Although the calendar says October, the thermometer in Boston reads 81 degrees. I’ve yet to see a red leaf in Boston’s Franklin Park (though I found a maitake last week). I’m not sure the weather counts as small talk anymore as we navigate seasonal changes inside broader climatic disruption. Here’s to cultivating spaces for refuge, reflection, and action in a season and era of flux.
If you’re in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic, let’s connect at one of the final four performances of “My Electric Genealogy.” I’m beyond grateful for the generous hosts and thoughtful audiences who have engaged with a project that is both personal and collective reckoning. The next shows are:
November 2, 4:30 PM
Fisher Recital Hall
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
November 10, 6:00 PM
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (CADVC)
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
November 16, 6:00 PM
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Although I expect to conclude live performances with this final mini-tour, I hope to continue to share “My Electric Genealogy” in various ways. In August, I shared excerpt of the project presented as an installation at the Mimesis Documentary Festival, and I am developing a publication based on the script.
My “Beyond Property” book and cards, along with the experiential curriculum I co-coordinated with Ryan Griffis, continues to travel: this time to St. Paul, Minnesota, where it is on view in the group exhibition Insurgent Ecologies: Hotter Than July at the Law Warshaw Gallery at Macalester College. Curator Tia-Simone Gardner builds on an April/May New Orleans exhibition organized by Imani Jacqueline Brown and Shana Griffin to challenge and repair systems rooted in enslavement, conquest, displacement that operate across the upper and lower Mississippi River. The exhibition runs through December 10.
The third edition of the Indigenous Boston Harbor Boat Tour runs October 21 and 24, led by members of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag. Sponsored by the University Hall Gallery at UMass Boston, this annual program is an outgrowth of the Ecologies of Acknowledgment project developed with Nicholas Brown in 2019.
Society and Space ran a book review forum on A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado.
The Long Read
Autumn is a season for reflection, and I’ve found myself contemplating both the happy accidents that punctuate and enduring threads that unify my life and work. Although I only came to the term recently, Eyal Weizman’s notion of “critical proximity” (rather than the more familiar concept of “critical distance”) captures something of my orientation and aspiration for my practice: grounding urgent critique of large-scale systems from a position targeted by, implicated in, or entangled with these structures. “My Electric Genealogy” may be my most explicitly autobiographical project, but my work has long arisen from the places I have lived or have kinship connections as an embodied process of situated knowledge-building.
Born in Los Angeles, I am shallow, if densely, rooted settler. As a rare fifth-generation white Angeleno, I have colonizing ancestors going back to the Winthrop Fleet (at least on my father’s side). My great grandparents were California Socialists of the Upton Sinclair generation—a convenient genealogical factoid that my politically progressive parents emphasized over other aspects of our position within structures of white supremacy and settler colonialism. In retrospect, I began grappling with this positionality early but haltingly: the Rodney King beating and subsequent LA Uprising prompted a 30-year effort to understand how injustice is built into the landscape. While still a student at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, I devoured Mike Davis books (thanks to a Christmas gift from my late Uncle Kent), cleaned up debris from the rebellion, attended poetry readings in Leimert Park (with Glynnis Reed), and phone banked for CALPIRG in a scattershot effort to reconcile my comfortable, middle-class life with the outpouring of pain and rage that shut down the city for five days. A year after the rebellion, I saw Anna Deavere Smith share work-in-progress from Twilight: Los Angeles. Based on over 300 interviews with people whose lives were caught up in the verdict and its aftermath. The now classic work of “documentary theater” opened my eyes to the capacity of art to use relational research to speak with nuance and beauty to the most pressing issues of the day. Though I had no way to know it at the time, that work-in-progress performance would become a direct ancestor of My Electric Genealogy—and almost certainly a grand-aunt to almost everything I have done since.
I went on to major in art in college, supplementing the medium-specific undergraduate curriculum with coursework on critical theory, gender studies, and environmental studies. Some of these courses allowed me to develop creative projects instead of writing term papers, and I lit up at the chance to process new knowledge about the world through artistic forms.
After graduating from college in 1997, I got more involved in activism, ultimately joining the “alter-globalization” movement around the turn of the millennium. I learned political street theater, helped to plan carnivalesque protests, and developed my first media production skills in the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center that I’d helped get off the ground. By the time I completed graduate school in 2004, I had found a tentative balance between my activist orientation, theoretical inclination, and commitment to creative expression as knowledge work.
Time, job demands, parenthood, and proximity to collaborators has changed and challenged that balance over the years. Sometimes, it’s more aspirational than realized. Universities can be mentally, emotionally, and politically compromising places to work, after all, and the mobility of academic life can frustrate growing deep roots even if you manage to resist a reward structure that prioritizes the distant over the proximate. Leaving the Midwest in 2015 after 17 years and four cities prompted me to approach site-based work more relationally as a co-constitution of places and people that both changes and endures across space and time. The eight years I have spent in Boston represent the longest stretch I have lived in any one city as an adult. This newfound stability has grounded an even closer examination of my own relation to the places I have lived or to which I’m connected.
Entangled relationships show up everywhere once you start to look. They are sometimes particular and ancestral (I’ve got a bunch of colonizing ancestors buried in the 17th century cemetery across the street from my favorite Latin market) and sometimes collective and infrastructural: my sewage, like everyone else’s in Boston, is treated by a wastewater treatment plant built on the site of the first Native internment camp in North America. I’m a product of centuries of white supremacy and settler capitalism; I can’t escape proximity and implication. Instead, I hope through my work to engage, rework, and repair these already existing connections—and eventually, in concert with countless others, to transform them.