"To go down into the earth is to travel back in time, and to excavate it is to drag the past into the present, a process mining has done on a scale so colossal it's changed the earth all the way up to the upper atmosphere. You can tell this story as a labor story, but you can also tell it as an ecological story, and the two dovetail in the end, as a story of devastation."
Rebecca Solnit, Orwell's Roses
The socio-political ramifications of our species are ingrained in rocks. Like a camera, rocks record and bear witness to our collective past. In the gasses they trap, every environmental change is stored forever, cataloging the unending story of the destruction of our planet and its inhabitants by a dominant class. They hold an undeniable truth in a world of shifting disinformation.
Rocks are alive.
Excavations explores the complicated role the camera plays in our violent, troubled past and present, and the way systems of oppression perpetuate the Anthropocene. Archival images from American magazines such as Life and National Geographic reveal entrenched ideologies about race, gender, and our relationship to nature, animals, and the planet. The omnipresence of danger, and the urgency to control (the narrative, the body, the earth, the animal) found in these pages, are pervasive and loud themes.
Simultaneously, magazines such as Ebony and Ms. feature activism, strategies for survival, the importance of care, community and hope. These are themes that do not define themselves by what they are not, but by what they can and will be. As an artist working at the intersection of ecology and photography, I am critically exploring the world views that allow and perpetuate societal inequality, the acceptance of the torture and eating of animals, the prohibition of a woman’s right to her own body, and the relationship of these inequities to the climate crisis. I am also reflecting on my own privilege as an environmental activist, white artist and educator, examining where I am situated within these narratives. Making this work allows me to explore how these inequities influence one another, and opens up conversations for change.
Excited by the idea that rocks hold truths in an age of disinformation, I began tearing and burning into my photographs of landscapes, layering them over and over until new spaces emerged. These fissures and cracks make room for connections between the earth and its inhabitants, between the past and future possibilities.
These landscape images were made in Wyoming, on the territory of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Cheyenne, and the Apsaalooké (Crow) tribes. 20% of all artwork earnings from this project go to The Center Pole, a non profit on the Crow Indian Reservation, where they build knowledge, justice, opportunity and prosperity in Native communities.
When I began making this work, the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the world, was intentionally set on fire to clear land for cattle or big agriculture, one of the leading causes of global warming. In the natural world fire drives a cycle of destruction and rebirth. Indigenous peoples mirrored this rhythm, as do sustainable farmers, nurturing ecological diversity and maintaining equilibrium by harnessing fire’s remarkable power to restart natural systems. Burned pages also reminds us of hate groups burning books in attempts to erase truth about the past, and how the burning of fossil fuels is destroying all habitats and most people’s ways of life. There is a violence and unpredictability to fire, as there is to erasure. But fire can heal, and metaphorically has the power to burn down unjust frameworks. Fire can usher into existence new perspectives and approaches to modernity. Fire can provide hope in dark times.
With Gratitude: I was inspired to make these photographs at the Jentel Artist Residency in Wyoming, on the territory of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Cheyenne, and the Apsaalooké (Crow) tribes. I want to thank Jentel for its support, and honor and acknowledge the original Indigenous people of Wyoming.
I am also influenced by and indebted to many great feminist, anti-racist, and queer writers, like Rebecca Solnit, Angela Davis, Sylvia Wynter, Kathryn Yusoff, Wendy Harding, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Dionne Brand, TJ Demos, and Donna Haraway. I am also grateful to my students, with whom I developed these ideas further in collaborations and conversations in the classroom.
Very slowly burning, the big forest tree
stands in the slight hollow of the snow
melted around it by the mild, long
heat of its being and its will to be
root, trunk, branch, leaf, and know
earth dark, sun light, wind touch, bird song.
Rootless and restless and warmblooded, we
blaze in the flare that blinds us to that slow,
tall, fraternal fire of life as strong
now as in the seedling two centuries ago.
Ursula Le Guin
"I build my language with rocks."
Édouard Glissant, L'Intention poétique
Though we may feel surrounded by exclusion and oppression, it’s important to engage with the world we want to live in, to be compelled to act with a multiplicity of voices, and to seek out joy as both resistance and healing.