Entangled Citizens

Entangled Citizens. Kennedy Museum of Art, Athens Ohio. 2009-2010.

Silkscreen diagrams using Remediated Acid Mine Drainage pigment on Arches 20″x30″ paper.

Entangled Citizens consisted of a series of public conversations and workshops with several different constituencies. These conversations included members of Rural Action, a regional group of independent farmers, forestry officials, environmental engineers, journalists and artists. The workshop consisted of a brief introduction to systems theory, where participants produced a series of complex diagrams that interrogated the preceding conversations. Three unique and highly complex diagrams were produced that detailed the entanglements of nature and culture in Southern Ohio, with a specific focus on the coal mining industry. Finally, the results of this process were used to write a series of large scale National Science Foundation Grants.

“What does it mean to be a citizen? To whom is this invitation extended? Do we envision citizens as autonomous units, or networks of relations? What practices can we develop that would allow these distributed networks to speak? Taking the region of Southern Ohio and its relation to the past and emergent future of America’s energy consumption as its field of inquiry, this project addresses local ecological networks, seeking to produce new matters of concern and redistributions of agency.” – Matthew Friday, Project Coordinator

Why Ohio?    The industry and culture of the Midwest are deeply tied to geological processes that occur across a scale of time and causality that is anything but human. These processes occurred (and continue to occur) over millions of years and have a significant impact on present industry and culture. For example, the glacial sediment deposited within the relatively recent past of 1 million years makes farming possible, while the metamorphic rock formed from 250 million year old decaying vegetation has produced the conditions that allow coal mining to continue. This history is very much alive and active in our world, becoming entangled with the very fabric of our bodies, society and institutions.  For the last 150 years, vast stretches of Southern Ohio have been mined, leaving interlocking networks of abandoned mines, the majority of which are now flooded. The National Forestry Service has located 4000 abandoned mines in Southeast Ohio and estimates another 8000 have yet to be found. These abandoned mines have been colonized by lithic extremophile bacteria that, as part of their digestion process, free the acidic sulfur found in iron pyrite, producing acid mine drainage. An average flooded mine can produce several thousand gallons of toxic sulfur hydroxide every week. The complex entanglement of geology, geography, labor practices, energy policy, environmental engineering yielded by the coal mining industry have produced a wholly new and unique ecosystem, where questions about the separation of nature and culture or of preservation become irrelevant and strategies of co-evolutionary emergence must be foregrounded.

Why Time?        The issues of Rapid Climate Change and Acid Mine Drainage, are largely due to our culture’s inability to develop a sense of the vast temporal scales of our actions — what does it mean that the abandoned coal mines in Ohio will continue to produce Acid Mine Drainage for the next ten thousand years or that the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice within the next fifty years? How do we experience such scales? How do we engage with such scales and complex forms of causality?

Why Citizenship?    The fundamental question of citizenship is who and what is allowed to speak and how are their voices made sensible? What does it mean then to think agency not as something possessed by people, but as the product of an interconnected social and material apparatus? How can the distributed actors, both human and non-human be brought to the table? How do we rethink our relation to the world as a set of situated practices that are literally “of the world”? This form of situatedness means occupying particular coordinates: spatial and temporal, as well as cultural and historical. Because we cannot occupy an exterior position to the world, our interactions have a profoundly ethical dimension. This project seeks to make the regional ecology of Ohio more intelligible through an inter-active engagement with the various forces that constitute this region. This intelligibility is not a question of accurate representation, as this implies an objective position where we, the viewers, might stand outside of the very world that has produced us. Rather, the various connections we form are produced through research; they do not exist prior to it. To be a citizen is to understand that one has a responsibility to the world; this responsibility is not a question of the individual, but rather the relations we produce to others.

Why Mapping?   Entangled Citizens 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.


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