Space as Substance: Beyond the Scenic Hudson

For me the question of how matter, in all its mucky glory, shows up became central in thinking about how we model new ways of being in the world. One example of this is the algae dye used in the project that was harvested from beds of waterchestnut, a recent and rapid colonizer that, with the algae, kills off most aquatic life. Creating a production method for this dye required understanding the implications this process would have (quite beneficial for fish) on the watershed. In developing paints and papers from local sources, we become accountable to the plants and animals that are also dependent upon them; our health and their health become inexorably linked. For me, ethics unfolds from this increased cycle of situated co-dependence and there is a real pressing need to develop processes that collaboratively engage the world and redistribute both agents and agency. Working with environmental advocacy groups in the Hudson Valley over the past several years, I’ve developed a series of public projects to cultivate environmental literacy and foster ecologically resilient systems and much of that research informs this project. Facing the massive impact of global warming, deregulated power plants, crumbling infrastructure and toxic pollution there is a very real and pressing need to redefine our relations to the Hudson River watershed and much good work has already been done in this regard. Our current political/economic structure – capitalism – presents the world as a set of resources to be used, while externalizing its impact, such as pollution, so that corporations do not have to pay for its true cost. My painting, Pure Color of the Hudson (after Rodechenko), is both a map and index of these forces. Made with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) mud obtained from General Electric dredging site and processed waste coal from power plants in the Hudson Valley, it is both an map and index of the radical impact capitalism has had on the watershed.

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