[-empyre-] Residual Contamination

Renate Terese Ferro rferro at cornell.edu
Sat Nov 11 15:04:25 AEDT 2017

Dear Ellie, Marisa, Catherine and all,

What a web of information In your posts. There are so many points that I want to pick up on and now that it is the weekend I’ll have a bit more time to chime in.  For now I will begin here.
Ellie thanks for all of these references.  I am going to begin a bibliography as our guests mention readings. See below and I hope you will all add as the month proceeds.
I have always been interested in the contamination and slow seepage of bad things into our bodies and our environment but like you all these interests have intermittently manifested themselves into my art practice.   Over the next few weeks we will have both artists, theorists and creative writers and performers who want to consider the topic so it will be interesting to see this evolve. I am so happy that you mentioned the notion of the intervention in relationship to remediation.  For me an intervention comes from a covert place and potentially intervenes by affecting  a change.  The Interventionists exhibition as Mass MOCA curated by Nato Thompson included a number of artists whose work attempted to intervene to create social change or justice.  I have added the reference below in the bibliography.

I wanted to interject here that our friend and colleague Ricardo Dominguez who will be a guest in a couple of weeks makes a clear distinction between activist gestures in the political and social realm and what the artist does.  From Ricardo’s point of view artists can critically reflect and compose but activists engage and protest.  There is a clear distinction for him between the artist and the activist and they have very different purposes.

Fascinating to hear Marissa that you made cakes.  I conceived of The Rum Cake Brigade a few years ago in solidarity with the activist Mary Anne Grady.  The Rum Cake Brigade was conceived to provide solidarity and support for anti-drone activist, peace activist, and culinary extraordinaire, Mary Anne Grady Flores. My mission was also to cultivate a grass-roots network to raise awareness of military drone activity but also to help Mary Anne who was facing charges stemming from her protests.  This small food intervention was a way to raise community awareness and support Mary Anne the activist.  Perhaps in response to Catherine and Marisa, the sour dough becomes a tool to think through conceptually the links between body and the environment and the slow residual contamination that has evidenced itself in both. Both the sour dough bread and the rum cakes can be thought of as Duchamp  did of his ‘readymades’ in that the ordinary object became elevated to critically engage the viewer.

More tomorrow. I will be introducing our Week 2 guests on Sunday.

Catherine you mentioned one of Timothy Morton’s articles earlier?  Can you add the reference?
Feel free to add to this bibliography:
Bibliography on Contamination

Patricia Reed’s recent article "Xenophily and Computational Denaturalization <http://www.e-flux.com/architecture/artificial-labor/140674/xenophily-and-computational-denaturalization/>
Stephen J. Gould’s “An Evolutionary Perspective on Strengths, Fallacies, and Confusions in the Concept of Native Plants” (Arnoldia, Spring 1998)
Anna Tsing  "Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet":http://edgeeffects.net/anna-tsing/
Edited by Nato Thompson<https://mitpress.mit.edu/authors/nato-thompson> and Gregory Sholette<https://mitpress.mit.edu/authors/gregory-sholette>, “The Interventionists Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life (MIT Press, 2004

Renate Ferro
Visiting Associate Professor
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Art
Tjaden Hall 306
rferro at cornell.edu<mailto:rferro at cornell.edu>

From: <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Ellie Irons <ellieirons at gmail.com>
Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
Date: Friday, November 10, 2017 at 4:59 PM
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Residual Contamination
Resent-From: Renate Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>

Hi Catherine, Marisa, Renate, and the rest of you out there,

Thanks for these thoughts and meditations- I’m enjoying the way you are weaving in the positive side of contamination alongside its horrors. The contamination narrative is omnipresent as toxicity (I just came from a workshop involving Hawaii-based artists and ocean plastics- the amount of plastic being ingested by phytoplankton and entering the food chain is truly harrowing) BUT, as you suggest, it's important to work on reclaiming the contamination metaphor in the sense of eschewing the search for/heralding of purity- Tsing gets at this nicely in her work (I’ll need to listen to the edge effects interview!) As Catherine knows from our work at the Environmental Performance Agency, working with weedy plant species we come up against the narrative of “bad contamination” a lot- the idea that species boundaries and geographies should be immutable, and “pure” native genomes are more desirable, leading to a denial of the flexibility and fluidity of the way plants share genetic material, hybridize, evolve even in short periods of time (this ready ability to be “contaminated” is a feature, not a fault, in a rapidly changing and unpredictable climate). I find that looking back at Stephen J. Gould’s “An Evolutionary Perspective on Strengths,Fallacies, and Confusions in the Concept of Native Plants” (Arnoldia, Spring 1998) is helpful in laying out common misconceptions around nativeness, fitness, and genetic superiority. I should probably read it again ;)

Also in terms of eschewing purity, and connecting back to last month’s multispecies conversations, I find passages in Patricia Reed’s recent article "Xenophily and Computational Denaturalization <http://www.e-flux.com/architecture/artificial-labor/140674/xenophily-and-computational-denaturalization/>” to be spot on- she reminds us that it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s so common when contemplating the bettering of one thing to assume it means the deterioration of something else- a kind of binary purity that is in dire need of contamination. She puts it this way (referencing Haraway’s concept of “staying with the trouble”, also relevant here):
"To stay with the trouble means there is no easy way out, forcing us to navigate through it…not with an “anything goes” attitude, but with careful attention paid to how the “trouble” informs the way we fashion distinctions in the world…a clear, fundamental distinction must be drawn between decentering and dehumanization. The decentering of the human does not equal dehumanization; rather, it can simply enable something other. That said, this process will not just “naturally” occur, so to care for and nurture this important non-equation requires a corresponding perspectival recalibration; plotting where we are, in the generic, and provoking a reframing of the human in view of its humiliation.”

Looking forward to the rest of the month!

Best wishes,

-Ellie Irons
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