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Snippets from Synthetic Collective’s Plastic Heart: A DiY Manual for Reducing the Environmental Impact of Art Exhibitions and a Reading List

“Centred on the impacts of plastics in our culture and the environment, one of the additional guiding questions of our project Plastic Heart was: can we make an exhibition that is carbon-neutral? This question is deceptively simple because the layers of the exhibition that the viewer sees hide the many steps that go into building the exhibition itself. Where does one begin to tally the environmental impact of an exhibition? Is it in the space itself as the art works and artefacts are assembled? Or is it in the very first steps of the process, which might involve mining for heavy metals and pigments, manufacturing chemicals and products, laying the fibre optic cables that underlie the systems of communication that are key components of exhibition making….”

“We suggest that art museums and exhibitions can provide a model for showcasing how exhibitions can themselves be sites for research into the environmental consequences of materially-based public facing forms of education…. We remain cognizant that any “solutions” must be part and parcel of and contribute to advocacy efforts that extend far beyond the realm of the museum.”

“Museums, especially large ones, tend towards a simultaneous embrace of the new amid a culture of indefinite preservation. In the vast expansion of museum complexes has emerged a fundamentally paradoxical relationship to time, such that the goal of collecting is to arrest time through the twin processes of collection and preservation, while simultaneously museums are charged with either portraying or recreating pasts that should have decayed, thus creating a kind of unnervingly static past-in-the-present. This is true even of the most cutting-edge contemporary art institutions, which nestle a resistance to changing environments and an embrace of unwavering humidity levels at the core of a perception that the content of the gallery is always ahead-of-the-times.”

“[I]mportant advances in protecting and preserving artworks and artefacts have led to the imposition of stringent controls on museum settings, and sophisticated lighting, ventilation, heating, and cooling systems that exact a heavy energy cost. As the climate changes outside in increasingly erratic ways, inside the museum it maintains an artificial constancy that belies the very conditions often depicted or analyzed by many works of eco- or environmental art.”

A READING LIST:

Plastics and Art
De Loughry, T. (2019). Polymeric chains and petrolic imaginaries: world literature, plastic, and negative value. Green Letters, 23(2), 179-193.

Wood, K. (2019). The Great Lakes: Accumulations. Photography and Culture, 12(1), 125-131.

Plastics and Museums
Lim, X. (2018). These cultural treasures are made of plastic. Now they’re falling apart. The New York Times.

Kahn, E. M. (2018). No your furniture shouldn’t drip or burst. The New York Times. 

Plastic Matter Out of Place
Brahney, J. (2020).  You’re probably inhaling microplastics right now. The New York Times.

Brown, M. [Director] (2020). Dirty Money. Episode 12: Point Comfort. Netflix.

De Wolff, K. (2017). Plastic naturecultures: Multispecies ethnography and the dangers of separating living from nonliving bodies. Body & Society, 23(3), 23-47.

Plastic rain is the new acid rain. (2020). WIRED.

Tollefson, H. and Barney, D. (2019). More liquid than liquid: Solid phase bitumen and its forms. Grey Room, 77, 39-57.

Toussaint, K. (2020).  Our fruits and veggies are sucking up microplastics through their roots. Fast Company.

Plastics and the Pandemic
Allison, A. L., Ambrose-Dempster, E., T Aparsi, D., Bawn, M., Casas Arredondo, M., Chau, C., Chandler, K., Dobrijevic, D., Hailes, H., Lettieri, P. & Liu, C. (2020). The environmental dangers of employing single-use face masks as part of a COVID-19 exit strategy. UCL Press.

 

Intersectional Environmentalism
Davis. H. (2015). Toxic progeny: The plastisphere and other queer futures. PhiloSOPHIA, 5(2), 231-250.

Huang, M. (2017). Ecologies of entanglement in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Journal of Asian American Studies, 20(1), 95-117. https://doi.org/10.1353/jaas.2017.0006

Liboiron, M. (2018, December 21). How plastic is a function of colonialism. Teen Vogue.

Murphy, M. (2017). Alterlife and decolonial chemical relations. Cultural Anthropology, 32(4), 494-503.

Murphy, M., Liboiron, M. Natasha M., Dayna S., & Reena S. (2017, September 18). Pollution is colonialism. Endocrine Disruptors Action Group.

Thomas, L. (2020). Why every environmentalist should be anti-racist. Vogue.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2014). R Words: Refusing Research. Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities, 223, 248.Tuck, E. & Yang, W.

Science
Borrelle, S. B., Rochman, C. M., Liboiron, M., Bond, A. L., Lusher, A., Bradshaw, H., & Provencher, J. F. (2017). Opinion: Why we need an international agreement on marine plastic pollution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(38), 9994-9997

Belontz, S. L., Corcoran, P. L., Davis, H., Hill, K. A., Jazvac, K., Robertson, K., & Wood, K. (2019). Embracing an interdisciplinary approach to plastics pollution awareness and action. Ambio, 48(8), 855-866.

Hesse, T. & Hutton, N. Recycling is like a bandaid on gangrene. On GUTS [Film], featuring Max Liboiron. The Atlantic.

Rochman, C.M. (2019, March 11). Understanding plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Environmental Science and Engineering Magazine.

Plastic Heart: Surface All the Way Through is an experimental exhibition that examines plastic as art material, cultural object, geologic process, petrochemical product, and a synthetic substance fully entangled with the human body. Curated by Synthetic Collective, the exhibition mobilizes practices of institutional critique and proposes an alternative method of exhibition development and presentation that addresses ecology and sustainability in content and form.

Synthetic Collective is an interdisciplinary collaboration between visual artists, scientists, and cultural workers. They work to sample, map, understand, and visualize the complexities of plastics and micro-plastics pollution in the Great Lakes Region. Synthetic Collective is Kelly Jazvac, Kirsty Robertson, Kelly Wood, Patricia Corcoran, Heather Davis, Tegan Moore, Sara Belontz, Lorena Rios Mendoza, Kathleen Hill, and Ian Arturo.

Conceptions of White: A Research Toolkit on the Origins and Meanings of White Identity

In the midst of global and local uprisings against the systemic violence perpetrated upon Black, Indigenous and racialized communities, John Hampton and Lillian O’Brien Davis are sharing some resources from their active research for our joint winter 2022 exhibition Conceptions of White. The exhibition looks at the origins, travel, and present reality of “whiteness” as a concept and racial invention for classifying degrees of humanity and justifying discrimination  throughout all our social structures.

The subjugation of Black, Indigenous and other racialized bodies is a foundational tenet in how the concept and institution of the “White Race” was created. And whilst there has never been any scientific or genetic basis for the category, and where there are no essential characteristics that can be prescribed to white people, one thing has remained constant since its invention. In the North American context, state power (as represented in all its infrastructures and institutions, from the police to healthcare, design of cities and education, art and cultural history) has been—since colonization—consolidated under white leadership and ideologies. If the brutal murder of George Floyd, and the ongoing acts of police violence closer to home, have newly opened many more eyes to the structural devaluing and vilification of Black lives, there continues to be a profound and more insidious violence in systemic racism—blindness, active denial, and blaming the victims.

The exhibition seeks to make visible the nature of white identity as the norm within North American legal, political, social, and economic models. We are undertaking this project to more fully understand our institutional foundation, and to be able to better recognize the normalized forms and invisibility of white identity in our society. It is also part of a larger project of examining the existential, experiential, and ethical dimensions of our institutional presence and activities, including how we can resist and undo the racist frameworks embedded within our own histories and context in order to help create a more just and inclusive community and culture. It is active, evolving, and ongoing, and we welcome your input and participation.

Conceptions of White is curated by John Hampton (Interim Director and CEO, MacKenzie Art Gallery and Adjunct Curator, Art Museum) with Lillian O’Brien Davis (Curatorial Assistant, MacKenzie Art Gallery), along with support from Barbara Fischer (Executive Director and Chief Curator, Art Museum at the University of Toronto). The exhibition is co-produced by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto and the MacKenzie Art Gallery, where it is scheduled to open in Winter and Fall 2022, respectively.

Links to Resources:

Podcasts/Websites

  1. John Biewen and Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, “Seeing White.” Podcast by Scene on Radio, February (August 2017).
  2. Whitney Dow, “Whiteness Project” (2014). — Ongoing, interactive video installation and website
  3. Aruna D’Souza, Justin Stanwix, Whitney Dow, and Rich Benjamin, “‘White Male’ Panel Discussion.” MoMA (25 March 2019).

Collections

  1. B. Ricardo Brown, “‘Science and the Origins of Race’ curriculum.” Pratt Institute (2000).
  2. Gabrielle Moser, “Spectator, Race, and Citizenship.” Classroom – Art & Education (September 2017).
  3. Tilman C. Cothran, “Negro Conceptions of White People.” American Journal of Sociology (March 1951).

Books

  1. Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: Norton, 2010).
  2. Constance Backhouse, Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada (Toronto: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press, 1999).
  3. Vivek Shraya, even this page is white (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016).
  4. Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014).
  5. Robin D’Angelo, White Fragility (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018).
  6. Elisa Hategan, Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence Service’s Greatest Cover-Up (Toronto: Incognito Press, 2014).
  7. Bruce Baum, The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2008).
  8. Aruna D’Souza, Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts (New York: Badlands Unlimited, 2018).
  9. George Yancey, Who Is White? (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003).


Articles

  1. Sara Ahmed, “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8, no. 2 (August 2007).
  2. Hiro Kanagawa, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.” Medium (7 June 2020).
  3. Adam Coombs, “The Ever Changing Nature of White Canada.” Active History (3 August 2017).
  4. Shawna Carroll, “The Construction and Perpetuation of Whiteness [in Canada].” Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning Vol. 8 Issue 15 (1 July 2014).
  5. Lauren Michele Jackson, “What’s Missing From ‘White Fragility.‘” Slate (4 September 2019).
  6. Xaviera Simmons, “Whiteness must undo itself to make way for the truly radical turn in contemporary culture,” The Art Newspaper (2 July 2019).
  7. iLiana Fokianaki, “Redistribution via Appropriation: White(washing) Marbles.” e-flux Journal # 91 (May 2018).
  8. Jenna Wortham, “White Filmmakers Addressing (or Avoiding) Whiteness Onscreen.” New York Times (29 August 2019).
  9. Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Peace and Freedom Magazine (July/August, 1989).
  10. Andrew R. Chow, “‘We Have No Practice Talking About Race in This Country.’ Claudia Rankine on White Privilege and Her New Play Help.” TIME (6 March 2020).
  11. Elijah Anderson, “The White Space.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity Vol. 1 no. 1 (2015).
  12. Homi Bhabha, “The White Stuff.” ArtForum (May 1998): 21-24.

Scholarly articles for download:

  1. Lozanski, Kristin. “Memory and the Impossibility of Whiteness in Colonial Canada.” Feminist Theory 8, no. 2 (August 2007): 223–25.
  2. Fee, Margery, and Lynette Russell. “‘Whiteness’ and ‘Aboriginality’ in Canada and Australia: Conversations and Identities.” Feminist Theory 8, no. 2 (August 2007): 187–208.

 

We stand in solidarity with Black and Indigenous lives.

As we continue to witness the ongoing violence against Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, we stand in solidarity with all those who raise their voices in resistance to systemic oppression. We renew our commitment to the redress of inequality through our exhibitions, public programs, and collections.

We are exploring how we can make immediate and ongoing tangible contributions to the movement. It is an honour to join the many who are donating, signing petitions, and amplifying knowledge of the history of oppression and of racial injustice.


Take Action
Below are links to educational resources and a list of organizations that are leading the movement against systemic oppression and anti-Black racism here in Toronto. We will continue to add to the list and welcome any suggestions. Please email us at artmuseum@utoronto.ca with suggested resources.

Learn
University of Toronto Librarians assembled a reading list related to anti-Black racism, Black history, life and culture in Canada, race and health equity, and education against anti-Black racism.

The Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office at the University of Toronto hosted discussions and activities to restore, organize and take action as we navigate these challenging times. Recordings of the sessions are available on their website.

Donate/Support
Black Lives Matter
Black Legal Action Centre
Black Health Alliance
Black Youth Helpline
Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council
ImagineNATIVE
A Fund for Black-led Mental Health Supports
Black Artists’ Network in Dialogue
NIA Centre for the Arts
BAU Collective
Wedge Curatorial Projects
Black-Owned Businesses in the GTA

 


Image: Deanna Bowen, The Globe and Mail. Wednesday February 5, 1964, p.1., 2012. Archival inkjet print, 31 1/16 x 41 1/16 in. Hart House Collection, HH2017.001. Purchase, 2017.

A photocopy of the front page of the Globe and Mail newspaper with the headline 'BACK DIEFENBAKER LEADERSHIP'