Archive for the ‘Land Use’ Category

Holly Keasey: Reflecting on Water Rights Residency

February 15, 2018

This is the final blog from Holly Keasey written in October some months after her return from Santa Fe. Holly reflects on her apparent diversion from her intentional misunderstanding of the ‘rights’ in Water Rights to be equivalent to the ‘rights’ in Human Rights. The delay in publishing it is entirely the responsibility of the ecoartscotland editor.


 

We have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go. There is still today a frontier that remains unconquered — an America unclaimed. This is the great, the nationwide frontier of insecurity, of human want and fear.

President Roosevelt, radio address on the Third Anniversary of the Social Security Act, 1938

 

Taken at the Bradbury Museum, Los Alamos.

 

It has been over three month since I left Santa Fe and a month since my first attempt, to write this final post – an attempt that hammers home the difference of focused residency periods and trying to creatively think in between paid employment. To try and find my way back into the particular space I created for myself whilst at the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI), I turned my attention to questioning why – when I set out to investigate how to establish a role for critical public art practices, and what shifts in public arts policy are necessary to facilitate such practices by focusing on the role of policy and particularly water rights – did I end up spending the majority of my time in New Mexico conducting an ‘Atomic Tour’. Is there a reasoning to this shift or did I get distracted?

Whilst in New Mexico, I had the pleasure of meeting Sherri Brueggemann, the Albuquerque Public Arts Officer, who explained that the Albuquerque Public Arts Policy, though drafted as an adaptive policy, is predominantly dictated by a requirement of acquisition by the Albuquerque City Council. In short, the commissioning of object-based art that therefore has a long-term economic value and can be seen as a physical addition to their public art collection. For me, this legally stated requirement, and simultaneous reduction of public art to the manifestation of an monetarily-valued object, presents a clear link to a mind-set that is embedded in property.

As has been reiterated in a previous post, water rights are also directly linked to property, and hence property rights, in that they are focused on a possession-to-use/entitlement-to-ownership ethos. Yet, due to an on-going interest in the expansive role of water, I was interested in how this could be swung into a relation with human rights ( the “rights” inherent in being human, to do or to have simply because they are human) through a simple play-on, or rather, intentional (mis)interpretation of language. What is water allowed to be, to do and to have simply because it is water? And how could such an ethos be applied to all living beings and elements of the Earth? And what effect would this have on humanity’s current resource-focused trajectory if we were to accept and take on board such rights? This led me to consider if non-specialists in policy could misinterpret a policy – or rather interpret it differently whilst legitimising their reasoning for this interpretation of language. Is there a potential to give and in giving policy multifaceted meanings?

To understand the potential of this shift (or strategy of misinterpretation), I chose to conduct site-responsive re-search into the role of water and property rights in New Mexico, which in turn led me to be ‘willingly lost’ in the history of the nuclear as a significant specificity to New Mexico’s history. An inescapable element of my ‘Atomic Tour’ was the development of nuclear weapons and a need to understand what drove such an invention, its use and continued use as a method for ensuring maintained peace – a peace facilitated by threat and fear.

Target You – 1950’s Educational Film – S88TV1. Screened at the Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Albuquerque.

The construction of ‘property’ and it’s relationship with fear also led me to the ‘Atomic Tour’. In 1900, over 12,000 Japanese citizens immigrated to the U.S. mainland, many just released from indentured labor with Hawaii’s 1898 annexation. California became a focal area for settling and farming a key economic foundation for the Japanese population. However, the sudden increases in Japanese immigration spurred the spreading of the xenophobic theory of the ‘Yellow Peril’, with some fearing that the Japanese were attempting to overtake white control of California’s farmland. This resulted in the implementation of The California Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920, that prohibited “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning agricultural land or possessing leases over it or owning of stock in companies that acquired such land.

Although only one early action in an extensive web of global imperialist territorial power struggles, trade route deals and resource embargoes that ultimately led to the attack on Pearl Harbour and the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively – the California Alien Land Law, for me, epitomises the driving relations in a number of dimensions. The Act highlights the role of policy in the formation and maintenance of a static national identity as a meditation on the significance of land as property. Finally it makes clear the invisible violence located in such policy-making that is implicitly driven by a fear of the ‘other’ or how I would term a fear of the uncontrollable potential located in difference.

Psychological Operations leaflet. Image taken at the Bradbury Museum, Los Alamos.

Psychological Operations leaflet. Image taken at the Bradbury Museum, Los Alamos.

Nicolas Bromley writes that, ‘…force and violence are the nemesis of property and their frequent use is a signal that a property regime is faltering…’ and yet that, ‘…law requires the construction of a constituted outside with reference to, and against which, it sets itself apart. And violence is integral to its construction.’ The development, imagined-threat, use and now threat-as-use of the nuclear bomb, therefore could be seen as the site where literal and imaginings of the extremes of globalised property as an individual right, and therefore the fear such a notion requires and perpetuates, are given location.

From such a large-scale look at property, I return to looking further at the current implications of gentrification in which the antithesis to property is embodied by the indigent, the homeless and the renter,

‘…the poor are, if anything, imagined as a threat to property, not only because of their assumed complicity in property crime but also because, by their presence, they destabilize property values, both economically and culturally.’

It is in this act, of identifying ‘threats’ and establishing a legal policy of property rights to ensure security, that simultaneously identifies a feared ‘other’ that must always sit out-with a law in order to maintain the need for a law, that I feel there is a use in noticing a scalable relation between gentrification and the emotional underpinning of the nuclear. Yes, gentrification is embedded in a capital-based power system that thrives on establishing replicable exclusivity and social divides, but in order to dream of an alternative, maybe there is use in investigating how we approach and deal with that which we fear, especially in relation to difference and our prioritised entitlement to survival which currently manifests as possession-to-use.

From the above approach, I wish to move from property back to water, and water rights. In a previous post, I spoke of the Santa Fe River as a site of complexity. Site as verb – the act of giving location. This understanding of the river, and water more generally, does not so easily allow a single concept of rights as the regulation of distributing powers to control valued resources.

I wonder if it is here that I am also able to locate a site to develop potential towards ecological-sensitivity in developing multi-faceted interpretations of policy, through a focus on water rights? A form of policy that is shaped through giving location to difference and hence not responding to fear as something to be excluded, but rather an emotion we must learn to sit with until difference itself, rather than specifically that which is identified as different, unknowingly shifts to the familiar. Could the formation of such an idea be developed by reflecting on my own process of overcoming the fear of feeling out-of-place, due to constant travelling? By allowing myself to get lost and over-time become familiar and give-site to my fear through a relational and scalar approach to the fear embedded in the nuclear? And how could the development of a critical public artwork that focuses on policy, gentrification and property act as a generative challenge to legal regulations that stipulate that Public Art practices must result in an acquisition, either as an object or even as Culture for the purpose of increasing capital-attractiveness of an area?

I will continue to develop this as part of my body of work that considers Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) as a theoretical modelling system for alternative forms of urban planning and where my practice, that focuses on water as a tool to criss-cross theory and ecological concerns, could be situated within such a model as a challenge for critical formations of public art practice.

‘If we did something’ on 14 Feb 2018

February 5, 2018

James Wyness has invited Jan Hogarth, John Wallace and me to join him for If we did something at The Stove in Dumfries on 14 Feb 10.00-16.00. This is part of his project If we do nothing. You are invited too.

An open gathering, a meeting of minds from the artistic, scientific, academic, engineering and civic communities, to design and plan a series of future symposiums on eco-art, the aesthetics of sustainability, resilience and emergence.

We seek your input in designing future symposiums for the mid to long term, developing new research and artistic production, addressing the fragmentation of human understanding across ecosystems thinking, climate change, adaptation and sustainability.

All welcome.

Questions can be directed to James here.

Tim Ingold, the noted anthropologist, recently said,

But while mainstream science continues to think of art as a medium for the communication of its own findings, it is now art, rather than science, that is leading the way in promoting radical ecological awareness. This awareness rests on an acknowledgement of what we owe, for our very existence, to the world we seek to know and of which we are necessarily part. As such, it should come in before science rather than after it. The purpose of art, then, is not to communication science but to investigate its conditions of possibility.

Jan, John, James and I have been having a conversation by email in preparation for the event.

In particular we have been talking about the fragmentation of understanding and whether some forms of knowledge are ‘incommensurable’ (a word James introduced) with others. For example, is knowledge in the form of data, which dominates the sciences, translatable or relatable to storytelling and lived experience on the land? Is this important? John’s work with Prof Pete Smith including the film installation The Same Hillside (discussed here) is storytelling in response to scientific modelling.

Read more of James’ thinking on complexity here.

Jan has been asking us to think more carefully about ‘permission’ and how we behave in the world. If we accept that everything is living and we give the same respect to non-human living things that we give to humans, what does that mean? Jan says we should ask permission of the spring to take water. You can find out more about Jan’s Quests and Retreats here.

I recently gave a presentation on transdisciplinarity and have begun to get to grips with Basarab Nicolescu’s concept of ‘different levels of reality’. He says, “I maintain that two levels of Reality are different if the passage from one to the other involves a breakdown of laws and a breakdown of fundamental concepts.” which sounds like incommensurability to me.

The Same Hillside

May 25, 2017

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It was a seemingly unlikely pair forming the panel after the Crypic Nights premier of The Same Hillside at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow. The one who looked like a farmer (checked shirt and flat cap) was the documentary film-maker John Wallace, the other (long hair and beard a t-shirt with a ‘pirate’ skull and crossbones) was soil scientist and a co-author of International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports Professor Pete Smith.* This art science collaboration has been going on for some years now and The Same Hillside is the third piece of work to result from this ongoing partnership. It’s interesting because there are several other on-going relationships between artists and natural and social scientists in Scotland at the moment, many focused upon land use, social impact and critical environmental change.

The Same Hillside is an immersive installation with projections on three screens as well as the floor, and a sound installation in the foyer. If I tell you it is an exploration of the landscape through the lens of Ecosystems Services (this is an extension of ideas about nature as capital, something with social and economic value) you might think it belongs on the Open University YouTube channel rather than in an arts centre. You couldn’t be more wrong.

John Wallace described his interest as a documentary film-maker in finding structures or lenses external to himself to use in constructing his work. These ‘constraints’ are devices John Wallace uses to clarify his current inquiry and focus upon what interests him. It forces him to follow other lines and explore subjects he might not otherwise take up on his own. Hearing Pete Smith talking about Ecosystem Services Assessment (a method of assessing the services that aspects of an ecosystem provides to human society) and the aspects of land-use that this reveals, John Wallace saw potential for a way to explore and make strange again a landscape with which he was deeply familiar. This was a chance to see with fresh eyes.

It isn’t common knowledge, but three major Scottish rivers flow from one hillside in the South of Scotland to opposite sides of the country: the Annan into the Solway Firth, the Clyde through Glasgow into the Firth of Clyde, and the Tweed into the North Sea. With this in mind, Pete Smith and John Wallace defined a 20 mile radius ‘study area,’ that worked from the common ground at the top of these three watersheds. The questions they wanted to explore revolve around the ways that these networks of land and water delight and serve human communities.

Wallace set out to explore different aspects of these ecosystems in relation to the ‘services’ provided to human society. Ecosystems provide natural products and raw materials such as food, wood and water, when intact and healthy they regulate flooding process, turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, they support us by recycling nutrients and enabling pollination. The Cryptic Nights information sheet notes,

“The area is home to five drinking water reservoirs, over 300MW of installed wind capacity, the West Coast Main Line, 400kV power transmission lines, the M74 motorway, thousands of acres of commercial forestry, hill farms, salmon redds, blanket bogs, and rare and delicate subalpine habitats.”

Ecosystems also provide aesthetic, biodiversity and spiritual services, a set of cultural interrelationships that have proven more difficult on to which to put economic value.

As a documentary film-maker John Wallace sought out the human stories which reveal deep and complicated relationships, a lifetime of meaning. Whether that’s the train driver talking about the impact of one 40-car supermarket haul and how many trucks that takes off the road, or the modern Saw Mill that uses the waste material to generate energy. John Wallace’s style is not interrogative or even prodding. So it is interesting when climate change keeps coming up in different narratives. It’s clearly an essential part of the reality for a wide range of people living, working and managing transport in the Scottish landscape.

Whilst ‘place’ as a vital facet of identity has been a signal thread in Scottish art-making for at least a generation, it usually focuses on a recognisable place. The Same Hillside focuses on a part of the country that supports a lot of other ‘places’, the towns and cities downstream. It embeds a bioregional or watershed-based approach: Dumfries, Glasgow, Berwick and all the other settlements on the Annan, Clyde and Tweed are all dependent on the health and viability of this upland territory.

John Wallace’s interviews with people living and working in this place focus upon the production and transmission of energy; the transportation routes; the scale of commercial forestry and the range of resulting products, the value of the peatland in sequestering carbon, as well as a means of provisioning game for hunting sport. The last scenes follow a group exploring the Spring at Hartfell as a specific example of the cultural and spiritual dimension of the landscape.

Underlying John Wallace’s sensitive handling of people and landscapes are the sorts of data sets that Pete Smith works with. Where the films on the screens take our conscious attention with stories, the data projected on the floor is telling another story, of car and truck movements on the M74, of rainfall, of the monitoring of land-use.

What is apparent watching The Same Hillside is that some bad decisions have been made in this landscape in the past – planting commercial forestry on the best farmland and draining the peat for grazing are two striking examples. After hearing about healthy watersheds with forest cover it was curious to look at images in the closing minutes. The last shot features long views from the hilltop down through the valley where there is hardly a tree to be seen. Here, water is sacred and aesthetics is provided by nature. Nature necessitates a healthy highland and stream corridor with plants and trees to regulate flow and temperature allowing for best conditions for all living things. Is the spirit in place, without its animating forces?

The Same Hillside (and the earlier works Cinema Sark and Sark-Tweed) don’t fit into existing categories of documentary film or installation art. They draw on languages of place and site-specificity, but also, albeit quietly, of everyday activism. They speak to the Anthropocene, that humans are affecting everything, without ever mentioning the term. The sawmill using its own waste product to generate energy is a form of attention to process, which goes beyond everything being focused by ‘the product’.

We need more productive partnerships between people like Professor Pete Smith and John Wallace – processes that extend beyond a project into a long term dialogue, interactions between those who work with data and inform policy, and those who work with sound, image, form and narrative. These connections with the artists and film-makers draw the sciences into the everyday of a critically positioned arts practice. Working across disciplines can challenge assumptions and lead to the emergence of new forms.

With thanks to Tim Collins for his comments and suggestions.

* The partnership between Wallace and Smith started during Do Not Resuscitate a series of events organised by Mike Bonaventura, then CEO of the Critchon Carbon Centre. Do Not Resuscitate brought together artists and scientists, drawing on the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programmes. The first piece of work resulting from this collaboration was Cinema Sark (2013), presented as part of the Environmental Art Festival Scotland, and focusing on the River Sark which is the boundary between Dumfries & Galloway and Cumbria, between Scotland and England. Wallace and Smith’s partnership isn’t the only significant outcome of Do Not Resuscitate – it contributed to the shape of the Environmental Art Festival Scotland and led to a residency programme Nil by Mouth.

Holly Keasey and Anna Macleod: An Atomic Journey

March 26, 2017

“We tour the disparate surfaces of everyday life as a way of involving ourselves in them, as a way of reintegrating a fragmented world” – Alexander Wilson (1991)

As international residents at SFAI, Holly and fellow resident Anna Macleod, have conducted their ‘Atomic Journey’ together through New Mexico including trips to The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, the Red Water Pond Road Community Association (RWPRCA), the roundhouse for Uranium Workers Day and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A journey which has drawn out questions around activation within the act of witnessing, and whether visiting artists are complicit in a contemporary act of exploitation – extracting what they need and then leaving.

Anna’s initial proposal to SFAI was to research community resilience in the face of climate change uncertainty as the next addition to her series of projects known as Water Conversations. These projects explore the complex interstices between landscape, technology, science, culture and geopolitics through the emotive global context of water. In recent years, these projects have included an investigation into the legacy of mining and wastewater in a variety of global contexts. The scarred and poisoned landscapes that Anna has journeyed through are often admired as places of pristine wilderness. Yet hidden deep within these landscapes are many unresolved negative emotions stirred by the socio-economic traumas these landscapes have endured. Typically, ‘Water Conversations’ accumulate into the production of portable sculptures that then act as focal points for community gatherings, where thoughts and emotions can be expressed in the safety of a shared collective action.

During the SFAI Water Right’s Round Table, Susan Gordon of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment presented an oil and gas map which initiated an urgency to dig deeper into the history of uranium mining and nuclear exploration within New Mexico.

IMAGE ONE

The majority of uranium mined in New Mexico is found in the Grants mineral belt, the second largest uranium deposit in the United States. Looking at a map of New Mexico, layered with information on the extractive industries dotted throughout the territory, one can draw a triangle from the North Western uranium mining area of the Grants mineral belt at Gallup, to Los Alamos, and then south-west to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at Carlsbad.*

As was mentioned in the previous post, Policy, Possession and Place, the reality of lives lived on land that was contaminated continuously for twenty year by uranium mine discharge before the 1979 Church Rock Uranium tailings pond spill, were shared with us through conversations with members of RWPRCA. Situated in amongst geological stacks, recognisable to a European as backdrop landscapes for the Hollywood Westerns, this landscape is entirely barren apart from the over-looked brown-ish hills constructed from contaminated scrape-off pointed out to us by the community, the dry-board constructed homes of this ‘forgotten’ community and the intentional plantings of non-regional salt bushes by the EPA.

IMAGE TWO

In stark contrast, 230 miles North of Red Water Pond Road is Los Alamos, a self proclaimed ‘Atomic City’ complete with promotional tee shirts, shot glasses and coffee cups. It is a prosperous well-mannered place. Originally constructed in secret to house the scientist of the National Laboratories, this small city continues to be primarily for current and retired laboratory workers and their families. The centre of the city, where the first nuclear bombs were designed and produced, is now one section of the three-part Manhattan Project National Park, where visitors can join the Park Ranger for a free tour of the central pond area and collect a stamp for their National Park Passport. Los Alamos boasts of an intelligent and healthy population, with the highest per capita of residents with PhDs and the 7th most affluent per capita city in the USA. The location of the city within the forty-three mile site is surrounded by mountains, ski slopes and a well serviced recreational culture. The hyper-reality of middle-class affluence at Los Alamos, a realised model of the American Dream ideals, is magnified by the automated countdown at pedestrian traffic crossing points. Ten seconds to safely cross a road. Ten seconds to experience the anxious anticipation of an explosion.

The unholy uranium trinity is completed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. WIPP is located in the Delaware Basin of New Mexico. This 600m-deep salt basin was formed during the Permian Period approximately 250 million years ago. In 1957, the National Academy of Sciences recommended salt for radioactive waste disposal because at over 600m below the earth’s surface, salt would plastically deform, a motion called “salt creep” in the salt-mining industry, to close and seal any openings created by the mining, and in and around the waste. It is here that the mined uranium, and all radioactive waste produced in the US, returns to the ground having been through a series of processes, a journey, in which its original state has changed.**

IMAGE FOUR

Similarly, our journey to these sites of nuclear relevance has, most likely, changed something within us. There is an activation through the act of witnessing that shifts something within the witness. Their witnessing also enacts a reintegration of occurrences that have otherwise become fragmented from each other – in this case the intentional disjointedness between the mining of uranium, weapons development, nuclear energy and radioactive disposal. However, as international artists-in-residence, this comparison to the nuclear fuel cycle and our journey draws out critical questions about the responsibility of the visiting artist to ensure we do not ‘mine’ communities to the point of exhaustion, especially whilst attending a thematic residency in which sixty artists with over-lapping areas of interest pass through a single institution and therefore small grouping of communities. How do we also ensure, as socially-engaged artists, that our methods of practice whilst working within short-time frames is beneficial to a community rather than detrimental?

Upon hearing about Anna’s artistic practice and through engagement with the RWPRCA community, a suggestion was made to produce a new banner with a water focus that could be used during the community’s Uranium Legacy, Remembrance and Action Day, a day of protest, awareness raising and memorial that takes place annually on the 16th July, the anniversary of The Church Rock Uranium Spill. Focusing on how to create a water banner that incorporated these three purposes, we hosted a co-design workshop at a community member’s home. Using mono-printing, we worked with the community to discuss their differing ideas about what such a banner should include. It was also a time to share methods for using visual attributes such as colour, language and symbolism to produce strong statements that reflect the Navajo relation to place.

IMAGE FIVE

The final banner will be realised by Anna over the course of April before being gifted back to the community. It is hoped that this hand sewn banner will hold within it care, solidarity and gratitude that will continue beyond our stay in New Mexico. Whilst we will take away the experienced knowledge from our ’Atomic Journey’, having temporarily been active in the everyday fabric of this place through loosely stitching fragments together.


Notes

* The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is the world’s third deep geological repository licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years that is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons and energy.

** It is assumed that at this depth the radioactive material is encased away from interference but with the drastic increase in fracking within New Mexico especially in the Carlsbad area, questions can be asked if these two processes really co-exist in the same landscape?


References

Wilson, Alexander. 1991. The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez. Ontario: Between The Lines Press.


Anna Macleod

Edinburgh Scotland, lives and works in Ireland

Anna Macleod is a visual artist based in Ireland. Her art work utilizes a variety of methods and processes to mediate complex ideas associated with contemporary, historical and cultural readings of place. She employs quasi-scientific methods, interdisciplinary collaboration, performance and socially engaged activism to critique contemporary landscapes and to build metaphoric spaces for re-imagining the future. Recent projects have focused on the socio-political and cultural issues surrounding water, looking at questions of access, management and ritual.

Anna Macleod has exhibited Nationally and Internationally. Recent residencies include: Food Water Life, themed residency with Jorge and Lucy Orta, Banff Art Centre, Alberta, Canada. 2015. Joya, Arte & Ecologia, Spain 2016. Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Co Leitrim, Ireland 2015 & Broken Hill Art Exchange, New South Wales, Australia, 2015. Recent solo exhibitions include: Water Conversations – A Survey of Works 2007 – 2015 at The Dock, Carrick on Shannon, Ireland. Staid na Talún – A State of Land, Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Co Leitrim, Ireland, Water Conversations – Broken Flow, Broken Hill Art Exchange, New South Wales, Australia.

Macleod is the recipient of the Firestation Artists’ Studios, Dublin, International Residency Award for ‘A Thousand Points of Light’ residency in Joshua Tree, California in March 2016. She was awarded an Individual Artists Bursary from Leitrim County Council Arts Office in 2015 / 2016 and Arts Council of Ireland Travel and Training Award towards the costs of residencies in Australia (2015) and USA (2016 & 2017) and the Jim Dinning and Evelyn Main Endowed Scholarship for Visual Arts for Banff Art Centre residency in 2015.

www.annamacleod.com

 

Holly Keasey: Policy, Possession and Place

March 15, 2017

One needs to reflect upon US history and its troubling legacy of “placemaking” manifested in acts of displacement, removal, and containment. This history is long and horrible…how is Creative Placemaking different or complicit with these actions?

‘Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-belonging’, (Bedoya 2013)

As of writing this blog, I have a further two weeks until I complete my residency and return to Dundee. Over the past two years I have spent more time away from, than in Dundee, to the point that I arrived at SFAI increasingly aware that Dundee doesn’t feel like home, and for that matter there isn’t anywhere that feels like home. This unsettled feeling has somewhat preoccupied my residency, trying to overcome it by getting to know Santa Fe on foot and New Mexico through a broad scope of historic and current socio-economic and environmental research – creating a temporary, or maybe an internalised and necessary illusion, of being in-place for myself.

Trying to understand this somewhat unintentional bodily-working-through of my own psychological processes often acts as a stimuli to my practice which in turn gives body to my hypothesis for performative practice as a form of public art that can hold active criticality. In the instance of trying to locate a sense of being in-place in Santa Fe, due to my lack belonging elsewhere, I have come to realise that there is a swinging movement between the original intention for my residency – researching the misuse of law, with a particular focus on the laws that regulate water rights in New Mexico, and the potential space that can be create through the misunderstanding of a non-specialist – and the implications and hence role of public arts policy.

Image One

Screenshot of EventBrite ‘How Students and the Arts Fuel a Vibrant Downtown’

A key underpinning to my research so far is the understanding that Water Rights[1] are inherently linked to Property Rights[2]. Both of which imply the legal possession of use of a resource. And it is this mind-set of possession-of-use that is central to the current situation in New Mexico.

An inescapable example of this possession-of-use mind-set can be traced through the on-going treatment of Native American communities. Many settlers considered the Native way of life and collective use of land to be communistic and barbaric, with settler ideals stemming from the view that individual ownership of private property was an essential part of civilization. In an attempt to force these ideals upon Native populations, Congress passed the General Allotment Act in 1887, which authorized the president to survey Indian tribal land and divide the area into allotments for individual Indians and families. Members of the selected tribe or reservation were either given permission to select pieces of land—usually around forty to one hundred and sixty acres in size – for themselves and their children, or the tracts were assigned by the agency superintendent. If the amount of reservation land exceeded the amount needed for allotment, or if the allotment was not used in the westernised sense, the federal government could negotiate to purchase the land from the tribes and sell it to non-Indian settlers. As a result, sixty million acres were either ceded outright or sold to the government for non-Indian homesteaders and corporations as ‘surplus lands’. (See the History of Allotment on the Indian Land Tenure Foundation page for further detail.)

What can be drawn from this act is a significant relationship between the ideals of individualism, private property and a prioritising of use values.

Land Status Map for McKinley County, New Mexico

For the Navajo Nation, the General Allotment Act resulted in their eastern border in Western New Mexico resembling a checkerboard. However, in spite of these attempts to colonise many Native tribes, including those of Navajo Nation, did not adopt the enforced ideals towards the environment as resources to be put to use. I was fortunate to meet with community members of Red Water Pond Road of Coyote Canyon Chapter, Navajo Nation this week, whose relationship to the land and waters is still predominantly held within their ancestral sense of belonging and being part of the land. So much so that they have continued to live at Red Water Pond Road despite its contamination in 1979, when United Nuclear Corporation’s Church Rock uranium mill tailings disposal pond breached its dam, releasing over a thousand tons of solid radioactive mill waste and ninety-three million gallons of acidic, radioactive tailings solution, which then flowed through Red Water Pond Road’s surrounding landscape. After minor clean-up with shovels, United Nuclear Corporation’s uranium mill continued to operate until 1982, after which the site was abandoned by the corporation leaving behind the infrastructure, by-products and contaminated landscape that were no longer of use to them. Whilst, the Red Water Pond Road residents, many of whom worked the uranium mines, continue to reside here despite the lack of employment and income they had become accustomed to or the ability to return to previous vocations such as shepherding due to the extent of radioactive contamination. It is now a place where net wire fencing, typically used for dividing farm land, acts as a visual divide between residents and their neighbouring pilings.

Uranium tailing at Red Water Pond Road Community

There is a comparison that can be drawn here between the legal possession-to-use and its accompanying mind-set, that fosters a lack of long-term responsibility to that which is made use of whether it be a landscape or grouping of people, and the Navajo ancestral sense of belonging and being part of this landscape which manifests as a commitment towards a continuing to live here. For me, these comparative relations to the same area of land stir up a question – can a westernised (and patriarchal) ideal, and consequently entitlement, towards possession-to-use ever result in a mode of living that is ecologically sensitive?

It is in this question that I currently tread water, continuing to seek understanding through this arid landscape. I know there is a link to be formed between a critique of and beyond property and water rights as legal possessions-to-use (and the mind-set that supersedes this); a reflection on my own performative researching practice towards establishing a temporary sense of place in Santa Fe; and a role for public arts policy.

An initial reaction to this may be to look towards Creative Placemaking, a term co-opted by planning development that makes use of artistic methods and/or forms to drive an agenda for change, growth and transformation (or put succinctly, gentrification). Such developments frame their intentions as revitalisation in the interest of identified communities. By revitalisation they mean attaining the forms in which 21st Century ideals of successful civilisation are attributed. Similarities can be drawn between this and the intentions behind the General Allotment Act to ‘organise’ (for which one can read colonise) Native Communities. In addition, acts of Creative Placemaking are typically achieved via the use and extraction of an area’s resources in such a way that the original community’s ability to continue to reside is often reduced. For Red Water Pond Road community it is due to radioactive contamination. For communities subjected to Creative Placemaking it is due to real estate speculation. In many ways, this form of Creative Placemaking is an expansion of the entitlement towards possession to use – who makes the most successful use these identified areas? The current residents, or the affluent residents who replace them?

It is for the above reasons that as an artist I believe there is a need to be insistent that the aesthetics of criticality is at the core of Public Arts Policy.


[1] The right to make use of the water from a stream, lake, or irrigation canal.
[2] Property rights are socially-enforced constructs for determining how a resource or economic good is used.


Bedoya, Roberto. 2013. ‘Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-belonging’ Grantmakers In The Arts Reader, Vol 24, No 1 (Winter 2013) http://www.giarts.org/article/placemaking-and-politics-belonging-and-dis-belonging

Holly Keasey: Is a river without water, still a river?

March 7, 2017

Holly Keasey’s fourth post to ecoartscotland, as part of her participation in the Santa Fe Art Institute’s Water Rights residency, focuses on different ways of experiencing and thinking about the Santa Fe River (such as it is).


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A friend this week set me a challenge to write a detailed, more phenomenological, observation of a small patch of land or waterway. I had planned to go to Otowi Bridge twenty-five miles North, an important crossing point of the Rio Grande. It is a site where the measurement is taken that decides the allocation of waters from the Rio Grande to the settlements downstream in New Mexico, to the Elephant Butte Reservoirs and across the borders into Mexico and Texas. However, the hours and/or energy required to make that trip by bike during daylight hours hasn’t yet materialised.

Instead, a group of us walked a nearby section of the Santa Fe River – not walking along the banks as is normal, but instead walking the path of the river where water should, but does not flow. My gut response to this walk was that the Santa Fe River, at this point of its course, does not completely exist, at least in physical form. The beach-like riverbed missing the saturation of water; the crumpling banks reinforced by dumped rusting Mustangs; and the deposits of rocks still too large to slip into my pockets, tell tales of the river and its occasional re-appearance during times of heavy rain and snow melt, but them by themselves cannot be the river.

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I could describe to you further the phenomenon of this dehydrated river channel – a soily skin that flakes similar to ours when lacking moisture. Its overwhelming stillness, a tiredness teetering on the edge of death. The glimmers of hopes that come from underfoot as the surface of the bed hardens with saturation and walking becomes easier. Or I could delve into the questions such experiences makes me ponder about when is a river still a river – are the bed and banks enough to constitute being a river on their own? Or is the water, and the ecosystem it brings life to, essential to our understanding of a river? Is the river actually still complete given the potential of a continuation of even the smallest movement of water underfoot? Or is there a spirit to the river, an existential presence of its own?

But if so, all I can hear is it’s frustrated scream of desperation to stop sharing an enchantment with its starved physical form.

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During our walk, I came across a yellow-cake like rock. Having spent my previous day reading about the uranium industry and the history of the Manhattan Project, curiosity got the better of me as I examined the rock to see if it was uranium before remembering, ‘What if it is uranium!’ and quickly releasing its yellow mass back to the riverbed. This small act of entitlement followed by fear, reflects what currently resides and flows along this riverbed, in the place of physical water: a river that can be perceived through its giving location and specificity to the many direct and indirect actions, fuelled by fear and/or entitlement, that have led to its own dehydration and questionable status as a river.

Another way of thinking through this is via a brief consideration of site.

Many consider ‘site’ as a noun, as an identified area where something resides or is constructed. ‘Site’ as a noun can be both physical, such as the ‘site’ of the first atomic bomb explosion occurred at the Trinity Site in Southern New Mexico, and conceptual, as the Trinity Site marks the site of change in the global psyche, shadowed by a new fear. Yet, what is potentially more relevant to how the Santa Fe River can be perceived is the consideration of site as a verb, the action of giving location to something. In the context of complexity, of ‘everything connected to everything else’, it is useful to ‘give location’ to complexity, to understand the Santa Fe River as the location of small and large acts of entitlement and fear.

Such acts of entitlement and fear, which have resulted in the current state of the Santa Fe River, can be traced back to the introduction of US legislation regarding property rights and the liberty of the individual, shifting the uses of the land and perceived entitlements to water, damming upstream and leaving no water for the river to physically continue along its way. And then drawn forward through the development of the atomic bomb in the fear of communism, to previous and continued contamination of waters from mining and the consequent and on-going environmental genocide of many native communities.

These relational socio-economic situations constitute the collective phenomena that, for me at least, is the current river. The westernised entitlement to resources is so great that we have absorbed the river physically and perceptually, ignoring all rights held by the river to be a river.

The use of emotive notions, fear and entitlement in the case of Santa Fe, to conduct a scalar approach through personal, social and environmental issues is more typical to how I perceive and work with water. Through focusing on fear and entitlement I am able to perceive the Santa Fe River, not only through its lack of water, but as an act of giving location to complexity.

 


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