[-empyre-] Week 2? What is Dystopia, Really?

Alex Young info at worldshaving.info
Thu May 14 10:57:37 AEST 2020

Thank you Byron for that introduction. As you mentioned me in the context
of the University at Buffalo, I’ll start by saying it seems like I am only
now circling back to certain elements of UB’s rather distinct pedagogy that
you have referred to here. Certainly, being amidst that milieu of Paul
Vanouse, Steve Kurtz, Stephanie Rothenberg, and others was a formative
experience as an artist in grad school in their early 20’s. However, I
would be remiss if I did not mention that, while at UB, I fondly recall
working in Visual Studies with Gary Nickard and in Comp. Lit. with Henry
Sussman. In particular, Sussman’s course on Walter Benjamin’s Arcades
Project was instructive in terms of applying a sort of broad spectrum
optics to understanding cities and other anthropogenic exploits that would
heavily factor into my work thereafter. While this was about 15 years ago
and the details are hazy, I think UB was instrumental in connecting me with
a certain type of critical practitioner for sure.

On that note, I’ll plug two projects I organized in the past year or so
that your and Liz’s collaborative project, Epicurean Endocrinology, were
featured in: *GROPING in the DARK *at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson
<https://moca-tucson.org/exhibition/groping-in-the-dark/> and *Ecology of
Bad Ideas* for Drain Magazine <http://drainmag.com/ecology-of-bad-ideas/>.
The two projects shared quite a bit of research overlap and contributors
addressing anthropogenic land use and how human ideation and modification
of Earth matter effects ecologies of mind, society, and environment. I was
thinking a lot about Gregory Bateson and Felix Guattari, as a result of
conversations with Paul Sargent, both of whom refer to land use to varying
degrees in a sort of toxicological manner. As a result, artist-researchers
like yourself, Liz Flyntz, Eric Simpson, Mary Maggic, and others with that
sort of UB/ CMU/ SAIC/ RPI/ MIT, etc. etc. bio-art, tactical media. and
adjacent pedagogy all made a lot of sense in that context
for different reasons.

As for my present research and work, I’ve been framing things around this
notion of ‘Ruderal Futures.’ Borrowing the term from urban ecology, and
particularly Peter del Tredici’s ‘Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast,’ the
ruderal typically refers to plant life (but also any life, really) that
thrives in the margins or ruins of anthropogenic activity. Of course, in
the present, we’re really talking about things that reside in the margins
or ruins of capitalism, globalism, neoliberalism, and other ideological
regimes that manifest in shifting material conditions. Bettina Stoetzer has
an amazing essay Ruderal Ecologies on culanth.org that delves into related
ideas using the term ruderal in a social sense. So, with these forthcoming
projects, I’m really looking at these margin and ruin dwellers as guides
for new futurisms and toward a sort of bittersweet aftermath--or at the
very least inevitable mutation--of present anthropo/ capitalo/ nationalist/
colonial world systems. In this, my thinking has been greatly impacted by
landscape architect Gilles Clement and art/ design groups like SPURSE,
Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop, and the Slovenian collective
Re-Generacija. As an aside, I was—perhaps needless to say—thrilled to see
last November’s edition of [-empyre-] with Margaretha Haughwout, Oliver
Kellhammer, Marisa Prefer, and WhiteFeather Hunter’s discussion on the
subject of 'Ruderal Witchcraft.'

This research will be culminating in a few ways. There’s a curatorial
project coming up in 2022 that has yet to be officially announced that I’m
excited about. But, right now, I am focusing on a project that I’m calling
'Solar Sallet', which will utilize pokeweed dye in the fabrication of dye
sensitized solar cells that will then power an array of media, landscape,
and horticultural projects. This project was an indirect result of the
recent closure of the Bruce Mansfield coal power plant (in Shippingport, PA
- about 40 minutes from me in Pittsburgh) where I noticed an abundance of
these betanin-rich (a good photosensitizer) pokeweed plants adjacent to it,
thriving amidst that sulfurous neglected landscape in the shadow of these
massive power and manufacturing facilities. It is also very directly
influenced by later encountering reportage on a once much-touted project
out of Wake Forest University from about a decade ago (that perhaps never
materialized?) that looked to use pokeweed dye in a mass production of
solar cells. So, at the moment I am producing this stuff in a DIY way, even
if a proper lab setting would be preferable. My thought here is, even if
what I can do with all of this as an artist is very miniscule, I think
there is definitely cause to look beyond the extractive ecologies/economies
of energy, not just of coal, but also ‘green technologies’ like solar and
its reliance upon platinum, silicon, or even ruthenium in dye-sensitized
and perovskite cells. Right now, iterations of this project are slated for
Epsilon Spires in Vermont and at Unison Arts in New Paltz, in collaboration
with Matthew Friday, for an amazing project Tal Beery is organizing called
‘Owning Earth.’

And, yes, The Monument to Common Barberry--which Byron mentioned--is on the
horizon as well. This project is maybe more of a memorial to the absurd
folly of extreme human/ state prejudice toward certain other-than-human
organisms and select co-evolution with a certain few species that fuel
state biopower than it is part of thinking about ruderal futures. However,
I feel like I’ve covered quite a bit already, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I'm always excited to talk about schlocky popular conceptions of
u/eu/dys-topia, so I'm interested to see where this conversation goes.

Alex Young

recent/ current/ upcoming:
-  *Ecology of Bad Ideas <http://drainmag.com/ecology-of-bad-ideas/>*, Drain
Magazine <http://drainmag.com/>
-  *GROPING in the DARK*
<https://moca-tucson.org/exhibition/groping-in-the-dark/>, Museum of
Contemporary Art Tucson
- *Solar Sallet <http://www.worldshaving.info/solar-sallet/>*, Epsilon
Spires <https://www.epsilonspires.org/about> (forthcoming)
- *Owning Earth*, Unison Arts Center
<http://www.talbeery.com/owning-earth.html> (forthcoming)
- *Monument to the Common Barberry
<http://www.worldshaving.info/monument-to-the-common-barberry/>*, Franconia
Sculpture Park <https://www.franconia.org/about/> (forthcoming)
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