Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
Depending on who you ask and what we pay attention to, the world has ended many times. According to Indigenous peoples, the apocalypse started 500 years ago; if we ask certain species, it ended millions of years ago, or perhaps only last night. And yet nets of kinship, invisible and palpable relationships of codependence are torn and re-mended and torn and lost at a more incredible speed than ever before. And so “it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with… It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”[i] This is one of my all-time favorite quotes by Donna Haraway, or anyone for that matter (as a storyteller, of course, it has its appeal!). And what she’s saying is that we’re all storytellers enmeshed in a story—that science is one story we tell, and it changes depending on who tells it and for what reason; art is another kind of story, and so on and so forth. So the stories we tell about the world change how we see the world, which ultimately means that the world is changed by these stories. Capitalism is another one of these stories—one that has reached a point of no return. But there are also many counter-stories: stories about resistance, stories about witnessing, stories about the world and our place in it. And stories about our world beg the question: Do we see ourselves as part of or apart from that world—are we godlike observers of a weave, or active, vulnerable, interdependent characters in the text(ile) of Gaia?
A trope and topic in art, nature has been a metaphoric and material resource for artists to extract and an object to look at, much more often than an active co-creator (this divide, of course, is present in Western art because it is an intrinsic part of Western modernity, yet not so in other traditions). And does it have to be so? Is it always so? Is something changing? What is the possible connection between art and nature, nature and culture—are they even separable? Is nature an object or subject in art? Is artmaking part of (our) nature? Does the artist, therefore, become a super-validated configurator of experience? Does nature need art (because we know art needs nature and has needed and mined it for centuries)? Why do nature and its present collapse matter in art? Is it perhaps because of what Forrest Gander and John Kinsella called: “This disease of Western subjectivity, this defense of the natural world because it has so much to give us, grant us, return to us, reward us, or affirm us, is the final sliver of aesthetics that would guarantee the hobbling and dilution of any poetic resistance to the killing of the land itself?”[i] Or is it something else that we’re looking for there? The potential for stories of living and dying? Of com-post, as Haraway would have it?
In times of climate injustice, the pieces in this show underscore that there are not one but many collapses happening simultaneously and not one but many stories to be told. These works investigate—thematically and formally in different ways—the relationship be- tween nature and culture, representation and perception. But don’t expect the artists here to offer solutions; instead, they ask ques- tions to bear and bare witness. In this troubled, troubling time, what is the artist’s role? In this crisis, is art even sustainable, desirable, and relevant? Or is it possible precisely what the doctor ordered?
Through different stories about nature and ourselves that these pieces weave, from the contemplative potential of an abstract lands- cape to the harsh poetry of a plundered one; from the perception of impermanence to the movement of the hurt body as territory/ territory, as the colonized body in need of healing; from places transformed by the juxtaposition and fragmentation of human and non-human to that of earth and seeds as material for experimentation, play and represent. Text and textile, grass embroiders migra- tion here, while there, rocks, glass, and feathers, elaborate on the value of objects and the delicate balance (or lack thereof) between humans and other beings. The cultural, material, economic and poetic significance of certain plants, present and ancient, is humo- rously rendered and critiqued as a fossil, or killer Kong, while exploding volcanoes recall time and tradition in Mexican painting and bonsais speak metaphorically to genetic modification, resilience, patience, collaboration. Rocks are read, and penguins speak. Finally, collapse may be held at bay or observed in slow motion, altered, documented, and together with the artists and through these pie- ces, you and I build the site of conversation. Perhaps even the seed or spore for a new story.