; John Kerner: Architect/Artist; Jennifer Keys: Drawing/NAACP; Kim Reid Kuhn: Artist/Urban Activist/Teacher; Peter Langwith: Artist/Community Activist/Sustainable Living; Kayla Meyer: Landscape Architecture; Christina Narwicz: Artist/Gardener; Linn Norton: Art Education; Sarah O Donnell: Bemis Center Artist-in-Residence/Sculptor; Katie Parker: Bemis Center Artist-in-Residence/Sculptor; Dessi Price: Graphic Designer; Terri Sanders: Great Plains Black History Museum; Dr. Daniel Schober: Heath/Nutrition; Tyler Swain: Trash/Recycle Artist/Tinkerer/Construction; Travis Thieszen: Bemis Center Artist-in-Residence/Sculptor; Susan Thomas: Arts/Omaha Creative Institute; Liz Thrash: Gardener/Hobbiest

Travis and family

 

CAFKA Biennial

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 8.45.00 AM 2

Preparing for a Procession through Kitchener and Waterloo.

When: Saturday, June 21, 9PM – 12AM. Arrive at City Hall at 8pm.

Where: Begin at Kitchener City Hall and walk through King St. Regional Rt. 15 to Waterloo Public Square

How: Take as few or as many of your personal objects and bundle them together. We will each carry, roll, or otherwise transport this bundle with us along the route.

What: Seven people creating a procession with our bundled objects through Kitchener and Waterloo, from Kitchener City Hall through to Waterloo Public Square, passing malls and storage units.

The route of the procession narrates different rituals of production, consumption, and discard. We will bundle and strap objects to ourselves, carrying them with us, rolling or pushing them alongside of us through Kitchener’s main streets. We will pull our objects through sites that facilitate the consumption and storage of objects including: box stores, parking lots, and storage facilities, illustrating the absurdity of the performance, but maybe also the larger situation. Other sites like Waterloo Public Square and Kitchener City Hall are sites that illustrate local interconnection. The objects made, bought, and used affect everyone around the world, either directly or indirectly. It’s this interconnection that has led me to the procession. Considering every relationship that went into making these objects, can we care for an object’s life and death in a similar way to a human’s? What are the roles that these objects play in our lives and in the lives of others?

Interview with David Brooks with Bomb Magazine

This interview between Mary Mattingly and David Brooks, which transpired over email, has been edited and condensed for Bomb Magazine, here’s it’s original form.

…and here is the link on BOMB

Mary Mattingly (MM): You have extensive collections of animal bones, rocks, shells, and odd things you have found from all over the world. Can you say something about some of the items?

David Brooks (DB):  I think of these things less of a collection and more so as an array of idiosyncratic objects that are occupying very specific points in time. Even more accurate than “object”, would be to call them material documentations. I know that sounds a little lofty and harebrained, but it’s quite simple really. For instance, the carapace of a spider crab is a unique object, but more accurately it is a material documentation of the dynamic processes that came together for a duration of time into what was once a living being – the spider crab. The same goes for the petrified sycamore log found in a river in Alabama that is 250 million years old, or the piece of the Pantheon that is circa 2000 years old in its current formation, or the core of the 1800 year old redwood tree, or the very dramatically large megabat I acquired from the now defunct, “Mr. Potter’s Museum of Curiosities”, or the hank of handmade rope I found on a Cuban refugee raft washed up in the mangroves in FL, or any of the other highly unique individualistic bones, carapaces, architectural fragments, or animal forms. They all had a life, a morphological expression of that life, and now what remains is the residue of that expression of life lived. They’re kind of like fossilized entanglements of unique but disparate linkages of time and constituents, though all are in a constant state of entropy, even in my home and studio. In a tongue and cheek way, you could almost see them as momentary snapshots, or fading photographs, mementos or monuments to individual lives lived and the material forms that only lived lives can generate. This of course includes fragments of the built environment. They are absolutely no different.Your relationship to objects I know is radically different. Besides your frustration with the shear quantity of ‘stuff’ that accumulates in such a hyper-consumerist culture, does said ‘stuff’ ever emanate a material uniqueness or tell a story of individual importance beyond the suffocating wastefulness that brings such consternation to many of us? Or are you holding out for a way of life that is significantly more fluid, efficient and adaptable, which has no need to showcase or archive the particular objects at particular points in time?

MM: I’m intrigued with mass-produced objects that have a use besides that of their original intention. Whether a spoon is repurposed to fix a broken car door handle, a tarp takes the place of an original roof or mass-produced objects are bundled into sculptures and made useless, their stories are the most important aspects. The object itself is just an indicator for the story it contains, a voyage of mythic proportions: one of a cycle of connection and disconnection that happens between people and things along the route of a supply chain, the life of the object and the underlying fact that everything and everyone in this cycle is a commodity. At a certain point in the project I’m working on now (that focuses on stories of an object’s creation, discard, and eventual reemergence as something else) I realized that the object is the least important part. It plays a necessary role in defining a story, and especially answering the “why” of mass-production, but many times the object is just a symbolic excuse to mobilize people, recirculate and reinvent capital. At this stage, most of the objects I own are bundled into large boulder-like sculptures.

A Ruin In Reverse
Mary Mattingly, A Ruin in Reverse

You made it a point to talk about how the wood from Desert Rooftops was recycled after the duration of the project and made into permanent housing. Do you think it’s important to talk about the afterlife of a temporary project to defend the natural resources that are necessary to bring your projects to life?

6432899093_cc287f77a0_bbb
David Brooks, Desert Rooftops

DB: I think it relates to how I just described the material culture in my house and studio, above.  It’s all part of a continuum, a flow, a momentary glimpse or document of an articulation at that one particular time. The act of bringing the materials together for that momentary articulation is only part of the artwork, as there is a greater life being lived that expressed itself in that particular time, material and place. How to convey, embrace, imply or portend the alteration of that material into something toward the future (as it was equally born of a history unique to it and only it) is an imperative, since it is simply the truth. So to not convey the future context of the material is to only convey partial truths.

I should say though, it is never a concern to “defend” the use of resources, as it is also true that you must break a few eggs to make an omelet. In fact, I choose certain materials to use because of the very fact that they have a baggage to them, because the energy it took to utilize that resource is materially self-evident and tells part of the story of the project. For instance with Desert Rooftops the roofs had to be built according to NYC building codes in order to get issued permits. The project had to be realized in real scale – not scaled down to a “representational” scale. It qualifies its existence by maintaining its true scale – a scale synonymous with the inundating sprawl of housing communities and the perpetual bursts of suburban development. It displays its materiality as both form and concept. There is an irrational beauty in this very entropic display (what Smithson termed the “ruins in reverse”), but also an absolute horror. It’s a sculptural event, but also a catastrophe. It’s a glimpse of normalcy, displaced from its conventional context that now awkwardly inhabits a full block in Times Square, awkwardly out of place like a beached whale.

You’ve also done a number of projects in the public realm throughout New York City. Besides the shear density of people in NYC, is there something idiosyncratic to its infrastructure and design that fuels aspects of your work? I say this because when you do works in the public realm in NY you don’t seem to choose obvious or easy sites to work in. It seems that the interaction with site for you is very particular, and I’m curious how you might describe that particularity, and whether or not it is a particularity inherent to the NYC built environment or something more…universal (I say that word carefully – and am perhaps referring to urban sites of conflicting energies that globally inhabit dense capitalist centers).

MM: Building home in New York is a lifetime occupation. Working in gaps between dense urban space and nature is a way for me to reinterpret sites that were economically vital as ports or sites of distribution and are now are preserved as parks or are forgotten zones by most people. In these sites I see a chance to work together to build spaces that connect and empower. Obtaining permission to live at these sites is important, because then they are cared for and we can work out an idea of a nature that includes human culture and livelihood  and isn’t just a separate zone in the city. These zones have potential to bring together a site with communities, they can bring people to nature on the edge of the city and bring interdependency to the forefront. Beyond looking at a site as a distinct geographic location, I’m responding to it as a network of social relations, of political and ethical dimensions.

Triple Island was built on the edge of the East River in 2013, it’s a proposal. I wanted it to address the importance of decentralizing our basic resources by creating a regenerative living system providing food grown from cleaned river water, power from sun and tides, shelter, collected and purified rainwater for all other needs.

Triple_Island_1
Mary Mattingly, Triple Island at Pier 42 (Paths to Pier 42), Lower East Side

What do you consider in a site when you work on mobile sculptures such as Still Life with Cherry Pickers ? Can you talk about that piece’s relationship to both urban and rural space?

DB: I suppose that is kind of the whole work.  I think one of the unique qualities of the time we are living through now is its heightened propensity for cross-disciplinarity. But not just a “anything goes” kind of spirit. But one in which we actively seek out disciplines to bridge and blur with others. One could just as easily look at the Socrates site (where “Still Life with Cherry Pickers and Palms” was installed in October 2013) as the result of a 4,000-mile glacial wall from about a million years ago; just as easily as one could look at Socrates historically as the illegal dump site on the East River until Mark di Suvero co-opted it with the neighborhood inhabitants and his fellow artists to make a sculpture park out of it in the 1980’s; just as easily and in the same moment of consideration one can understand it as a local gathering place, as a respite from the stresses of urban life today; but one can also see that this very feature of the park drives major development schemes that build high income housing and push out the very souls that formed its defining character. In short, a site is not a thing the way we conventionally understand things, but displays its power dynamics through its momentary forms. Architecture, infrastructure, access to water and open space, where trees are planted, migratory birds, how much sky is visible, transportation to and from, as well as use value are all equally the site. I think this idea of considering a site through the lenses of multiple disciplines simultaneously is such a part of our common language that it can now be embraced experientially as part of the site, and not just theoretically.

Gap_10:14_01
David Brooks, Still Life with Cherry Pickers

MM:  What do you imagine the future of New York will look like?

DB:  I suppose it depends on how far into the future you mean. In the short term, the city’s infrastructure will become more porous and designed for greater moments of adaptability. I say this because it has to, if it’s to alleviate the leaks of an antiquated coexistence with its own surroundings. We cannot simply import 20th century models of infrastructure into a 21st century world. The scale and context has changed. Not to beat a dead horse, but the storm surge of Sandy in 2012 illustrated exactly this, via sea walls that were easily breached and the vulnerable proximity of basement and street levels to the forces of the sea. It illustrated for a larger public consciousness how the severe demarcations between city over here and “nature” over there is simply an illusion, has always been an illusion, and has now reached a point of crisis for many. We hope for a consciousness shift in folks along with a clear, hardened, and conscientious understanding of the interrelationships between the impacts of our collective actions and reactions by the earth’s systems. That’s the optimistic side of my thinking. And I am an optimist.

The other side of my thinking is that perhaps there are no actual flaws in the built environment and its relations to natural systems, and we’re already doing all that we are capable of, as a people. Many biologists subscribe to this latter view – which would confirm that, yes, we are but a momentary glitch on the evolutionary timeline: we do what we do and what we do is perfectly natural for our collective capabilities, which would inevitably mean extinction – which is another way of saying “transition”. In other words, though our collective actions and impact on the biosphere may clearly lead to a self-extinction scenario, they are just as natural as the migration of the monarchs, evolutionarily speaking.

However, I don’t believe in quick apocalypses. And most certainly not for Homo sapiens! We’re more invasive and stalwart than anything the biosphere has produced. We affect geology on a short term and long term basis. We’re more pervasive than roaches. We most certainly are not going to go out clean and quick. We’re going to drag this ecological degradation into overtime, and we’re going to drag a whole lot of other species out with us in this slow slow decline. How do you think of duration/speed/time in regards to urban space? I mean that question in the most open of ways.

MM: Well I look at the movement and speed of cities through the lens of power, access, and control.  I directly connect the speed of cities to its current capital flow.  Those studies that have correlated the speed of walking with economic activity in an urban space, like Helen and Marc Bornstein’s research titled “The Pace of Life.” This firmly relates to urban development – the more capital, the more people can work on a project, the faster it’s completed and developers can move on to the next project. The more capital, the more political alignment is possible, the faster permits are obtained, and the quicker the city changes.

But the duration of speed must be connected to markets worldwide. While speed of development can be obtained by momentarily having the correct politicians align with the certain developers, like a company that needs higher returns each quarter to satiate its shareholders, speed and duration are complexly connected.

From a macro-level it’s argued that the historic weight of a city has an effect on each inhabitant. Histories, environments, and personal agency must all have an effect on speed. I think about Deleuze and Guattari’s Nomadology and the changing position of the nomad as either the underrepresented migrant or the deregulated Multinational, I’m especially concerned with property and the formalization of space, or those gaps that, when located and used in mass, change the space of the State – from what the state intended it for into something else. Deleuze has also described a disappearance of gaps, open spaces and times as the state of a control society. And finally, will we all get to the point when the ability to move is necessary?

I’m reading this book right now, Exhausting Dance. The author describes the “still-act” in dance, proposed as moments when a subject interrupts historical flow and practices historical interrogation. I’m paraphrasing here, but – With the “still-act” a person effectively interrogates economies of time, because it reveals the possibility of agency within controlling regimes of capital, subjectivity, labor, and mobility.  In this case, stillness is defiance in urban space.

WPA_Smartpower_project_Photo_Credit_Jed_Escuta
Mary Mattingly, WPA in Manila

DB: Does this mean to issue stillness against the flow of capital, like a rock in a river? And isn’t stillness deceiving sometimes also – i.e. the notion of stillness that I try to demystify in A Proverbial Machine in the Garden? That landscape is dynamic; and any act of stillness (stasis) is an act of defiance against evolutionary processes and the truth of said landscape.

Can you explain “stillness” more in depth here? And do you see this as a metaphor, or as being an activist strategy, or is this a long game ideology to work toward?

 SONY DSC
David Brooks, A Proverbial Machine in the Garden

MM: Well in this context, stillness remains alive and changing, but the pace is much different. It’s more akin to loitering. When I attempted to drag a ball of my things over the Bayonne Bridge a police officer was driving next to me at a slow crawl amidst the pace of traffic shouting at me to move faster. Speed is often competitive, whether it’s the speed of nature versus urban growth or someone walking versus driving, so here you are confronting a competitive pace. So I see it as a long game ideology to confront a pace associated with competition towards each other.

Own_Up_Photo_Credit_Art21
Mary Mattingly, Own Up

What are your thoughts on the speed of nature and (or versus) urban space?

DB: Maybe one way to think about that is to look at the recent history of invasive species around the world. It’s no surprise that in a global capitalist environment invasives circulate around the world at a faster pace than the biosphere can absorb the impacts. We know that invasive species is not a new development and not necessarily restricted to human intervention (in fact we ourselves would be considered an invasive species in N. America by many definitions). But the speed of it is. Speed is our contribution to this phenomenon. This is a degenerative act – no matter how you slice it: ideologically, ethically, and biologically.

The long-view of our built environment in relation to the natural environment is complicated by inconveniences. Just as you alluded to above, to think about our built environment in the long-term goes against how our economic system functions, and thus is terribly inconvenient. It is inconvenient to think of how every piece of packaging of every piece of food I consume each day will be dispersed daily, monthly and yearly. It is inconvenient to consider where my toilet sends things. It is inconvenient to think about how everything in my entire apartment, including my apartment, will end up as decomposed matter, garbage, rubble, and some dust, eventually. This reality is unavoidable, this reality is not hypothetical, we know this will happen, and the decision to ignore that is out of convenience. I think it is imperative to make comparisons and interweavings between natural processes and the conditions of our built environment – specifically to demystify their convenient bifurcation.

MM:  When I heard about A Proverbial Machine in the Garden, it struck me that these machines in a sense resemble dinosaurs, their bones buried in our everyday landscapes. Will these machines be the dinosaurs of the future?

DB:  It is indeed a piece that looks with a historical glance while also looking to the future where certain modes of shaping the land, harvesting resources, issuing a dominion over the natural systems and such, will become obsolete and anachronistic in concept and form. They will become obsolete because they must. They’ll exhaust themselves to nothingness if an evolution of behavior doesn’t arrive first. The status quo of shaping the health of the natural environment today is simply untenable beyond a few more generations. It just is.   …Adaptation,…Evolution,…or Extinction

Not to sound like a Darwinian broken record, but there is really only two options physically, physiologically, philosophically, socially and psychologically possible: 1.) We struggle collectively to maintain a semblance of status quo in a world of over population and surplus economic standards. This world will endure a few+ centuries of parasitically straining the biosphere to a level of exhaustion until we render our own selves inhospitable as a population. Of course an exponentially increased number of extinctions of fellow species will unfortunately come from this trajectory. You can’t expect an innately flawed and self-serving system of manners to right itself. That’s just not natural!   Or…2.) A complete and absolute consciousness shift occurs, collectively, globally. Just as the civil rights acts that came to an eruptive shift in ’68, bringing racial equality and feminist equality into a mainstream conversation, affecting – albeit slowly – policy, literature, art, education, and social exchanges. This philosophical impasse that is manifesting itself as an environmental crisis and ecological collapse does not discriminate by class, race or gender. In fact, from a ‘glass-half-full’ scenario, one could see this as an extraordinary moment in evolutionary history: the decline of biodiversity is one of the first topical events to have united not specific nations, but all of humanity. The social world can be unified for the fist time in its history by collectively addressing the physiological conundrum that we face on a global scale. Since we are all in the same boat, at last. As some say: “Evolution, not Pollution”, meaning a mere halt to polluting industries, a changing of light bulbs, or more bicycling will not induce the paradigm shift needed. Only with the fervor of a religious revolution, as propounded by dear Bruno Latour, could usher in the urgency of a total life change. Not even eminent death can induce this kind of global fervor!

Preserved Forest_overview
David Brooks, Preserved Forest

You often think about different types of apocalypse scenarios or at least a sort of post-industrial-post-human kind of life. Can you talk about what the qualities of that life would be; but also in regards to time spans, evolution, and the rate of social change that is actually feasible, realistic, and anticipated?

MM: In the face of every new disaster, media and the marketplace continue to endorse a techno-utopian idealization of the future: as we alter our own ability to inhabit the planet, we continue to believe we can counter the damage with another technological innovation.  This perspective is either naïve to or knowingly benefits economic and political interests. The future needs to be a time of repurposing resources or accounting for far away land and people. There will need to be increased value placed on repair and second-hand economies, and we will need to act interdependently with our neighbors, near and far, and as an extension of this a post human interdependency will need to grow, because these things are symbiotic. This is a scenario that could nearly avoid an apocalypse that I imagine would (yes) be slow and would resemble JG Ballard’s A drowned World where cities further from the equator become the tropics, new species proliferate as current species perish, inland becomes wasteland (as far as humans are concerned) with deserts expanding and water engulfing – and the poles become desirable with expensive forms of protection.  I’m drawn to water-based communities and informal economies, because people who exist in those spaces are all operating in a future.

Waterpod_Project
Mary Mattingly, The Waterpod Project leaving South Street Seaport

DB: I think that last sentence is the operative sentence here. I think that is a very sober statement on the future’s existence in today’s world – not one belabored with fantastical scenes of apocalypse, but one that accounts for actual processes – both economical and climatic. We already see microcosms of this sort beginning to plume. So then do you see your art-making as a way to engage in that conversation that is already taking place, or perhaps is your work more so preparing an aesthetic context for a “people to come” [Elizabeth Grosz once declared the role of art is not to speak directly into the present but to prepare a future audience]?

MM: Part of it is to offer narrative proposals that begin as experiments that subvert (as Rob Nixon says) the slow violence of ecological and economic oppression and find space for another way of living within a space that has become the epicenter of exploitation. For instance, water follows development and redevelopment and it lives under the radar of international law. The sea is where neoliberal globalization dictates the exploitation of the day, and where flags of convenience deregulate nation upon nation – it’s far from a residual space based on mercantilism but is rather the space where everything meets. I’ve been working on proposals for futures where the sea plays an enormous role, it also holds answers for a lot of questions about personal agency for our own daily needs: for example, where will the water we need to drink come from, where will our food come from, and how can we make our own energy, and be mobile if need be? I look at the water as a space ripe for a new continent, a “still-act” within an epicenter. Do you think about your work as an aesthetic response to the present, or warning for the future, or something else?

DB: It must be all of it, as long as it is generative. Again, I like to take advantage of the fact that we live in a time that can entertain the multiple dimensions that an artwork can occupy. It is a document of present conditions, it is also a response to its failings, but it is also an experiential moment that can potentially incite a sense of agency in its audience; and it is they who therefore shape a future.