[-empyre-] Environmental Performance and the Closing Commons

Ellie Irons ellieirons at gmail.com
Tue Oct 17 15:03:20 AEDT 2017

Hello Empyre!

Torn between replying to "Vivophilia’s Excesses” and “Weeds as Revenge Tutors” I’m starting yet another thread! And hope to circle back around to Cassie, Max & Adam's brain-tickling posts, which are so very related to what I’ll introduce below. This intro comes on behalf of me, collaborator Christopher Kennedy who is also a discussant this week, and a host other collaborators and instigators, many of them weedy species of the photosynthetic rather than human variety. 

Before I go further, a few questions for those willing to play along:

-Is there a photosynthetic organism within your breathing space? What kind of air are you sharing? 
	Take a deep breath in, exhale. Share air. 
	If you’re not sharing air with a plant, how far do you have to go to do so?

-Where is the soil in relation to where you are now?
	Picture yourself sinking into it, however far below you it may be.
	What boundaries and borders would you have to traverse before it touches your toes?

These are guiding questions I use to ground myself & others when things spiral into abstraction. To this week’s stew I’d like to introduce a few more institution-ish undertakings, here to mix it up with vivoart labs & University of the Phoenix: The Environmental Performance Agency <http://environmentalperformanceagency.com/> (EPA), Weedy Resistance <https://weedyresistance.tumblr.com/>, and The Next Epoch Seed Library <http://nextepochseedlibrary.com/> (NESL). I like to imagine all of us side by side at some corporate sustainability job fair. Cringe. I’m copying brief introductions to each project below. These are all collaborations with various motives & threads brought by each collaborator. For me each is shaped by a commitment to taking the agency of vegetal beings seriously, grappling with the taming cycle* of agricultural darlings and superweeds, making social and environmental justice and integral aspects of environmentalism, and foregrounding the urban as a site of ecological & social significance for human/nonhuman interactions.

One thing I’d like to think about this week in relationship to the ways weedy plants inhabit cities, is what we mean by “the commons” the urban, Western world today, and how performative practices like those taken on the by the EPA, which I’ve come to call “public fieldwork”, can play a role in pushing back against dominate notions of how public/private habitat is structured and who it's for. There’s more to say on this, but I’ll end for now with a short passage from Critical Art Ensemble's Molecular Invasion: “Contestational Biology” chapter (the rest of the chapter is here <http://critical-art.net/books/molecular/intro.pdf>):

The standard argument for eliminating any trace of the commons is to say that common property is an inefficient way to manage resources. If efficiency is increased, more goods are available, so everyone gets more for less. However, we know after two centuries of capital that the only people who get more are the owners, while the poor and disenfranchised completely lose the little resources they once had access to. The assumption that efficiency is a totalizing good is nothing more than a disgraceful example of the particular values of the powerful being represented and internalized as universal.

Of course this is largely in the context of biotech. Follow up question, what is “Contestational Ecology” and can some of the contestation come in the form weedy resistance by the likes of Ailanthus altissima, Artemisia vulgaris & their friend the Immortal Stranger?

In weedy solidarity,


*like many of you I’ve been reading my Jason Moore, the “taming cycle" phrase is drawn from Capitalism in the Web of Life, and is cited as coming from Victor Wallis who uses it to address the phenomenon in which “the more natural processes are tamed, the more they spin out of control, provoking new and more aggressive taming measures” (Wallis 2000).

The Environmental Performance Agency <http://environmentalperformanceagency.com/>
he Environmental Performance Agency (EPA) is an artist collective founded in 2017 and named in response to the proposed defunding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Appropriating the acronym EPA, the collective’s primary goal is to shift thinking around the terms environment, performance, and agency – using artistic, social, and embodied / kinesthetic practices to advocate for the agency of all living performers co-creating our environment, specifically through the lens of spontaneous urban plants, native or migrant. Current EPA Agents include Catherine Grau, andrea haenggi, Ellie Irons, Christopher Kennedy, and the spontaneous urban plants of 1067 Pacific Street, Brooklyn.

Weedy Resistance <https://weedyresistance.tumblr.com/>
A salon-style discussion series exploring what plants and ecological systems can teach us about political resistance and cultural intervention. What can we borrow from our multispecies neighbors? How can we cultivate truly reciprocal human and non-human relationships? What do we miss in our ongoing “plant blindness”?

The series brings together scientists, artists, designers, activists and others to share tactics for building flexible and resilient forms of organizing, teaching, creating, and living together that also consider biocultural threats to our shared commons. Urban plants adapting their seed dispersal strategies, mushrooms that eat oil spills, and shellfish that thrive in superfunded waterways are just a few examples. The series also critically engages the concept of the Anthropocene, inviting new interpretations for generating hope, possibility, and biocultural restoration in our current geological and environmental moment.

Let’s make a deliberate effort to see, interact and exchange with these often overlooked lifeforms and attempt to become better allies in the ongoing struggle to disrupt our human-centered narratives of earth systems.

The Next Epoch Seed Library <http://nextepochseedlibrary.com/>
NESL is an artist-run seed saving project focused on novel, spontaneous, and adaptable plants. Founded in January 2015 by artists Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco the project involves multiple collaborators and focuses on collecting, storing and sharing seeds from plants that tend to live in close association with dense human populations or in areas heavily impacted by human activity. Through presentations, workshops, seed-swaps and exhibitions, they encourage viewers and participants to engage with their local habitat and reflect on their own role in the adaptation and success of these plants.

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