Refuse: (v)(n)(-) manifests three interpretations of the word refuse, as a verb, a noun, and a hyphenated potential, to focus on ecological resistance, deterioration and restoration. It is important to consider that most of these overlap in the (v)(n)(-) arrangement, some even extend past these definitions and in turn activate a refusal to be codified. They traverse the tangential spaces beyond the territories of discourse, and offer useful and exciting interpretations not to be defined by but to think with.
1) to refuse (v): to reject/decline
‘Refuse’ as a verb calls upon an activist resistance against the systemic injustices brought on by exploitative neoliberal interests, which enforce climate denial and perpetuate justifications to contribute to global climate change.
Responding to this, Resistant Materials by Rachel Pimm follows the manufacturing processes of raw clay minerals into the familiar white tile. The film (first exhibited at Hales Gallery) explores how Superstudio’s late 1960s dystopian ambition to urbanise the globe with an ideological ‘gridded superstructure’ becomes a real possibility with the curved, handcrafted DTile. Pimm tours the production line and recognises how economies of material and labour are integrated with aesthetic desires and complex cultures of consumption, and how these expanding needs are met by the versatility of clay.
Similarly dependent on adaptive practices, The Performance of Trees by Connor Brazier and Dave Young addresses the history of camouflaged military communications technology. The essay explores the implications of telecommunications masts that resist their inorganic appearance from the humans and non-humans in the local ecologies by posturing as trees. Furthermore, it delves into how this has cultivated both parallels and morphing intersections in thinking about cybernetic networks and tree anatomies.
Critical to seeing refusal as a political action begins with recognising the representation of the groups most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, usually people of colour, and to amplify these voices at the forefront of the resistance. Addressing the conflicted symbolism of defence systems, Annabel Duggleby’s Sea Wall problematizes the wider contradictions of the terms ‘vulnerability’ and ‘resistance’. Be it the rising sea levels or political and climate refugees, it aligns power and geopolitics with migration and extreme weather to ask ‘who is being defended from what and whom?’
Indeed, environmental racism underpins the climate struggle, both through intergovernmental policy-making that allows corporate dominance to pollute geographies inhabited by people of colour and within the environmental movement itself, which largely refuses to confront its own white supremacist and non-intersectional political practices. Through an interview with Worm, Broadleaf Theatre speaks about their determined endeavour to work with frontline activists Vanessa and Lindsay Gray of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in The Chemical Valley Project. This collaborative theatre production calls out the racial discrimination of the petrochemical industry and its environmental crimes that pollute the land and livelihoods of indigenous communities in The Chemical Valley. Broadleaf Theatre stands alongside activist resistance, and through experimental theatre, they broadcasted the latest news of Vanessa Gray’s juridical battle with a pipeline corporation last year to challenge the conventional communication of climate change.
2) Refuse (n): waste/pollution
Secondly, paying attention to ‘refuse’ as a noun helps formulate ways to consider the materiality, processes and planetary limits of pollution, especially as our hazardous production of waste will occupy and overspill into eras to come.
Ungurrookoolpum, or Rum Jungle, is an in-depth interactive documentary by Kerri Meehan and Alex Ressel that collates their research on the first uranium mine in the Northern Territory, Australia. With recorded interviews with residents, authorities and scientists, the artist duo engage with the local voices to make visible the invisibility of nuclear radiation.
Matteo Zamagni also seeks to expose the effects of accumulating pollution in Terms & Conditions Apply. Originally exhibited as a motion sensitive installation, in which the viewer’s physical presence actuates the volume of waste visible in the video environments, this work appeals for a self-reflection on our responsibilities to the planet.
Also navigating infected landscapes, R/E:Volve by Samuel Capps contemplates the ramifications synthetic bio-technology could have on our future ecosystems. The impending cross contamination and pollution of inorganic elements will push a realisation that ‘nature’ has always been regenerating in constant bursts of evolution, to maintain an equilibrium that includes new toxicities.
Ruminating further on biohazards, the short theory-fiction The Inhuman Ecstacy of Toxic Waste by Uma Breakdown cuts and pastes body horror with slime mould, social morality and cultures of waste.
3) to re-fuse (v): to repair/reconnect
Thirdly, interpreting ‘refuse’ as a hyphenated form conceptualises a space for speculative dimensions away from the singular, apocalyptic narrative of climate change. Focusing on acts of healing a damaged ecology, to ‘re-fuse’ entails a synergy of hope and action. With this, perhaps it is unsurprising, or rather necessary, that interdisciplinary knowledge and different forms of creating are increasingly valuable in challenging the parameters of art practice and communicating climate change.
Such a response can be found in Melmel Chen’s Right Place. It nurtures an understanding from visitors, who are invited to step in and lie between the twenty-five plant species. The installation refuses the authority of borders and rejects labels of invasiveness to explore possible multi-species cohabitation within shared geographies of belonging.
Also inquiring plant life, Pando Endo is a real-time virtual organism rendered by Jakob Kudsk Steensen from shots of aspen tree bark, moss and roots. It exists in the posthuman era under the unblinking watch of circulating drones, as the Aspen tree uproots and maneuvers its tactile mass to escape the industrial enclosure. Steensen speculates that future infrastructures of survival could succeed by assimilating the single ancient colony of interconnected Aspen roots found in the American Midwest. (This Worm commission premiered at Miami Art Week 2017).
Contrasting in scale, The Plastisphere by the microbiologist Nana Maclean is an interpretation of her lab research into the decomposition of synthetic polymers - plastics - through bacterial activity and colonization. She explains that the Plastisphere is a new geologic layer of soil that is a fertile and alive ecology, and suggests that sites of plastic pollution are “new evolutionary hotspots in our earth system”.
Continuing with microbial collaborations, Elena Colman provides A Recipe for Lactofermented Lemonade along with an illustrative yeast print. She advocates for localised, sustainable and non-industrial brewing practices through the project #makehomebrewfemme, which has been establishing an environmentally thoughtful production of drinks for art events.
Completing Refuse: (v)(n)(-) with a resonating tone, Sean Roy Parker and Jamie Hudson’s joint project, Proof, is a non-abstracted and unapologetic wake up call for active citizenship. Facing a seemingly impenetrable habit of single-use consumption and throwaway culture, they apprehend a futility in framing objects as aesthetics and instead frame our behaviours for self-reflection.
Refuse: (v)(n)(-) is funded by Kulturrådet (Arts Council Norway) and Worm, with all proceeds going directly to the artists and designer. It is accessible for free on this website throughout 2018. This online issue is the second part to Worm’s 2016 exhibition, “Tipping Points” at Podium gallery in Oslo, which featured works by Andreas Ervik, Joey Holder, Rachel Pimm and Jakob Kudsk Steensen.
At the project’s embryonic stages, I sensed that climate change, the research by climate scientists and the voices of frontline climate refugees and activists had been attacked by a violent turn in Western politics. In kind, I also felt doubtful about my meager agency in environmentalism and art about climate change. The formation of Refuse: (v)(n)(-) has been a longer process than intended. It has demanded patience, faced testing adjustments along the way, dodged an exploitative ‘eco-art’ editor and challenged me to critically re-evaluate our current climate for creative production. I began to problematize and grow cautious of an ecology of aesthetics that seems empty of intersectional, socio-politically informed debates about global climate change, yet appropriates the languages of the emergency and greenwashes an eco- prefix.
Much of last year passed with an undertone of pessimism for me, struggling to structure my ‘practice’ amongst these conflicting occurrences in art, politics and climate change. But I slowly found comfort in rejecting these supposed norms, and began asking for an alternative route. Why do we choose to refuse certain matters and human and non-human beings from participating in the conversations about the environment? What does this exclusion mean in terms of who and what has agency in the political power struggle of climate change? How do we culturally address issues on the frontline of environmental degradation through meaningful and progressive expressions, without compromising and aestheticising the crisis? How do we ‘re-fuse’ our social, economic, technological and political ecologies - locally and globally - for a positive and realistic attitude towards climate change? The multiple definitions of the word ‘refuse’ exemplifies the need to have manifold interpretations and discussions about environmental issues, which is the foundation of Refuse: (v)(n)(-).
Leading the ‘Worming Up!’ workshop at Two Queens concretised my thoughts on the environ(mental) challenges we face in the broader context of art practice and production. Examining some of the methods we use to confront ecological issues, the event asked how we can transfer such strategies to develop more positive mental attitudes towards sustaining creative practices in our politically and economically testing environments. Thank you to Two Queens and the participants for exploring together, and with me, the ways we can recognise the toxicities in our infrastructures of artistic production within oppressive systems of politics and socio-economics, professional and personal relationships, and mental health. Our honest discussions validated a lot of emotion, confusion and anger I held internalised against the polluted state of being creative in this politically and environmentally uncertain climate.
Sometimes recognising the rot and saying ‘No!’ to a negative situation is an empowering action. No to climate change, no to racism and discrimination, no to unpaid labour, no to unappreciated emotional labour, no to poor mental health, no to neoliberalism, no to the right wing. These rejections alone won’t overturn the deeply embedded structures of injustice. But I remain hopeful, as do many activists, that they are important steps to encourage self-organisation in our immediate circles. Developing these kinds of smaller social and environmental resistances and supportive spaces to listen to the disadvantaged can build momentum for larger, imaginative alternatives. Followingly, these can nurture an environment in which sustainable (in the useful varieties of the term) creative practices and coexistence may flourish.
My conversations with all sixteen practitioners involved in Refuse: (v)(n)(-) have inspired me immeasurably, each carrying me forward in my evolving understanding of climate change from their perspectives and disciplines. They have been patient and open to debates on the representational politics of climate change and the creative possibilities of its communication. It energizes me to share their meaningful projects - thank you, everyone. Above all, my conversations with the artistic director of Broadleaf Theatre, Kevin Matthew Wong, have radically inspired me. In addition to intently discussing the historical politics of environmental racism, we also talked about our identities as people of colour (both being products of British colonisation, with immigrant parents from Hong Kong, and being first generation diaspora) and what this means for our strategies and scope for working in creative environmental practices. Kevin and Broadleaf Theatre’s sincerity to the environmental cause has motivated me to recognise my personal task in decoloniality, which will be reflected through a more politically self-critical and intersectional approach in Worm’s future direction.
Invaluable to the materialisation of Refuse: (v)(n)(-), Alex Walker has consistently dazed me with his experimental and beautiful designs. His thoughtful executions have made the Worm and Refuse: (v)(n)(-) websites exceptionally playful and distinctive. Thank you for your dedication and also for being an unconditional friend. I’m fortunate to say Refuse: (v)(n)(-) is as much his creation as mine.
Refuse: (v)(n)(-) is free to access online throughout 2018. I hope you enjoy our online issue and please explore the artists’ works further. I hope to bring you more projects that communicate climate change in the near future.
5th January 2018
Angela Chan runs Worm, an online curatorial platform communicating ecological issues through contemporary creative practices. It engages the public through interviews with practitioners and its first online issue, Refuse: (v)(n)(-), is a micro-site of artistic projects about refusing as a positive climate action. As Worm, she has independently curated an exhibition at Podium gallery in Oslo (2016) and has more recently given a workshop, 'Worming Up!', at Two Queens in Leicester, and presented at Arts Catalyst’s Micropolitics of Planting workshop (2017).
Angela holds a combined BA (Hons) in History of Art and Scandinavian Studies with Norwegian from University College London (2016) and is currently studying an interdisciplinary MA in Climate Change: History, Culture, Society at King's College London (2018). She has interned with Cape Farewell (2016) and Julie’s Bicycle (2018). Angela also strokes moss as @mossy.soft.spot and makes sounds and writes short cli-fi as algaela.
refuse: (v)(n)(–) is a curatorial project by Worm: art + ecology
Design + Coding by Alex Walker
Connor Brazier – www.csbrazier.tumblr.com
Dave Young – www.dvyng.com
Broadleaf Theatre – www.broadleaftheatre.com
Samuel Capps – www.samuelcapps.com
Melmel Chen – www.cargocollective.com/melmelchen
Elena Colman – www.elenacolman.tumblr.com
Ralph Dorey – www.umabreakdown.com
Annabel Duggelby – www.annabelduggleby.com
Jamie Hudson – firstname.lastname@example.org
Nana Maclean – www.researchgate.net/profile/Joana_Maclean
Sean Roy Parker – www.seanroyparker.com
Rachel Pimm – www.rachelpimmwork.tumblr.com
Alex Ressel & Kerri Meehan – www.ar-km.com
Jakob Kudsk Steensen – www.jakobsteensen.squarespace.com
Matteo Zamagni – www.alt-o.com