Everything is Downstream

Everything is Downstream. Dorsky Museum. SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY. April-June. 2013.

The United States of America passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 in response to a national crisis in water quality. Setting 1985 as a goal, this act proposed to remove all chemical, physical and biological waste from America’s watersheds. As of today, a full third of all watersheds remain polluted.

Everything is Downstream is a tool to collapse the distance between outside and inside, nature and culture, subject and object. Rather than assert some form of miasmic relativism, I argue that this dissolution of distance must be accompanied by a type of ethics. Charging a cellphone, reading an email, making tea are practices that are embedded within complex and highly contingent socio-material networks. That these practices can recede into the background is part of the same problem that allows us to think of nature as something “out there”.

All water has passed through everyone, everywhere.

Everything is Downstream is a mobile research station containing a variety of cartographic and scientific instruments to measure the state of regional watersheds. This research station operates as a provisional laboratory, camping platform, library and exhibition installation. Everything is Downstream can be applied to a variety of different watersheds with the goal of both registering the complex nature-culture relations that produce these environment and catalyzing new forms of agency within these entangled ecologies. Instruments for the measurement of bacteria from combined sewage overflows, increased nitrogen levels from concentrated animal feeding operations, and sulfuric hydroxide from abandoned mines are included in the apparatus.

All habits, past and present, molecular and massive, register and accumulate within the global watershed.

Everything is Downstream is founded on the understanding that objects and agencies of observation are inseparable parts of a single phenomena. Just as determinate entities do not exist before the events that give them boundaries, space and time do not exist as autonomous fields outside of the phenomena. To interpret the world is to be in and of it. Interpretation is a form of engagement that produces the world as intelligible. This intelligibility does not precede us, just as the map does not exist before the territory, nor is it waiting to be uncovered like some form of buried treasure. In fact, interpretation is not even the sole provenance of human beings, rather, interpretation is the articulation of the world in all of its differential becoming. Embracing this form of engagement means becoming accountable for the types of mattering we produce. This is a profoundly ethical question as it means taking account of the entanglements we produce and are, in turn, produced by. We are our relations of responsibility to the other, both human and nonhuman; this is the ethics of worlding.