Hope In Blasted Landscapes

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by Eben Kirksey, Nick Shapiro & Maria Brodine

In early November 2010 the multitude of creative agents animating the Multispecies Salon in New Orleans descended on a warehouse, The Ironworks, and hastily remodeled it as an art gallery. Here curators gathered together some sixty artworks orbiting around a central question: “In the aftermath of disasters – in blasted landscapes that have been transformed by multiple catastrophes – what are the possibilities of biocultural hope?

The Deepwater Horizon was spreading in the Gulf of Mexico. This disaster provided a grim backdrop for the exhibit. The oil in the Gulf embodied the indeterminate nature of the pharmakon – a poisonous substance that can double as remedy, something that presents as obstacle or and opportunity. Images of oil in water provided an opening for a multitude who desired to cure the ills of extractive capitalism. The seemingly unstoppable flood of petro chemicals became a call for a collective response, spurning a swarm of creative agents into revolutionary action.

Powerful forces have tried to appropriate the very idea of hope. As a vacuous political slogan, “hope” has bulldozed over our dreams. Yet, artists, scientists, and other culture workers gathered together at the Multispecies Salon to engage in strategic storytelling about Hope in Blasted Landscapes.

“We found a hopeful spirit playing at the limits of artist’s imaginative horizons,” write Eben Kirksey and collaborators, “moving like oil in water, searching for figures around which it might coalesce.”

Read Chapter One: Hope in Blasted Landscapes on Google Books.

Eben Kirksey catalyzed dialog at the Multispecies Salon as a curator, an artist, an ethnographer, and editor. Exploring the interplay of ideas about hope and collaboration has led Eben to cross conventional disciplinary divides and contribute to theoretical conversations in the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Freedom in Entangled Worlds, his first book, blends ethnographic research with indigenous parables to explore how indigenous activists from West Papua negotiate complex interdependencies (Duke U Press, 2012). Following the movements of multiple species across the fragmented landscapes of the Americas, his latest book is a study of Emergent Ecologies that have been transformed by chance encounters, historical accidents, and parasitic invasions (Duke U Press, under review). Currently he holds an Australian Research Council fellowship in the Environmental Humanities program at UNSW.

Eben Kirksey: Official Blog

Nicholas Shapiro is a postdoctoral researcher at Goldsmiths College. He studies the politics, poetics and logics of uneventful human harm in the United States by tracking the quasi-legal resale of 150,00 chemically contaminated emergency housing units originally deployed to the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Shapiro earned his doctorate in anthropology at the University of Oxford.

Nicholas Shapiro: Academia.edu profile

Maria Brodine is a doctoral candidate in applied anthropology at Columbia University Teachers College. She is writing her dissertation on the reconstruction of levees in post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. She recently embarked on an applied research initiative in New Orleans, funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, as the Environmental Program Director for Groundwork New Orleans, a nonprofit that focuses on working directly with neighborhoods to address local environmental and social challenges. She also works as an education consultant, developing curricula for urban youth.

Maria Brodine: Official Website
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a companion to the book