“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sarah Lewison to Discuss Ecology without Nature

In NYC, 16 Beaver Street 4th floor, 7.00 pm, Sunday 03.20.11, free and open to all:

In 2008, Sarah Lewison and her son, performance artist Duskin Drum lived for 5 months in a village in rural Yunnan China through the support of a cultural residency program. Here they observed and created a land art project (World Heritage Beer Garden Picnic) that brought together several species and economic philosophies- to respond to the transitions rural farmers faced as a result of policy decisions of the 17th National Congress of the CCP, (October 2007).

One of the phenomena they witnessed was an opening up to new forms of commerce, the decline of traditional agrarian life and concomitant socialist conditioning, and the remaking of indigenous "heritage" into a market commodity. Under the current logic of neoliberal capitalism, all forms and scales of life (nature, human, wild, domesticated, neuro-cellular), are subject to domination and monetization—to becoming kinds of property. At the same time, valuable practices that can't be commodified, such as the communal ways that were part of life under Maoism, disappear.

Using video footage and anecdotes, Sarah will speculate about property as something animated and resistant. She will, among other things, be referring to Gao Mobo's accounts of the post-mortem demonization of all things Mao by an ascendant global capitalist engine, and the ecological-literature theorist Timothy Morton's reflections on subjectivity and the nature of nature under capitalism, as well as the hyperobject that brings another perspective to material relations.


2. About Sarah Lewison
Sarah Lewison is an artist and writer concerned with grassroots pedagogies, social movements and the co-creation of alternative and dissident forms of knowledge around what is material. In her work, she seeks to make blurry the boundaries of what might be called a social relationship or collectivity, by bridging concepts from political economy and ecology. She is interested in radical contestation in the ontological categories of nature and culture, and in how this separation makes the subjects of both categories vulnerable to exploitation by capital. She studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, in the Conceptual/Information Arts program at San Francisco State University under Stephen Wilson, and in the Visual Arts program at the University of California San Diego. Out of school, she studied informally with microbiologist Ryan W. Drum. She participated in the Tomkins Square Park rebellion in New York in 1988, in artists squatters communities in Berlin in 1988-1990 and co-created a non-non-profit arts and social space in San Francisco called the Armpit Gallery from 1990-1993. ___________________________________________________

3. Gao Mobo [Challenging the Official Verdict] Gao's 2008 book Battle for China's Past examines the received- and preserved (both popular and official) history of significant portions of modern Communist rule under Mao Zedong, particular focusing on the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap forward. He points out the contradictions of accountability between a planned economy, which must enumerate and take responsibility for its failures, and capitalism, which finds buries them in externalities. He writes about China's urban rural divide and the class division that it represents, and which has worsened (as has the quality of rural life in some respects), since the 1978 opening up. ___________________________________________________

4. Timothy Morton. Morton's Ecology without Nature (2009) excited Duskin and I because 1. he starts off as a theorist of romantic literature, which gives him the capacity of addressing in very useful ways all potential emotional and repressive reactions the idea of climate change triggers, and 2. he uploads many talks to ITunesU or archive.org. So you can wash dishes and think about strange strangers. Professor Morton's interests include literature and the environment, ecotheory, philosophy, biology, physical sciences, literary theory, food studies, sound and music, materialism, poetics, Romanticism, Buddhism, and the eighteenth century. He teaches literature and ecology, Romantic-period literature, and literary theory. He has published nine books and sixty essays.

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