[-empyre-] Residual Contamination

Catherine Grau catherine.grau at googlemail.com
Sat Nov 11 16:36:28 AEDT 2017

Hi Ellie, Marisa, and Renate,

So nice to have a chiming of voices in here and reconnect to the
de-centering possibilities enabled by multi-species narrative, as well as
the question of what artists/activists can do in terms of intervening and
bringing decolonizing narratives into a broader awareness!!

Defending, recovering, dreaming up and living by other narratives is the
big underlying project so many of us are engaged in, and the one that most
deeply stirs my soul and inspires me. To me the challenge is how those
moments of embodying other narratives can seep back into "real life".
Personally I am not so much invested in the idea of the artist as a mirror
of society... That has value, of course! But there is a whole history of
artist-activists and also less explicitly "activist" artists that work in
the realm of social engagement and intervention. And I think the underlying
drive is the idea of a slow counter-contamination (or detox) that enables
new narratives to be imagined by engaging within real life / site /

Reed's article starts off asking why our collective comprehension /
imagination is so dull when it comes to questioning / altering dominant
narratives. Of course, as she writes "There are powerful interest investing
in sustaining 'what is', ...vs 'what could be'." I find that to be really
true (even though it's painfully ironic that 'what is' is actually a total
farce). Often when I try to engage conversations about my despair about our
modes of production, the argument of  "there is no way back" comes up. (And
in many ways I agree that there is no way back). But it's interesting that
the only even imaginable alternative to
Settler-Colonialism-Capitalism-Ecocide is "back". Forward is so much harder
to imagine.

I think, the hardest part -- but also the most exciting part -- is that we
have to engage a very large field of *not knowing*!

And I think engaging that not knowing from within the painful place of
man-made contamination; the physical realities of pollution, species
extinction, sea level rise, environmental disasters, cancer and other
diseases... is where there maybe is the potential to start imagining new

In the two most recent project's I have co-initiated (Chance Ecologies and
EPA - Environmental Performance Agency), artists invite the "audience" into
direct encounter with contaminated landfills / post-industrial sites, and
the struggling but also surviving and adapting ecosystems and the diversity
of species that thrive there. Together with the collaborating artists we
reject the narrative of "invasive / native", we celebrate the narrative of
"weeds" as resilient resistors of the monoculture, and we advocate for
spaces that are not designed for human-centric use...  sometimes just as
acts of listening, and sometimes in the form of interventions.

I want to share this link to a really great art + media project, that is
doing this work on the realm of mineral resources, and equally speaks to

And the book I referenced in my first post was Timothy Morton's
"Hyperobjects", 2013,

Feeling excited to dig deeper together!!

Catherine Grau
EPA - environmentalperformanceagency.com

On Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 11:04 PM, Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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
> *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
> ellieirons.com
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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