C Magazine


Issue 152

Editorial: Extraction
by Jac Renée Bruneau

Extraction is the political-ontological basis for the circulation of resources under neoliberal capitalism—and agents of such appropriation scarcely do enough to respect, heal, and replenish their sources. Companies inflict harm knowing that potential fines for environmental damage pale in comparison to the profits that can be gleaned. Things get spilled, air changes, the water tastes different, records are broken. People are pushed out, poisoned, left disoriented, sick, cheated. And the doom goes on, ripples out.

Maggie Flynn’s Trickle Down offers a substantial network of impacts, connecting entities and individuals in extractive industries and the art world. Years of research allow us to see connections between corporations, art institutions, and Indigenous communities impacted by intervention. The artist explains that she “prioritized information coming directly from leadership or grassroots groups of affected communities” and that “not all examples are meant to be cast in the same light.” Flynn writes, “As within any community, contrasting opinions may exist, even when [Impact Benefit Agreements] are in place.”

Zoë Heyn-Jones’s “Cooked Earth: Ambivalence in Terracotta” embraces grey areas, too, offering a sensuous movement through works by Dana Prieto, Bosco Sodi, Krista Belle Stewart, and Andrey Guaianá Zignnatto, all of whom use terracotta in “artisanal, land-based, site-responsive, and[/or] community-informed” ways. Acknowledging the naturalness of human dependence on land’s offerings, the writer thinks these artists might “enable us to complicate our rudimentary understandings of extractivism.”

Of course, extraction is about more than the removal of materials from the ground. Anil Narine authors this issue’s Tilling column, focused on the Centre for the Study of Black Canadian Diaspora currently under construction at OCAD U. Led by Andrea Fatona and dovetailing with her legendary State of Blackness: From Production to Presentation (2014) conference, the Centre “reject[s] anthropological, extractivist, even scientific frameworks long entrenched in the academic study of specific cultural groups.” Building on the community-oriented work of other Black cultural organizations, and determined to keep an arm’s length from the university, the Centre has already begun building an ambitious, “nationally known digital platform that indexes art and exhibitions by members of the Black diaspora.”

Aamna Muzaffar’s interview with Suneil Sanzgiri homes in on other aspects of extraction resulting from colonization. The artist’s latest film, Golden Jubilee, might be thought of as a multimedia, essayistic attempt to grapple with Goa’s past as a Portuguese colony, subject to iron ore mining and the cultural fracturing that ensued. Critical not only of those effects, but also of his own instinct to learn more, he says: “I ask about the overused terminology surrounding ideas of ‘mining the archive,’ by asking, ‘Where does extraction follow us?’ […] [T]he term ‘found footage’ too, which also seems to have somewhat colonial connotations. Did you really ‘find’ something, or was it already somewhere and you’re just absorbing its value? I much prefer what Ariella Azoulay terms working archivally as being ‘co-conspirators through time.’”

Solomon Chiniquay, in this issue’s artist project, taps into this idea of temporal continuance, in the context of land defence. Having seen a “sun-faded newspaper clipping found in his [Îyârhe Nakoda] grandmother’s home with the heading ‘Who Are We Without the Buffalo?’ collaboratively authored by several elders many decades ago,” he sensed the urgency of the protests at the Ada’itsx/ Fairy Creek Blockade in defense of the old-growth forests. “[T]ended to by the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Pacheedaht peoples who […] harvested in respectful, considerate, and reciprocal ways,” the trees are now under threat by the Teal-Jones Group. Guest curator Nicole Kelly Westman points out that Chiniquay actively works against the tradition of “photographers and photojournalists [who] act like hunters, focused on finding an image that precisely encapsulates complexities that are too challenging to succinctly summarize.” This choice “reveals to us […] a set of boundaries that are considerately navigated. After all, not everything is for the taking.”

Valérie Frappier profiles Alana Bartol, whose practice has focused on the aftermath of the oil, gas, and coal industries in the Prairies for about a decade. Most recently, she considered the two-faced nature of state communication around extractive sites. Having visited a number of abandoned mines, ghost towns, visitor interpretation centres, and museums in Southern Alberta, Bartol notes that these histories of settler-colonial extraction are “acknowledged in this very odd kind of uncritical way… To say that this is a significant site, how do we really understand that significance, and how do we learn from it?” She sees collaboration as necessary in tackling these questions, having initiated a project called Remediation Room, featuring work by Christina Battle, Tamara Lee-Anne Cardinal, Rita McKeough, Nurgül Rodriguez, and Mia Rushton and Eric Moschopedis, to “counter the Alberta government’s Canadian Energy Centre campaign.”

In “Dreaming of Decriminalization,” Lauren Gabrielle Fournier explores an exhibition at the London ICA that similarly unified voices around a cause, in this case the decriminalization of sex work— which would allow for sex workers to carry out their work safely, openly, with self-determination, and without the exploitative, gentrifying forces that tend to accompany legalization. Curated by Yves Sanglante and Elio Sea, in collaboration with the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement, 13 international artists with lived experience in sex work bolster this judicial conversation. Fournier also tethers it to the Canadian context, where the law “still effectively criminalizes sex work by criminalizing the purchasing” of it and any related third-party activities.

Meech Boakye and Christina Kingsbury’s shared work around the former landfill on the Eramosa River in Guelph breathes fresh life into yet another binary: native and so-called invasive species. Thinking about the ways that landscapes change in response to anthropocentric activity, they see conservation science’s view of the latter as reproducing “colonial binaries that echo xenophobic and militaristic responses to ‘foreign’ or deviant human bodies,” and “espous[ing] a moral agency, an attitude of conquest, to beings that are surviving and reproducing as they were meant to.” They propose, instead, the term “transplant,” which “invites us to think about the interconnections between: plants that have migrated without agency, ways that human bodies have been transplanted against their will through displacement and enslavement, and cyborgian transfeminist ethics that offer pathways toward radical queer and anti-capitalist futures.” I’m reminded of Bartol’s sighting of mullein growing from a slag heap; a known accumulator of heavy metals, the non-native plant (which has also been used as a torch for miners underground) is engaged in a modest remediation effort. Boakye and Kingsbury write that many transplants “decompose into new, nutrient-rich layers of soil, support the microbes and fungi in their work underground, and have root systems engaged in the important labour of holding the waste in place, preventing it and its toxins from leaching.” As everywhere, contradictions abound.