EDITED BY DENISE BRUESE WITZ, KERILL Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;NEILL, AND CHRISTOPHER WALKER
Sharon Corwin and Lee Glazer
Why Occupy Colby?
In Conversation with Jamila Bargach
Making the Unseen Seen
Kristin George Bagdanov
Atomic Shade, Uncene, Chain Reaction
Timothy Hoellein, Mary Ellis Gibson, Denise Bruesewitz
On Salt Creek: Flows of Rivers and Peoples
In Conversation with Kathleen Mundell and Jennifer Neptune
When Ecosystem Recovery Hinges on History: Intergenerational Memory and Marine Conservation
Algorithms in the Wild
Phong Bui with Denise Bruesewitz, Keith Peterson, Alexis Rockman, and Allyson Vieira
Occupy Colby: Symposium
Occupy Colby: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 2
In Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson
Singing History and Finding Hope
Aaron R. Hanlon
Data at the Dawn of the Anthropocene
Reflections on Climate as Keyword and Shape-Shifting Noun
Revelation Desert Flow, “like corn in the night”
Notes from the Arctic and Other Places
The River Rail: Occupy Colby is produced as part of the exhibition Occupy Colby: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 2, organized by Rail Curatorial Projects and the Colby College Museum of Art. BROOKLYN R AIL BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Kristin George Bagdanov Lucas Cooper
Shalini Le Gall
Kim Stanley Robinson
Audrey Zhuoer Liu
James Cabot Ewart
Lauren Bon and The
Liz Herring Menard
Mary Ellis Gibson
Justin Brice Guariglia
Aaron R. Hanlon
A SP E C I A L P R O J E CT O F TH E B R O O K LY N RA I L BROOKLY N R A I L .OR G twitter: @TheBrooklynRail facebook: facebook.com/thebrooklynrail instagram: @brooklynrail
THE RIVER RAIL: OCCUPY COLBY
PUBLISHER AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: Phong Bui EDITORS: Denise Bruesewitz, Kerill O’Neill, and Christopher Walker COPYEDITORS: James Gibbons and Lindsey Westbrook; and Sara Antoniolli, Angela Brisotto, Olga Lepri, Victoria Stephanie Uzumyemezoglu, and Angelica Vitali PROOFREADER: Erica Olsen PUBLICATION MANAGER: Megan Carey ASSOCIATE PUBLICATION MANAGER: Charles Schultz PUBLICATION COORDINATOR: Mareisa Weil DESIGNER: Juliette Cezzar
Ada and Alex Katz
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Dear Friends and Readers, We never know how high we are Till we are called to rise.... —Emily Dickinson
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
In October 2017, as our first response to the Trump administration’s treatment on social and political issues, including immigration, human rights, international relations, and the environment, the Rail Curatorial Project undertook a monumental exhibit Occupy Mana: Artist Need to Create On the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 1. Held at Mana Contemporary in one-month duration from start to finish, its intent was partly to share with our community of artists how we all can mobilize together swiftly with great urgency, and partly to generate a collective voice of dissent through the works of art, poetry reading, dance and music performances, panel discussions, and so on that directly and indirectly amplify the sustaining power of subtlety and the beautiful of our language against the bombastic, abusive, and vulgar usage that Donald J. Trump has been communicating with our working class fellow human beings. While recognizing the artist Lauren Bon’s 2006 neon work Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale Society Has the Capacity to Destroy (which I felt speaks so presciently for our time as Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture did for the 1960s, especially the spirit of autonomy embodied in each work of art offers a space of solace in otherwise a world totally dominated by technology, social media, and other forms of endless distraction), we immediately asked Lauren for the permission to adopt the tittle of her neon as a permanent official banner for the Rail Curatorial Project. In other words, having the banner Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale Society Has the Capacity to Destroy we, not only acknowledging the important role artists have recently mediating with social and political issues while expressing their inner freedom, truth and beauty, but we also feel we could apply our calland-response curation to any kind of given space, specific narrative or condition as long as we follow its calling, from which a certain selection of works of art by particular artists will be made hence becoming the tittle or subtitle. In January 2018, when Sharon Corwin invited me to curate a version of the Occupy Mana exhibit, especially on the theme of global warming and other related environmental crisis at Colby Museum (which happened to be at the same time when the Rail Curatorial Project was invited to participate in the 2019 Venice Biennale as a collateral project), together with my co-curator and a good friend Francesca Pietropaolo, a native Venetian, we instantly decided to combine both exhibits with Sharon’s consent and enthusiasm, one at Colby Museum, the other at Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti as one. In addition to each mirroring the other as one generating force to spread wider public awareness of the imminent and grave condition in regard to our environment, we also feel an absolute necessity to bring our friends and colleagues from various disciplines in the arts and the humanities to come together as one unity, at least in these pages of this special issue of the River Rail, to be published as a free catalog and will be circulate throughout the college campus, and delivered to several communities in Waterville, Maine. On the cover: Mark Dion, After Den, 2012/2017. Diorama model of existing public installation, mixed media, 49 x 61 x 57 in. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/ Los Angeles.
As I wrote in my editorial in the October issue, 2019 of the Brooklyn Rail (our 19th year anniversary), particularly on two critical heartache and despair issues: one, “[un]like the Occupy Movement which, as Michael Levitin observed in 2015, was ‘a moment constrained by its own contradictions: filled with leaders who declared themselves leaderless, governed by a consensus-based structure that failed to reach consensus, and seeking to transform politics while refusing to become political.’” Two, “we wonder why college students and their professors—who throughout the decades of 1960s and 1970s were responsible for countless protests, demonstrations against the Vietnam war, fighting for the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Gay Liberation movements, among other causes—seem to have disappeared....throughout the 1980s, the 1990s....and most recently with the 2019 Persian Gulf Crisis.” There never had been such a compelling desire to fill the void and absence of the last four decades of neglect as we all feel at this moment in confronting the absurdity and madness of the Trump administration’s aggressive agenda to destroy our culture and our environment for their self-gain and self-interest. As I feel honored to be named the 2019 Lunder Institute Fellow along with the Jetté Award for Leadership in the arts from Colby College Museum of Art, I equally feel grateful to the support Sharon and her remarkable staff from the museum had provided me and our team at the Rail. Diana Tuite, Megan Carey, and Daisy Bousquet– Desrosiers, along with Jessamine Batario, the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, and Lee Glazer from the Lunder Institute, and of course the three editors Denise Brussewitz, Keril O’Neil, and Christopher Walker all worked tirelessly with colleagues and students to produce this luminous issue of the River Rail in Waterville, which, needless to say, corresponds to our other River Rail in Venice. The flexibility and timely nature of the title Occupy Colby of the former and subtitle Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) of the latter seem to ennobling the banner Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale Society Has the Capacity to Destroy. Lastly, John Keats’s timeless remark on negative capability (“that is, when [an individual] is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason,” which refers to our ability as human beings to transcend, think, and act above and beyond ways that we’re conditioned to otherwise), has inspired us to bring our communities of all disciplines of all types, stripes of colors from all walks of life as a national and international exertion to restore the love for our culture and our environment. We must march forward together to ensure our working class fellow human beings are not being excluded and feeling condescended from our writing, which at time can be obscure and inaccessible, as the discovery of science and creation of works of art depend with terrific brevity on our ability to communicate to one another and among ourselves in both small and large context here and there, and everywhere. In solidarity, onward and upward, Phong Bui & the Rail
Inside covers back cover, 4–5, 40–41, 86–91: Occupy Colby: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 2, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME, 2019. Photos: Luc Demers.
Why Occupy Colby?
Last spring, a group of Colby College students came to the Colby Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine, to engage with Maya Lin’s 2013 sculpture Disappearing Bodies of Water, Arctic Ice. Fashioned from Vermont Danby marble, Lin’s piece provides a visual representation, through a series of topographic renderings, of the severe reduction in mass of the Arctic ice shelf between 1980 and 2013. The professor leading the class, a marine biologist, spoke about the effects of warming oceans and rising sea levels on the marine ecosystem. The students began to reflect on how the sculpture—reticent, marmoreal, beautiful— nevertheless expressed themes of fragility, transience, and loss. A table of thinly carved marble balanced atop a granite base was a cautionary metaphor for an imperiled planet. Art offered the scientist and the students new paradigms and vocabularies for the understanding of global warming, and they, in turn, brought new perspectives to a consideration of Lin’s work. There is now another elegant and thought-provoking piece by Lin on view at the Colby Museum: Interrupted River: Penobscot, a site-specific installation composed of glass marbles that trace the flow of Maine’s largest river from its origins near the Quebec border to its terminus in Penobscot Bay. Lin’s title calls our attention to the small gaps that appear at irregular intervals among the otherwise tightly organized marbles attached to the gallery wall and ceiling. These gaps represent dams, whose construction throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries not only disrupted the migration of native fish species and threatened the Penobscot Nation’s food supply but also raised water temperatures, impeded natural flood cycles, and generally reduced biodiversity. Interrupted River is one of nearly twenty environmentally themed works of art featured in the special exhibition Occupy Colby. Curated by Phong Bui (a 2019 Lunder Institute fellow) and on view at the Colby Museum until January 5, 2020, Occupy Colby is part of the ongoing Rail curatorial project Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy. Initiated in 2017 at Mana Contemporary, the first exhibition in the series addressed a host of political and social issues—immigration, human rights, global relations, and the environment. A second presentation, Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), opened during the Venice Biennale earlier this year and addresses the climate crisis, with a focus on the Mediterranean Sea. The decision to orient the Colby iteration around environmental issues and climate change as well reflects the college’s long history of leadership in environmental studies and stewardship. The Colby Museum and the Lunder Institute are
committed to advancing these dialogues through exhibitions, artistic and scholarly engagements, and cross-disciplinary partnerships. Occupy Colby is also a response to the urgency of our current moment: witness the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate; record high temperatures around the globe; fires burning north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland; the loss of 12.5 billion tons of the Greenland ice sheet in a single day this summer. The works by Lin, Lauren Bon, Katherine Bradford, David Brooks, Mel Chin, Mark Dion, Justin Brice Guariglia, Alexis Rockman, Clifford Ross, Allyson Vieira, and Meg Webster displayed in the exhibition comment upon current events and visualize a profoundly anthropogenic world. Occupy Colby bears witness to the climate change that humans have set in motion, and it seeks to heighten what art historian Alan Braddock has termed “ecological consciousness.” The essays, poetry, conversations, and images that appear in these pages aim to share, extend, and amplify the important work of the exhibition, adding new voices to the narrative. The Colby guest editors—Denise Bruesewitz, an aquatic ecologist; Kerill O’Neill, a classicist and director of Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities; and Chris Walker, a literary scholar and Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the environmental humanities program—have assembled contributors who offer a wide range of approaches to understanding our impact on the natural world at this moment in history. Topics range from the perils of generational amnesia in recognizing environmental decline to the use of deep ice core samples in understanding climate history; from reflections on river-detritus-as-data to the suggestion that algorithms, which now so massively and ubiquitously organize our data, should actually be regarded as organisms within their own ecosystem. The thread binding these texts together is a common recognition of the interconnectedness of nature and human activity. As a college art museum and research institute situated within a liberal arts college, our mission is rooted in a commitment to dialogues between art and the sciences, art and the humanities, and art and civic life. When the first issue of the River Rail came out last year, Lauren Bon declared it to be a “collective declaration of our interdependence,” a demonstration of how artists, writers, scholars, and activists working across professional and disciplinary boundaries can indeed develop a communal ecological consciousness that is a first step toward ecological remediation. This issue of the River Rail occasioned by Occupy Colby continues that work. FALL 2019 2O19
Sharon Corwin Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator, Colby College Museum of Art Lee Glazer Director, Lunder Institute for American Art
SHARON CORWIN AND LEE GLAZER: WHY OCCUPY COLBY?
Carolyn Finney This Moment
I initially wrote this piece when I was asked to give the opening remarks at George Washington University for the inaugural meeting (March 16, 2016) of The Centennial Initiative / The Next 100 Coalition, a first-ofits-kind coalition of civil rights, environmental justice, conservation, and community leaders from around the country. We proceeded to put together a vision statement and policy document on diversity and public lands with the intention of having President Barack Obama issue a presidential memorandum, which he did.
In 2008, 4,247,694 babies were born in the United States. I want us to think about that. 4,247,694 babies. The pop song topping the Billboard 100 that year was “Low” by Flo Rida. The Dark Knight (no, I’m not talking about the president), the continuing saga of the Caped Crusader in Gotham, was considered the most popular movie. NASA landed our first robot probe in the polar region of Mars. The top 10 environmental issues of the year included climate change, water, food, and land management. Barack Obama was elected as the first African American president.
In 2008, 4,247,694 babies were born in the United States. The internet was hopping, the iPhone was ubiquitous, and men and women could say “I do” to whomever they wanted in the state of Connecticut. Two historic sites (World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and Minidoka National Historic Site) were added to our evolving list of national parks.
In 2008, 4,247,694 babies were born in the United States. I want to talk about how many of those 4,247,694 babies were born with hands that look like mine. Brown and black chubby hands grasping grass, dirt, and dreams out of thin air. Brown and black hands reaching for the stars while being nourished by the soil from which they sprang. Brown and black hands holding the memories of all our ancestors in this place on this land. Brown and black hands feeling their way through a telling of our past that is unrelenting in revealing itself in our day-to-day practices of relating and living amid not-yet-reconciled truths of pain and limited possibility. We talk a lot about the future. But I want to talk about the right now.
I want to talk about the moment in Antarctica when 7.2 million cubic miles of ice started to rapidly melt. I want to talk about the millions of acres managed by our government agencies. I want to talk about how many of those 4,247,694 babies will never walk on those public lands and why is that? I want to talk about American Indians. Apache, Cherokee, Iroquois, Miccosukee, Arapaho, Ute, Pomo, Delaware, Shoshone, Sioux. I want to talk about how many of those 4,247,694 babies are American Indians. I want to talk about the moment that Christopher Columbus misread his compass, misread the stars, and began to draw the contours of who we are by standing on this land as who he was. I want to talk about water. I want to talk about sea-level rise. I want to talk about the moment one of those brown chubby hands grasped a glass of water in Flint, Michigan. I want to talk about the moment when 905 species vanished forever. I want to talk about how many of those 4,247,694 babies will never see a bigmouth rocksnail, a shorttailed hopping mouse, or a Jamaican monkey. I want to talk about Japanese farmers interned with soil on their hands. Nisei, Issei. I want to talk about how many of those 4,247,694 babies are of Japanese ancestry. I want to talk about the Irish and Germans and British and French who lived the Homestead Act, planting new dreams while loving old land already steeped in memory and the blood of those who came before.
today. Because in 2008, 4,247,694 babies were born in the United States. And a lot of their hands look like mine. I want to talk about the beginning. Yeah, I want to talk about the Big Bang and Adam and Eve. But I want to talk about our beginning. How we each come to understand who we are on the land where we stand. How we know about this land. How the memory of this land is the memory of us. And loving the land is loving ourselves and when was the moment we came to know that? That everyone understands that and there was a moment somewhereâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in your birth, in your life, in your reaching and dreamingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that you gave in. That you gave in to the possibility of a future moment and decided to fight.
I want to talk about the moment in 1903 when John Muir stood with President Roosevelt on Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point in Yosemite. I want to talk about the things unwritten but not necessarily unsaid between the two menâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;about agreements made that day that were informed by the commonly held beliefs of the time about others; the certainty and ease of camaraderie that often comes with power, privilege, recognition, and opportunity; and how the nature of this conversation might look and sound different if it took place FALL 2O19
CAROLYN FINNEY: THIS MOMENT
four years, the US Congress passed the first Clean Water Act. Wallace Stegner wrote the “Wilderness Letter” advocating federal protection of wilderness. Thirty-seven-year-old Medgar Evers, field secretary for Mississippi’s NAACP, was murdered outside his home in Jackson. And a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young African American girls with hands like mine who were attending Sunday school, reaching and dreaming. The Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act were passed in 1964. In 2008, 4,247,694 babies were born in the United States. I want to talk about the not-yet-borns: the chubby hands and dreams that will realize our future moments and ask us who they are on this land. The moment when they will ask about the 4,000 buffalo in Yellowstone and the slaying of millions of others before their time; the moment when they will ask about the trees in Chattahoochee National Forest and lynching; the moment when they ask about the mighty Mississippi and the body of Emmett Till. I want to talk about the moment they will ask us about that road, that bridge, that housing complex, that golf course, that parking lot that paved over our memories of land and inherent wildness that is their birthright. When I was born in 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series against the Chicago White Sox, Frank Sinatra won his first Grammy, Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, and the last vestiges of Jim Crow were about to be obliterated. Naturalist and conservationist George Schaller wrote a book about mountain gorillas in the Congo. And during the next
I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents lately. Now in their eighties, they sometimes seem like shadows of their former selves. I think about some of the challenges I had with them when I was younger—their rigidity, their tradition, their old way of doing things, their only way of doing things that was always the truth of what was right. Even if I didn’t think so (and I “didn’t think so” often). I remember the time I had to sleep with no lightbulbs in my room for a week because I came home late after a party and fell asleep with the lights on, or could only take hot showers for five minutes or my father would turn off the hot water, or couldn’t learn to play the guitar because that’s something only boys do. I remember my father not speaking to me for a year because I dropped out of college and though I tried to explain to him about my dreams of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, he could not hear me, or so I thought. The rules of engagement, in terms of how I lived my life, were already spelled out and I needed to play by those rules. What I saw was rigidity, limitation, and fear, and I did my best to distance myself as much as possible. But now, as I see them prepare to move beyond this life as they know it to the unknown, I suddenly see all those moments differently. I want to remember what was painful as much as what was wonderful. That their story and
my story of Who I Am is deeply rooted in all those experiences—that my fight comes from a well of “you better” and “you can’t” and “we said so” that challenged my edges and allowed me the chance to think differently about what was possible for me and the life that I live in. When I think about our collective past, of wilderness, of land, of sky, of brown, of black, of white, I often feel resistance from others to engaging those moments of past/present remembered—slavery, American Indian removal, Japanese internment, the treatment of Mexican immigrants. Those larger moments of “you better,” “you can’t,” and “we said so” that continue to have ramifications for millions of lives that started as brown chubby hands reaching and dreaming. But these moments are also who we are. And the land knows this. Our forests, our parks, our vistas, our beaches, our mountains. When we fight for the land, we fight for ourselves remembered. We fight for those selves not yet born, we fight for those 4,247,694 babies who may not know, who may not ask, who may not listen, and who may not understand the value of fighting for and loving the land as they see fit. It’s not about our rules and our ways and our means—these things will change as they should. Dreams need room to fly. Have you had that conversation where someone tells you that diversity is not as important as climate change? I’ve been reflecting on that a bit. Maybe they’re right. Diversity is not going to matter if we can’t grow food in the soil, or if species continue to die, or if glaciers continue to melt. What does diversity have to do with that? But then I remember that it takes all kinds of people working, dreaming, and fighting to make the possibilities real. I remember that in a few years half of this country is going to be people who are brown and they will be reaching and dreaming and fighting, remembering
the echoes of past “you better,” “you can’t,” and “we said so” and dreaming new ways of dreaming and reaching and fighting. This is about climate change. This is about land. This is about trees. This is about water. This is about fighting for who gets to set the terms and decide the “how” we get things done. It’s about those who give away all their wealth to environmental causes; those who walk across the country to raise environmental awareness; those who work for a little in order to get a lot. Those who create nonprofits and those who organize community meetings and those who turn whole streets into art. It’s about those who climb mountains and those who tell stories where Muir and Roosevelt once stood. It’s about those who continue to put their hands in the dirt so that we may eat. It’s about mothers and fathers and trips to the parks in the city and the country. It’s about 4,247,694 babies with chubby hands of all shades and shapes grasping grass and dirt and this moment. This moment is about fighting for the land and loving the land and dreaming the land into the future without the chains of limitations embedded in our systems that keep those different voices constrained, invisible, or silent. Because half of this country is going to be brown and they have an opportunity to work with the other half to fight for this land that feeds us, holds us, and tells us who we are. We talk about America the beautiful—the beautiful is the moment, again and again and again.
In 2008—say it with me—4,247,694 babies were born. And no matter the color of their hands, they will be reaching for grass, dirt, and dreams and we will need all their love and fight and possibility. On a flight from Chicago to Washington, DC, I stood in front of a woman carrying a seven-week-old baby with skin the color of the desert soil of the Southwest. I was uncertain of their ethnicity. But what is certain is that that baby was born in 2016 along with a few million other babies and they will inherit all the moments that have come before while reaching for the moments yet to come. President Obama did a series of interviews with the New Yorker magazine, and I’d like to end with his words: I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges, rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past. But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and the goodness of our forebears. And
What we can do in this moment is work to change the nature of the next moment. What we can do in this moment is to remember, learn, fight, stand, and expand who we are and who we might become.
we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have. But I think our decisions matter. At the end of the day, we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.
This is our paragraph, our moment. Let’s get it right.
CAROLYN FINNEY: THIS MOMENT
Kerill O’Neill In Conversation with Jamila Bargach
Jamila Bargach is the executive director of Dar Si Hmad, the NGO managing the largest functioning fog collection project in the world. This system fosters the independence of Amazigh people in Ait Baamrane, a Berber region in Morocco, by delivering potable water to their households.
Kerill O’Neill: Your career path has taken you from Ford Foundation Research Fellow to founder and director of a women’s shelter in Casablanca to professor of anthropology in Morocco, the United States, and Switzerland. How did you end up as executive director of an NGO, planning and implementing a fog-harvesting project in the mountains of southwest Morocco and running a hands-on environmental curriculum for rural schools in the region? Jamila Bargach: The life of any individual is a sum total of encounters, external events, opportunities, and choices one makes, which then shape the destinies we choose for ourselves. But these destinies are always evolving and changing, always in the making and not foreclosed once and for all. Old wisdom teaches us that searching for the means to “better oneself,” to “strive for higher attainment” (though such concepts are always culturally embedded), is an assured path not only to self-fulfillment but also for creating possibilities for communal cohesion and strength. I see my lived experiences fitting into this larger framework whose mental, emotional, and historical contexts have shaped the choices I have made. I continue to be profoundly outraged by any form of injustice, be it toward humans or other lives. Given the world that I experienced as a child, the immense influence of my mother’s family, the choices I made as a young person, and the fortunate encounters I had along the way during these formative years, I remain committed to equity, dignity, and justice. These values are the guiding principles in my life. Upon my return to Morocco from the United States after completing my Ph.D. in 2000, I joined the faculty of l’École Nationale d’Architecture (ENA Rabat), where, using my anthropology background, I taught future architects about space beyond its technical apprehension and use. Throughout my tenure at ENA and while doing various site visits throughout the country, I became extremely interested in questions of adequate housing for profoundly poor populations in the old cities of Rabat and my native Salé. While this work brought me closer to my anthropology training, I needed more grounding in human rights advocacy. I was fortunate to meet and work under the supervision and mentorship of Dr. Abdullahi An-Na’im, a renowned human rights activist and human rights law professor at Emory University.
My experience at Emory was the beginning of a maturation process that honed my feelings of outrage and anger, and it taught me how to channel them into action. Through this training, I learned mechanisms for truly affecting legal and social change. I also came to understand how lobbying networks operated, and the ways in which working with organized civil society (for example, community groups, NGO s, labor unions, indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and foundations) created positive impact. Girded with this deep belief in a just society and armed with this new knowledge, I worked with marginal and poor communities to better organize themselves and to improve their living conditions. At the same time, I was volunteering with a feminist activist organization in Casablanca, continuing the important work they had contributed to changing Moroccan family law. When this organization received funding to open a shelter for women suffering from domestic abuse, I volunteered on the spot to take this idea and turn it into a reality. So, in 2005, while still teaching at ENA , I embarked on a new adventure after having worked with members of the old medina community in Casablanca.
What was it like, creating, managing, and running the women’s shelter? KO:
It proved to be an amazing, though highly challenging, opportunity. Operating within a secular and human rights frame of reference pitted our organization against beliefs and practices of state representatives, and even at times of families and the women themselves, which engendered multiple conflicts and a perpetual state of tension at the shelter. Take, for example, the antiquated Moroccan penal code, which at the time (2005) had a clause penalizing anyone who provides assistance or shelter to a woman running away from her household. This law effectively targeted the explicit mission of the shelter. So we openly declared an act of civil disobedience. We acknowledged that we might be prosecuted for protecting the women, but we argued that this clause was unjust, oppressive, morally reprehensible, and legally flawed. From 2005 to 2010, when I resigned from my post, we hosted an average of 20 women with their children per month. Despite limited resources, we did what we could to give them adequate psychological care, legal counsel, and, especially, a safe environment. JB:
I decided to leave the shelter because a prior request to transfer to the southwest of Morocco was approved by the university. It was such a hard decision. Working on the ground to empower women, and witnessing the impact of the shelter’s support on so many of them, had been reward incarnated. Nevertheless, I was excited about the new prospects of working in southwest Morocco, a region I had known and visited repeatedly through family connections. Its stark beauty, complicated history, ethnographic diversity, and current state of non-development (for lack of a better term) fascinated me. I had finally found a place to call home, peaceful and strongly rooted. However, migration, poverty, water scarcity, and general environmental degradation have hit it hard. The raison d’être of Dar Si Hmad, the organization my partner and I co-founded, is to find sustainable ways to address all of these problems, giving us fertile ground in which to work.
KERILL O’NEILL: IN CONVERSATION WITH JAMILA BARGACH
Your organization focuses its efforts on improving the lives of Amazigh (Berber) communities of southwest Morocco. Can you tell us about these communities? KO:
The Amazigh people have a long history, tracing their origins back to North Africa and the Sahara. Imazighen (the plural form of Amazigh) form a culture and not a race, as many have claimed; the Amazigh population encompasses white and black skin, and every gradation in between. Their history goes back to pharaonic times, and they played a major role in the Punic Wars between Carthage (in modernday Tunisia) and Rome. Amazigh thinkers like Saint Augustine exerted a major influence on the early church. They were Christian, Jewish, pagan, and animist. Following the spread of Islam in the seventh century, they adopted this religion, and then spread it to Andalus and to sub-Saharan Africa through important Amazigh dynasties like the Almoravids (11th century) and the Almohads (mid-11th to mid-13th centuries) in what is now Morocco. JB:
Amazigh scholars, be they Muslims or Jews, like Averroes and the Toledo school, participated in the dissemination of classical knowledge (from India, Persia, and Greece) to what would become our modern world. But the Amazigh language and culture have fallen on hard times in the postcolonial nations where ideologies of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism have dominated the politics of nation building. In Egypt, only a very small population still speaks Berber. In Libya under Muammar Gaddafiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s regime, it was a crime to speak Berber. In both Algeria and Morocco, the valorization of Arabic as the language of the sacred and the dominant language has contributed to the marginalization of the Amazigh language. Despite the fact that Amazigh is today a national language in Morocco (since constitutional changes in 2011), it remains an endangered language, and activists continue their struggle in Algeria for the recognition of Amazigh language and culture. Today in Morocco, the mountainous regions are known as the Amazigh-speaking areas where the cultural traditions continue to have strong roots. The Anti-Atlas mountain range (where our organization works) is one of the regions that still speaks the language and is considered a bastion of Amazigh identity.
You are the Oak Fellow for Human Rights at Colby College for fall 2019. What is the link between access to water and human rights? KO:
Water is essential to life. This is a truism. But not everyone has access to it. Only about 1 percent of Earthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s water is freshwater available for human consumption, but overuse, poor management worldwide, lack of infrastructure, soaring demand, and climate change are key stressors that threaten this precious resource, making it increasingly inaccessible for the poorest social strata around the planet. In 2010 the United Nations General Assembly declared access to clean water (and sanitation) a human right. If we accept and recognize that human rights are built around values, interests, and dignity of human beings, be they present or future, we must then recognize that accessing safe drinking water, an absolute human need, is a right. When we consider how access to clean water is aligned with economic status and is often not available to poorer communities, the link between rights and water is obvious. This link is reinforced when we consider how water sources are privatized, that priority for water use is given to industries or businesses at the expense of marginalized communities, that norms of potability are not respected, and that inequality is indexed to water accessibility. JB:
In the mountains where our organization works, communities have dealt with water scarcity since time immemorial and have adapted their culture and life choices around it, but given the increasing frequency and intensity of droughts, community members are seriously concerned about increasing water scarcity and its impact on their livelihoods. Local government and the water agency have laid pipes to connect places close to the main roads, but for those inland, no such effort was deployed or even deemed worth deploying. For mountaindwelling women and men, this lack of connection to water is an injustice, as they suffer from compounded effects of drought, desiccated wells, and what they consider serious forms of state neglect and indifference to their plight.
You have argued that we exist in a post-humanist setting, where “human” is not and should not be the measure of all things. How do you reconcile that with the idea that we are now in the age of the Anthropocene, where human activity is a dominant force shaping planetary systems? Is this a sign that we are also living in what Amitav Ghosh calls “the great derangement”? KO:
Two major points stood out from my reading of Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016), one being how future generations will inhabit the world and make sense of its workings. That is, what we currently know of our environment and how it works will no longer be the lived and experienced reality for future generations, who will face an altered world. All that is familiar to us will have disappeared. Placing ourselves today in such prospective thinking, it seems that this future world is the uncanny personified, engendering feelings of anxiety and fear. JB:
The second point is Ghosh’s call for a “politics of sincerity” when referring to the charges that climate skeptics and climate activists allege against each other. This ethics of sincere solidarity should be our guide, our chart, and our destination. I believe we are just one species among the many species with whom we share the world. It is human domination and human-related activities that have led to the proposal of the Anthropocene as a new geological era, but we have to question and challenge the privilege and status we have conferred upon ourselves. From the untethered economic forces of late capitalism, to savage competition and hyper-consumerism, to the political and economic systems ruling our world today, action is needed to stop the massive destruction of the sixth mass extinction. FALL 2O19
Ghosh looks at how this altered, “deranged” world has found little or no representation in the world of fiction, due in part to an inability to address and reflect on its knot of complexities. I like to think, reason, and feel that the life that moves within the bee, the flower, and the tree is as important as that of my neighbor. I like to think, reason, and feel that all that is sentient, as proponents of deep ecology would have it, has the right to life. We are discovering today that trees “feel,” that the “intelligence” of animals is far more complex than previously theorized, and that even matter is “vibrant” and possesses “agency.” If we accept and abide by this politics of sincerity, these discoveries should make us question our domination. I believe that the underbelly of the Anthropocene is “nature” and the multiplicity of these other life forms without which the human is also doomed to his or her own destruction.
KERILL O’NEILL: IN CONVERSATION WITH JAMILA BARGACH
Your work on fog collecting and environmental education would appear to many as a marriage of engineering, anthropology, and humanitarianism, but you bring a poetic sensibility to it, embracing fog aesthetics and the importance of humanistic approaches to problem solving and living a meaningful life. To what extent do you rely on your academic training and intellectual life to sustain you in your work? KO:
Anthropology ushered me to consider the myriad ways humans have created and molded their CultureNature and the way CultureNature has in its turn molded humans. Ethnographies describe how groups, communities, and nations make sense of and inhabit their world, and how this very world also shapes their destinies. I find that reading ethnographies, and the list is long, widens the realm of possibilities and creates sensibility toward difference and similarities. Recently I’ve started reading more about new discoveries in the realm of physics, and I am privileged to have a mathematician as a partner, which helps me understand the much larger scientific and intellectual contexts in which these ethnographies evolve. Nurturing a sort of “positive curiosity” is my way of staying connected to new ideas and understanding sensibilities.
From Flint, Michigan, to rural Morocco, again and again we see massive inequities in access to clean water, and therefore pronounced inequities in the human rights enjoyed by disadvantaged communities. Do you see projects like yours as vehicles for social justice? KO:
Viewing the project through lenses of decreasing size allows me to see how it connects at each level with external elements. From a macroscopic point of view, the Boutmezguida fog project is a very small initiative, treating water scarcity with a local and seasonal solution. It is just one example among many innovative initiatives focused on fog, dew, rain catchments, systems of filtration and reuse. We serve 16 villages by harvesting fog water, and we use gravity to deliver it through 29 kilometers of piping, and this meets the water needs of 110 households and their livestock. A microscopic view permits me to focus on the internal organization with its total staff of 10 people. This initiative takes all of our collective energy and coordinated efforts: planning and searching for funds, establishing partnerships for research and development, doing maintenance work on the system, managing this new water regime, and dealing with administrative issues. All the unexpected imponderables of everyday life place a continuing responsibility on the shoulders of the staff. Symbolically the spirit and message of the initiative are very strong. In this age when everyone is searching for alternatives to large-scale resource management, our project illustrates that there are creative, low-tech, and locally relevant solutions to consider as inspirational models. JB:
As you have observed, fog harvesting has enabled community members to remain on their ancestral land instead of migrating to often harsh and demeaning urban environments. Do you think creating harmony between the social and the natural, and focusing on personal or small-scale solutions, offers a sustainable path for all of us? KO:
The success of our fog-harvesting CloudFisher projects, akin to other locally embedded initiatives, offers proof that smallscale and locally meaningful action is impactful and wise in its resource uses. For one, the global movement of goods on this planet has debilitating environmental effects. If we can imagine ways to produce and consume locally—as have homo sapiens for millennia—we will reduce our energy footprint. It is, of course, naive to think that at this time in history, environmental JB:
concerns will override economic interests; there still is too much resistance to changing the business-as-usual paradigm that shaped the history of the 20th century. There is, however, hope that we can adopt more environmentally friendly models, and the small-scale, locally embedded and managed, emerges as the most logical step. This is not to say that our realm of knowledge should be restricted to the local, but that our realm of action should be rooted in the local. Fog harvesting is a successful illustration in this regard; it not only has connected these Amazigh communities to a vital resource but has created the opportunity for them to remain on their land, and for some to return home from hard living conditions elsewhere, thereby creating a sustainable path to living harmoniously in this microcosm. The lesson learned for practitioners in the field of development is to act with and use local resources, to work with local communities who know perfectly well how to adapt to their environment, and to use modern knowledge as an added value and not as the final or definitive response.
As we hear ever-louder warnings of coming water shortages around the globe, fog harvesting seems like a potential solution for many communities. Do you worry that this will inevitably lead to the commodification and commercialization of fog water? KO:
Risk is inherent in any initiative, and fog collection is no exception in this sense. While the potential of over-exploitation of fog is there, fog is not an everyday phenomenon. I strongly believe that its ephemeral nature makes it an unappealing business venture. While we need more research and development that may allow for the systematic siphoning of all of the water molecules within fog, the state of the art in this field is still embryonic, considering the papers presented during the latest International Fog and Dew Association conference. What is more widespread is in fact just the passive system of wind pushing the fog through the nets. Design improvement has mostly been targeting the nets and the infrastructure. Even if someday a netâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s daily yield attains 50 liters per square meter (at this time the highest yield at our Boutmezguida site is 22 liters per square meter), climatologists still maintain that this will not hurt the other biotopes that use fog as their water source. So Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d like to revisit the idea of scale, and emphasize that to live in harmony in and with our world, our future responses to water scarcity must embrace small-scale solutions and embeddedness in place. JB:
KERILL Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;NEILL: IN CONVERSATION WITH JAMILA BARGACH
Bess Koffman Making the Unseen Seen Have you been to Antarctica? If you’ve been to the coast, where most visitors go, you’ll undoubtedly picture majestic peaks glinting in the sun, glaciers fracturing in slow-motion down to the midnight-blue sea. You’ll see white-capped waves lapping at Seussian icebergs, natural sculptures for those lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them before they disappear. You may think of penguins: tuxedoed Adélies with white rings around their eyes, leaping out of the surf or sliding along the snow on their bellies, pink-stained from krill-laced guano. Or maybe your mind’s eye sees a cluster of stately Emperors, with their golden feathers and imperial bills. They stand as a welcoming committee on the Ross Ice Shelf when you arrive at Pegasus Field en route to McMurdo Station. These are undeniably emblematic visions of Antarctica. Though I am fond of penguins, and love to feast my eyes on extinct Mount Discovery or smoking Mount Erebus, these images are not what I see when I think of the Antarctic “deep field.” Let me take you to the part of Antarctica that I know. If you’ve been there too, you’ll nod and smile knowingly. For only those who have experienced the deep field during austral summer—the flat, endless plains of snow on the plateau—will know what I mean by flat light. It’s what pilots call “flying in a bowl of milk.” Seeing without seeing. The whole world loses contrast, and you are lost between snow and sky. But let me step back for a moment. What brought me to Antarctica? The first time I visited the icy continent, I was working as a research technician at the Palmer Station Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. My first real job out of college had me venturing out twice a week into the Southern Ocean by Zodiac inflatable boat to collect water samples. I conducted experiments on microbes to learn about the role they play in the ocean’s carbon cycle. Though invisible to the naked eye, bacteria and other single-celled organisms are central to many ocean processes. Given Palmer Station’s location on Anvers Island, I reveled in the majestic peaks, sky-blue glaciers, surreal sculpted icebergs, and clamoring penguins. I loved every minute of it. Well, almost. The Southern Ocean gets its stormy reputation from the westerly winds that encircle Antarctica, blowing endlessly in a ring around the southernmost continent. Although I stayed relatively close to shore on my sampling missions, the relentless winds rarely failed to raise a swell. Ocean swells have a particular effect on my stomach. More than the rolling, pitching, or yawing motions one can experience at sea, it is the heaving motion—the slow up, down, up, down—that signals to my inner ear that all is not right with the world. In fact, all I could do was send the brass “messenger” down the cable to close my sample bottles before I sacrificed my breakfast to
Landscapes and icebergs near Palmer Station, Antarctica. Photos: Bess Koffman.
the hungry ocean. Must not contaminate the samples with my extra carbon. Hold it together. By the end of the field season in late January, I determined that my future in climate research would be based firmly on land. Fast-forward three years and I once again find myself in Antarctica. This time I am a graduate student, enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Maine. I am in Antarctica to help collect a deep ice core—thousands of meters long—to reconstruct past climate history. It turns out that ice cores, extracted from glaciers and ice sheets on terra firma, are easy on the stomach. Travel to the deep field takes one through McMurdo Station, the US Antarctic Program’s major hub and the largest research station on the continent. Once again I am enthralled by 14,000-foot peaks, gregarious penguins, and shimmering, icy seas. The occasional seal humps its way past the industrial buildingscape of McMurdo, sometimes described as “a liberal arts college in a gravel pit.” In the frenetic summer season of October through February, it’s a city that never sleeps. The two weeks we spend here are dedicated to safety trainings and science logistics while we await a weather window to fly by LC-130 Hercules aircraft to the middle of West Antarctica. FALL 2O19
BESS KOFFMAN: MAKING THE UNSEEN SEEN
The author and a colleague leaving Palmer Station, Antarctica, to collect water samples. Photo: Bess Koffman.
We learn skills like how to survive a night of exposure by digging a snow trench. One popular activity involves simulating a search for a lost comrade in whiteout blizzard conditions—by wearing buckets over our heads. Though we spend most of our time with logistics, McMurdo also allows us room to reflect on the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration. I scramble up Observation Hill, a lava dome used by early explorers to get a clear view to the South, their vaunted destination. I sign up for a guided tour of Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut, built in 1902. Only a short walk from McMurdo, this hut served as a storehouse and refuge for the British Antarctic expeditions led by Scott and by Ernest Shackleton, including the latter’s ill-fated Ross Sea Party. Old woolen coats and mitts remain on display, while cans of food add color to the shelves. Morton’s Kippered Herring. Huntley and Palmer’s Superior Reading Biscuits. Special Dog Biscuits Supplied By Spratts Patent Limited Navy Army and Expedition Biscuit Manufacturer, London. Fry’s Pure Concentrated Cocoa, Makers to His Majesty the King. A burlap bag of frozen, withered onions gapes open to the drifting snow. But this exploration is not to last: we are in McMurdo for science, and science must continue. Just as we begin to tire of the endless hubbub, the drab sheet-metal buildings, and the impersonal dining hall (though not the Frosty Boy soft-serve machine), it’s time for off-deck. In other words, we are flying to WAIS Divide. WAIS stands for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the smaller of Antarctica’s two longitudinal halves. The site was chosen because, like a watershed divide, glacial ice flows away in both directions. This means that while the ice layers at deeper depths are getting thinner and thinner over time, they exist in more or less the same place where the snow originally accumulated. For an ice core climate study, this constraint is important. It means that scientists can make apples-to-apples comparisons about the data collected from different layers of the ice sheet. The WAIS Divide project is a large collaborative effort undertaken by the United States ice core community, with more than 20 academic and government institutions involved in recovering and analyzing the new core. As a graduate student, I 18
am part of the core processing team. We are responsible for measuring and logging the core, then cutting it into one-meter lengths and packing it in insulated shipping containers for transport back to the United States. We carefully log each meter of the 3,405 meters drilled (11,171 feet, about the length of 30 American football fields). This entails measuring the top and bottom of each core, identifying any visible features, and labeling the ice with an orientation line and “up” arrows. It is critical that we always know which end of the ice is “up,” as this allows us to develop a continuous climate history from the ice core. We use a laser to measure depths precisely, and shine a bright light through the ice to look for features not obvious to the eye. Sometimes we find hairline fractures or cloudy bands that might signal past dust storms or volcanic eruptions. Over the course of six Antarctic field seasons, we drill and log over two miles of ice. I am lucky to participate in two of these seasons. Of course, we can’t drill two miles of ice all at once. It’s an iterative process: the drill travels down the borehole by means of a giant winch. When it reaches fresh ice at the bottom of the hole, the drillers engage the cutters and start to drill a new core. We typically recover about three meters at a time. Then the “core dogs” break the core, and the drill travels back up the hole, the winch making its wraps slowly, precisely, one at a time. When the 15-meter (49-foot) steel drill comes back out of the borehole, it rotates from vertical to horizontal. Then the drillers manually disconnect the core barrel from the rest of the drill and lift it using a gantry crane. They then push the ice out of the barrel into a tray on a carefully leveled table. As it passes out of the barrel, the core slides through the FED, or fluid extraction device: a 3D vacuum that sucks drilling fluid off the surface of the ice. Fluid with a density equivalent to ice is used to keep the borehole from collapsing during the six-year drilling campaign. All this work is done by dedicated engineers, specialists who spend their careers designing and building coring technologies. A few Antarctic veterans—scientists and others with specialized skills—also join the team. But once the core has been
The author measuring and cutting the WAIS ice core into one-meter-long sections. Photos: Chad Naughton/NSF ; and Gifford Wong.
BESS KOFFMAN: MAKING THE UNSEEN SEEN
pushed out onto the table, it leaves the engineers’ realm and enters the domain of the core handlers. We core handlers—a team of current (and future) graduate students and a few postdoctoral scientists—work on the “cold side” of the Arch. The cold side is kept at -30°C (-22°F), about 20°C colder than the ambient temperature, to reduce thermal stress on the ice. The ice is cold because it’s coming from deep within the ice sheet. We need to keep it cold so that it doesn’t crack and break. Fractures in the ice make it harder to melt and analyze, and also compromise sample cleanliness. What this means in practical terms is that we have three or four freezer units blowing frigid air on the cold side at all hours. Frost accumulates on surfaces and falls down as snow. To combat the cold, we wear insulated overalls, “bunny boots,” and red down-filled parkas fondly referred to as “Big Red.” Since we are wearing nearly identical outer layers, we learn to identify one another by our unique hats, many of them hand-knit. Mine is gray with a yellow snowflake pattern, knit densely of fine wool by my mother, with a double-thick band over the ears and fleece-lined flaps which tie under my chin. It’s like a Roman helmet made of wool. We have other tactics for keeping warm. In addition to the four squares a day served by the camp cooks, we snack frequently on high-calorie treats. We do jumping jacks to increase blood flow to the extremities. When all else fails, we head to the warming hut, where we change into spare gloves left warming by a heater. A second consequence of the freezer fans, beyond the cold, is the sound they make. It’s noisy in the Arch. In fact, verbal communication is challenging. We get tired of shouting over the fans as we use lasers to measure the length of each core in its tray. My core handling partner Gifford and I devise a system of sign language. One person slides the laser down its track while the other logs information into the computer and a backup paper logbook. The laser beam shines across the core and provides accurate and precise measurements. Giff aligns the laser with the top of the core and pats his head. I click the button for “core top.” Giff slaps his rear; I click “core bottom.” He notices a small chip at the base of the core and taps his shoulder (chip on the shoulder, get it?). This core also has “dog marks,” scratches where the core dogs have gouged the ice. Giff lifts his hand and pinches his middle and ring fingers to his thumb as if making a doggie shadow puppet. I tap the computer accordingly. Core handlers work in teams of two, with three shifts per day. Giff and I have the day shift this year, though next year I am put on night shift. Each shift has its perks. On day shift (shift one), we get to see more of our campmates: those not directly involved in the ice coring effort, who generally follow a typical workday schedule. This helps build a broader sense of community. Next year, I find the perk of night shift (shift three) to be the close sense of camaraderie that develops among us workers. With two drillers, two core handlers, our night cook, and a few random night owls, the night shift is the smallest group. It always feels a bit weird to be coming off work as everyone else rubs sleep from their eyes, though. And I never get used to eating pancakes for dinner. But this year, our schedule ebbs and flows with that of the majority of camp staff, and we make friends easily.
The core-handling side of the Arch facility. Photo: Chad Naughton/NSF .
Camp takes a 24-hour rest period each week, which equates to one shift off. This pause gives us valuable time to catch up on sleep, do laundry, shower, and relax with campmates. I enjoy playing cribbage and Scrabble, and also making music with my co-workers. One of the drillers works part-time as a barista back home. On Sunday mornings he puts on his Starbucks apron and serves specialty coffee, teaching us the nuances of roast and grind. Off-hours are also devoted to exercise. I buy my first pair of skate-skis and learn how to skate on the â&#x20AC;&#x153;skiway,â&#x20AC;? which is groomed for planes equipped with skis. Despite its broad, flat expanse, I find many ways to succumb to gravity. Through time, I gain balance and coordination. Over 10 years later, skate-skiing remains a near-daily part of my life in winter. The WAIS Divide camp is quite an operation. There are about 40 people in camp: mechanics, heavy-equipment operators, cooks, managers, drillers, scientists, a weather observer, and a medic. Cargo comes in regularly, some of it for us, some for other deep-field research that launches from our camp. A team of glaciologists flies in and drives off toward the coast in tracked vehicles. They are studying the stability of this ice sheet that we temporarily call home. The WAIS contains a massive amount
BESS KOFFMAN: MAKING THE UNSEEN SEEN
of ice. Imagine a region with the combined area of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico covered with ice two miles thick. Although the smaller “half” of Antarctica, it gets the most attention, and for good reason. Unlike most of its sibling to the east, the WAIS sits on bedrock that is below sea level and slopes downward as you go inland. This makes it inherently unstable, as ice likes to float. As the relatively warm ocean water laps at the edge of the ice sheet, little by little the ice erodes. There are also signs that ice loss is speeding up. People are worried about the WAIS because it contains about 5 m (16 feet) of sea-level equivalent, enough to drown many coastal cities. Here at the WAIS Divide field camp, the ice at the bed is 1700 m (5600 feet) below sea level. When we drill past this depth, we celebrate with a beach party. My friend Dave, a driller, brings inflatable palm trees and grass skirts from home. Given the intense pace of our short field season, we appreciate a chance to relax and to celebrate our accomplishments. Aside from these punctuating events, though, camp life remains focused on keeping the drill going. The drillers send down the drill, cut three meters of ice, bring it back up. Empty the barrel, clean out the chips, send the drill back down. We measure, log, record, cut the core into one-meter lengths using a chop saw, and package it up for shipping. As we fill insulated shipping containers with ice, we palletize them. Eventually four wooden pallets—like the ones you might see when a supermarket restocks its shelves—will go together onto a larger Air Force pallet, where the core boxes are draped in a custom-made insulated blanket for their trip back to McMurdo, and eventually the United States. As we get deeper and deeper into the ice sheet, the drill’s round-trip travel time becomes increasingly longer. This eases the burden on the core handlers just a bit. Things aren’t quite as hectic in our noisy freezer. But we continue to log and measure, sliding the laser on its track and tapping our heads and rears as the situation demands. Time is a funny thing in the land of 24-hour sunlight. Although Giff and I work the “day shift,” our schedule is aligned not with the sun’s movement through the sky but with the clocks in McMurdo, which are set to those in Christchurch, New Zealand (our travel hub between the United States and Antarctica). Because Christchurch is roughly 75° of longitude away from us, the sun is actually rather low on the southern horizon when we awake, and the air is cold. I dress in my sleeping bag inside my 7 by 7 foot Arctic Oven tent, then tromp out into the snow. First I dump out my pee bottles (two dedicated, liter-sized Nalgenes) at the established pee flag, appreciating the aesthetics of large hoar crystals that form from the warm moisture. The liquid flows down a little moulin and disappears into the snow. The snow underfoot is unlike any I’ve experienced elsewhere. It’s dense, made of small grains packed by wind. It squeaks underfoot as if I were walking on Styrofoam. The colder it is, the more it squeaks. Today, winds are calm, and the flags that mark the route from Tent City to the galley tent—erected in case of poor visibility—are limp. The sun hangs about 20° above the horizon, following its slow spiraling path around the sky. Here, above the Antarctic Circle, the world experiences one long day and one long night each year. I squeakily trudge to the galley and meet up with Giff for breakfast.
Another â&#x20AC;&#x153;day,â&#x20AC;? another eight-plus hours of logging core. We head to the warming hut to pull on our Carhartt overalls, Big Red parkas, and warm hats, then enter the Arch, greeting the night-shift drillers and core handlers as we relieve them of their duties. Giff and I fall into an easy rhythm: sliding the laser along its track, entering data, jumping jacks to warm up, lunch in the galley, cutting and packing core, loading boxes onto wooden pallets, logging more core, swinging our arms to send blood into our fingers. This is the unglamorous part of fieldwork in Antarctica. Giff and I end our shift and emerge from the Drilling Arch to find that flat light has descended on WAIS Divide. Clouds have blown in. The light is now diffuse, the world gray. Snow melts into sky. Though we can see the tents, flags, and cargo lines that define the camp, we feel disoriented. As we walk the quarter-mile from the Arch back to the galley for dinner, Giff and I trip over small snowdrifts, our eyes unable to distinguish hill from valley. We could fall into a hole without ever seeing it. I realize that this whole endeavor, our six-year field campaign to recover over two miles of ice, is like stumbling along in flat light. Each implacable meter of translucent gray ice is a step into the unknown. Though we log the occasional cloudy layer or black band of volcanic ash, the ice is essentially featureless. Unlike with trees and their growth rings, nothing tells us where one year ends and another begins. We cannot yet see the incredibly detailed climate history contained within the ice. The hills and valleys that define what will become the gold standard of Antarctic ice core records are still invisible. Not until the cores are sliced into many pieces, distributed among the diverse labs that will analyze them, and then melted and analyzed in excruciating detail by a small army of graduate students and technicians will the flat light fade away and the contrasts emerge. It will take many more years of work before the core reveals its secrets. Only then will we be able to make the unseen seen. The fieldwork is only the first step.
WAIS Divide camp. Photo: Kristina (Dahnert) Slawny.
BESS KOFFMAN: MAKING THE UNSEEN SEEN
Kristin George Bagdanov Atomic Shade Uncene Chain Reaction
ATOMIC SHADE (A few vague human silhouettes were found . . . a painter on a ladder was monumentalized in a kind of bas-relief on the stone façade of a bank building on which he was at work, in the act of dipping his brush into his paint can . . .) —John Hersey, “Hiroshima” (1946)
Light inverted through lens makes known a fate. Logic of sight vs. sigh: breath opens into atmosphere whereas vision structures mouths as targets, coordinates how many bodies of one population equal another and how much light it takes to unmake a face, to pin its shadow against the wall against which a whole body once leaned perhaps pausing to light a cigarette or greet a friend perhaps shielding eyes from the early morning glare. *
To minimize outrage, radiation can be measured according to the Banana Equivalent Dose (BED), which renders everything in terms of potassium, a radioactive isotope living inside America’s favorite fruit. Fukushima fallout in this case = 6.48 trillion bananas which, according to thebananapolice.com, would take the world sixty-five years to consume. BED does not specify whether the fruit is matured inside a cloud of chlorpyrifos that condenses into rain in a plastic cocoon (inside which the bunch ripens skyward like a hand grasping for god that finds instead something more eternal and disposable the contradiction of want more a gesture than condition) though it likely assumes an organic baseline given the tendency of neurotoxins to disrupt equivalence a phenomenon that has been proven on the cerebral cortexes of children living near plantations, whose parents apply the chemicals by hand and perceive risk according to the degree to which they are compelled toward living to work to live. When surveyed, mothers and fathers varied in their practices surrounding pesticides and children. Such as: whether to call them home before aerial sprays commenced as even within the house within the womb studies have shown seepage is likely seeds dormant until puberty, when the body wants to emerge from itself into someone else shed the habit of caution that keeps the pulse steady and breathing unerratic, to cultivate its symptoms of longing instead of a condition proven by rats to be irreversible despite the brain’s capacity for forgiveness, for smudging the dark matter of memory illegible as the future read through one species underwrites the death of another. *
The measure is not whether skin is peeled in strips or vaporized in silence. Whether what ripens in darkness can be managed. The measure is not calculated by whether tomorrow is today’s counterweight, equilibrium a vestige of geocentric models. The measure is what compels hands to stack in ship or bus or plane this cargo to be carried around a world around which celestial spheres once circled with a cause for every motion meaning a certain alignment of heavenly bodies that held the secret future of light, the angle at which it would one day strike to make of bodies shadows without shade, flash inverting flesh into a mask without a face.
UNCENE In the uncene, everything that will have been is already given. Incl. frontier fantasies, fetishes and the religions that mastered them. Incl. zones of exclusion and the institutions who loved them. Incl. the pretense of inclusion and the potential for un earthing a stratigraphic form ula for history and its accidents. (There will have been only depth left. No surface to speak with or against which to gauge the injection well’s slurry.)
CHAIN REACTION A chain can wind & unbind, burn & make. Energy can come as warmth or warning, half-lives becoming more or less like their origin like something green made red behind the lids that want to open in spite of. What use, this love, my tendril nerve that opens by will not instinct. Some prosthetic longing made for a world of edges. Some desire for shape and circumference after all that fire. Memory of mineral residue from a world rendered utterly. My eye’s emotion no longer deposits its crust, salt lick I once offered in the dew damp grass to some doe who tongued every tender place in the dark pine morning.
There will have been fissures and fractures, ghosts gumming sarcophagi with a tenderness already unknown. There will have been neither post nor un dulating sympathies to mask the dead who were already never seen, no space left to hold something like an eye which would have been filled by what will have covered every thing, incl. the wings of creatures of air and the surface of the sea. Incl. redemption stories and the new worlds they suggested, casually, as we once did, as we will have done again and again as if we hadn’t already seen what we would make of them.
KRISTIN GEORGE BAGDANOV
Meghan Hurley The Dance
he can see a line where the clouds end and slanted bars of light, visible as they tear through the sky, form a cage between him and the island. It’s as if he’s looking at a painting, or through a window to an unreachable side of the world. Figures standing halfway up a mountain are throwing spiderwebs into the ocean, letting them drag in the water, where they somehow don’t break off but just gently drift on the surface like resting wings. Smoke rises from the peak of the mountain, and Kevin almost starts paddling backward, thinking a volcano is preparing to erupt. *** The rhythmic near-silence of the ocean is broKevin launches his wooden canoe from under the ken by intermittent splashes from the mountain. He has the sensation that he’s watching himself floor of his house. It’s set way back against the and the island while sitting on one of the few wall, between the stone stilts that hold the front half of the house above the ocean. He keeps it safe clouds in the sky. He feels uncomfortably weightless, like his canoe is spinning in the air, higher here, hoping it won’t wash away when the tide and higher, carrying him away. comes in. Kevin looks at the water to orient himself, “Good morning, great day for fishing!” sings his neighbor Eric from an upstairs window. Eric’s then stares at the dark lump. He starts to decipher a deck railing. The mountain takes form as energy is a wave, bursting through his voice as a boat, with nets dragging instead of spiderwebs, it rises and falls with each syllable. “You better smoke fueling its heavy motion over the lightness go quickly! Good luck!” A cyclone is coming, of water. He paddles closer, over the edge of the but Kevin wants to fish this morning before the reef and toward water that is vibrating faster and weather traps him inside for the day. faster, like adrenaline building in the sea. As he Looking out on the ocean now, it’s hard to approaches the ship, Kevin sees the flag. The ship believe that a storm will soon drop knives on his belongs to a country thousands of miles away. He metal roof. He paddles his canoe out to a fishing knows it’s illegal for foreign vessels to fish in these spot, a 15-minute ride if he goes fast enough, waters, where the fish already balance between then drops the paddles and sits completely still. endangerment and extinction. He moves toward He waits for the ripples to settle, anticipates the the ship as if pulled by a fishing line. He has to see distinctive sound. the robbery up close. Kevin studies the nets as they slowly sink into Pick-pick-pick-pick-pick... the water, with small holes that can catch even the youngest fish. He tries to measure the holes He hears the breath of coral, released from the with his eyes, knowing they must be under the reef as a stream of effervescence that chimes three-centimeter legal limit, but they start to as it pops the barrier between water and air. To blur under the rippling surface of the sea. Kevin, this is the reef talking, telling him he’s Then he is in motion again, his canoe slowly in the right place, where the fish are. He paddles drifting in circles, the front moving rapidly while a bit farther out. The water is so clear it’s like the back remains still. He coasts over black water. he’s floating, like at any minute he may plummet He feels like he’s floating again, but this time onto the coral below. The underwater city because he’s surrounded on all sides by a churning is busy and vast and Kevin can’t open his eyes darkness. He looks at the sky, also darkened and wide enough to see it all. So he closes his eyes getting darker. Smoke from the ship stains the and watches with his ears. clouds, facing off against the storm. Distracted by the otherworldly ship, Kevin pick-pick-pick-SPLASH forgets to turn home before the start of the cyclone. He tries to continue paddling straight Kevin lurches forward and his eyes open autoahead, where he knows he can eventually find matically, precariously rocking the canoe. land. But the air is turning and the water is turnIn the distance, he sees the source of the splash. ing, and he can’t tell if he is in motion or steady A dark mass rises from the sea, a growing island in the midst of it. If he paddles straight ahead, he in motion toward him. It’s shaded by clouds, and
Waves crash below his feet, the wind dusts his skin with salt. But he stays dry, sitting directly above the ocean as the tide comes in. He thinks about where he’ll be in fifteen, ten, even five years, when the tides start to climb higher. There is a mangrove forest growing out of the side of the island. Mangrove tree roots step into the water, like thin legs ankle-deep—a group of human legs dancing as the water rises around them.
of salt water spray into the gray air, splashing the monochrome seascape and announcing its liveliness. As he watches, something dark and pigmented begins to take form out of the gray. It’s the fishing boat. Kevin looks around at the attentive crew, waiting for one of them to see it. They will notice that it is a foreign vessel, encroaching illegally here and emptying Kevin’s home of fish. For a moment Kevin is grateful for the cyclone. Nature exposed the thieves. They approach the foreign boat, and there is no longer any doubt that it’s a smoke-spouting vessel and not an island. But the crew doesn’t move. The foreign ship is jostled by waves but otherwise unharmed. The crew members on board don’t appear wet at all now. The rescue boat is barely 20 meters away from the other THUD! ship. Kevin’s lungs are filling with its smoke, his The trance is broken. His eyes open automat- nostrils clogged with the scent of fish out of water. ically. It’s a boat. A big boat with a motor. The flag But still, the crew stares at the boat through their for an international diplomatic organization flies binoculars, motionless as if still staring at the perpetual fog. from a thin metal post at the center of the ship, “Excuse me, ma’am?” Kevin taps the arm of folding and straightening frantically with the the woman standing closest to him. “I know you wind. A crew of six move on deck, wearing blue plastic raincoats crumpled under orange life jack- have a lot to worry about right now, but that ship ets. They are looking through binoculars into the there? It’s been fishing illegally off the shore of mist. Their hair is wet, and flattened onto each of our island. It doesn’t follow the laws we have to their foreheads in a unique pattern that looks like follow, and it has equipment that helps it catch all of our fish.” the erratic motion of the wind. They each wear “What ship?” heavy brown boots and a tight-fitting hat with an “Right there! Straight ahead!” orange and red patch sewn onto it, the distinctive “I don’t see anything but clouds and water. uniform of the well-funded organization. Gray as far as the eye can see.” “Hey! HEY! Down here!” Kevin yells. Kevin looks closer. He is sure he sees the ship. The crew member closest to him, whose It’s so close, and the spiderwebs have distinctly hair is slicked back except for a short strand become nets dragging deep and far beyond it, stuck to his forehead in an almost perfect spiral, gathering fish and anything else in their path. looks down at Kevin through his binoculars. He Kevin’s heart starts beating faster, his chest feels flinches, the movement causing his spiral of hair heavier as his frustration builds. to unravel. He drops the binoculars and sends a “Look! It’s right there! You have to stop rope ladder down to Kevin, who grabs it with sore, them!” Kevin’s vision blurs, the turbulence in his splintered hands and climbs aboard the boat. chest rising and spilling out of his eyes. Immediately someone wraps him in a blanket. No one turns to look at Kevin, but the crew One crew member, this one with hair stuck flat to starts to move. Their eyes never leave their binhis forehead in vertical, parallel strands, slides oculars and their binoculars never stop staring over a wooden crate for him to sit on. “Welcome aboard. We’ll be bringing you back straight ahead. But their legs move, robotically, as they shift positions. Each crew member passes to shore and safety after roughly one more hour in front of the foreign ship in turn, watching so of searching. Make yourself comfortable.” closely it seems like they have to have seen it. But It’s a practiced routine. The crew return to they are expressionless and silent. One leg crosses their evenly spaced positions along the deck, in front of the other, slightly bent, the upper standing sternly with binoculars ready. As the bodies completely still. It’s like a dance—a whole boat moves incrementally, jolting forward with group of stiff human legs dancing as the angry sea the waves and then floating back on another is emptied to lifelessness around them. swell, Kevin watches the mist. White specks will either hit land or get lost in the gray mass. He grips the sides of his canoe, hard enough to splinter his hands on the wood, and leans back and listens like he’s listening to a coral reef breathing. Amid the sound of wind and rain hitting a moving ocean, Kevin hears air curving around something solid, waves hitting an object larger and sturdier than his canoe. Without opening his eyes, he unlocks his arms from the sides of the canoe and paddles toward the strange wind. Keeping the canoe upright requires him to balance himself, to move opposite the waves. With his eyes closed, he hears everything. The nothingness behind his eyelids is taken over by sound, the darkness filled with spinning fog. He can hear with his ears, his eyes, his hands.
MEGHAN HURLEY: THE DANCE
Timothy Hoellein, Mary Ellis Gibson, and Denise Bruesewitz
On Salt Creek: Flows of Rivers and Peoples The Thalweg Salt Creek is just west of Chicago. Like many urban streams in the upper Midwest, it is situated on a flat landscape, with slow-moving water, a sandy streambed, and incised banks. Many urban streams in this region have well-preserved streamside vegetation that grows in areas set aside for parkland. This designation serves the practical purpose of much-needed flood protection in a place with low relief and plenty of rain. Recreation and natural areas around the stream are a benefit to the community but can also exacerbate littering and illegal dumping—both of which are apparent at Salt Creek. This image (fig. 1) combines the geologic and the astronomical. The horizontal layers on the canvas allude to geologic strata, representing the long-term deposition of natural material and litter within Earth’s sedimentary record. The intricate rusting of the barrel lid and bowl communicates the slow disintegration of litter in the environment as these decomposing objects are incorporated into sediment layers. They also convey an appearance of weathered planetary or moonlike surfaces. Additional spheres in the horizontal stripes are “echoes” of past litter that have disintegrated away, though their imprints in the geological record are permanent. I like that these additional spheres suggest a dynamic interplanetary system. The composite image is meant to reinforce the sense of longevity of litter impact in Earth’s geological record. The associated graph (fig. 2) is a summary of all the types of litter we encountered at Salt Creek, where the barrel lid and bowl were found.
Figure 1: Timothy Hoellein, Salt Creek 1, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, with attached low-relief metal and wire sculpture. 48 x 48 in. Courtesy the artist.
Figure 2: Categorization of anthropogenic litter found in Salt Creek at 26th Street Woods in Chicago, Illinois. The multicolored pie shows the distribution of litter types, and the smaller, surrounding pies of the corresponding color break down those categories even further. Plastic, mostly fast-food containers and plastic bags, dominates the litter found in Salt Creek. Timothy Hoellein, Salt Creek 1, 2016. Ink on wood. 8 x 8 in. Courtesy the artist.
I am an aquatic ecologist studying water pollution in streams and rivers. I became an artist by accident. For the past 10 years the focus of my research has been “trash”—I am interested in measuring the sources, movement, and biological interactions of litter in rivers in Chicago and other urban areas. “Anthropogenic litter,” the term we use to describe trash in the environment, represents a diverse array of items made up of plastic, metal, rubber, and textiles. Litter comes in many sizes, from large pipes and shopping carts down to microscopic plastics. The research projects that my students and I have conducted have involved many measurements of anthropogenic litter in rivers. As a byproduct of this scientific research, my lab periodically fills up with piles of trash collected during our studies. After our first set of projects, I was fascinated by the appearance of some of the litter items—they seemed to tell a story. I reached out to a few acquaintances in the art department at my university to ask whether they or their students would be interested in repurposing our trash to create artwork. No one took me up on this offer, so I myself felt compelled to craft artistic expressions from our trash. My work as an artist has become a complementary extension of my scientific research.
I use the litter collected from our research projects to convey many of the same conclusions as our scientific papers. Making art also frees me to see new and unexpected connections in my research. I hope this combination of art and science will expand the audience for the topic and carry these ideas into diverse media: Depending on where it ends up, trash made of plastic, metal, and other types of material can persist in the environment for hundreds of years or longer. Anthropogenic litter is one component of the permanent human imprint on the geologic record, part of the emerging concept of the Anthropocene, the epoch in which human activity defines the very nature of the planet. To communicate an idea of litter’s longevity in our waterways and elsewhere, I wire particular bits of litter onto the frames of canvases where I have painted abstractions of geologic strata, or of satellite images taken of natural landscapes. My goal is to convey the persistence of litter as it becomes part of the ecosystems where it falls. I like to imagine this combination as among the archaeological discoveries made by future generations or other civilizations. As they find, date, and attempt to explain the geologically rapid increase in litter at this point in Earth’s sedimentary record, what will they conclude about our culture’s values and our relationship to the natural world?
I pair many pieces with a graph that displays data we generated from the litter in the artwork; the titles indicate where the material was found. It is important to me that the graph shows that the litter items are also data and have contributed to a systematic, scientific assessment. Graphs represent a fundamental tool of scientists, who in creating them make artistic choices in their presentation of data, in a way distinct from but akin to how an artist works on a canvas. Therefore, scientists are innately equipped with an artistic “toolkit” for communicating results. Scientists often describe graphs that are especially effective at conveying complex ideas as “elegant,” an artful term that illustrates how communication is a common goal of science and art alike. 2. GRAPHIC DATA / GRAPHIC ART.
The rusting, twisting, and fragmentation of litter in the environment generates compelling shapes that are a product of human and natural forces. The dynamic nature of the surfaces can easily be overlooked when the litter is in the environment. By placing the litter within a new context on a canvas, viewers are able to carefully examine the beauty of its decay. The cracks, algae, and rust bring it alive and speak to its continuous, incremental disintegration. In fact, we conduct studies to measure the microbial life on trash—the mixture of bacteria, algae, and fungal organisms that colonize litter is unique compared to natural surfaces such as rocks and leaves. This means some novel microbial communities grow on litter in comparison to other natural surfaces, some of which contribute to its breakdown into smaller pieces. 3. TRANSFORMATION.
The distinguished stream ecologist Dr. Judith Meyer has stated that in the past, rivers were the foundation for the location, growth, and health of cities. They “served as the arteries of the continent.” She goes on: “today they are used instead as kidneys—processing and purifying the wastes of an industrialized society.” The accumulation of trash in our rivers is a symptom of this fundamental conflict. Clean freshwater is a universal imperative for human health, so why do humans across the world dump trash into rivers? In doing so we defer dealing with our litter and assign this task to those downstream and to later generations. I hope to convey the irrational behavior of humans toward our fundamental need for clean water, and to speak to our ethical responsibility to the others who will have to clean up our mess.
4. RIVERS: ARTERIES OR KIDNEYS?
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN, MARY ELLIS GIBSON, AND DENISE BRUESEWITZ ON SALT CREEK: FLOWS OF RIVERS AND PEOPLES
Tributary Dear Tim, Your work and this conversation have driven me back further and further to basic questions. What is a river? What are data? What is the power of metaphor? How does our thinking about rivers, about the daily and geological work of Earth’s processes, necessarily happen through conceptual metaphors, metaphors that create the conditions of thought and therefore the conditions of both scientific investigation and art? As a person who studies literature, specifically 18th- and 19th-century literature and empire, I find that entering this conversation has led me—surprisingly—back to my own historical period. For me your work as a scientist and an artist has important epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic claims. First, it has implications for the ways we think of rivers as living beings/ systems. The very word “system” seems to stand in the way of a river being understood as a “being.” As you note, people find it difficult to give ecological “systems” the respect granted to the idea of a being. But why not take rivers or ecological systems as beings? Many cultural and religious traditions ascribe forms of being to rivers. Rivers have recently been given legal—that is, juridical—personhood. The Ganges and the Yamuna in India and the Whanganui in New Zealand are all now legally persons. The people of Toledo, Ohio, in the wake of a toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie—their source of drinking water—have voted by a two-to-one margin that the lake (like human beings) has a legal right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” My musing about rivers as beings and legal persons led you to reply that for you, “every place in nature is sacred. The difference is in the degree to which they have been defiled. My inclination is to serve those places. I know their current state is temporary because sacredness is inherent and restoration inevitable. This is the foundation of my work.” So the littered streambank in Chicago and the pristine or nearly pristine riverbank in a national park are for you equally valuable, equally important. And these places or systems are sacred, or, as a philosopher might say, valuable as ends in themselves. This orientation toward the living world around us, using “living” in its broadest sense, has political implications as well. If we think of systems as beings, we can join a venerable tradition of activism dating back to the 18th-century movement for the abolition of slavery. In the 18th century opponents of slavery argued that enslaved people, like other humans, were beings in the fullest sense of that word—and therefore were understood as having either the same human rights as other human beings or the same souls as other humans or both. In each case, juridical right or religious obligation meant that an enslaved person must be treated as a legally and ethically valued being and that the condition of slavery was inhuman, inhumane, and not legally binding.
Similarly, if rivers are beings, then killing them—by slow chemical death and other forms of human-devised destruction—is immoral and illegal. And it is no accident that the descendants of enslaved people and indigenous peoples often must live beside and within the floodplains of the most polluted of rivers. The abolition of slavery, the opposition to the genocide of indigenous peoples, and the protection of rivers—we should think these forms of care in the same thought. We can even go so far as to say that many governments and corporations and individuals are trading in the lives of natural systems—the lives of the other beings of our planet— with the same moral abandon that they do and did trade in the lives of other humans. I’d like to hope that this way of thinking about rivers—rivers as beings—isn’t metaphorical or anthropomorphic. Using anthropomorphic language to make natural beings into humans doesn’t effectively decenter the human or call humans to account for their actions. Rivers have for years been described anthropomorphically—if we speak of them as arteries, surely we’re thinking of human arteries and, implicitly, of trade as the lifeblood of societies. You’ve pointed to Judith Meyer’s more recent discussion of rivers as kidneys, with the potential for purifying the detritus and pollutants of the planet. I like this metaphor quite a lot. If we think, though, of what the linguist George Lakoff would call the metaphor’s entailments (the ideas a metaphor brings along with it), the implications are a little scary. If rivers are the kidneys of the continent’s body, then the continent—like an old alcoholic—might be depending upon fragile kidneys to repair a history of abuse. And the metaphor is highly ironic in a culture where diabetes and kidney disease have reached epidemic proportions. How can we expect humans to respect the continent’s body more than their own? But if we resist the anthropomorphic metaphors for rivers, we can grant to rivers through our imaginations what they already have—their own being and their own value. One of the greatest 20th-century books about rivers, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, concludes with the poignant sentence: “I am haunted by waters.” If we think anthropomorphically about rivers—as arteries of the slave trade or as the kidneys of our failing economic/agricultural system—and if we then rethink, allowing the river to have its own being, we might have to admit that it is we who have transformed rivers into haunted places. When we deny the value of rivers or of other humans, we create the violence that begets haunting. As the Waterkeepers of Standing Rock have so forcefully made clear, it is humans who have an obligation to rivers, not rivers to us. With all best wishes, Mary Ellis
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN, MARY ELLIS GIBSON, AND DENISE BRUESEWITZ ON SALT CREEK: FLOWS OF RIVERS AND PEOPLES
The Hyporheic Rivers collate information about humans. They are powerful forces, capable of shaping landscapes and shrugging off constraints like dams and armored banks in times of flood. But they can also shape our thinking, our art, and our histories. In our consideration of rivers here, it is also important to recognize a quiet power that rivers possessâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the power rivers give us to reflect on ourselves and our communities. We can capture chemical signals in river water that tell us what we eat and what drugs we take, what we use and discard, or what lengths we will go to for manicured lawns. Such knowledge expands our connection to rivers; as they collect information about our lives, they also connect us to our creative selves. The signatures of humans in river water can be sensitive enough to reflect what people do in different cities or on different days of the week. Day-to-day signals from Kenting, Taiwan, show a cocktail of caffeine, ecstasy, and ketamine entering the local river alongside a steady input of Tylenol during Spring Scream, a pop music festival. We can find the unique isotopic signal of human-made nitrogen carried on the wind to remote alpine lakes. We encounter here the concept of rivers (and lakes) as sentinels and integrators of change first shared by Craig Williamson, with the idea that waters that fall on our parking lots and lawns, that flow through cornfields or sewers, pick up the signature of that place and eventually find their way to a river, lake, or coastal system where they slow down and pool. In these waters, we can collect a snapshot of what is happening on land. In the realm of science, we can also use this framework to understand other human impacts, like
rising water temperatures or the presence of DNA snippets from spreading invasive species. If we turn this back around to think about our personal and societal connections to rivers, these signals might tell us things that sadden us or (and) point to inequalities. Rivers carry burdens of industry and agriculture on the land that surrounds them. They carry a sense of place that does not hide undercurrents. Like Tim, I am an aquatic ecologist who dedicates a lot of time to measuring how humans change the way that rivers work. Years ago, as a graduate student, I received the advice that our work as scientists is to ask questions, collect data, and try to answer our questions dispassionately—in other words, we should not appear to be interested in the fate of these ecosystems (or beings), we should not be overly concerned lest our science be seen as biased. In the intervening years, we have seen a wave of disbelief in science, a willingness and a desire to disregard data as we make decisions that impact our environment. These issues are messy for scientists, and I think we all have to find our own answers about how we ought to engage in such messiness, beyond reporting our data. There is something really powerful about a scientist engaging in creative expression. Such an endeavor is genuine and human, and it can help connect people to their rivers. Rivers quietly compile information about who we are and transmit that signal back to us. If we move beyond quantitative data and embark on an investigation of river flows—encompassing the ecological system, the human, the historical, the political—we can combine all these ways of knowing a river and so be better stewards of both our communities and our ecosystems. —Denise Bruesewitz
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN, MARY ELLIS GIBSON, AND DENISE BRUESEWITZ ON SALT CREEK: FLOWS OF RIVERS AND PEOPLES
Diana Tuite In Conversation with Kathleen Mundell and Jennifer Neptune
Installation view, Wíwənikan...the beauty we carry, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME, 2019. Photo: Luc Demers.
Wabanaki territories are defined by bodies of water: the Bay of Fundy and the water and islands of the Atlantic on our eastern shores; the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the north; the St. Lawrence River to the west. Within these watery boundaries lies an interconnected web of rivers and streams that define tribal territories within the larger Wabanaki homeland. —Jennifer Neptune, Wíwənikan...the beauty we carry, 2019
Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry is an exhibition of contemporary art of the First Nations people of what is now Maine and Maritime Canada. The Maliseet, Mi’kmaq (Micmac), Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki are known collectively as the Wabanaki (People of the Dawn). This exhibition is on view at the Colby College Museum of Art through January 12, 2020. The exhibition’s co-curators, Kathleen Mundell and Jennifer Neptune, sat down to discuss it with Diana Tuite, Katz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and internal curatorial advisor for the show, on August 13, 2019. The following exchange has been edited and condensed.
DIANA TUITE: Wíwənikan, the Penobscot
word for “portage,” was central to the organization of the exhibition. As you have eloquently expressed, it describes certain negotiations during canoe navigation, but also, metaphorically, responses to incursions made by settler colonialist regimes, which continue to this day. Taking the term literally, could you elaborate on the physical and visceral experience? How are choices discussed or made, and how is knowledge of the waterways communicated, logged, or transferred within communities?
JENNIFER NEPTUNE: Literally, wíwənikan
means to circle and also to lift up, which is what you do when you portage: you pull off the river. There’s a spot on the water that you can’t safely get through, so you plan to go around: you unload your canoe and decide who’s strong enough to carry it. Who can balance that weight on their shoulders? Sometimes one person can. Sometimes it takes two people. The canoe is usually too heavy for me, so I need another person to help. If you’re in a group that’s been traveling together for a while, it’s almost automatic. You don’t need to say much: you just unload and people start picking up things and balancing and carrying what they can. A lot of canoeing cultures have something called a tumpline, which goes around either your forehead or your shoulders and distributes a heavy load to make it easier to carry. Life is like that too. The struggles and obstacles that we experience in life—you hope you have people there to help you balance the load, distribute the weight.
DT: It sounds like knowledge of the water is internalized both from personal experience and through strong connections to those who came before.
JN: You hope you’re with people who have traveled this way before and know where the portage sites are. Sometimes they’re not easy to find, and you have to be paying attention—looking at horizon lines, listening for waterfalls and rapids—because you don’t want to miss that portage place. Maine, especially on the Penobscot and places where Wabanaki people have lived and traveled for thousands of years, has portage trails that are thousands of years old, worn right into the ground— sometimes into the rocks, even. These are places where you feel that connection to the place, and also to your ancestors because you know your feet are taking the same path, on that same trail, where they carried their baskets, their gear, their canoes. They found the most perfect, efficient way. Some of the carry spots are pretty famous, like Mud Pond Carry, when you portage from the west branch into the Allagash. That place is ancient and well known and has been used forever. The trail is sunk into the ground because so many people have traveled it.
As things change and as places develop and dams happen, it does interfere. Portages are difficult already, without any other obstacles. If you’re traveling in the spring or summer, the black flies and mosquitoes can be pretty unbearable when your hands are full and you can’t defend yourself. Your load is heavy, and
it’s usually hot, and sometimes slippery or muddy or rocky. Add to that changing land ownership—not every landowner wants people on their land. There’s only two sides to a river, so you have to go river right or river left, and if someone prohibits access you have to find another way, which can add distance and a whole lot of trouble. The Penobscot has, or had, a lot of dams, and those are major obstacles to portage around.
DT: One important connection between the two exhibitions on view, Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry and Occupy Colby, is the Maya Lin glass marble installation Interrupted River: Penobscot (2019), which shows the river stretching up the walls and onto the double-height ceiling. Of course, the Penobscot is at the heart of the Wabanaki homeland and has long been a source of sustenance and cultural survival, and as you mentioned, Jennifer, the dams have been one force of interruption on its waterways. I recently heard someone describe them as an act of war. Can you say something about the cultural and ecological toll that dams have taken, and, on a brighter note, the river restoration project?
JN: “War” is a perfect description of the dams. They arrived with English settlements, which needed dams to power sawmills to cut logs for their houses, and they just kept creeping farther north and farther inland, blocking the way for the fish. Wabanaki people depend on all kinds of fish for survival. Salmon is a major one. Likewise the shad, the eels, and all
DIANA TUITE: IN CONVERSATION WITH KATHLEEN MUNDELL AND JENNIFER NEPTUNE
the migrating fish—for instance sturgeon. A lot of historical accounts of the Penobscot and the Kennebec describe salmon runs similar to the runs in the West. Those who witnessed them said you could almost walk across the Penobscot River on the backs of the salmon— there were that many running in the 1600s and 1700s. The dams blocked their way and made it very, very difficult for them to get up here, to the point where we couldn’t fish anymore. We couldn’t survive that way. Historically, the tribes sent all kinds of petitions to Boston. The tribal leaders would hire someone to translate and write these petitions, then take them to Boston to protest the dams and their obstruction of the river and its fish. Fishing rights make it important for people to survive in their traditional manner. We couldn’t be hunter-gatherers without being able to fish, and the English knew that. It was very intentional, what was happening. That’s why art became important: basketmaking, carving. There had to be other ways to live and survive. Trading baskets with farmers for beans or corn or meat or milk, or for cash to summer people who were starting to come to the coast, enabled our communities to survive and build homes and send their children to school. Our cultural traditions helped us transition in that serious time. The dam in Old Town that’s just below where our reservation starts at Indian Island was fought over for years since it was a major salmon fishing spot for the Penobscot. At least two tribal members were shot while trying to defend the islands where they would stand and spear the salmon. They weren’t going to give up those islands for the building of a dam. It was that important. A huge thing missing today in our culture is our ability to live and express our fishing
culture. Think of all the things connected to it: all the songs, all the prayers. Joe Dana can make a beautiful salmon-fishing spear, but there aren’t enough fish for us to use it. Making the spear is thus an act of hope for the future—that someday we will again stand on those rocks and spear salmon as our ancestors did. And it’s hopeful, given that over the past few years, major dams, for instance the Veazie Dam and the dam at Great Works and Old Town, which were major obstacles for the fish, have been removed. All the hard work on the part of environmental groups and the tribes, the Penobscot Nation, working together with the owners of the dams to reach compromises to allow the fish to pass, has paid off. One thousand salmon went up the fish ladders or the elevators at the Milford Dam just below here, and sturgeon have been up below the dam here. Last year a seal made it all the way up into Old Town, so that’s open and the fish are getting through, getting up above the dam. They’re saying that maybe in 75 years, which seems like a long time, but it’s one person’s lifetime, there may be enough salmon to be harvested again. The babies being born today on Indian Island might be able to use that salmon spear to eat a fish out of the Penobscot.
DT: You chose to open the exhibition with the canoe and the fish spear on the introductory wall. Both carry that hope within them.
I find myself thinking a lot about how climate has impacted some of the objects and artists represented in the exhibition, but also about indigenous spatialities. I keep returning to the ways that Joseph Polis, the Penobscot guide who accompanied Henry David Thoreau on his river paddle, has been considered by historians. At the
conclusion of their journey together, as Old Town Island came into view, Thoreau asked whether Polis was gratified to be home. According to Thoreau’s account, the guide responded with something along the lines of, “It makes no difference to me where I am.” It’s an exchange that has been interpreted in various ways. What do you make of it?
JN: It is interesting. In 2014 Thoreau scholars and guides commemorated that trip by paddling from Moosehead Lake to Indian Island. Some Penobscots came along too. I got in the canoe on the east branch and paddled to Indian Island along that way. That quotation kept coming up. In the end I would say—and a lot of the other Penobscots on that trip would agree—that I feel like I’m always home. It doesn’t matter if it’s Indian Island, where our physical house is, or at Moosehead Lake. We’re at home when we’re down on the coast picking sweetgrass. We’re at home at Mount Katahdin. We’re at home in the Allagash. We’re at home when we’re down in southern Maine.
This concept of home having a border—your yard and your house is your home—is totally foreign to an indigenous perspective. It’s more that we’re always home because we belong to this land; it doesn’t belong to us. We are a part of it, like the salmon and the eagles and the deer and the moose, which makes it all home. All those beings that share it with us are our relatives. It makes us responsible to all those beings, all the trees and the animals and the birds and the fish. It’s a different way of relating to and seeing the land.
DT: Does that different understanding of home extend to what it means to be a Wabanaki artist creating something? Notions of authorship or ownership, or creating a piece of art that is yours?
JN: Yes, because so much of our art is in our culture and traditions and stories. In the two-dimensional work and even the carvings, for instance, if an artist is depicting Glooscap stories, no one owns that story. It belongs to everybody. (Glooscap is a being with supernatural abilities sent by the Creator to look after humans and to teach them.)
With basketmaking as well, nobody can own a weave or say that you invented something. So often, when I think I’m being creative and have come up with something new, I’ll be in the museum storage, and oh my gosh, there’s a basket just like mine. It’s there. We share it. It’s not something you can possess. That’s been a bit of a problem more recently, where people have tried to copyright things they really shouldn’t, like a strawberry basket, because it’s not just their strawberry basket. That’s been made for hundreds of years or longer by all kinds of tribal people. Sometimes traditional values of sharing butt up against artists trying to protect their intellectual property.
DT: Kathleen, I so appreciated your description
of basketmaking as a cultural aquifer. I wonder if that’s another analogy that goes a long way.
K ATHLEEN MUNDELL: It’s a water met-
aphor again, which is great. I think it’s what
Jennifer just said so beautifully—it’s a source of knowledge that doesn’t belong to any one person. It is there for people to draw on and to share, which is so different than the way I think nonnative artists look at work, where there’s such an emphasis on individuality and innovation, on one person creating something out of their own vision. This is a different type of thing, a more collective, older source that people tap into. The show emphasizes individual innovation—a lot of unusual forms, and also some new materials being used—but that innovation is still drawing on older traditions and types of knowledge. Of course everything can’t just stay the same. Things have to change with each generation. But still, it’s striking how younger native artists reference techniques and knowledge that are very old. I think that the baskets in the show are beautiful examples of how innovation and tradition can coexist.
DT: I love the way that you, Jennifer, talk about the marshes—being in the marsh collecting sweetgrass, and feeling an awareness wash over you, the consciousness of plants exercising a kind of remembrance.
JN: It’s something that a lot of people experience when picking sweetgrass—families who have been going to the marshes to collect the grass for generations and generations. Sweetgrass is important for our basketry and also for our spiritual traditions and ceremonies. The plant is considered spiritual medicine. The people who pick it sense a reciprocity: we need the grass, and the grass needs us. Suzanne
Greenlaw, in her work with the National Park Service, has proven what we have always said as people who gather it in the traditional way: we’re good for the grass. The grass needs us. When traditional gatherers pick it, the grass grows back stronger and healthier. This relationship, spanning generations, makes the grass more than just the material we use to create a basket. It’s sad and ironic when old ladies get chased out of their picking spots where they’ve gone since they were little kids because someone buys the land and posts a sign, not understanding that we’re helping that environment and that plant. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me at shows and asked if I’m cutting it with scissors, because if I’m not, I’m doing it wrong. I explain, no, we’ve been picking it by the root for thousands of years. Not hundreds of years, thousands of years. And we have been looking after these spots that are so precious to us. It’s insulting to be told to cut it with scissors.
KM: Questions like, “Where do you get
this?” come from a mindset where it’s not about a reciprocal relationship. It’s about “I want this.” And that’s how resources get depleted. Everybody thinks things are just there for their own individual purposes.
DT: I find so striking the balance between beauty and utility in many of the objects in the exhibition. Kathleen, you’ve touched on that in terms of the types of baskets. I found myself thinking about the trope of running in James Francis’s video Indian Time (2019). It’s a repetitive movement without a
DIANA TUITE: IN CONVERSATION WITH KATHLEEN MUNDELL AND JENNIFER NEPTUNE
Fred Tomah, Katahdin Arctic Butterfly #8, 2003. Brown ash, dye. 7 ½ x 10 ½ x 10 ½ in. Hudson Museum, University of Maine. Photos: Luc Demers.
KM: For many of these artists and their
works, though, the idea of a contrast between beauty and utility doesn’t hold. They’re fused together.
DT: So it’s a false binary.
JN: For instance consider a pack basket. It’s
beautiful in its own way—its construction, the bellies that fit into the side of the canoe. They’re pretty amazing, functional works of art. But they are functional. You can take them ice fishing and sit on them, or throw them in the back of your pickup truck. And they also have a lot of beauty in them, in their design and construction, the work that went into making them, that history of them fitting into the canoes, or on your back to be carried in a portage. There’s beauty in that knowledge of the design and what it’s for. And they’re a lot of work. To make a basket that big uses a lot of ash. They are a labor of love.
DT: I was reading about a recent book called The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, written by David Treuer, an anthropologist who is Ojibwe. He discusses the threat of so many indigenous languages becoming extinct and he asks, “At what point do we cease being Indians and become simply people descended from Indians?”
JN: It’s a question a lot of tribes and tribal people ask themselves. We are struggling to keep traditions, languages, cultural values, ways of living on the land alive in a time where
it’s so difficult to do that. It has been difficult to try to walk in two worlds and keep a balance. I teach basketmaking and beadwork in an afterschool program, and it’s hard to compete against video games and all the things that absorb kids’ attention and are more exciting, maybe, than scraping ash, or sitting and weaving a basket, or beadwork. Beadwork takes a long time. As someone who feels a responsibility to pass these traditions on, it worries me. As long as you find at least one student, you feel pretty good that they’re going to be okay. They’re going to be able to do this without you. But we’re living in a time where it’s harder and harder to do those things. It’s also related to land use changes, and access problems, and invasive species. The emerald ash borer beetle is threatening the future of basketmaking, which is so sad. We saved basketmaking as a tradition, and now we might not have the materials in forty years. So those are things we struggle with. If we can’t access marshes to pick sweetgrass, that’s a huge problem, not only for basketmakers but also for the maintenance of spiritual practices and ceremonies. Katah-
din is a sacred mountain for us, and we still go there to practice ceremonies. We’re lucky to have been accommodated in that. But it depends on individual people having goodwill and extending that courtesy. And then there’s the matter of maintaining traditional values of generosity and sharing in a world that’s getting more and more selfish. So much value is placed on, as you said, building your individual recognition. How do we keep the balance of giving back too? Every native community is struggling with these issues. And language holds so much in it. There’s so much in those words and descriptions that evokes how you view or relate to land. A lot of our words for places are descriptions, or ways of understanding the world— for instance, navigating on the water. If you’re paddling upriver, most of the geographical names are actually descriptions of how you get to places and how to recognize them. It would be a huge loss if that goes. The exhibition catalogue, Wíwənikan...the beauty we carry, is available for purchase from the Colby College Museum of Art.
Tuester Ranco and Joe Francis, Indian Island, Maine, early 20th century. Image: Frank Speck.
destination, a metaphor perhaps, and the grace of that motion mimics the pounding of ash for a basket, which is a means to a very specific end.
Wabanaki artists create their work within a circle of time, place, and traditional practice that connects them to a larger sphere made up of family and other tribal members, language keepers, historians, teachers, foresters, environmental advocates, and culture bearers. Animating these relationships is an ancestral current that flows through every birchbark canoe, beaded collar, quill box, carving, root club, stone sculpture, print, painting, and ash basket made by these artists. —Kathleen Mundell, Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry, 2019
Barry Dana, Wigwam, 2019, interior. Birchbark, ash. 12 × 16 × 10 ft. Colby College Museum of Art. Photo: Luc Demers. FALL 2O19
Loren McClenachan When Ecosystem Recovery Hinges on History: Intergenerational Memory and Marine Conservation This diminishment matters not only for our When should the first spring lilacs bloom? How own personal sense of connection to the natural many fish should you catch on an afternoon world and to past generations but also because fishing trip? How far should you have to drive to our collective ideas of what is natural underlie get to the edge of town? Your answers to these efforts at conservation and environmental manquestions depend on your baseline, or the idea we agement, and therefore guide the future of the each have in our minds of what is “natural.” We natural world and our relationship to it. In 1995, subconsciously attach meaning to our first experi- in his short, influential paper “Anecdotes and ences of something—the arrival of spring, a good the Shifting Baselines Syndrome in Fisheries,” day out fishing, or the green space in your town— the fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly described and assume that all noticeable later changes are the prevalence of generational amnesia among somehow unnatural. Predictably, this baseline professional fisheries scientists. He argued that varies by age. You may remember your childhood the loss of memories of productive and abundant home to have been surrounded by trees, having fish stocks over the course of generations has led watched the encroachments of development over to a reduction in fisheries management targets. If the course of your life. If you asked your town’s younger generations of fisheries scientists expect older residents, their memories would be differthat the ocean is naturally less productive and fish ent, greener perhaps. stocks are “naturally” smaller, their targets will The loss of memory regarding environmental align with such baselines and we will all be worse change across generations has been called “genoff for it. erational amnesia” or “shifting baselines.” Such In my own work, I have found that this failure forgetting has particularly afflicted our sense of to understand loss leads to reduced expectations the oceans, where we have made fewer observain fisheries management, endangered species tions. As terrestrial animals, humans don’t track recovery, and ecosystem restoration. For examunderwater change very well, but when people ple, when extinction risk for green turtles—a with the strongest connections to the sea describe species whose meat has been compared to beef, their experiences, strong evidence for shifting such that people ranging from 17th-century baselines emerges. For example, the then-Ph.D. pirates to modern politicians in Caribbean nations student Andrea Sáenz Arroyo interviewed have enjoyed them—is assessed using short-term members of three generations of fishermen in observations, the populations appear to be fine. Baja California in 2005. Compared to the youngIf, however, scientists look back in time and use est fishermen, those from the oldest generation archival documents to understand the drastic remembered fish that were five times more abun- population reduction in response to historidant, as well as fish that were larger and closer to cal hunting, its populations can be assessed as shore. These accounts are not just “fish tales” or endangered and in need of protection. In cases nostalgia for an invented past. In my own work as ranging from fish to turtles to marine mammals, a historical ecologist, I measured similar changes when long-term data are overlooked, conservausing photographs of trophy fish caught in the tion scientists underestimate past impact and set Florida Keys since the 1950s. Over 50 years—or future targets that are less ambitious. just two human generations—the weight of these fish declined by 90 percent. POLICY PLACEBOS It turns out that 90 percent loss in the oceans When shifting baselines result in lackluster is typical. When we look for change over time conservation targets for fisheries, these goals across different species, ecosystems, and ways of wind up limiting the recovery potential of the measuring, we find similar stories. Ninety percent ecosystem. Falsely identified gains also limit such of tuna and swordfish caught by Japanese long-line potential. In 2015 one of my research students, fisheries disappeared over the course of 50 years. In Samantha Lovell, set off to the Caribbean islands the Gulf of Maine, cod stocks have declined by 96 of Montserrat, Antigua, and Barbuda to interview percent since the Civil War. The Canadian writer fishermen and scuba divers about their views J. B. Mackinnon called this phenomenon the “10% of underwater change. We expected that she world.” The world that we think of as “natural,” he would find a shifted baseline—as numerous other noted, is less wild by an order of magnitude than it researchers have replicated Dr. Sáenz Arroyo’s was in recent human history. work within the past decade—but we were SHIFTING BASELINES
surprised to also find what Sam called a “policy placebo” effect. In these islands, conservation actions have been taken, in particular for green turtles, whose populations have locally been driven to nearextinction. In Antigua and Barbuda, for example, seasonal closures on hunting were put in place as a result of exceptionally low population sizes. Because turtles have a generational time twice that of humans, recovery is slow, and the effects of these efforts would not likely be noticeable for decades. However, half the people interviewed by Sam reported that they were seeing more turtles after only three years of protection. One interviewee said, “There are too many turtles and there keep being more.” Sam received similar answers about other recently protected marine animals, including parrotfish, lobster, grouper, and conch. Sam attributed this surprising response to the good publicity that local conservation policies had received and the widespread public assumption that these policies were already effective. The policy placebo effect may not be entirely a bad thing for future conservation endeavors, since people are likely to support policies they feel are working. However, coupled with a shifted baseline, the belief that we have already achieved our limited goals is likely to lower both targets for recovery and the motivation needed to sustain restoration efforts. UNSHIFTING BASELINES
Despite the dual syndromes of shifting baselines and policy placebos, there are examples of bright spots occasioned by the reversal of population declines, the use of multigenerational observations to achieve ambitious conservation goals, and the return to historical baseline levels of abundance in certain ecosystems. One of these is in our own backyard, in Maine’s rivers. One legacy of Maine’s industrial history is the hundreds of dams blocking downstream water flow, which prevents anadromous fish like salmon and small alewives from swimming upstream from the ocean to freshwater lakes to lay their eggs. In preindustrial Maine, these fish were the basis of small-scale fisheries, supporting towns and native communities along Maine’s rivers, and likewise supporting healthy ecosystems feeding predators from coastal cod to inland birds of prey. As the need for these dams has diminished, many have been removed, and surprisingly the fish have appeared almost immediately. It’s as if, for the past 200 years, alewives have migrated upstream and have stopped at the dam to ask “Is this the year?” until in fact it was. In Benton, a town on the Sebasticook River 10 minutes from Colby College, the removal of a downstream dam in 2008 resulted in an active alewife run for the first time in over two centuries. The fish returned in force: the first cohort of alewives to pass upstream exceeded 1.7 million fish, the largest run on the US East Coast in 2009. Successful conservation depends on community members buying into such efforts, and in a place rooted in history like Maine, connections to the past play an important role. In anticipation of recovering alewife runs, community members— led by Rick Lawrence, a retired schoolteacher whose eyes sparkle with his clear love for Maine’s natural world—petitioned the state for the reestablishment of historical harvesting rights.
Because this request required the documentation of a historical fishery, he and others collected historical anecdotes describing local alewife harvesting, including a traveler’s account that “thousands of barrels” were taken on the Sebasticook River “just above the falls” in Benton in 1796. The town’s petition was successful, and municipal fishing rights were officially restored in 2009. The restoration of the fishery meant revenue for local harvesters and the town, but the success ran deeper than short-term profits. Sam Lovell and another student, Caroline Keaveney, spent a summer working with me, traveling throughout Maine and asking community members about alewife restoration efforts. We found a strong sense of pride in local restoration projects, which in turn motivated more ambitious recovery goals and conservation action. One alewife harvester said, “Pride [leads to] involvement, and with more involvement you get people who are willing to spend more money, which supports the restoration and the ecosystem.” The case of Maine’s alewife recovery demonstrates a reversal of the shifting baselines syndrome and shows how social and ecological successes can create a positive feedback loop that increases community engagement and interest in restoration efforts. We humans, optimistic by nature, adapt psychologically to the world we inhabit, wanting badly to feel that everything is okay. Shifting baselines result from humans assimilating ourselves into a degraded environment, and policy placebos result from a desire to have already achieved our goals when we take collective action. However, there is another option, demonstrated by Maine’s recovering river communities. When anecdotes and observations from the past are used to set appropriately ambitious recovery goals, and communities feel connected to its restoration successes, then we can recreate the productive and abundant ecosystems of the past, to move from our 10 percent world toward something closer to the world that members of past generations experienced.
LOREN MCCLENACHAN: WHEN ECOSYSTEM RECOVERY HINGES ON HISTORY
Nick Record Algorithms in the Wild Adventures in the Noosphere
The scene opens to an expansive panorama of
To see these interconnections involving the
a river flowing into a coastal delta. As we fly be-
algorithm, it helps to take a step back and look
yond the river and out over the ocean, a classi-
at our planet from afar. About a century ago, the
cal score matches the grandeur of what’s before
Russian-Ukrainian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky
us. We zoom in for a closer look and see a shoal of
popularized the term “biosphere,” describing the
fish large enough to be visible from the air, some
thin layer of life that surrounds Earth. This thin
leaping gracefully from the water. A cloud of sea-
sphere is the space in which Homo sapiens moves
birds teems above. Cue the narration by Sir David
around, eats, dreams, contemplates, masticates,
Attenborough: “Our coastal ocean. Some of the
and defecates. The idea of the biosphere—a com-
most productive waters on the planet. From this
plex interconnected system that can act globally
vantage point, we can glimpse hundreds of spe-
as a geologic force, shaping the planet’s rivers,
cies. But there is one type of creature living among
hills, and valleys—revolutionized our view of life
them that we cannot see...the elusive algorithm.”
itself. Today, we recognize the biosphere as a sta-
Yes, the algorithm. Perhaps they won’t be the
bilizing influence on Earth, maintaining a bal-
focus of a Planet Earth BBC documentary, but algo-
ance that supports conditions favorable to human
rithms are all around us, living in many of the nooks
life: the presence of clean drinking water, or of an
and crannies created by nature. If you haven’t
atmosphere whose proportion of elements is suit-
heard of algorithms, you’re probably in good com-
able for human breathing.
pany. If you have heard of them, perhaps it was in
A lesser-known term popularized by Vernadsky
the context of something that Google or Facebook
is “noosphere”—from the Greek noús, “mind”—
is doing, or perhaps from some millennial techie.
referring to the interconnected sphere of human
The working definition of an algorithm is sim-
thought. Vernadsky and some of his contempo-
ply a set of ordered rules, typically mathematical
raries argued that the noosphere, this cloud of
instructions carried out by a computer. The idea
human thought encircling the globe, can also fun-
goes back to the ninth-century Persian mathemati-
damentally reshape the conditions on Earth. Just
cian al-Khwarizmi, who gave us algebra. But in the
as the biosphere had emerged as a force to shape
last hundred years or so, as the flow of information
the geosphere, so would the noosphere emerge to
has grown into an all-encompassing global net-
shape the biosphere. In Vernadsky’s time the noo-
work, algorithms have taken on lives of their own,
sphere was exclusively an abstraction and gained
proliferating over this network, competing, sur-
little traction in mainstream scientific thought.
viving, and adapting like exotic alien creatures.
But nowadays, however esoteric the idea might
As they have done so, they have become ever more
seem, it doesn’t take much imagination to regard
intertwined with the natural world around us—the
the massive, near-instantaneous flow of globally
rivers, lakes, and oceans, our planetary life-sup-
networked information as a very concrete mani-
port system. As the global crises of climate change
festation of noosphere, exerting a tangible influ-
and biodiversity loss intensify, this eclectic and
ence on the face of Earth. This manifestation of the
mysterious ecosystem of algorithms will play a cru-
noosphere, however, differs markedly from what
cial role in how and whether humanity perseveres.
Vernadsky and his fellow thinkers had described.
Imagine the noosphere as something akin
biosphere, affecting everything from the preva-
to the biosphere: a living, evolving ecosystem,
lence of metals in drinking water to the amount
always dynamic and rapidly spreading itself out
of the plastics accumulating at the bottom of the
over the entire planet. If Sir David Attenborough
Mariana Trench. Algorithms, like a new kind of
could guide us on a narrated adventure through
organism, now travel among the other life forms
the noosphere surrounding our world, the crea-
in our global ecosystem. They have their own
tures he would show us would be algorithms.
taxonomy. Some are as rudimentary as the sim-
What would they look like, aside from lines of
plest organisms, carrying out basic tasks such as
computer code? Some algorithms take stock of
monitoring and measuring. But the most inter-
the number of fish in the sea, then compute and
esting algorithms are the most complex: learn-
decide for humans how many we should catch.
ing algorithms, also known as “artificial intelli-
Some algorithms track fishing boats and catches
gence” or AI. Usually designed to take the place
in real time in order to zero in on illegal fish-
of human decision-making, these sorts of intelli-
ing. Both of these examples directly determine
gent algorithms will shape our future world. As
how many fish are in the planet’s seas, thereby
Attenborough takes us on our tour, how can we
shaping the biosphere. There are thousands of
but ask, “Where did these algorithms come from,
analogous examples—dealing with weather
and in what shape will they leave our world?”
prediction, commodities pricing, crop irrigation—influencing and shaping every part of the Intelligent Algorithms
Until recently, it had been generally agreed that
science. Importantly, he pushed back against the
algorithms themselves couldn’t be intelligent.
widespread notion that machines couldn’t be intel-
They were seen essentially as sets of steps used in
ligent, writing and speaking frequently on the idea
the solving of problems, just as al-Khwarizmi had
of intelligent machines. At a time when computers
illustrated. Ada Lovelace, the 19th-century math-
could perform only the simplest calculations, he
ematician who coded the first computer algorithm,
laid out plans for algorithms that could learn and
wrote in an 1842 memoir, “The Analytical Engine
adapt their own structures based on the input they
[i.e., computer algorithm] has no pretensions to
absorbed. He likened the design of algorithms to
originate anything. It can do whatever we know
what happens in the developing brain of a child,
how to order it to perform.” She did cast a wide and
who does not arrive in the world already intelli-
visionary net for what she thought we could order
gent but rather possesses the blueprints to grow,
an algorithm to perform, including composing
develop, and change in the light of new informa-
complex original music. But the conceptual leap to
tion. That model essentially describes how learn-
algorithms that could learn and potentially think
ing algorithms now work.
for themselves didn’t come until the middle of the
Eventually Turing’s ideas won the day. In fact,
20th century from a code-cracking mathemati-
the canonical test for intelligence in algorithms is
cian named Alan Turing.
known as the Turing Test, in which the success-
Turing’s life was short and tragic, ending in an
fully “intelligent” algorithm must be able to pass
apparent suicide after being legally punished for
as human by tricking some judge into thinking
his homosexuality, but his contributions to our
it is. In the annual competitions in which judges
world are hard to overstate. He played a pivotal
text with humans and with algorithms, algo-
role in the Allied victory due to his work that led
rithms have made steady progress in fooling the
to the decipherment of key intercepted Nazi mes-
judges and passing the Turing Test. If you’ve ever
sages. After the war, he was a pioneer in computer
been text-chatting with an online assistant only
NICK RECORD: ALGORITHMS IN THE WILD
to realize your interlocutor is a bot, then hats off
of the ugliest biases and prejudices in our society.
to that algorithm! It has passed a version of the
This is all to say that while algorithms can per-
test. Learning algorithms are now all around us,
form impressive tasks (e.g., forecasting, making
deciding how grocery-store shelves are stocked,
farming more efficient, translating one language
which news headlines or search results are shown
into another, etc.), the algorithms in the world
to people, which résumés are deemed competitive,
around us in increasing numbers are based on a
even who among eligible prisoners will be let out on
narrow idea of intelligence. And this narrowness
parole and who will remain in jail. More and more,
is of concern because they are continuing to fulfill
the use of intelligent algorithms is replacing human
their primary role, serving as a means to replace
It’s striking, however, that the gold stan-
So let’s take this back to the biosphere. We have
dard for intelligent algorithms to be identified as
an interconnected sphere of millions (or even bil-
such—passing the Turing Test—is their ability to
lions or trillions) of algorithms making decisions
deceive humans. We don’t ask whether algorithms
that shape our natural world. Their decision-mak-
can be just, insightful, or empathetic. We ask
ing processes are grounded in a very constricted
whether they can fool us. In many ways, the trick
view of intelligence. It is now a cause of some concern
has been working. As algorithms improve, they
that the noosphere has taken on a life of its own.
become more seamlessly enmeshed in the work-
One group has written a Biosphere Code Manifesto
ings of the world. People are deceived into thinking
that outlines seven principles that should guide
that algorithms are making good decisions. Often
the use of algorithms in the environment. They
the algorithm cannot even be questioned. In the
range from the pragmatic (“algorithms should
case of parole decisions, for example, usually the
serve humanity”) to the lofty (“algorithms should
software that implements the algorithm is propri-
be inspiring, playful, and beautiful”). For my own
etary, and its human users aren’t allowed to look
part, I happened across a case where humans and
at the code and thus understand what factors the
algorithms came together in an accidentally col-
decision has been based on. In the worst instances,
laborative way—a way that might suggest a path
intelligent algorithms take on and magnify some
forward. The story starts with endangered whales.
Save the Whales
Let’s return to our flyover above the coastal ocean.
to get as many points of view in the room as pos-
As we zoom in to this particular corner of the bio-
sible and to build toward consensus. Recently we
sphere, the sea surface is broken by a sudden spray
were tasked with figuring out how to close, rear-
of mist. A whale. As Attenborough describes the
range, move, or adjust lobster-fishing efforts in
scene, we notice that the whale’s back is scarred,
order to reduce the entanglement risk to whales
and clumps of rope trail behind its fluke.
by 60–80 percent, a percentage range set by the
In summer 2017, nearly 20 North Atlantic right
feds. Collectively, fishing effort looks like a com-
whales died as a result of ship strikes and fishing
plex, 17-dimensional geometry, changing in space
gear entanglements. Such losses were a big deal for
and time, with depths and seasons, with different
a species with only around 100 remaining breed-
gear and rope configurations, according to lobster
ing females—a species edging closer to extinc-
and human behavior, and so on. We had one week,
tion. The National Marine Fisheries Services con-
and the tool we had to use to make our decision
vened a team of about 60 people from different
was a complex algorithm that could input differ-
backgrounds to address the problem, among them
ent fishing strategies; absorb whale data, fishing
fishermen, activists, managers, and scientists
data, certain types of environmental data, and
(including me) in what was basically an attempt
gear configurations; and output the risk reduction
to whales. This cutting-edge algorithm was the
algorithms is salutary for many of the reasons
product of expert coders, but there was one prob-
I’ve mentioned. But if we’re going to live in a world
lem: when we sat down to meet at the beginning of
where algorithms are integrated into decision-
the week, it wasn’t quite finished.
making, we need to jump on every chance we get
The extended government shutdown of
to open them up, see how they tick, and take their
December 2018–January 2019 had delayed the
advice within the context of our other knowledge. If I
completion of the algorithm code. By the time the
were to add a principle to the Biosphere Code
meeting took place, the code was barely ready and
Manifesto, it would be something like: Algorithms
none of our group had seen it. There was a fair bit of
should be dissected and torn apart periodically
apprehension. The Maine Department of Marine
by a room full of people with diverse points of view.
Resources sent a letter to the Fisheries Service
It’s possible that the noosphere of algorithms
asking that the algorithm be removed from the
encircling our planet can be a force for good, help-
decision-making process until it had been fully
ing us to reverse environmental damage, mitigate
peer-reviewed. Yet we needed to come to a con-
climate change, and use our resources more effi-
sensus within the week. The algorithm, however
ciently. But that happy outcome is far from guar-
anteed. “Algorithms,” Attenborough narrates,
The process that followed was unexpected.
“are curious creatures indeed. But if we pay atten-
Because the algorithm was still rough around the
tion and use our wisdom, we might see them inte-
edges, the coding team was there to help with
grate harmoniously with the natural world.”
problems on the fly. That meant that anyone could ask the algorithm anything they wanted. Bit by bit, the team began to dissect the algorithm and tinker with its innards. People asked questions, informed by personal experience and judgment, that the algorithm would never ask itself and in many cases couldn’t answer. What happens if my grandson has to haul lines with too many traps and it becomes unsafe for him? What happens if past whale migrations aren’t the same as what these mammals will do in the future? What if some of the assumptions about gear types are off? The pulled-apart algorithm, its strengths and flaws laid bare, became the central node in a dialogue about the consequences of different management choices—a discussion informed not just by intelligence but by our instincts of fairness, foresight, caution, and wisdom. The algorithm became a tool that played one role in the decision rather than being the decision-maker itself. In the end, the group came to near unanimous agreement on how to reach our goal. As of this writing, there are people still committed to this decision’s reversal, because we had used an algorithm that was unreviewed, untested, and rough around the edges. Skepticism toward
NICK RECORD: ALGORITHMS IN THE WILD
Phong Bui with Denise Bruesewitz, Keith Peterson, Alexis Rockman, and Allyson Vieira Occupy Colby: Symposium On September 18, 2019, the Lunder Institute for American Art hosted a conversation between Lunder Institute Fellow Phong Bui, Occupy Colby exhibiting artists Alexis Rockman and Allyson Vieira, and Colby scholars Denise Bruesewitz (Associate Professor, Environmental Studies) and Keith Peterson (Associate Professor, Philosophy). Their conversation explored the idea that artists need to create on the same scale that society has the capacity to destroy—the idea that is the guiding principle and the subtitle of the Occupy Colby exhibition. This symposium is part of a recently launched institute initiative focused on the environment and climate change, and it comes out of Colby’s long-standing commitment to multidisciplinary environmental studies and stewardship as well as a growing interest in ecological consciousness among artists and historians of American art. The transcript has been edited for clarity and concision. Photos: Ben Wheeler, courtesy of the Lunder Institute for American Art
Phong Bui: Driving here this morning, I was thinking that, from the very beginning of time, starting with the Stone Age, 125,000 years ago to the present, human beings have always had this great desire to comprehend, to mediate, the visible world and the invisible world. If you think about cave painting, for example—some people have argued it was conceived as sculpture first, because the cave wall, the natural, irregular surface, has certain protruding sectors that lend themselves to a perfect bison’s body, seen in profile, running. And we can think of the handprints in the cave as a signal or a desire for authorship. We didn’t understand and learn to appreciate cave paintings until modernity. But something that we know for a fact is a need to document things, a need to understand how we live. And that is embodied, in a way, through a work of art, an object. I was also thinking about how everything got separated. When did that happen? As we were putting on our collateral project in Venice as part of the Venice Biennale, with the same theme, the world was celebrating Leonardo’s five hundredth anniversary. Leonardo was both artist and scientist—at the time, in the Renaissance, you couldn’t separate the two. When did this happen, the separation between art and science? As an immigrant coming to America in 1980, when I set foot in Bucks County, Langhorne, Pennsylvania—gradually coming to New York and learning about the culture—I realized America is a pendulum swing in political extremity. It’s like two cowboys shooting at the O.K. Corral. You do or die, you win or lose. Everything is so black-and-white. Every decade, it seems to me, repudiates the previous one. The ’50s were repressive—so much censorship going on right after the Americans had won, helping to defeat Nazi Germany and succeeding the British Empire, more or less. The ’60s exploded with all the things that we remember through images. I grew up in Vietnam. I remember images of the naked young Vietnamese girl running away from the napalm bomb. I remember seeing the shooting at Kent State and all the horrific images. I learned about the civil rights movement. I learned a great deal about the women’s rights movement. At some point, I realized it was the decade of the ’70s that really put a lid on those events. But in those days, you had everyone hand in hand, from all walks of life, protesting. The image is no longer accessible. If we think about the bombing of Baghdad, for example, we don’t see the horror close-up because it’s been censored. All we see is the vantage point where it’s depicted as if we are seeing a work by J.M.W. Turner, the burning of the Houses of Parliament mixing with the Fourth of July. But what does this have to do with this show? It’s the election of Donald Trump. It horrifies me and all of us. What can we do to bring people together and do something? The show at Mana that I curated was the first time we adopted a neon work by an LA-based artist named Lauren Bon. It says, “Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy.” That became the title of all of our Brooklyn Rail curatorial projects. In this instance, it has to do with, of course, climate change and environmental crisis and global warming and so on. I wanted to bring this up just briefly to frame the context, because the extremity in political life had made me think even further about what we can do to counter the vulgarity, the abusive use of language. We have to be equally aggressive, but with subtlety. Poets can do it, a writer can do it brilliantly, and the artist can use images that have similar power, directly or indirectly. The whole idea of bringing the seven arts together has early roots. We know this about the Renaissance—Giordano Bruno and Leonardo, the writing of Ficino, or someone like Pico della Mirandola, elevating the importance of liberal arts. The former president of Colby College, William Adams—who became the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities—before he resigned, because of Trump, he did this amazing interview with Martha Nussbaum, the law professor and philosopher who teaches at the University of Chicago. They were talking about the disappearance of public intellectuals—how, when you have this academic freedom, it can go inward. So let me begin by asking Alexis: Why did you begin to paint the way you do? When did you feel the attraction for the collision between the manmade and nature?
Alexis Rockman: I started out thinking about these issues intuitively as a child. I was very aware of extinction and the biodiversity crisis. And in the early to mid1990s, I sought out relationships with scientists that I felt were the great storytellers of the history and the future of the earth. I asked a paleontologist what he was most frightened of, and he mentioned climate change—call it global warming, whatever you want. He explained what it was, and I was chilled to the bone, to say the least. This was in 1995. We were on a panel together, not unlike the one we’re on today, in Duluth, Minnesota, where it was, paradoxically, 29 below. Several years later, I started to incorporate this idea into images that I was working on and book projects. I felt it was the greatest story, the only thing worth painting, on a certain level. I feel—there gets to be a sense of fatigue after decades of thinking about these issues, and there’s an endgame professionally, so I’ve [also] worked on other things. But in 1997 I started to make paintings about imagining Central Park under these conditions, and the work in the show is a continuation of that. One is about New York City, a street I grew up on, 82nd Street between York and East End. The other is Epcot Center. So that’s how I started thinking about it. Bui: When did you become more aware of how to assimilate scientific facts into your work? Rockman: Well, I’ve always been attracted to certain types of iconography. I grew up thinking I’d be in the film industry somehow because, as you mentioned about the ’70s, there was very little room for the iconography I was interested in. I grew up with movies like Planet of the Apes, with the Statue of Liberty and ideas about species and their life cycles, as much as that’s an allegory of many things. And I’m attracted to your interest in the history of activism in terms of race relations, women’s rights, gay rights. I always felt that what I was doing, as I got older, was trying to tap into that as something I could do with my paintings. I have a lot of ambivalence about the bubble we’re in. And as much as I appreciate that everyone came out to this panel, I feel that we’re preaching to the converted, mostly.
A movie I saw in 1979, The China Syndrome, really affected me. However we feel about nuclear energy now, there was a sense of danger about it—there was far more urgency about nuclear energy then than there is about climate change in this country, which I find ridiculously appalling. I mean, we can talk about how late it is in the physics experiment we’re in, in terms of the planet. But in terms of messages, I felt that the real way to get some of these so-called activist ideas across might be in platforms like movies and streaming services. So I’ve tried to pursue those in the last, say, six years—to try other avenues to get information out there. Bui: Allyson, in your work, there’s the attraction for recycling the material that you use—trash bags, all types of plastic, and really, debris—and then you were able to make that part of the materials? Allyson Vieira: I never use the word recycling to talk about it. I think of it like transmuting. It feels sort of alchemical, mostly because I don’t really know what I’m doing. I throw stuff together and see what sort of stable end product I can come up with. Working with plastics is actually a new turn in my work, as you know. I sort of came to it through my earlier work, in which I was always looking toward the deep past and thinking about material on a geological scale. After spending a long time looking backward, I started looking forward on a geological scale. And—I guess this is a backward thing too—I’ve been thinking a lot about the Carboniferous period and that great extinction. I think about these plastic works sort of as hypothetical or prototype future artworks. Thinking, on a geological scale, 100 million years from now, 300 million years from now, if there are beings on this planet who want to make things like we like to make things, what are they making things of? What that may be is the remains of all of this, crushed under time and heat and spinning planets and Lord knows what else. So I thought a lot about stone carving and the history of it and archaeology and all of this. But then I thought, Where does the marble come from? Where does the limestone come from? Well, those are seabeds and back, back, back. And then I extrapolated
forward, forward, forward. That’s sort of how I got there. I know what they’re talking about, environmentalism as this major moral question, and I, of course, live that in my life. But in my work, I try to take a kind of amoral approach because when you’re talking about hundreds of millions of years, morality blows out the window because humans also blow out the window, I mean, hopefully [laughter]. Bui: So, profound pessimism [laughter]. Vieira: No. It’s not pessimism. It’s just reality. And then the sun will gobble up the earth, and it will all be fine. Bui: Yeah [laughter]. So unlike Alexis’s exploration of images that most viewers will be able to identify, you explore much more in an abstract realm—although we recognize in the four works here that there are signs, symbols of the arrow. Can you share with us how that came about? Vieira: The materials always come first for me. As I said, it’s like I enter this—I think of it as my Mr. Wizard phase in the studio. Those works are actually made of dissolved Styrofoam and plastic bags. Some of the plastic bags are really prominent. Some have actually had acetone transfer of print, and some are sort of collaged within the dissolved Styrofoam. Fooling around with the Styrofoam came first. There’s a certain number of forms and a certain type of form that can be made. There are a whole lot of forms that I can’t make because I’m operating with high ventilation—don’t worry, everything is safe, excellent respirators, full hazmat gear. And in a completely low-tech environment, what can I do with the stuff I have? I can make these weird sort of—I think of them as potato chips [laughter]. It eventually will harden after it dissolves. It turns to this beautiful silken goo, and then it hardens into more of a Pringle or a—what were those ones that were like Funyuns, you know that texture— Rockman: Sun Chips? Vieira: No, a little foamier. Like shrimp chips [laughter]. It’s mostly dissolved Styrofoam, 97 percent. I love working with material realities. It puts constraints on something in a world where
we’re allowed to do whatever the heck we want to as artists. Material reality gives me something to root into. That’s why the works are sort of flat. The arrow forms— that’s new. I was originally making them in quasi-lumping rectangles, as one does, because, you know, painting. And then I moved into the arrow form. It has a lot to do with the actual—the superstructure that it’s within, the installation of the scaffolding and debris netting. That’s coming from another angle, in that I live in New York, in Manhattan, and walking around the urban landscape—whether I’m going to my studio in Queens or walking around my neighborhood downtown—the experience of being a pedestrian is navigating sidewalk bridges, scaffolding, and debris netting. We like to think about the urban landscape as being this sort of grand skyscraper glass tower or Beaux Arts building or whatever. But actually, the lived experience is this sort of rabid, worn rats’ maze sidewalk bridge. And, of course, within all of this sidewalk structure, what’s happening is destruction and rebuilding. New York City is constantly wiping itself clean. It’s just a perpetual churning of stuff. And our experience of that is this form that we have to walk through. Bui: I find it interesting because what you’ve been doing with the material images, however abstract, is really about the urgency of the now. It’s a present, whereas, in a way, Alexis is imagining the future—a very interesting aspect revealing the differences in the show. You’ve mentioned the word alchemy. We know that in the early times—in particular the beginning of the Renaissance, building up humanism—Hermeticism and alchemy were ecologically integrated. It meant care for earth, for human beings, and for the cosmos. Basically, it was about the attempt to bring them into unity. Keith, can you share with us how Continental philosophy and environmental philosophy intersect? Keith Peterson: Sure. I was trained in a graduate program in Continental philosophy and started doing environmental stuff seriously only after I graduated. The two fields don’t really have a direct or intimate connection, although you can certainly build one. The way I got into it was by
OCCUPY COLBY: SYMPOSIUM
first writing a dissertation on Kant and German idealism and subsequently studying Schelling’s philosophy of nature. I started looking for some sort of contemporary expression of the desire that Schelling had to approach nature otherwise than in a mechanistic, materialistic, reductionist way. I found a writer named Murray Bookchin, who was the founder of Social Ecology, who was writing about German Idealist nature philosophy as an ontological framework for environmental philosophy, and that was the first way that I began to build a bridge between the two. Later on, practicing environmental philosophy led me to change my mind about a lot of things I thought about philosophy as a Continentalist. Epistemologically, I think there is a certain irreconcilability between the two traditions, in fact, because to be an environmentalist you sort of have to believe that there’s a real shared world with environmental problems and that people can do something to try to ameliorate those problems or solve them. In the Continental domain, ideas about the “world” vary, but in one dominant tradition they sort of center around this idea that we all have our own “world” that we build through our meaning giving and symbolizing, our human experience in it, and to a certain extent that tradition frowns on the kind of knowledge that the sciences produce (which presumes a shared real world). It looks for other ways in which human beings can experience things. And so I sort of went from being a typical Continentalist, quasi-Kantian and Heideggerian, believing that the only thing that’s important is that sort of human-centric meaning giving, to being a more committed environmental philosopher, which to me means recognizing that human beings depend asymmetrically on a preexisting nonhuman reality. We certainly create meaning in it after the fact, but we don’t create the “world.” If we did, why would we be forced to think about environmental problems like climate disruption at all? Bui: What do you think, Denise, in terms of what you do? Denise Bruesewitz: So many sparks have been going off as I’ve been listening to everyone talk. Some of the big-picture things that I’m thinking about right now are the practice of art and
the practice of science and that question you raised—when did those two things become separate?—and thinking about that early world of alchemy. For me, a big part of that story is the discovery of the elements that make life go, nitrogen and phosphorus. There was a time when we didn’t understand that or know where those things resided in the air and in the rocks and so on. And there is something really kind of special about that intertwining moment where those things were being discovered. It was in a world where that could happen, in a space where the art was happening in perhaps the same physical space that those kinds of discoveries were being made. It may seem a little simplistic, but with the pace of life and the way we spend our time, as academics who are trained in a discipline, I think we really have to create that space to have conversations across [the disciplines of] artists and philosophers and scientists to make these kinds of connections that you all are making in your work. The type of ecology I study is ecosystem ecology. In that framework, which began, really, in the 1970s—which is kind of an interesting thought when you lay the political piece on top of that— we use a lot of boxes and arrows [laughter]. Now this is changing, but back then, we didn’t look too closely inside those boxes—but we measured things. It might have been a wetland, a lake, a forest. We measured the arrows: what’s coming in and what’s coming out. And so when I think of your plastic arrows—a big piece of this realm of study is measuring where the plastic goes, right? You see it in your world, and it’s sort of crumbling down and building up, but it’s also moving out. It’s moving into the oceans, into the rivers. And it’s being picked up by oysters and filter feeders, it’s being buried in the sediment, and so on. Thinking about those arrows and recognizing the movement of the materials we’re creating and what that means for the mark we’re making is, I think, really interesting . Vieira: You mentioned something about us as academics working within our specialty disciplines, and it reminded me of why I’m an artist. There’s this great artist and writer, Claire Pentecost, and she wrote about the idea of the
artist as a public amateur—that as artists, we get to sort of learn and fail in public as part of our practice. I mean, not even fail, but have the nakedness of learning in public.
enous people living harmoniously with nature. So when Rousseau coined it, it really came from that source as a way to counter the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason.
In thinking about being that public amateur, I’m like, “Yeah, Carboniferous. I’m not a geologist. My knowledge is limited.” But it inspired me to look at this, and Alexis is talking to the people he talks to and then going off in this other direction: “Okay, now I want to write a television show.” It’s like, you get to do that [laughter].
Rockman: But remember that the so-called equilibrium of that moment is really a misunderstanding of the Pleistocene megafauna extinction that had already happened. When humans arrived in North America, they brought with them the destruction that we always bring.
Bui: How does that work for you, Alexis? We talked earlier today about the justification to support the vision of the work because that’s how you gain momentum and the confidence to do what you do. How does that begin? Rockman: I always felt that it was more interesting to try to learn about something that you might approach intuitively and then ask a lot of questions. For instance, when I started to work on a project almost 20 years ago called Manifest Destiny, a big painting about climate change coming to the waterfront of Brooklyn, I had an image I wanted to see: basically a flooded New York with part of the Brooklyn Bridge submerged. And then I had to find people who could tell me whether that made sense in terms of the math and the physics. I went to James Hansen and Cynthia E. Rosenzweig and a number of other people to ask them questions. It took me in many different directions. I was lucky—I wouldn’t call it a scientific method when you have a fantasy of what you want to see, but then you have to go find the justification to do it or it doesn’t mean anything. Some of the disconnect that we have with comprehending climate change is that it mimics so many things that have been Trojan horses—from Paul Ehrlich, through the Bible, through The Day after Tomorrow. We’re so easily fooled and misdirected by the history of our culture to think that it’s not possible. That’s one of the profoundly sad disconnects that we still have, especially in this country. Vieira: Whatever it is, it’s always fine—but it’s not fiction this time. Bui: We forget that the term noble savage actually came from Long Island, where the poet FrançoisRené de Chateaubriand saw indig-
Bui: Is there anything you can add to that, Keith, from your philosophical perspective? Peterson: Well, it’s interesting that both of you, as you mentioned before, seem to have a pretty pessimistic attitude toward human nature. Rockman: Humans are capable of amazing things, and I have a lot of hope for humans. There are also a lot of things that I’m less hopeful about, based on my observations. On Easter Island, I was wondering, when the person was cutting down the last tree, how they were thinking about it. There’s a long tradition of things to be less hopeful about. Bui: What do you think, Denise? Is there any evidence of a natural setting that had been abused, abandoned, being able to clean itself out ecologically and generate new growth? Bruesewitz: Yeah. There are a lot of different paths that can take. A long-standing area of study in ecology, generally, is when you walk away from a place that has been disturbed, what happens? There are so many answers to that question. A short answer would be that certainly, it does recover. But it’s never going to be what it once was. It’s a new ecosystem that carries the mark of that history. But it functions, right? It’s taking in carbon. It’s collecting water. It’s doing all those things— Rockman: Stuff lives in there. Bruesewitz: Right. It’s a functional ecosystem, but it’s different because of its history. Rockman: It sounds quaint to have a moral perspective on this, but if you care about biodiversity, you’re in for some disappointment.
OCCUPY COLBY: SYMPOSIUM
Occupy Colby: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 2 Occupy Colby is part of the ongoing exhibit Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, initiated in 2017 at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, and featuring artists whose works invoke contemporary political and social issues such as human rights and equality, immigration, foreign relations, and the environment. This second iteration at the Colby Museum focuses solely on environmental issues and climate change—perhaps the most alarming concern of our current condition—especially after the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, which within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was created to mediate greenhouse gas emissions that have a direct effect on global warming. The aim of this exhibit is to amplify the urgency of artists’ visions. By working through various media, materials, and scales, they offer direct and indirect responses to their manmade and natural surroundings; how both must co-exist with heightened awareness of the fragility of our planet earth. An integral part of the motivation for Rail Curatorial Projects is to create productive dialogues and collaboration between artists, institutions, and communities alike. Teachers and students from different disciplines at Colby College along with citizens of Waterville will be invited to generate their own responses to this timely issue. In addition to various public programming, including panel discussions, poetry readings, dance, and music performances, the Brooklyn Rail, in collaboration with the Colby Museum and the Lunder Institute for American Art, will publish a special issue of the River Rail. In conjunction with this exhibition, Phong Bui and Francesca Pietropaolo have curated an official Collateral Event for the 2019 Venice Biennale with a similar focus on climate change and global warming, Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum at the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti, on view through November 24, 2019. Curated by Phong Bui
Mel Chin 54
Justin Brice Guariglia
Works in the exhibition Occupy Colby: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 2, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME, 2019
Lauren Bon, Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, 2019. Glass neon, metal brackets. 41 × 97 × 2 ½ in. Courtesy the artist and Metabolic Studio, Los Angeles. Lauren Bon, Honey Chandelier, 2007. Honey acquired from war-torn countries around the world (2001–7). Collected jars, wire, burlap, hessian, light bulbs. 60 × 48 × 40 in. Courtesy the artist. Page 51 (photo: Joshua White) Lauren Bon, Honey Helmet, 2018. Soldier’s helmet and beehive in artist’s vitrine. 32 × 19 × 19 ¼ in. Courtesy the artist. Page 25 (photo: Joshua White) Katherine Bradford, Sargasso, 2012. Oil on canvas. 56 × 66 × 2 in. Collection of Beth Lee and Adam Lloyd Beckerman. Courtesy the artist. Page 52 David Brooks, Imbroglios (a phylogenetic tree, from Homo sapiens to Megalops atlanticus), 2012. Fiberglass gelcoat, MDF, pencil, hardware. 60 × 144 × 252 in. Courtesy the artist. Page 53 David Brooks, Repositioned Core, 2014. Rock core representing nine million years of sedimentation—extracted from one mile down in Texas’s oil-rich Permian Basin, metal track, wood blocking, hardware, newspaper rack, and artist publication. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. Mel Chin, L’Arctique est Paris, 2016. Video, 6 min., 36 sec. Courtesy the artist and Helen K. Nagge. Page 54, bottom (stills from L’Arctique est Paris)
Mel Chin, Bird is the Word, North Carolina Variation, 2019. Webster’s Third International Dictionary, beeswax, wood. 11 ¼ × 7 ¼ × 5 ½ in. Courtesy the artist and Helen K. Nagge. Pages 54, top; 82 (photo: Micky Bedell) Mark Dion, A Curious Generation of Ostrich, 2015. Ostrich egg, clay, ink. 9 ¾ × 4 ⅞ × 4 ⅞ in. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles. Mark Dion, After Den, 2012/2017. Diorama model of existing public installation, mixed media. 49 × 61 × 57 in. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles. Pages 55, 84–85 Justin Brice Guariglia, We Are the Asteroid I, 2018. Text, sandblasted solarpowered LED message board, gilded with 23.75 K rosenoble gold. 186 × 138 × 159 in. Courtesy the artist. Pages 56–57 (photo: Luc Demers) Justin Brice Guariglia, BAKED ALASKA, 2018. UV acrylic inkjet print, six high-density polystyrene panels, epoxy, hand-carved text, polystyrene chips. 96 × 192 × 1 ¾ in. Anchorage Museum Collection. Maya Lin, Interrupted River: Penobscot, 2019. Glass marbles, adhesive. 288 × 264 × 58 in. Courtesy the artist. Page 58 (rendering of Interrupted River: Penobscot) Alexis Rockman, Disney World I, 2005. Oil on wood. 72 × 84 in. Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody. © 2019 Alexis Rockman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York. Page 59, top
Clifford Ross, Hurricane LXVII, 2013. Archival pigment print. 59 × 112 5/8 in. Courtesy the artist and RYAN LEE gallery. Page 60 Allyson Vieira, Get Shot, Got Shot, Give Shot, 2018. Styrofoam, plastic bags, resin. 63 ½ × 47 ½ × 7 ¼ in. Courtesy the artist. Allyson Vieira, Orange to Green, 2018. Styrofoam, plastic bags, spray paint, high-visibility vest, resin. 64 × 47 ½ × 5 ¾ in. Courtesy the artist. Page 61 (photo: Genevieve Hanson) Allyson Vieira, Domestic Waste, 2018. Styrofoam, plastic bags, resin. 41 ½ × 66 ¼ × 5 ¾ in. Courtesy the artist. Allyson Vieira, Terroir, 2018–19. Construction debris netting, post shores, zip ties. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. Meg Webster, Mother Mound Salt, 2016. Salt. Approx. 42 × 114 in. diameter © Meg Webster. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Pages: 62, top; 80– 81 (photo: Steven Probert) Meg Webster, Polished Stainless Steel for Reflecting Outstretched Arms, 2012. Mirror-polished stainless steel. 72 × 53 in. © Meg Webster. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Page: 62, bottom right (photo: Steven Probert) Meg Webster, Bear, 2008. Electronic images of polar bears gathered from the Internet. 7 3/8 × 9 ¼ × 1 3/8 in. Edition of 3, 2 APs. © Meg Webster. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Page 62, bottom left
Alexis Rockman, East 82nd Street, 2007. Oil on wood. 80 × 68 in. Collection of Timothy A. Pappas, courtesy of Hamilton Arts, Inc. © 2019 Alexis Rockman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York. Page 59, bottom 63
Bruesewitz: This question is one that I have too. How do you hold that tension between communicating a sense of hope and optimism in your work versus the sense of urgency about what is happening? Rockman: I don’t know how much hope and optimism have helped. I don’t see them being that effective in America at this point. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s been a complete failure. Bui: One of my favorite art historians, a German art historian, Max Friedländer, once said that it’s easier to change your world view than to change the way you hold your spoon. I know that’s true. The last time I did an exercise, running, was when I was running away from being shot at in labor camp—but I’m hitting the gym now [laughter]. I’m changing my habit. There’s hope. Rockman: I want to make a slight addendum to what I just said. Our generation—I’m 57, and I’ve not been the purveyor of positive news, to say the least, but I take a lot of hope from the youngest generation of activists, Greta Thunberg, et cetera. Extinction Rebellion is a group that you should all be interested in. To give up would be a complete disaster. But I’m disappointed by the effectiveness that we’ve had as educators, artists, and whatever else has been brought to the table. It’s not [about] good intentions. This is about results. It’s not about individual failure. It’s about structural failure. Bruesewitz: Multidisciplinarity really plays into that. If we’re not talking about these different areas, it’s really hard to do. Bui: I remember Isaiah Berlin’s very famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Even though it was written in the early ’50s, it didn’t become famous until it was included in his classic Russian Thinkers, published in the late ’70s. The notion of the essay is simple. It comes from a line in Archilochus’s poem that says, “The fox might know many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” And he then divides the two, the artistic and the intellectual temperaments. The hedgehog could see the world and interpret with one single vision. The fox requires a multitude of interpretations; the world cannot boil down to one vision.
The essay divides thinkers into different kinds. The hedgehog, I remember, began with Plato, Lucretius, Dante, Pascal, Hegel, all the way to Dostoyevsky and Ibsen. As for the foxes, he exemplified Herodotus, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Molière, maybe Montaigne, all the way to Joyce and Philip Warren Anderson. And it was a very famous essay. Now, Berlin admitted he didn’t intend for it to be taken seriously. He intended it as an intellectual game. But everyone read it. And that separation began right there. You have to choose whether you’re a fox or a hedgehog. [In the art world], I guess the hedgehog would be Rob Ryman or Agnes Martin. The fox would be, maybe, Louise Bourgeois— [Crosstalk] The world changes so much now. I think there’s a different way of seeing without having to pigeonhole yourself as a hedgehog or a fox. And with that, I’m going see whether we can have questions, because that’s very important.
Q&A Question: Could you tell a little bit more about the River Rail? Bui: It came about two years ago. If you’ve seen the Brooklyn Rail—it’s free, also online—it has all the political/social issues. It’s a monthly meditation inspired by a great magazine in 1916 called The Seven Arts, which was only in existence for one year, and that was my model. I love it so much. The River Rail came with the urgency after Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement. I felt it was a good occasion to bring in friends from the scientific sector and poets and writers and artists. That was the idea—more focus on the environmental crisis. And that’s exactly what we do now. Question: Hearing you talk about hope versus despair, about asymmetry, about thinking about these distant time scales both going forward and looking back, it makes me wonder whether one of the questions we’re really grappling with is, What are the forms that help us think our contemporary moments? How can we actually grapple, either intellectually or in terms of habit, with the scale of the destruction and the scale of what’s happening? Not necessarily which forms you’re working with, but which ones inspire you to keep grappling with the issue of climate change or the Anthropocene or however you phrase it. What is the artistic form that seems consummate to the current moment? Vieira: Science fiction. Rockman: Well, that’s the uncanny valley, right? Because it’s not— Vieira: It depends on what you’re reading [laughter]. Rockman: Yeah. But anticipatory science, journalism, et cetera? That’s the disconnect, for me at least. Peterson: I think that’s true of speculative fiction. It’s certainly important. Alexis, I’m wondering what you think the “disconnect” is. Rockman: Well, I think there’s still a cultural disconnect between reading or looking at this information and framing it within the cultural history that we’re familiar with—this type of iconography. I find myself secretly consoling
myself that it’s not possible. I’m talking about a small, reptile-brain part of myself. And I know that if I’m doing it, and I’m despairingly immersed in it often enough—I try to turn it off to have a life, so to speak—I think there’s a serious problem, especially in America: avoidance of information that makes us uncomfortable, Americans especially. Vieira: I would say, as somebody who lives in New York City, that Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is sort of the opposite. It’s almost an instruction manual for what’s coming. Rockman: I’m familiar with the work, but I have to point out that as much as the author is important in science fiction, it hasn’t permeated culture enough to be part of the conversation. Bui: The interesting thing is that the world is no longer divided, at least in the technological, social media sense. Rockman: But it is economically, and there are the vestiges of the Civil War that still define this country. Bui: Yeah. But earlier, we talked about globalization. About how Ai Weiwei was able to mobilize his visual production, the art production with which he was able to carry on his political activism. In a way, he’s more of a political activist than he is making himself out to be at the moment. That not to say that’s good or bad; people do different things. John Elderfield, the great curator of MoMA, is curating a show of Cézanne and ecology. We know something about Cézanne and his relationship with philosophy. So many philosophers have written about him: Merleau-Ponty, Forrest Williams, and endless other people. Now we learn that Cézanne hated technology like Heidegger hated technology. We learn that he became angry when on the landscape of his development site, there arose a new soap factory— Rockman: In Mont SainteVictoire? Bui: Exactly. So his relationship to ecology, the landscape, trees, and whatnot is really something that we didn’t think about. When Impressionism became a popular movement, it was not exactly to celebrate modernity, the steam-
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boat and the train and the new boulevard being built in Paris. There was the subversive meaning to it too. Rockman: The industrial revolution and— Bui: Exactly. There’s always this perpetual struggle between technology and returning to nature. Question: I wanted to go back to the title of the exhibition. There’s a kind of manifesto-like quality— I don’t know if that reflects hope or a kind of angry defiance that artists need to create in the same scale we destroy. And then we have “We are the asteroid,” which is kind of an artistic affirmation of the fact that we’re the problem. We are destroying. And I look at Allyson’s work, which, with its arrows, makes you think, Are we getting a direction or a roadmap toward survival? Not so much [laughter]. And then Alexis’s work, where I see not so much a roadmap to survival but almost a celebration of the nonsurvival of the human, maybe particularly in the Epcot work where you see the boar and nutria. Maybe there’s almost a celebration of that: the only way the world survives is without humans. I come from a classical tradition where hope is not seen as a good but possibly as one of the greatest evils. There’s a reason it’s in Pandora’s box [laughter]. So I want to know whether all of you see hope as a good or an evil, and do we need more hope or [more] defiance at this point? Bui: Well, let’s put it this way. I come from a culture ravaged by war from the very beginning: 1,000 years of Chinese domination, and then 200 years of French colonization, 25 years with the Americans, and in between, the country was split in half and would fight against each other, brother against brother, kin against kin. It’s human nature. As far as hope is concerned, it’s hard to tell. But I always value the artist’s work. When I say artist, I mean in the Renaissance sense. People like us: writers, poets, and musicians. We sense things, we allow that inner freedom to create form or sound or things that reflect our surroundings. And that’s what I meant by beginning with cave art. You see these traces. There’s always a way people come together, individually or
collectively. People who have been scientists became artists and vice versa. In the beginning of the ’70s, it was Earth artists who were able to mobilize their work in different ways, away from the constraint of so-called studio practice. I think Pollock may have been the first one who opened up the whole spatial perspective of it. To me, Earth art was uniquely American. That couldn’t be done anywhere else. I’m not so sure, hopeful or less hopeful. But it has to start with this country. We have to be aggressive against the Trump agenda in little things that we can do. Maybe we get together, hopefully, with the people of Waterville. We have to talk to people about what their concerns are. If you can move a tiny bit of the needle of discourse, of awareness, it’s huge. That’s why we wanted to bring this show and the one in Venice back to New York City and add more artists and do programming like the River Rail. Bring the poet, create a program for the filmmaker, the dancer, the musician, and all the seven arts together and then have it travel to Chicago, to Miami. That’s what I meant about being aggressive with subtlety. Question: What do you feel about this responsibility that you carry to communicate with society? Where do your strong motivations come from, and also the sense of hope, and the sense of optimism and pessimism? As a student, I really want to understand how my future works—for example, what I can do for society. So how do the artist and the scientist and all the philosophers think about their own responsibility to motivate society, and how do you treat the sense of responsibility in your life and in your work? Bui: Well, this is part of it. The fact that you asked a question, and I’m up here having a clue how to respond to it [laughter]. We are here talking. We’re sharing. There’s a sense of urgency. Vieira: I also think that—you’re an art student here? Question: Yeah. Vieira: I think that as a student, it’s so difficult at the beginning—I teach, so I’m thinking of you as if
you were one of my students. It’s so difficult at the beginning to start making art. It’s like, “Oh, I’m going to make things that are about me,” very navel-gazing. And it’s normal, right, when you’re 18, 19 years old, to feel that way. Because what do I know? I know myself, and I know my feelings. And ultimately, no matter how old you get, the work still comes from what you’re thinking, but the idea is to then phase it outward, right? How do I make it not just personal? How do I communicate something that other people can actually have an experience with? How can you make it more expansive? Bui: It’s the same way for both Denise and Keith—their thinking about ecology, about science, about philosophy. They have to find a way, particularly now with the River Rail, to contribute so that everyone can read it and understand what they do. And I think that’s huge. Because oftentimes, we talk about ourselves and get insular and forget to be generous, which means simplicity. It’s very important to have that simplicity, to be transparent. It’s not easy. We get so incredibly specialized and forget to talk about what we do. Learning to speak English, which I did, taught me a great deal too. Most immigrants have a similar anxiety. To find the right words to express your feelings and what you’re thinking is not easy. And that’s exactly why art, any kind of artistic endeavor, is so amazing—we allow it to have its own freedom. What Denise does has a different kind of freedom— mostly fieldwork, which is not exactly what an artist does, in a studio, a more private space. So my idea is very simple. I think we need to do more of this. This is how we share what we do. It’s not enough just to be in the classroom teaching students. Actually, I want to ask you guys, When you teach, what do you want the student to come away with? Ideally, what would they learn? Bruesewitz: It’s hard to distill, but I teach a class on these ideas of the Anthropocene and the way that humans have shaped the planet. And one of the things I do in that class of primarily science students is ask them to find a nonscientific way to explore and communicate that idea to other people. It signals to a science student that that’s a valuable exer-
cise, that there’s real importance and weight to it. It takes work, and it takes time, and it’s a part of your work as a scientist— Rockman: It’s been one of the failures of the generation of scientists— Bruesewitz: Yeah. In some ways, it’s a scary thing for a scientist to do because it makes you vulnerable. You may not be used to exploring these concepts in those ways. And just sort of signaling to students that that is meaningful— Rockman: Part of the responsibility— Bruesewitz: And the responsibility is, to me, one of the things I really hope they take from that class in particular. Vieira: I’d like to recommend that scientists and other people who use data visualizations actually work with graphic designers because man, they’re pretty bad [laughter]. Bruesewitz: It’s happening, more and more. Many of us have looked up from our horrible charts and tables— Vieira: I’m sorry [laughter]— Bruesewitz: No, it’s true—and said, “Wait a minute. Nobody wants to look at this stuff.” How do we change that? How do we keep the science strong and not be too opinionated about it? How do we communicate the meaning and the urgency behind the work? I think that’s a conversation that’s happening more and more in scientific— Vieira: Yeah. You can inflect the design. I mean, text messages have no vocal inflection, and so we don’t understand sarcasm in them. How can a series of—how can a flowchart be inflected? Bruesewitz: I think there’s a fear of that. Vieira: Well, it’s a fear of inflection in general. Bui: Keith, what would be ideal for a student coming away from having studied with you? Peterson: One of the things I try to communicate to my classes is that ideas have a history and a culture and a context. The con-
ceptual framework they employ is not something they invented by themselves. They absorb it in the native language that they speak. They’re socialized into particular ideas about what’s valuable and what’s not, they have certain ideas about what should be prioritized when they’re making decisions, and they didn’t come up with these on their own. The conditions under which they think and act are not just historical and cultural but geographical, institutional, political, and very material as well. And so, in terms of environmental questions, one of the things I think environmental philosophy and environmental humanities more generally can provide is some knowledge about the conditions under which we make claims to knowledge, like scientific ones about the environment, and on the basis of which we also (“we” usually meaning some elite class up there) make environmental policy, which leads to some sort of action. So, as usually understood, under the environmental studies umbrella, there is environmental science (which is made up of facts and knowledge and so on) on one side and environmental policy on the other side, and one of the things we can use the humanities to do is reveal, assess, interpret, and understand the various kinds of conditions under which knowledge claims and policies are made. Knowledge of these conditions is just as important as any ecological knowledge about the environment itself. I would like students to be able to do that by the time I’m done with them. The point of understanding these conditions is, of course, to be able to imagine alternatives to the current cultural and economic regime that has led to the precarious state of many human and nonhuman communities today. Question: You were talking about how art might be a way to break down language barriers to get ideas across, maybe on a more emotional level or some other level. And this exhibition specifically is focused on the environment and creating more than we’re destroying environmentally. I’m curious, especially with the two artists here, how explicitly you care about the message that is being distributed. When I was in the museum today looking at Alexis’s work, I feel like I got a very specific message about what you were trying to portray about the future. Looking at Allyson’s
work, I was not getting that same explicit message. And so my question for the artists is, Do you care what message is being received from your art? If you care, how do you try to curate that message? If your intention is just to make people think, why is that your intention? Rockman: I make images that have a resonance for me at the time, that have a multitude of meanings and reasons for existing. And I wouldn’t make the same work today that I did 15 or 30 years ago. But I can’t speak to what message you walk away with. That’s impossible for me to know. Bui: How did you feel when you looked at the work? Question: I thought I got a clear message about a potential future that is—I’m blanking on the right word, but dystopian compared to now. And when I was looking at Allyson’s work, I didn’t really know what to think—and it got me thinking that I didn’t know what to think. Hearing you talk about it, that’s really cool, and it makes a lot of sense to me. Rockman: There’s a paradox between activism and messages. So I’m somewhere in between. As Cecil B. DeMille said, “If you need a message to be delivered, call Western Union” [laughter]. Vieira: I think you picked up on a sort of ambivalence in my work. I guess that’s what I would call it. But as I said earlier, for me, morality becomes irrelevant when I’m thinking on that scale—at least, human morality. I don’t know if morality exists outside of humans. That’s a question for Keith. [laughter] When I work, I’m usually trying to set up physical situations and material situations—you were talking about responding in an emotional way; I like to think that we respond bodily and in a material, a very sensate sort of material way— and that’s the sort of thing I try to activate within my work, always. Bui: John Keats set the term negative capability, which is a way to describe what artists do. The ability to live in uncertainties, in doubts, without having a need to reach out for reason and justification. I think that’s exactly what artists do when they do it best, when they are at ease in their condition.
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Christopher Walker In Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson is the author of numerous novels, short stories, and essays. His writings explore our most pressing ecological challenges, including climate change, the intersection between economic and environmental justice, and geoengineering. 68
Christopher Walker: You are well known for your optimism about the future, which features prominently in both the science-fiction worlds you create—worlds of revolution, respect for science, and the possibility of a new commons—and your lectures on science as a utopian endeavor. How do you maintain your own optimism in our contemporary moment of political and environmental crises? Kim Stanley Robinson: It’s getting harder. To the extent that I manage it, I think it’s mainly due to my mom, Gloria McElroy Robinson, who was a cheerful person. But I also saw very clearly that she regarded cheerfulness as a moral position, which she took even in hard times, no matter how she was feeling internally. It was a performance. I’ve tried to learn from her and behave similarly, partly as a way to honor her memory. Then politically, I always rehearse Antonio Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” which suggests that optimism can be a political position, taken as part of the project of working toward the best political result. The current situation is really perilous. I think it’s clear that stopping our fossil carbon burn fast enough to avoid climate disaster might not happen, which will leave us scrambling hard to recover, if we can. We can burn 500 more gigatons of fossil carbon before we shoot over the 2 degree Celsius average global temperature rise that is identified as the highest we can go before some really bad consequences might follow. Meanwhile we’ve already identified more than 2,500 gigatons of fossil carbon in the ground, and the extra 2,000 gigatons that we can’t safely burn are already on company books and regarded as national assets by several very powerful countries. So this is a dire situation. People who consider themselves good and responsible persons will be attempting to burn those 2,000 gigatons, at least at first. If sold today at the price of oil, those 2,000 gigatons would be worth around $700 trillion. So people
will be thinking, hey, I’ll just sell my trillion before the rest becomes stranded assets. And a lot of money will get spent to justify doing this. Against that destruction, and for life on Earth, we have science and the scientific community, and everyone who believes in science, and in civilization continuing. We have the Paris Accords, and we have the world’s attention on this issue as the crucial existential issue of our time, even a crux in human history. Fifteen years ago we didn’t have these things, and now we do. So the discursive struggle has been won to that extent, and the battle lines are now clearly drawn. It will be a battle, but it may remain mainly a discursive battle, and a policy battle. And with survival at stake, not of our species but of our civilization, I think it makes sense to hold onto optimism as a weapon in this battle. We can do it, and therefore we should do it, for our descendants’ sake. We have to go into it with that attitude. This is the line of thought I’ve taken in bolstering my own optimism, which I sometimes call angry optimism, as I often have to force it. Also to distinguish it from Slavoj Žižek’s cruel optimism, which to me is the thoughtless assertion that everything will be okay.
CW: Elsewhere you have suggested that science-fiction genres utilize different strategies for speculating about the future— specifically that dystopias explore our fears while utopias investigate our hopes. Does the widening political gulf between Left and Right complicate this picture? I can’t help but think of the varied responses to the melting of Arctic sea ice: as a tragic event with frightening repercussions, or as an opportunity for accelerated resource extraction. How might we make sense of late capitalism’s delighted anticipation of what we know to be ecological crisis?
KSR: The political divide between Left and Right is always there. You could say the Right uses fear, the Left hope. At first this makes the Right stronger, because fear is immediate, and easier to feel and to fan the flames of. But hope is persistent, starting as it does at the cellular level. It’s biologically intrinsic to life, in other words, and politically it’s the home of the young and the idealistic, and of all people looking to make the future better than the present. So since the situation is in fact very scary, fear has its followers and can be used as a club by the greedy, who are also fearful— fearful that enough isn’t really enough, so they have to grab more. But you only need a working political majority to get things done politically. There will never be much more than a working majority, not until there is a shift in the world culture’s “structure of feeling,” after which this set of questions will recede in a new hegemonic structure of feeling in which it’s seen as normal to adjust civilization to the biosphere’s energy flows, and insane not to. Then the fear party will seize on other fears, but the necessary work on this central project will proceed without controversy attending it, as just being the necessary thing. The real issue here is the need for a new political economy to emerge that will call for and develop a new economics. Right now I think the crux is not politics, where a working political majority is always very close to rallying together to do the necessary things; it’s economic, where current power has been expressed as the neoliberal capitalism we live in, in which the biosphere is ridiculously underpriced, and people also; they are thought of as commodities, as labor power only. This comprehensive global system of laws is backed by powerful people who don’t understand the disastrous ramifications of their policies for their own descendants. But until a viable new economics is invented and legislated, this
CHRISTOPHER WALKER: IN CONVERSATION WITH KIM STANLEY ROBINSON
system will continue to limp along as it is now, wrecking the biosphere and people’s lives. So where are the economists? Where is the new political economy that not only is adequate to the situation, but can be legislated from within the one we’re in now? This is the better way to portray the problem, rather than some portrayal of Left-Right, even though it’s that, too. Can we figure out a way to pay ourselves to do the necessary things for biosphere health and our civilization’s survival? If we did, it would be a leftist accomplishment, I judge. But it would also quickly become hegemonic, and the Right would learn to live with it, and would help enact it.
CW: Recently there has been research and journalism indicating that scientists are rethinking the use of affect in conveying their findings to the public. Perhaps fear is rather important? Is the choice of genre used to imagine the future an ethical (or perhaps a political) choice, for the scientist or the science-fiction author? KSR: I think the term “Anthropocene” started from fear. It was an intervention made first by scientists to underline the gravity of the situation, to scare us by pointing out the level of responsibility we now have for the health of the biosphere going forward. But there’s a fine line here, like a tightrope, that I see many scientists trying to balance on as they go forward. To have a voice in the cultural discussion, they are strongest when they “remain scientists.” The usual fear tactics used by right-wing angry politicians won’t be appropriate if you want to remain a scientist and speak as a scientist. On the other hand, the situation is growing even more scary than many people realize. The Right warns of a flood of immigrants, of losing one’s national identity; well, this is bad, maybe, but losing one’s food source and one’s resistance to fatal 70
diseases is even worse. And the immigrants are in fact being created by climate chaos. They are climate refugees, our fellow humans in trouble. So there is a line of argument that I see scientists following that in effect both doubles down on the fear and at the same time points to the real source of fear and what could be done about it. Meanwhile, other scientists are pointing out that fear often leads to bad decisions. I should think misplaced fears would be especially likely to cause bad decisions. And the work that has to be done now has to be structured within a global political-economic system of huge size and complexity. In essence, global society is a technology that includes language and law and justice as necessary software components. It’s not natural, it’s an artificial human construct, an accidental megastructure, which has evolved over time as earlier generations responded to earlier crises and opportunities. In that historical matrix, fear is only one component. My impression is that most scientists would prefer to keep the discussion on the level where science is most powerful: paying attention to data, analyzing it, modeling possible futures based on a variety of potential actions, then working collectively toward a perceived best result. This method too is a kind of technology, and it can be inspired by fear, but needs to proceed as a method that is collective and fueled more by hope than fear, I think.
CW: What does “speculation” mean today? It seems one must speculate about the future from some sense of the present moment. This leads me to wonder whether the accelerating pace of dire warnings about our ecological crisis has limited the types of futures that science fiction can imagine. For instance, does the shrinking time horizon for action result in the modification of either the form or the content of the worlds that science
fiction can imagine, either requiring a more modest utopia or expanding the time horizon for its achievement? KSR: I think science-fiction speculation is much like a modeling exercise in the sciences, but run as a thought experiment only, with the trajectory of the speculated future influenced by one’s assumptions about the present, one’s theory of history, and one’s decisions concerning which part of the current situation one wants to track forward. So it’s a very subjective business compared to a computer modeling exercise, but the same logic is being used in both cases. Given where we are now, depending on what we do in the next few decades, we could end up with a mass extinction event causing a dystopian global crash, or we could end up with a prosperous, just, and sustainable civilization that includes a healthy biosphere with all its creatures. This enormous spread of possible futures, from really bad to really good, is the reality of our moment, looking forward. The sheer spread of possibilities is itself mind-boggling and disorienting, and fundamental to the structure of feeling in our moment. Could be great, could be awful. And that being the case (and I think it’s perfectly clear to all that it is the case), then the inevitable conclusion is that right now the stakes are really, really high. What we do in this coming decade is crucially important for the people coming in the next centuries. That in itself is deeply frightening. We’re not that wise. It feels like we’re at one another’s throats. And so on. So science fiction reflects this feeling in its stories. One strand of science fiction simply blows its circuits and says, Oh my God it’s too much, I’m just an entertainer, I will revert to the genre as it existed in the 1930s and do space opera and ignore the present entirely. This is a kind of nostalgia or comfort food, and we see it all over our culture, so science fiction does it too and is part of that escapism. But FALL 2O19
science fiction is also the game of imagining possible futures and finding the interesting stories to be told there. And with that, given where we are, the science fiction that engages this present reality becomes a crucial tool of human thought and planning. It’s the imaginative wing, saying, if we do X we get to Y, if we do A we get to B. You can see the logic of the argument creating the story, and you see also the ramifications of our current actions—you live them fictionally, you feel in advance what they would feel like. All that is crucial stuff. So a fair number of science-fiction writers are doing those kinds of stories.
CW: In your novel 2312, published in 2012 and set three hundred years in the future, there is a striking moment when the narrative surveys Manhattan, which has been flooded by sea-level rise. There is the suggestion that New York has become a beautiful “super Venice,” that the city had been improved by the flood. This sentiment makes me wonder whether a tension exists between speculating about adapting to, and thriving in, a climatechanged world and the need to mourn humanity’s responsibility for environmental change, such as species loss? KSR: Yes, certainly the tension is there, and the danger of glossing over the bad parts, and of suggesting things that are wrong. To say humanity will adapt and thrive in any possible future—no, that’s wrong. It could get bad enough to create a universal disaster killing mass numbers of people, and a subsequent post-traumatic remnant population. That’s one story that can be told. But for most of the possible futures, including the ones I feel are most likely to come to pass, after the disasters of this century, which could be quite bad, people will be born for whom their world will seem natural to them. It will be a given, and they will be coping with their
CHRISTOPHER WALKER: IN CONVERSATION WITH KIM STANLEY ROBINSON
given. If there hasn’t been a complete collapse, there will be young people looking for fun, for love, for a way to make a positive contribution. They won’t sit on the ground and cast ashes on their heads. They may say, “Our ancestors were selfish idiots,” but this is a pretty common feeling at all times. They’ll be busy coping with what they’ve got. When telling a story set in the future, that particular story has to be told as if it were really being lived. The crimes and stupidities of the past are very often part of the story. The persistence of pain, the way “hurt people hurt people”—or the way that sometimes they don’t. Literature is always “staying with the trouble,” as Donna Haraway puts it—not often coming to conclusions or generalizing, but rather telling a story about individual characters in a single scenario. In 2312 I had people from space visiting Earth, seeing the devastation, and feeling it like a blow to the heart. They are rich people, in effect, seeing that poor people are still struggling. Earth is called the Planet of Sadness. But also there are people living on after the devastation. One of the main projects in the novel is to describe the return of the wild animals to Earth’s surface, a project shared by rich and poor together. Taken all in all, the novel is an allegory for attending to Earth, treating making things right as the main project of civilization, more important than the various space colonies also described in the book. The comment to the effect that New York flooded is better than ever, which I expanded on in my 2017 novel New York 2140, is just one part of a larger scenario, a bit of bravado meant to shock readers—after all, how would this speaker know whether it was better or not? It was a sentiment associated with Swan, whose judgment is poor, and with New York, traditionally devoted to itself as the best of all possible worlds. The novel brings all of that up. But still, it’s easy to suggest things inadvertently.
Regarding the larger question of how to portray the future: the thing that can never be recouped is extinction. Other than that, we can always keep trying to do better. So our project should be to avoid a mass extinction event. The Endangered Species Act should be our main guide for action, our prime directive in this century. All my recent stories constellate around that perception.
CW: The Guardian has recently updated its style guide to prefer the phrases “climate crisis” and “global heating” to more accurately capture the urgency of our moment. The move is a useful reminder of the power of language and its capacity to mobilize action. Of the phrases and watchwords currently circulating—Gaia, the Anthropocene (and its variations), global “weirding”—are there any that you find especially helpful for thinking and acting? KSR: I like this question of language getting explicitly discussed. I think it’s important. “The sixth great mass extinction event” is to me the most powerful new phrase. This is what we’re in danger of falling into, that we have to avoid at all cost. Literally at all cost. It’s going to cost a lot, but it has to be done. Some of these new phrases clarify a phenomenon we saw but didn’t yet understand. “Atmospheric river” and “polar vortex” are two new and useful phrases. Back around 2000 there was another one, “abrupt climate change,” that came after the ice-core data from Greenland showed profound climate change happening in just three years. When they saw this finding, the geologists wanted to wave a new red flag, as their previous notion of “abrupt” was more like 5,000 years. The word “Anthropocene” has, in less than 20 years, been taken up by academia and chewed into near-uselessness. I worry that now it’s just
good for academic hair-splitting. But maybe not—it’s a sign of our times, a name that will always make us think, I hope. It’s an important word. I wonder if the relevant scientific committee of stratigraphy scientists will make it official, but in any case we’re in it, and the word itself always forces some thinking. “Gaia” is interesting, at least when Bruno Latour uses it to describe the biosphere as a total system, or entity, or—there isn’t a noun for it that is truly fitting, he argues—and so Gaia gets invoked to make us try to think through that totality. The biosphere is alive, we are all part of it, it isn’t conscious and yet it’s coevolving and active as a totality. The work of thinking what this means, the getting balked in that effort, the lack of comprehension of what we’re in—all this is useful. Now I want Gaia Warriors.
Because of that, Haraway’s motto of “staying with the trouble” is nicely persistent and lowkey. Maybe too low-key. But taking care of the biosphere is something we always have to do anyway, so why not have a phrase for it, a motto for action. The other motto I like is Aldo Leopold’s “what’s good is what’s good for the land.” This deservedly famous “land ethic” is a kind of all-purpose measuring stick for all our behaviors. What’s good in this process of naming, and will continue to happen, is the creation of lots of new phrases and words (I recently wrote an introduction to An Ecotopian Lexicon, out from University of Minnesota Press this October). All the new phrases and names should be tested in various situations, and questioned for their usefulness. Dr. Johnson once said, speaking of literature: what’s good is what can be put to use.
“Climate crisis” I like. It’s no doubt better than “climate change,” which might have been introduced as a subterfuge to get us away from “global warming,” which was the previous general term. “Global heating” gets back to that original descriptor with even more force. “Global weirding” I don’t like. That word “weird” is from my genre community, or my hippie youth. Things were always weird, and weird is often good. And hurricanes, floods, and droughts aren’t weird at all, so the suggestion that they’re weird just because there might be more of them, and some lots stronger, is somehow wrong. It wouldn’t be weird at all. Although in general I like the term “climate crisis,” when you think the crisis is going to be lasting for a century at least, that’s daunting. Crises are by definition supposed to be short: the crux, the crossroads. But what if we’re in a crisis that doesn’t end? What if this is “the emergency century”? It’s exhausting to contemplate, and so we look away.
CHRISTOPHER WALKER: IN CONVERSATION WITH KIM STANLEY ROBINSON
Ben Theyerl Singing History and Finding Hope I want to share a story about a history, a song, and a barn. The land around my hometown of Altoona, Wisconsin, leaves you with a strong sense of how humans shape the landscape. In the Midwest, there are no geological features to stop development across the generations: no mountains to hem you in, no coast to circumscribe your movement. The cornfield out back becomes a parking lot for a new strip mall, just as years before the old-growth forest was cut down to plant the cornfield. Roads replace railroads, replacing waterways, each bringing new people and displacing those indigenous to that land who’d been there for so long before. Land here isn’t so much environment as it is commodity, inseparable from its implications to human economic systems. Spend time in the Midwest and you begin to see the story of modern land development, a story in which the environmental movement occasionally checks economic development. Those checks attempt to preserve mountains, canyons, and deserts. Parks and land trusts are created to protect the sublime and uphold the picturesque. No one tries to save a cornfield, though. And so you learn to live with change. You find yourself on the back porch with the anxious question of how long it will be until it’s fluorescent parking lights, not lightning bugs, you’re watching as dusk falls. Land use change reveals how our most familiar spaces are evolving tapestries woven together of different historical threads. This is why on a May evening I’m sitting with my friend Townes in a barn loft that once housed hay, but I can see the glow of the parking-lot lights from the paint store across the street as they pierce cracks in the warped wooden sides of the barn. Townes lives on land his parents bought from a family who homesteaded and ran a farm here for generations. His family still keeps chickens and farms a small field of corn on the southern side of the wooded compound that contains the house. But the barn we’re sitting in hasn’t had an animal besides Townes’s dog in it for years. For as long as we’ve been alive, it’s held only stories. Spaces like the barn are repositories of family histories and places where we go to tell of more urgent things as well—heartbreaks, new jobs, new lives for us to pursue. That barn loft is where old histories become hopes, where we dig up old experiences and sing them out into the rafters, only to have them drift back down into our souls. 74
Trips to the barn always hold the possibility of revealing intersections with other histories. For instance, Townes’s father, a guy who loves music, named his kids Robert, Miles, Townes, and Iris. Townes is named after the songwriter Townes Van Zandt (his siblings are named after Robert Johnson, Miles Davis, and Iris Dement, respectively). As we enter through the loft floor, Townes hits the switch on a generator, allowing a singular bulb to shine a spotlight on the posters and show bills that hang on one wall above pews rescued from the renovation of a local church. On the other wall is stacked an assortment of guitars, banjos, mandolins, and an accordion. It was Townes’s father who introduced us years ago to the concept of the “great American songbook”—the oral tradition cultivated throughout our nation’s history, songs passed from generation to generation that capture the spirit and struggle of people living in a land of contradictions and dreams. That’s what we’re playing on this May evening. “Wabash Cannonball,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “John Henry,” the kind of stuff Woody Guthrie or Doc Watson played. Townes’s father played those kinds of folk artists around their house when we were young, and it was only a matter of time until we took matters into our own hands and tried learning the songs on the guitars and banjos stored in the barn. So we sing these songs for old times’ sake, remembering our youth and trying to hammer out some new experiences along the way. With each new song we revive the histories and experiences of working people—their struggles with race, class, and the environment, mixing and melding them in a pot of verse and melody. We begin with one of our favorites, a relatively late addition to the bluegrass standards, “Paradise,” written and recorded by Chicago folk singer John Prine in 1971. We haven’t played together in a while, so landing on this tune is part choice and part necessity. It’s only three chords in the key of G, which means I know the chromatics needed for crafting licks to fill in our swing between G major, C major, and D major. We’re playing in unison on a pair of acoustic guitars, one made of maple, one of mahogany. We’re no professionals, but we’ve put in enough time up in the barn to make something we at least enjoy listening to and playing. Townes begins plucking the G major chord, which gives me one bar to hop in before he begins singing: When I was a child my family would travel down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born.
BEN THEYERL: SINGING HISTORY AND FINDING HOPE
What follows is a story of environmental crisis that mixes the history of a place and Prine’s personal history. Prine’s father grew up in Paradise, Kentucky, which was founded in the late 1800s as a coal town. There’s an old video of Prine performing “Paradise” in the backyard of his childhood home in Illinois, recounting his family history intersecting with a town and an industry that destroyed that town. That history is dense, but can be summed up like this: Paradise, Kentucky, was torn down by the government in 1967 because of the pollution risks posed by a nearby coal plant that remains standing today. The song continues, Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County Down by the Green River where Paradise lay Well, I’m sorry my son but you’re too late in asking Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away. In four lines over three chords we send the story of lives, families, human relationships lost to King Coal’s strip-mining operation. We send that history up into the vacant space of the barn, and I can’t say for certain that it doesn’t mix with some of the carbon released from that coal dug out of what used to be a mountain holding a town in its valley. With each line we breathe into that old song, moving the air with our vocal cords and our six-stringed companions, we get a little closer to understanding the deep affective connection of people to place and environment. We patch together the old songs with the environmental crisis we’re confronting in the present. “Paradise” is a history of a specific place, but it gives life to the images and adages of many. It’s a tale of destruction in the name of economic gain, a parable for the kinds of decisions made in so many histories to map out a singular future where in time, the oceans will rise to a level that threatens human populations, the crop patterns we’ve relied on for ten thousand years will fail, the highs will be higher, the lows will be lower, and we’ll see more twisters that threaten to blow everything down, including our old barn. Yet we sit in that loft, smiling as we set out for one last verse. It strikes me that in singing these histories, we’re trying to sing toward hope. Singing in unison the histories of environmental crisis is a way of working toward solutions to the problems produced by industrial capitalism. Learning these songs on instruments that archive their nature—that came from a living source with the peculiarities of life—gives me a sense of the shared dependence between humans and the species we live with in our ecological communities. Guitars of different woods have different tones. For this song Townes holds the mahogany on account of its deeper and richer mid-tones, which 76
resonate when strumming full chords. I play the maple because its upper tones are brighter, which comes in handy when you’re playing licks on the higher strings. As we understand it, reviving stories of human conflicts, land development and capitalism, and the environment is one way to intimately know our place in local ecologies. The last verse of “Paradise” reminds me of these interdependences. When I die let my ashes flow down the Green River let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam I’ll be halfway to heaven with Paradise waiting just five miles away from wherever I am. It’s just a simple allusion to Paradise and its promises, but it indicates the relationship between humans and place. By playing, by carrying on this song, we make an oh-so-tiny step toward turning the history of environmental destruction into hope. We begin to recognize the errors of the past so that we may act differently in our future. Like the land we’re sitting on, in a barn surrounded by shopping malls and paint stores, our understanding is a patchwork of times, places, and peoples. We try to become attuned to singing these old songs. We live in a moment when everything from the past seems so accessible, where you could instantly listen to the song I’ve been writing about on Spotify and bring lessons long forgotten back into the present moment. That may appear to pose challenges to unifying our collective response to our current climate crisis. But I argue that it poses a greater opportunity. Climate change requires us not only to act based on empirical modeling using the latest technological advances but also to draw on one of our oldest inventions as a species, narrative. We must see that the solution to our ecological crises lies in thinking ecologically—as a species beholden to its natural environment rather than separate from it. We do this by telling stories about ourselves. To map out our future, we have to understand past narratives as intimately connected to the present. Might we in fact harness the stories of the past to find solutions for the present? Perhaps we can find hope in our histories, as I do in that old barn on Highway 12 in Altoona, Wisconsin. That’s where Paradise is for me.
BEN THEYERL: SINGING HISTORY AND FINDING HOPE
Aaron R. Hanlon Data at the Dawn of the Anthropocene First came the comet, then the computers. In 1682, when the comet cut its path across the summer sky, Edmond Halley was ready. Having conducted research on comet sightings from the 14th century onward, he could recognize that the paths of three comets—the first observed by Peter Apian in 1531, the second by Johannes Kepler in 1607, and now the path of the comet Halley himself witnessed at home—were suspiciously similar. Halley surmised that these three comets were not distinct astral phenomena but a single comet that could be seen from Earth every seventy-six years. At first Halley was not sure what to do with his data, since no one really knew what kind of path comets took, whether they moved in orbits or in some other fashion. Later, in 1705, using Newton’s laws to calculate gravitational effects on the orbits of comets, Halley published his findings in the groundbreaking volume A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets. If Halley was right, his comet would return to view in 1758. Halley died in 1742. But sure enough, come 1758, what we now call Halley’s Comet returned, and has done so every 74–79 years. It is due to be sighted next in 2061.1 “Computer” was the term used in 17th- and 18th-century Britain to refer to people who made laborious mathematical calculations by hand, typically in astronomical contexts.2 They did the unglamorous work that predictions like Halley’s required, processing massive amounts of observational data taken from instruments like the astronomical sextant, a telescope mounted on an arc that enabled one to measure angles between two objects in the sky. When the comet appeared in 1682, Halley spent seven days assiduously recording its position against that of fixed stars in the night, and measured the length of its tail. But to account for inconsistencies in Halley’s published data and to ascertain the comet’s date of return, computers set to work. I begin with this story because it illustrates one of the most important developments of the historical Enlightenment: the effort not only to passively observe nature to know its ways but to predict and ultimately control it. Though this episode was not the first time that people sought both to know and to apply new knowledge, it is a particularly lucid example of the fusion of the desire to know and the desire to claim some semblance of control in a world full of unknowns. Today, rightly or wrongly, we associate astronomy with—per the cliché—“blue sky” thinking, futurity, an unwillingness to be constrained by immediate concerns. But during the Enlightenment, astronomy was one of the most consequentially applied sciences.
It held the key to the knowledge required to give humans a modicum of control in dealing with one of nature’s most formidable variables: the earth’s vast oceans and seas. In the Scilly naval disaster of 1707, the British Royal Navy lost four ships, amid perilous weather off the Isles of Scilly, to disorientation at sea. In one of the worst maritime disasters in British naval history, more than 1,300 sailors lost their lives. This event drew attention to a vulnerability of which Queen Anne and parliament were already acutely aware. Although it was easy enough for navigators to calculate the latitude of a ship’s position by observing the position of the sun during the day and using declination charts, or by finding the declination of fixed stars at night, the calculation of longitude, by contrast, was a seemingly intractable problem. When ship’s crews lacked the ability to orient themselves by the presence of visible land or according to latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, voyages could be delayed, rations depleted, direct routes avoided out of necessity, and, worst of all, ships lost at sea. Once out of sight of land, and therefore without a visible reference point, navigators relied on a technique called “dead reckoning,” which involved periodic calculations of the ship’s position based on a previously known position and entailed estimating and tracking the ship’s speed along the way. As one might imagine, dead reckoning was highly prone to error. It required making frequent estimations—and thus there were many occasions for possible error—and inevitably ran up against the variable and unpredictable effects of ocean conditions, visibility, and weather. It was also difficult to make precise measurements and calculations in a leaky cabin or a swaying ship. When Halley traced the comet’s path across the sky, measuring its position and tail length, he stood on firm ground. Dead reckoning was another matter. To address this challenge, Queen Anne’s government passed the Longitude Act of 1714, which established a prize competition to encourage the development of new ways of determining longitude at sea. By 1720, when Halley became the second Astronomer Royal, the director of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, computers were hard at work on their calculations, and inventors were designing and testing new sextants and chronometers (an instrument for measuring time accurately under conditions of varying motion, temperature, humidity, and air pressure). The business of charting the sky was integral to the business of transoceanic trade and British imperialism.
Reasons for a Bill: A Reward for the Discovery of Longitude. Courtesy the Library and Archives of the Royal Society.
This history is important in light of our contemporary understanding of the Anthropocene. In 2000 Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer defined the Anthropocene as our current geological and historical epoch, in which “humans have become the single most potent force in shaping terrestrial and marine ecology, global geology, and the atmosphere.”3 Central to this definition is the idea that human industrial and scientific advancement are not the result of passive activities conducted under the auspices of an endlessly accommodating Earth. In other words, the Anthropocene is to some extent a product of modern conceptions of our relationship to nature: we are not perpetually at its mercy, but rather have the knowledge and the capabilities required to bring nature to order, to impose our will upon it. For this reason, scholars of the Anthropocene frequently locate its origins in the historical Enlightenment, at the end of the 18th century in particular. And, in turn, scholars examining the 18th century and the historical Enlightenment have taken interest in the Anthropocene. As Alan Mikhail writes, “the idea of the Anthropocene allows for a new, expanded, ecologically inflected understanding of the beginnings of modernity, one that invites both humanists and scientists to the table of a long tradition of trying to explain the emergence of the modern world.”4 My contention here will be that the concept of data, including the data that gave rise to Halley’s predictions and the toiling of countless computers from the 17th century onward, is a central component of both the form of modernity characterized by the Enlightenment and the emergence of the Anthropocene age. Halley’s story illustrates a series of developments without which neither the Enlightenment nor the Anthropocene would be comprehensible:
the belief that the mysteries of nature can be known and that specific elements of nature are predictable and controllable; and the prominence given to data, so that it became the currency of both modern knowledge and the Anthropocene age itself. Like “computer,” “data” sounds like it does not belong in the English language of the 1600s, given its association today with computing and information science of the 20th-century sort, and with what Rita Raley calls “dataveillance,” the 21st-century practice of monitoring and collecting personal digital data to know things about people.5 But the first instance of the term “data” I have come across in an English-language text appears in 1630, in a tract by William Batten on—as one might have guessed by now—how to calculate the sun’s azimuth and amplitude for maritime navigational purposes.
William Batten, data, 1630.
Batten uses “data” in the sense of one of its two most common usages in the 17th century.6 Imported from Latin, in which the plural word data means “things given,” “data” in English tended to describe various kinds of givens, things that could be taken as true or axiomatic.7 Batten labels the figures in his table “data” because we are to take them as givens of the ship’s position, recordings not to be questioned but to be accepted for the sake of the mathematical exercise he demonstrates here. In this usage, in other words, data describes axiomatic, and therefore unarguable, statements or figures given for the sake of calculation. The second most common usage of the term in the 17th century was theological. As Daniel Rosenberg notes, the phrase “a heap of data,” as it appears in a 1646 theological tract by Henry Hammond, is “not a pile of numbers but a list of theological propositions accepted as true for the sake of argument.” 8 In this sense, these propositions are to be taken as “data” because, like Batten’s reference to figures in his chart, they are to be taken as given, as axiomatic: the word of God is neither to be questioned nor subjected to empirical testing. Over the course of the 18th century and into the 19th century, “data” was also used to describe historical facts, as in Joseph Priestley’s Lectures on History and General Policy (1788), and the events that took place in fictional narratives, as in Elizabeth Hamilton’s quixotic novel Memoirs of Modern Philosophers (1800). Crucially, when “data” enters the English language, its function is to signal a type of information meant to be taken as given, not to be questioned, whether in the realm of mathematics
or of theology. What I have called Halley’s astronomical data, the data the computers computed, was not actually called “data.” This omission points to a curious fact about the emergence of “data” as a word and a concept in the English language: though used as early as the 17th century with regard to forms of evidence or items in support of a proof or an argument, it was not employed to describe the results of scientific experimentation, numerical or otherwise, until the end of the 18th century. This observation allows us to draw an important lesson about the history of data and its relationship to the Anthropocene. Because of the term’s Latin meaning—things given—“data” entered the English language for the purpose not of describing any particular form of evidence—such as numbers or empirical results— but of treating evidence or propositions as given. Astronomers like Halley understandably would not have referred to the heaps of figures the computers processed as “data” because their method was generally to observe things in nature and then subject their observations to empirical and mathematical tests: nothing was to be taken as given. The motto of the Royal Society—the patron organization for experimental science, founded in 1660 and chartered by King Charles II in 1662—was “Nullius in verba,” “on the word of no one” or “take no one’s word for it.” Halley and other Fellows of the Royal Society were interested in things tested, things demonstrated, not things given. By the end of the 18th century, however, when the legitimacy of experimental science as a way of knowing had become more widespread and data was increasingly associated with empirical or experimental results, the term came to signify a different kind of given: that which is given because of the reliability of empirical science to vouch for its authority. The word “data,” then, I suggest, matured around the same time that the Anthropocene age began. Not only had scientific and technological progress brought us to a point where we could reliably predict and sometimes control aspects of nature, such that humans could become the primary shapers of ecology, geology, and atmosphere, but also the givens—the unquestionable—had changed. This is not to say that scientific findings themselves were not questioned or were regarded as unquestionable—far from it—but that the rhetorical force of the word “data” began to shift, moving from the realms of mathematics and theology into the spheres of empirical science and public policy. Today, in the throes of the Anthropocene age, as the stakes of our understanding of and trust in climate data increase with the passing of time, it is crucial to observe two key components of the historical concept of data discussed above. First, the modernization of data as a concept coincided with a growing association of data with the empirical, the observable. As Paul N. Edwards writes of 21st-century climate science in A Vast Machine, “the models we use to project the future of climate are not pure theories, ungrounded in observation. They are filled with data—data that bind the models to measurable realities.” 9 That is, regardless of evidentiary form, the basis of data remains empirical, observational. Numerical or quantitative representation may be the most common way to show data today, though we should not fail to
acknowledge the importance of understanding where any particular dataset comes from. The second key component—especially important to bear in mind in relation to the first—is that data has always performed a rhetorical function.10 The legacy of the choice to call something “data” is to signal its given-ness, to posit that we should accept its truth-value. Appeals to data therefore have a double edge. They ask you to accept something as given, as factual, as unquestionable. But they also tend to come with a tacit presupposition that given x, a particular response should logically follow: “given the data, you should do the following. . . .” But as the history of climate denial demonstrates, it is not enough to give a fact or pose a question. We must answer an additional question. If data is the currency of knowledge in the Anthropocene age, what will be the currency of persuasion? 1. “Halley” is pronounced like “Sally,” though the “Halley” in “Halley’s Comet” is often mispronounced with a long “a” and a long “e,” like “Bayley” or “Kayleigh.” 2. See David Alan Grier, When Computers Were Human (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). 3. Alan Mikhail, “Enlightenment Anthropocene,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 49, no. 2 (2016): 211. 4. Mikhail, “Enlightenment Anthropocene,” 212. 5. Rita Raley, “Dataveillance and Counterveillance,” in Raw Data Is an Oxymoron, ed. Lisa Gitelman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 121–46. 6. “Data” was a term not widely used in the English language in the 17th and 18th centuries, although, as in the examples cited here, it was employed in various specialist ways. 7. When the plural word “data” entered the English language, it was almost immediately singularized: people wrote of “the data” about as often as “these data.” The Latin singular “datum” never really took off in English, I suspect because the epistemological value of “data” was always in the aggregate. A “datum” is simply a singular account, an item, something less than an anecdote. 8. Daniel Rosenberg, “Data Before the Fact,” in Raw Data Is an Oxymoron, ed. Gitelman, 20. 9. Paul N. Edwards, A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), xii. 10. See Rosenberg, “Data Before the Fact,” 18: “The semantic function of data is specifically rhetorical.”
AARON R. HANLON: DATA AT THE DAWN OF THE ANTHROPOCENE
Arisa White Queer Weather At 12:31pm, there will be a Brandon Teena cold front coming from the northeast. Hummingbirds will take residence in the sky and the sky will be wet with their teardrop presence. The beating of their wings will make you cherish your veins humming. Prepare to feel the horripilation of your flesh—5,000 voices involuntarily voicing that they are, that they are, that they are. Bring with you the skin you’re most afraid to wear.
December 31, 1993: Brandon Teena, trans man, raped and murdered; Humboldt, NE
Bluebirds turn the sky bluer when the Sanesha sun is in the high. There will be no clouds for imagination. Clear and auspicious, 2:10pm will sharpen instincts, your gut will know the right thing to do. Prepare for the otherside of the thing to refract sunshine from its studs—the thing that detonates you to a littler self, the thing that can’t stop stabbing. Bring with you rubbish pulled from ashes, spirit to make your sorrow obsidian, and 25 umbrellas to shade the cockiest of tails.
February 10, 2008: Sanesha Stewart, trans woman, 25 years old, stabbed to death; Bronx, NY February 21, 1997: The Otherside Lounge, lesbian club, bombed; Atlanta, GA
Mallards, at 3:01pm, will collect on the Lake’s left side, forming a strapless boot. Their bills will stick and poke the water, leaving the surface tattooed in ripples. A Scarber mist will roll in from mesquite-colored hills and be a dead-weight halo on your head. Prepare to lose your ’do to tighter curls and feel the smallest doll inside yourself kick. Bring Kleenex for your wind-slut tears and nose— running to prove it’s not as solid as it appears.
March 1, 2013: Sondra Scarber, 27 years old, beaten; Mesquite, TX
The city’s drought-dry fault will seize us in a two-second quake at 4:22pm. Watch rock pigeons from hill to hill into Old Brooklyn down into the Basin make a wave. A Lee Polis hail will hit Adam’s Point and fall like a beaded curtain before a hand makes it part. Just one block to be jeweled before it melts. Prepare for two-tone dilemmas, for fear to snap a picture, and you did feel that. Bring your trope-ropes to double-dutch your legs to back-then, recall from your muscles the many pop-ups you can do.
April 22, 2011: Chrissy Lee Polis, trans woman, 22 years old, beaten, suffered seizure; Rosedale, MD
The geese will travel in their relationships, their brood and mate for life. A violet glow along the skyline, 6:23pm a northern Olgin wind and a southern Chapa wind will whip up the sand on the 12th Street side of the Lake. The evening will be warm. Prepare to taste the grit in everything, to pause your bite to consider the hole you’ll leave, to reach and feel everything and nothing at all. Bring your muted apologies, a duster for when you must brush off, and a seed you’re meaning to grow.
June 23, 2012: Mollie Olgin & Kristene Chapa, 19 and 18 years old, shot execution style near Violet Andrews Park, Portland, TX
There will be a warm Pickett breeze at 11:20pm. It will wash over you like a lover who turns you both into spoons, her breath condensing on your neck. Black-crowned night herons will come from watery nests, and you will want the rocks without spirit. Prepare to brood any of the motherless emotions that need your attachment, that need you to open the base of your throat and say grace, say thank you for this daily, say So It is. Bring your coasts and shores, a place where the brackish meets your toes.
November 20, 1995: Chanelle Pickett, trans woman, 23 years old, beaten and strangled; Watertown, MA
ARISA WHITE: QUEER WEATHER
Jim Fleming Reflections on Climate as Keyword and ShapeShifting Noun
Climate Is a Keyword “Climate” has long been one of the most consequential words in widespread usage. It deserves to be a keyword in the vocabulary of culture and society. Yet we find it neither in Raymond Williams’s classic volume Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976) nor in Digital Keywords (2016), a recent update edited by Benjamin Peters.1 It is arguably one of the most linguistically complicated words, in part because of its roots in antiquity and its development over time, and also due to its growing relevance and entanglement with human affairs. Like all powerful ideas, climate can be deceptively simple to define, yet is subject to many cultural meanings and technical interpretations.2 Climate Is Shape-Shifting It may be a truism for historians that anything that can be named possessed different meanings in different eras. Climate is a historically shape-shifting concept whose meaning has changed and is changing, perhaps faster than the climate itself. In these reflections, I review the changing nature of ideas about climate from antiquity to the present, adding a temporal dimension to the science and philosophy of climate change and the ways we think about it. Climate Is Local Climate—from the Greek term klima, meaning slope or inclination—was originally thought to depend only on the sun’s height above the horizon, a function of latitude. A second tradition, traceable to Aristotle, linked air and thus climate quality to a country’s vapors and exhalations. The Hippocratic tradition further linked climate to health and national character. Early climatologists were plant biologists and geographers who described climate zones by what grew within them.
information to engineering and the effects of climate on health, commerce, and industry. Climate Is Average Weather Climate is often said to be a statistical index of averaged weather phenomena across space and time, the sum total of which characterizes the condition of the atmosphere at any one place on the earth’s surface in a specified epoch. According to this definition, climate is concerned with the average states of weather and the frequency of the different individual types of weather in their geographical distribution. Climate Is Changing In the 19th century, scientists learned that climatic conditions can deviate dramatically from the average, for example during the last ice age, when the temperature was about 18˚F cooler than today and glaciers covered Manhattan. The identification of a mechanism for climate’s cosmic changes, from glacial to interglacial— from ice to heat—remains a central concern for geologists, astronomers, and cosmic physicists and chemists. It is a planetary issue that remains open to new approaches and ideas. Climate Is Digital In 1955 the meteorologist Norman Phillips used the most advanced digital computer available to prepare a numerical simulation of the general circulation of the atmosphere. His results—patterns of trade winds, westerly winds, moving cyclones, and strong jet streams—were suggestive but incomplete. If this was possible, what then was not possible? Since then, most climate science has been based on the output of computer models, with reduced emphasis on direct observation and measurement. Imposing challenges remain, including understanding the influence of clouds, aerosols, water vapor, and other complex factors. Although models are improving, they do not predict future climate conditions.
Climate Is Agricultural Traditionally, farmers kept a close watch on the weather, knew their local seasons, and prepared for changes. To everything there is a season—a time to sow and a time to reap, a time of abundance and a time of want. Scientific agriculturalists codified this knowledge into intricate hardiness maps and identified plant species for each growing region. With farming as the foundation of the state economies, national weather and climate services were sponsored by departments of agriculture, in the United States from 1890 to 1940. Now that growing seasons are changing, climate’s relation to agriculture is more important than ever.
Climate Is Driven During the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58—and motivated by the earlier work of Guy Callendar and others—Charles Keeling began a lengthy time series of accurate measurements of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content. Since then, the Keeling curve, the famous saw-toothed curve of rising CO2 concentrations, has become the environmental icon of the contemporary world. The anthropogenic origins of the increase and the gradual warming trend of recent decades have placed CO2 squarely at the center of climate concerns.
Climate Is Commercial and Industrial Since 1940 the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) and its predecessors have been run by the US Department of Commerce—for the benefit of commerce. The goal is a “weather-ready nation” that is optimally adaptive to its environment and responsive to environmental disruptions. With more people than ever living in cities, society is also more weather-sensitive than ever before. The field of “technoclimatology”3 involves the influences of climate on the technological aspects of modern living, not only in the quotidian sense of everyday life but also in the applicability of climatic
Climate Is Chaotic In 1960, just as atmospheric scientists were gaining confidence that satellite observations, digital computers, and a host of other new tools would cut, if not unravel, their Gordian knot of complexity, Edward Lorenz introduced chaos theory into meteorology and, by extension, into climate modeling. He brought the novel understanding that chaos theory revealed an extreme sensitivity to initial conditions in a dynamical system of deterministic nonperiodic flow. In chaos theory, future states of the weather and climate become identifiable with the attractor of the dynamical system—but the dynamical system may have
more than one attractor! Even given the development of more extensive measurements and ever more sophisticated technology, chaos theory holds that perfectly accurate forecasts of weather and climate will never be possible.4 Climate Change Is Disruptive The carbon-dioxide-as-thermostat theory is the basis for the “anthropogenic greenhouse effect,” a concept later referred to as global warming and, more recently, climate disruption. Climate change has become a defining issue of our time— an existential threat to our species and to the planet itself. According to a broad international consensus, the defining moment to do something about it is right now. There is still time to tackle climate change, but doing so will require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society. Climate Is Symptomatic In recent years, leading figures in the climate modeling community have called themselves “planetary physicians” and have appropriated descriptive metaphors from medical practice. Earth is sick and needs to see a doctor. It is out of balance, running a “fever” of 1 degree or more compared to a century ago, and the prognosis is not good. The fever will likely worsen substantially in the century to come, leading to melting ice caps, rising sea levels, killer heatwaves, and stronger storms. Most humans, by adding to the greenhouse effect, are morally culpable through their overconsumption and addiction to fossil fuels. The planetary physicians recommend drastic lifestyle changes such as a strict carbon “diet” and other mitigation strategies such as the use of renewable energy sources and efforts toward stringent energy efficiency so as to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and avoid the most dangerous climatic consequences. Compliance with this advice, however, will involve the entire population of Earth and will likely necessitate the complete restructuring of policies and even polities worldwide. Climate Intervention Is Barking Mad Engineers on the fringe of climate science advocate for an invasive form of planetary surgery called geoengineering—or, more accurately, climate intervention.5 They are proposing heavyhanded interventions to “fix the sky.”6 Climate intervention is no longer a merely rhetorical phrase. Its advocates are currently seeking respectability within national and international environmental policy circles. Their speculative ideas include diminishing the sun’s influence on the climate system by shooting as much as a million tons of highly reflective sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to turn the blue sky milky white, launching a huge fleet of space mirrors to divert incoming solar radiation, and making marine clouds thicker and more reflective by whipping ocean water into a froth with giant pumps that act like egg beaters. Remember, though, that control of a complex and chaotic climate system is simply not possible. Carbon-Cycle Engineering—What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Teams of scientists and engineers (and a few social scientists and humanists) are calling for scientifically validated, technically feasible, and
societally sensitive means to remove and safely store significant amounts of atmospheric CO2. Their goal is to limit global warming to under 2˚C by 2100.7 Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs), intended to store more carbon than they consume, do not currently exist but are imagined as massive engineering projects— planetary-scale interventions in Earth’s carbon cycle. NETs are engineers’ dreams. Their monitoring and verification requirements would be immense and unprecedented in scale. These technological fixes would attempt to use engineering or technology to solve problems, even societal problems. However, by focusing on technical challenges and deemphasizing societal perspectives, such “solutionism” appears to be shortsighted, often temporary, and rather gearheaded. A short list of engineering proposals includes the following: the removal and sequestering of terrestrial carbon by new afforestation and agricultural practices—but arable lands are limited, food production comes first, and biodiversity and water supplies could be threatened. Bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BCCS) is an appealing idea involving the burning and reuse of all available plant waste— but this is logistically challenging and not currently scalable to planetary levels. Coastal blue carbon involves stimulating the growth of plants and the deposition of carbon-rich sediments in coastal zones—but with unquantified and possibly unimagined ecological damage in valuable and highly sensitive areas. Direct air capture and sequestration, currently feasible only on small scales using “artificial trees,” is energy intensive and very, very expensive. The mining industry imagines exposing what they call “waste rock” to accelerated weathering and carbon mineralization, with unknown negative impacts to the landscape, especially water supplies. NETs should be viewed as high-tech supplements to mitigation, energy efficiency, renewables, fuel-switching, and adaptation strategies. They are expensive and energy- and infrastructure-intensive, requiring huge investments and an estimated 30 percent expansion of world energy use.8 NETs are at vastly different stages of readiness, ranging from speculative proposals to small-scale implementation. The champions of these techniques are seeking patents and future profitability, yet it is increasingly clear that proprietary solutions for planetary problems will not work. The Current Situation The growing problem of changing environmental conditions caused by climate destabilization is well recognized as one of the defining issues of our time. The root problem is greenhouse gas emissions, and the fundamental solution is the curbing of those emissions. Climate engineering has often been considered to be a “last-ditch” response to climate change, to be used only if the damage from climate change produces extreme hardship, although the likelihood of eventually needing to resort to these efforts grows with every year of inaction on emissions control. The National Academies recently concluded that there is a lack of information on potential interventions in the climate system, whether by albedo modification or carbon dioxide removal and reliable storage. They
further concluded that climate intervention is no substitute for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and adaptation to the negative consequences of climate change. What is to be done? I argue that discussion and decision-making regarding climate intervention and carbon-cycle engineering requires new and improved climate science, including continuous, technologically enhanced, real-time measurement and monitoring of the atmosphere at every scale sufficient to provide feedback and diagnostics for improved models. We also need to encompass both interdisciplinary and humanistically informed critical perspectives involving a broad and inclusive array of international and intergenerational participants. In fact, the field’s current lack of diversity indicates that some of the most important questions have probably not even been posed. For example, what gendered, racial, or class-based assumptions inform the field? How will climate change and climate engineering alter fundamental human relationships with nature? How is climate engineering perceived in different cultures? Who will make decisions on behalf of the planet? Certain questions reveal the shortcomings of economic analysis: How should “losers” be compensated and how would any non-market goods, which may be irreplaceable, be valued? Is this even the right framing? Joni Mitchell was right: “We really don’t know clouds [or climate or the carbon cycle] at all.” How can we wrest the future of the planet from the hands of potentially dangerous demagogues or climate engineers? We can begin by confronting the paucity of their proposals without throwing cold water on the vast challenges that lie before us.
1. Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); Benjamin Peters, ed., Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016). 2. Mike Hulme, “Climate Change (concept of),” in International Encyclopedia of Geography (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). 3. Helmut Landsberg, Physical Climatology, 2nd ed. (State College, PA: Gray Publishing, 1964), 389. 4. For Lorenz and chaos theory, see Edward Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993). 5. US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Climate Intervention, 2 vols. Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth and Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2015); US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2019). 6. James Fleming, Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). 7. Daniel Klein et al., eds., The Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Analysis and Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). 8. Ferenc L. Toth, ed., “Geological Disposal of Carbon Dioxide and Radioactive Waste: A Comparative Assessment,” Advances in Global Change Research 44 (2011).
JIM FLEMING: REFLECTIONS ON CLIMATE AS KEYWORD AND SHAPE-SHIFTING NOUN
Samia Rahimtoola Revelation Desert Flow
Revelation Desert Flow
1. I cross into the desert that has no edge, storm desert, desert of fences without finish, irrigated desert, a spreading of grass differently in the desert. Floating fences patrol the dunes of this desert, splintered into all its strains, exploding desert.
2. Outside my window a man is screaming about the desert. He is beating a tree with one of its branches.
“like corn in the night”
We lie in bed and listen for the vacancy that stalks the inside of our city. At certain hours, a helicopter tracks the roads behind our apartment, the roads that pass in or out from the city adjacent to this one. You know this is not a true coordinate, this city—it is an edge enfolded, the architecture of a box unfolding, sometimes this city says bridge, but means bypass, or it says company but means the wrong kind. In the alley that is also an exit from the gas station car wash a man is walking. You ask if it is the same man, can you see the branch? 3. Along the border trains speed past infrared sensors heat-emitted, time-stamped & released again to the real I can’t decide if abandonment’s impossible or all the time now. Desert flow Is there a sequence to feeling What is the choreography of the sun when it smashes us to smithereens
4. From the sway of my disaster I looked reeling out at yours: simple, radiant the color of stone at morning (revelation glow) nearly the sky’s color
“like corn in the night” it’s the fourth of july & I’m here treading the vacancy that broadens every thing about the edges less like a blur than like a seep of bursting rind you can’t steal time today it’s free it’s the second month of summer the air is hot full of clover, corn what they mow they’ll turn to count even now the fields are growing shedding time as pollen, bits of weed that can’t be gathered or even gleaned what can be carted will & nothing then not even green to fill the leaking afternoon where what’s left after what can be taken’s held when no thing grows but drifts a breeze that gently open blows closed
Justin Becknell Abandoned Spaces Each morning, I wake up early and walk with my dog from downtown to the river in the postindustrial New England town where I live. I walk a few blocks on sidewalks past buildings and parking lots to reach the river’s edge, where not that long ago a woolen mill and a foundry looked across the river to a paper mill. The riverfront has since been abandoned as a place of industry; some stretches have been turned into public parks or parking lots, while other spaces have simply been abandoned. I travel through these built spaces to landscaped spaces, and farther to abandoned spaces. Walking these transitions every day challenges me to reconcile my different ways of thinking about space. To get from my front door to the river, I begin on new concrete sidewalks, clean and unstained. I cross the soft blacktop road surface marked with faded striping, stained by lubricants and coolants leaked from passing cars. The sidewalk across the street is old, stained, and cracked. There are plants growing out from its larger cracks. I can see Virginia pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum), ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), and tufted lovegrass (Eragrostis pectinacea, I think—I’m not great with grass species). At a sunken curb cut, sand has mixed with decomposing leaves to form sufficient soil for a tiny forest of red maple (Acer rubrum) sprouts to grow. Along a chain-link fence guarding an empty parking lot, vines of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) shoot up. Trapped in the vines are a candy-bar wrapper (Twix) and a flattened fast-food drink cup (Burger King). When I cross the last street and enter the riverside park, I step into trimmed grass wet with dew. I pass shrubs and small trees growing out of mulch arranged in perfect ovals. The plants, chosen carefully by landscape architects, are native to this area, calling back to a baseline plant community that no longer exists. Red maple seedlings, white clover (Trifolium repens), and ragweed are present here, but held back by mowers and weeding hands. The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) evades them by growing flat leaves that the mower misses and by quickly moving from flower to seed between mowings. At the river’s edge, rising and ebbing waters leave driftwood and drift-trash. An entire tree’s root system is stranded on the rocks, cleaned of the soil and bark that once surrounded it. A bright yellow plastic bag is caught in the tentacle roots. A discarded water bottle lies next to a beer can on the gravel shoreline nearby. The park is small. The dog and I pass through it quickly, stopping occasionally to smell the leavings of others. We head to the north edge of the park, where an eroded dirt path into the woods along the river invites the curious. 86
* * * We might think of the world as divided into wild spaces and managed spaces. A wild old-growth forest in a remote location, or a manicured square of grass between sidewalk and building. The wild space is assumed to be the domain of nonhuman life. We might visit the wild and behold its chaos, walk the safety of a trail and look into surrounding disorder. We value the randomness. The indiscriminate mix of plants provides welcome complexity. Scattered rocks and soil offer tiny stories of geomorphic change. We might delight in a pile of deer feces because it reminds us of the presence of large creatures hiding nearby. A half-decomposed carcass encountered on the ground is slightly unnerving, but it reminds us of the very real death and violence of the wild space. A fallen tree across the path offers an appealing obstacle—an adventure amid the gentle chaos. Any perception of order devalues wildness. We would not make a straight trail when we could make a meandering one. Bridges, steps, and boardwalks are employed only when absolutely necessary. When they are made, it is usually from materials on site, made to look as rustic and at home as possible. Motor vehicles prohibited. Carry out what you bring in. Leave no trace of your presence, as it might ruin someone else’s fantasy that this space is free from human change. In the managed space, our expectations and values flip. The monoculture of neatly clipped grass reassures us that professionals are on hand to keep growth in check. The neat circle of mulch around a tree hides unseemly connections between roots and soil. Branches are trimmed to maintain a clean trunk and a shapely crown. Leaves are raked to save us from evidence of decay. The clean walkway with right angles aids efficient movement without risk of getting dirty. Anything out of place devalues the space. A piece of trash or dog feces is evidence of human shortcomings. A cracked sidewalk sprouting weeds is a sign of our failing institutions. Back on my walk, I leave the managed park and head down the trail into the woods. This area doesn’t fit nicely into either of these categories. It is certainly not managed. Once I pass the last bit of mowed grass, it’s messy and chaotic. I often forget about the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) at the edge and rush to restrain my dog before she blunders through it. It doesn’t bother her, but I’ll pet her later and pay the price. Black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) line the path. Perhaps this species escaped cultivation around the time that the riverfront industry migrated away. Now it’s the dominant tree species. As I walk, it appears that there are more introduced species than native species. Rosa multiflora, Rhamnus cathartica, and Celastrus orbiculatus are the most common plants in the understory, and all are considered invasive here. There is garbage. Evidence of homeless camps. The noise from the road nearby drowns out the sounds of birds. Stone and concrete foundations, ruins of the industrial past, stick out of the vegetation in places. It’s a place where young people hide their drinking and smoking. It is an anarchic space—in its use and in the vegetation that grows there. It is a space that is marginal and abandoned.
JUSTIN BECKNELL: ABANDONED SPACES
* * * I have developed a professional interest over the last decade in abandoned spaces. Land abandonment in forested regions has been a major focus of my research. I have studied what happens when agricultural land is abandoned and forest regrows. I’ve asked questions like: What happens to the plant species composition? Which trees are the first to arrive? Which trees come later, slowly replacing their pioneering predecessors while benefiting from how they have modified the environment? I have also studied how matter and energy move through these second-growth forests and how that changes with their recovery. I am interested in how quickly carbon accumulates and the fate of the energy it holds within its chemical bonds. I think about how we might mitigate climate change by growing back forests that take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Much of my research has taken place in so-called “secondary forest.” This is the kind of forest that grows back after the “primary forest” has been cleared for some reason. Perhaps it’s converted to pasture for a decade, then abandoned when it’s no longer profitable. The term “secondary forest” has long been used, even in ecological science, as a diminutive, and it suggests that these forests are less valuable, less interesting, less worthwhile as a focus of scientific inquiry. Past researchers searched for the unexplored “virgin forest” where new species, untouched by human hands, could be found. Secondary forests had fewer species of plants and animals, most or all of them well known. They had exotic invaders growing on soils eroded and degraded by human activities. Secondary forests were a byproduct of human activities like a tailing pond or a dump site. As the conservation movement set aside land, intact forest was targeted, leaving secondary forest to be cleared or logged again. I recall my first impressions of a secondary forest in Central America. I had to climb through a broken, barbed-wire fence to get into an abandoned pasture, snagging and tearing my shirt along the way. Abandoned just seven years prior, it no longer resembled a pasture, but it was not yet a forest. Patches of grass used to feed cattle remained. But much of the space was now occupied by thorn-covered young trees connected by dense networks of wiry vines. The trees were not tall enough to provide shade from the searing sun. Many of the plant species that survived were those that remained after years of grazing, species whose thorns or sandpapery leaves made
them difficult for cows to eat. I remember thinking, Why are we here? What possible ecological value is contained in this place? My thinking evolved as I got to know the landscape and saw how the forest changed as it returned. Over a few years, I watched the dense and thorny stage transition into a closed canopy with an open understory. This coincided with rapid increase in wood volume and organic matter on the ground, signaling the carbon taken from the atmosphere as the forest grew. I even grew to appreciate the thorny early stages after abandonment. Those ephemeral habitats host a unique collection of plants and animals that specialize in abandoned lands. They grow quickly, reproduce, and move on to other newly disturbed sites. Recent decades have seen a revision of thinking on abandoned lands in the field of ecology. Work by people like Robin Chazdon at the University of Connecticut has highlighted the ecological significance of secondary forests. But perhaps more important is the fact that old-growth forests are becoming increasingly rare. As deforestation continues at high rates, the majority of the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s forests are now secondary, and that fraction continues to grow. With their area increasing, researchers have begun to demonstrate new ways to find value in these young forests. For example, soon after becoming established, secondary forests have a growth spurt lasting several decades that is key to solving climate change. That growth spurt sequesters carbon at rates an order of magnitude faster than mature forests. Regrowing forest is now considered an important method humans can use to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While they do contain the mark of human activities, regrowing forests provides much of the same habitat and ecosystem services of primary forest. In the case of carbon, they can do more than primary forest. As they get older, if left to grow old, their diversity and complexity increases and the scars of the human past fade (though some aspects of old-growth forests may take centuries to return).
JUSTIN BECKNELL: ABANDONED SPACES
* * * In focusing my scientific work on devalued forests growing on abandoned land, I planted the seeds that have led me to question our disdain for certain spaces. But perhaps those ideas originated much earlier in my life. One of my oldest memories is of exploring the woods behind my house as a child. It was just a tiny patch of trees between a hayfield and a cornfield, but in that patch I found a treasure mound of rusted farm garbage from another age. I pulled from the soil an old pail with its bottom rusted away. I remember some kind of corroded large spring. Necks of broken milk bottles. Cans small and large, bent and rusted. I collected as many of these items as I could, freeing them from the soil and roots. I carried them through the woods to my camp, a little clearing in the center of four pine trees with needles covering the ground. I had dragged in a log to provide seating, made a fire ring but never made a fire, and built that kind of lean-to kids make in the woods by propping branches against each other. As an adolescent in a postindustrial midwestern city, I explored the ruins of mills and the once occupied, now wooded banks of the river. I befriended other young people who made an art of spray-painting walls. They showed me the hole in the fence to get into the old mill complex, how to get out onto the dam at night, and the entrance to the tunnels under the city. I can remember climbing to the top of a six-story warehouse that had been half-burned years earlier. We had to crawl up a pipe through a hole in the concrete floor to get to the second floor. Then we leaped and scrambled up the remnants of a rotted stairway and climbed through a ventilation hood to get onto the roof. There, a tree had taken root in a low spot where water collected and the crumbling concrete had formed a kind of soil. Its roots grew through the cracks to hold on, much like a tree growing on a cliff edge in the wilderness. This exploratory experience scratched the same itch that drove me to the woods or mountains on backpacking trips. The view of the city from the top of a crumbling mill building is as rich in my memory as any mountaintop panorama. But urban exploring is different and perhaps more thrilling because the abandoned corners of the city tell us something about who and what we are. The spaces weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve abandoned and left to crumble furnish clues to parts of our history we donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t often acknowledge. Or the parts of our collective consciousness that I wish werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t there: our systems that build up huge structures that we then walk away from and let fall. The side of humanity that creates piles of waste at scales that rival (or dwarf) our biggest monuments.
* * * A few days ago I again got up early and took the dog on this now-familiar walk. She doesn’t seem burdened by the judgments and values that disrupt my thinking. She doesn’t judge the nonnative or weedy plants beside the road. A piece of garbage is as enticing to her as an odd-smelling plant or feces. We made our way down to the park and into the abandoned riparian wood to the north. I remembered to keep her out of the poison ivy. The path was wet from overnight rain and there were fresh vehicle ruts in the mud where water had pooled, turning the dog’s white paws brown. Up the path a hundred meters or so, we came upon a dump pile. Someone had filled a truck with junk, driven down to the river, and unloaded it in the middle of the path through the woods: a soiled mattress, seven worn tires, rain-soaked cardboard boxes broken open and spilling crumpled papers, bits of plastic packaging, ragged old clothes. On top of the pile sat a doorless beige refrigerator, rusted and moldy. I imagine this refrigerator once lived in a kitchen, but at some point was replaced and relegated to the garage or basement, where it held surplus beer and soda. Eventually, after breaking down, it was put out back for a few years where it degraded further. Someone removed the door so kids wouldn’t get trapped inside. Then, in an ambitious effort, someone carried it and other trash to the truck. But lack of energy or money meant it was left here rather than at the municipal dump. It’s someone else’s problem now. The dump pile saddened and angered me. I stood there looking at the garbage, imagining the person who did this. I painted a picture of them in my mind and judged them. I imagined what I would do if I caught them in the act. Call the cops? Try to convince them to pack it back up and take it to the dump? Maybe even show some sympathy and help clean it up or offer up a little money to pay the dump? At least some of my anger should be directed at systems that charge for waste disposal and locate dumps in places not accessible to all. A few imaginary arguments later, I looked down at the dog, who couldn’t have been more enraptured by what we’d found. I’m not sure she had ever encountered anything so amazing in her life. What stories the smells of this pile must tell. It took considerable effort to compel her to leave the garbage behind. The trail was blocked, so we headed back down the muddy path toward town, the dog looking back and inhaling fondly. The lesson here still evades me. Is it that I should look at this fresh trash pile with as much interest as the younger me looked at the antique farm trash in the woods behind my house? Perhaps, just like the abandoned space, the dump pile is an artifact of human existence that can tell its own story about who we are. A society where it is much easier to acquire objects than dispose of them. A culture that tends to reward dumping more than cleaning up. Maybe my inner moral voice is just saying, Go back and clean it up if you don’t like it. The lesson might be that I should be working to hasten the paradigm shift that will make future would-be dumpers value this riverside abandoned industrial land as much as they might value a designed and manicured park. Promoting abandoned land as public space. Noticing the plants growing in the sidewalk cracks. Taking more walks in abandoned spaces. FALL 2O19
JUSTIN BECKNELL: ABANDONED SPACES
Bradley Borthwick Notes from the Arctic and Other Places
In the summer of 2018, I was part of an expedition sponsored by the Arctic Circle organization (thearcticcircle. org) to the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. Aboard the three-mast barquentine Antigua, we skirted fjords and coastlines and experienced landscapes that tended toward the sublime. Every day I witnessed glacial calving. Once a week I spent hours picking up plastic debris along the shores of Svalbardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s remote beaches. The sun did not set for the entire month. As a sculptor, my practice is informed by a consideration for place and the materials found there. I seek out ancient cities, architectural ruins, archaeological fragments, and distant landscapes, intrigued by the way the ineffable qualities of a space may be bound to a sculptural object. In the notes and images that follow, I document these experiences, reflecting on the High Arctic landscape and its material remnants alongside work inspired by ancient Rome and the Orkney Islands of Scotland. Be there evidence of either historic trespass or contemporary pressure upon a place, I imagine how the influences found will affect my return to the studio.
Top and above left: Monolith (Slumber). Photos: Roddy MacInnes; above right: Monolith (Perpendicular). After encountering ancient henges and cairns in the Orkney Islands, I carved two large stone spheres, Monolith (Perpendicular) and Monolith (Slumber). I placed the first of these monoliths in the Glenveagh rift of Donegal, Ireland, the other in the Yule marble quarry of Gunnison County, Colorado. Like those in Scotland, these stones function as place markers intended for those who may happen upon them while exploring these obscure landscapes.
BRADLEY BORTHWICK: NOTES FROM THE ARCTIC AND OTHER PLACES
Top left: Roman Imperial Forum; top right: Pompeii vessels; above: Neroâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Analogue.
In Rome and Pompeii, I was drawn to liminal spaces and to the sculptural elements contained within fragmented or toppled architecture. In the Roman fora, where the faĂ§ades have tumbled and now rest upon the surface of the earth, so many blocks of stone carry the carved detailing of a classical aesthetic. As a sculptor who truly enjoys the qualities of stone, I am bewildered here by sheer volume and scale, and by the psychological weight when such material presence does not offer a sense of authorship. In Pompeii, I am intrigued by the ubiquitous clay amphorae stacked throughout the storage facilities of the city, and I marvel at the formal, sculptural qualities of these vessels.
Top: Roman Imperial Forum; above: Antigua.
My studies from Neolithic Orkney and from ancient Rome and Pompeii carry over to my research and experiences of the High Arctic. The thread binding these disparate sites together for me is materialityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;be it stone, clay, ice, or plastic. These landscapes, despite vast geographic and temporal distances, bear the imprint of materials and forms found there today. Not unlike the collections of toppled stone found throughout the Roman fora, glaciers crumbling into the sea during my time in the Svalbard archipelago brought the ancient past into immediate focus. I imagined that an hourâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s worth of glacial calving might fill the whole of the Imperial Forum.
BRADLEY BORTHWICK: NOTES FROM THE ARCTIC AND OTHER PLACES
Top left: Marcello Theater; top right: Imperial Forum wall; above left and right: Svalbard frames and cabin.
Architectural remnants, whether ancient marble faĂ§ades or lumber framing (introduced in the 19th century in Svalbard) share an uncanny sense of human endeavor not quite relatable to our contemporary position of detachment from materiality and craft. Human activity tends to absorb the availability of certain resourcesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the reuse of architectural elements, where the material function is held strictly within its system (mortar and stone) rather than by its original ordering of parts, or the use of a natural land feature (this rock ledge) to assist with an economy of structure in a place that does not naturally provide the needed material. We seem to repeat certain decisions or pragmatics in a way that, over time, provides a record of why such decisions were necessary. Is it our very nature, for example, to push the limits of our respective resources or to simply expect more from the inherent modesty of a given circumstance?
Top: Imperial Forum stone blocks; above: Svalbard beach.
The deposition of these architectural elements functions, for me, as precursor to the plastic debris littering Svalbardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s beaches. Even as the Arctic shorelines themselves are dissolving under the effects of global warming, the plastic garbage remains, an enduring monument to modern consumption and human presence.
BRADLEY BORTHWICK: NOTES FROM THE ARCTIC AND OTHER PLACES
Top: Marcello Theater motif; above: Svalbard lapstrake transom.
This Roman motif, carved to register the center of an empire protected by its wall, is one way to establish boundaries and assert possession. The remnant transom from an early wooden lapstrake boat similarly communicates a drive toward expansionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and containment.
Top: Marcello Theater blocks; above: Svalbard iceberg bits.
Ancient architecture and Arctic landscape: each contains traces of countless one-to-one encounters and confrontations.
BRADLEY BORTHWICK: NOTES FROM THE ARCTIC AND OTHER PLACES
How, I wonder, does a stone-carving practice shift to include large blocks of ice? As a result of my expedition to Svalbard, I now also wonder how to bring my experience of Arctic ice into my practice and into the space of the museum or gallery. I want to utilize the sounds exerted by glacial formations, where the water sparkles, the ice bubbles and pops, the snow slides down long, narrow chutes, the sound of rock tumbling leaves pale gray paths down the faรงades of these coastal mountains. I want to explore the vast but ever-diminishing space of monolithic ice as it melts to reveal the wares bound within.
The presence of monolithic ice will alter the temperature of the gallery, mimicking the consistent daily temperature of 2°C aboard the Antigua. The gallery will warm as the ice blocks melt and the gallery floor floods. The installation is its own tipping point. I am reminded of The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald. The novel’s narrator brings the reader through the whole of the English countryside, recounting histories and details from within an acute awareness of landscape. Here he is walking through the River Yare valley: Save for the odd solitary cottage there is nothing to be seen but the grass and the rippling reeds, one or two sunken willows, and some ruined conical brick buildings, like relics of an extinct civilization…it takes just one awful second, I often think, and an entire epoch passes. I had a similar experience when I visited the surge glacier known as Wahlenbergbreen. From my notes: ...sitting atop a gentle ridge of glacial moraine adjacent to this surge glacier... ...surge glacier pushing forth up to sixteen metres per day, with pressure pushing an incredible amount of snow together— vertical stacks, as a new mountain formation… ...changing, scraping the landscape underneath with nearly 45,000 years of formation... ...so much anticipation for the face to calf off into the ocean, with intermittent collapses heard—strange, foreign sounds with no visual or identifier... ...a 30–40 tonne boulder falls from the Wahlenbergbreen edge—a huge stone scooped there by this advancing glacier... ...we have been sitting in silence for ten minutes or so—this boulder falls in one moment ...how is this moment possible? ...450 centuries of a process and boom, here we are to witness some beautifully absurd sense of timing...
Viewing monolithic ice within the boundaries of the gallery space may force us to acknowledge our own place within the history of the planet. Once the ice is melted, what will the remnant wares of our own time communicate?
BRADLEY BORTHWICK: NOTES FROM THE ARCTIC AND OTHER PLACES
Firn concept with multiples.
Contributors Kristin George Bagdanov earned her MFA from Colorado State University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English literature at the University of California, Davis. She had two books of poetry published this year: Fossils in the Making (Black Ocean) and Diurne (Tupelo Press). kristingeorgebagdanov.com Jamila Bargach is currently a Fellow at the Oak Institute for Human Rights, Colby College, and Executive Director of the not-forprofit organization Dar Si Hmad in southwest Morocco. She was previously executive director of a shelter in Casablanca for women and children in precarious conditions, recipient of the Vera Campbell Fellowship in the School for Advanced Studies (Santa Fe, NM 2010–11), and Ford Fellow of Islam and Human Rights at the University of Atlanta (2002–4). She received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Rice University in 1999. Justin Becknell is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. His ecological research focuses on forests and climate change in the tropical forests of Central and South America and the temperate forests of the Northeast. Bradley Borthwick received his MFA from Cornell University. Currently, Borthwick is an Assistant Professor of Art at Colby College. Studies of ancient cultural form influence Borthwick’s studio practice—sites in Rome, Italy, and the Orkney Islands, Scotland, have informed the installation of his sculptural works at galleries in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Maine. Denise Bruesewitz is an aquatic ecologist and biogeochemist. Her current research is centered in Maine lakes and salt marsh ecosystems around New York City. She is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Colby College, Maine, with a BS in biology from Winona State University and a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Notre Dame. Phong Bui is an artist, writer, independent curator, and the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail and the publishing press Rail Editions. From 2007 to 2010 he served as Curatorial Advisor at MoMA PS1. His recent projects include Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum, an official Collateral Event of the 2019 Venice Biennale, as well as co-founding the Graphyne Foundation, a non-profit which aims to curate ongoing exhibition and public programming at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ, including the first U.S. Retrospective of Jonas Mekas in 2020.
Sharon Corwin is the Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator of the Colby College Museum of art. She has published several books and essays on American Art, including Alex Katz: Maine/New York; American Modern: Documentary Photography by Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White; and “Picturing Efficiency: Precisionism, Scientific Management, and the Effacement of Labor.” Carolyn Finney, Ph.D. is a storyteller, author, and cultural geographer. She is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience. Her first book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors was released in 2014 (University of North Carolina Press). Jim Fleming is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Colby College. His books include Meteorology in America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (Oxford, 1998), The Callendar Effect (AMS Books, 2007), Fixing the Sky (Columbia University Press, 2010), and Inventing Atmospheric Science (MIT Press, 2016). Mary Ellis Gibson is Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of Literature and Chair of English at Colby College. Her most recent books include Science Fiction in Colonial India, 1835–1905: Five Tales of Speculation, Resistance and Rebellion (Anthem Press) and Indian Angles: English Verse in Colonial India from Jones to Tagore (Ohio University Press). Lee Glazer is the director of the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby College. A specialist in American art of the Gilded Age, Glazer is the author or editor of numerous books and articles, including Charles Lang Freer: A Cosmopolitan Life (2017) and, most recently, Whistler in Watercolor: Lovely Little Games (2019). Before joining the Lunder Institute’s leadership team, she was curator of American art at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from 2007 until 2018. Aaron R. Hanlon is an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College and a Lisa Jardine History of Science Fellow (2019) at the Royal Society of London, whose library collections are the basis for this article. His first book is A World of Disorderly Notions (University of Virginia Press, 2019). His second book is a conceptual history of science denial, with Johns Hopkins University Press. Timothy Hoellein is an ecologist and Associate Professor in the Biology Department at Loyola University Chicago. His research measures the movement of pollution in rivers and its interaction with living things. Hoellein is also an artist, teacher, and collaborator for issues related to environmental policy, management, and public education.
Meghan Hurley is from Moultonborough, New Hampshire, a small town surrounded by lakes and forest. As an environmental policy major at Colby College, she tutors writing and is a research assistant for climate change research. When not working, she spends time exploring the mountains and ocean in Maine. Bess Koffman is a geochemist and paleoclimatologist whose research has taken her to New Zealand, Antarctica, and Alaska. Currently an Assistant Professor of Geology at Colby College, Koffman earned her BA in geology at Carleton College and her Ph.D. in earth and climate sciences at the University of Maine. Loren McClenachan is a marine ecologist interested in long-term changes to marine animal populations. Her research focuses on historical ecology and the applied use of baselines, fisheries conservation, and marine extinction risk and consequences, with the goal of halting declines and promoting recovery of marine animals and ecosystems. Kathleen Mundell is a folklorist and the director of Cultural Resources, a nonprofit working with communities on developing strategies that help sustain their local culture. Mundell also directs the Traditional Arts Program at the Maine Arts Commission, where she developed the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, which supports the work of Wabanaki basketmakers. She is the author of North by Northeast: Wabanaki, Haudenosaunee and Tuscarora Traditional Arts (Tilbury House Press, 2008) and a recent recipient of the American Folklore Society’s Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for lifetime achievement in public folklore. Jennifer Neptune is a master basketmaker, beadworker, and Maine guide from the Penobscot Nation. Based on Indian Island, Neptune specializes in miniature baskets, beadwork reproductions, and porcupine quill jewelry. She is the director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, where she has worked for more than 20 years helping other artists sell and market their work. She is the manager of the Penobscot Nation Museum. Kerill O’Neill, Julian D. Taylor Professor of Classics, is the Founding Director of the Colby Center for the Arts and Humanities, which counts Environmental Humanities as one of its most important programs. His research interests encompass ancient magic, prehistoric archaeology, and the intersection of literature and material culture in the classical tradition. Keith Peterson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Colby College. Peterson works primarily in the areas of environmental philosophy and European philosophy from Kant to the present. He has a monograph forthcoming from SUNY Press in 2020 entitled A World Not Made for Us: Topics in Critical Environmental Philosophy.
Samia Rahimtoola is a poet and critic who lives in Maine. Her poetry has appeared in Fou and Hubbub, and her criticism may be found in Ecopoetics: Essays in the Field and ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. Nick Record is a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine. He is an oceanographer and computational ecologist. Disclosure: the author shares a distant ancestor with modern-day whales. Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer. He is the author of more than 20 books, including the international bestselling Mars trilogy and, more recently, Red Moon, New York 2140, Aurora, Shaman, Green Earth, and 2312. He was sent to the Antarctic by the US National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers’ Program in 1995, and returned in their Antarctic media program in 2016. In 2008 he was named a “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. He works with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and UC San Diego’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. His work has been translated into 25 languages and has won a dozen awards in five countries, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy awards. In 2016 asteroid 72432 was named “Kimrobinson.” Alexis Rockman is an artist based in New York, and his paintings envision future landscapes affected by climate change. A mid-career survey, Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow, was organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, in 2010, and traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus. His most recent solo exhibition, Great Lakes Cycle, is traveling across six venues, and is now at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, from October 5, 2019 to January 5, 2020. Rockman’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2009–12, Rockman collaborated with director Ang Lee on the prize-winning film Life of Pi, serving as “Inspirational Artist.” His forthcoming monograph, Alexis Rockman: Works on Paper, will be published by Damiani in 2020. Ben Theyerl is a senior at Colby College, where he studies English. His interest in the environment stems from a childhood spent skiing, hunting, fishing, and observing the northwoods around his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and his interest in climate change stems from being a concerned member of the human species.
Diana Tuite is the Katz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Colby College Museum of Art. She has curated exhibitions at the Princeton University Art Museum, Bowdoin College Museum, and the FLAG Art Foundation, and has traveled shows to the Cleveland Museum of Art and Neuberger Museum of Art. Tuite has mounted major exhibitions with artists Lesley Vance and Torkwase Dyson and is currently organizing a touring retrospective devoted to the work of Bob Thompson. Allyson Vieira is an artist based in New York. She has exhibited extensively both internationally and in the United States, including major solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel, CH, and the Swiss Institute, NY. Her catalogue, Allyson Vieira: The Plural Present, was published by Karma Books in 2016, and her recent book of interviews with Greek master marble carvers, On the Rock: The Acropolis Interviews, was published by Soberscove Press in 2019. She is currently Assistant Professor of Foundations at the Corcoran School of Art at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Christopher Walker is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Humanities at Colby College. His research and teaching focus on how we come to know, experience, and value environmental change. He is at work on a book project, Narratives of Decay, that investigates how the present is shaped by attempts to manage, forestall, and hasten material decomposition. Arisa White is the author of You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, A Penny Saved, and Hurrah’s Nest. She co-authored Biddy Mason Speaks Up, the second book in the Fighting for Justice series for young readers. White is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Colby College. arisawhite.com