Collaboration of Artists

 

Place__Lab

exhibitions.

Through millenia power and borders have shifted, families allied and fallen apart. From the minute to immense, personal to global an inheritance holds land, environment, body, blood and time as its mainstays. The seed of this exhibition was sown when we gathered as a group in Iceland in 2019 to explore our diversity and commonality. Each conversation and collaborative interaction formed a mycelium-like net of connections between artists and ideas. Each artist has responded with that which is uppermost in their minds. There is an urgency to this work as it is rooted in this time, on this globe. Our group now re-convines with this examination of lineage and legacy.

Ballinglen Arts Foundation, County Mayo, Ireland

Chester, United Kingdom

Springville Art Museum, Utah, United States

 

projects.

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Nuala Clarke Sublime_Reverie_xv_45x35cm_acrylic_on_board_2019.jpeg
 

writing.

I Am the Sun and
the Heir

By Christopher Lynn

I sit in my living room, typing this essay on my laptop. The brand of the device is unimportant, but the computer as a nexus of technological, historical, political, and personal histories is. In this internet age, instruments, such as computers, signify a connectedness. Social media messages allow us to keep up with friends and family (and complete strangers). Email collapses global distances. Databases and libraries make information more immediately accessible than ever. My computer links me to all of these things, and it is this computer that is connecting me to you. As you read these words and activate their meaning in your mind, we bridge time, space, and consciousness together. Taking this further, allow me to connect you, through me and this laptop, to longer and broader histories—beyond our immediate present, and our visible surroundings into some distant and obfuscated trails that led to you reading this essay.

 

“We are stardust, billion year old carbon.”1 –Joni Mitchell

 

As the universe evolves, stars are born and die, consuming and emitting matter. When a star begins to run out of nuclear fuel, its core’s mass grows to the point that the outward pressure from the burning of the fuel cannot balance with the inward pressure of gravity and it collapses as a supernova. It is thought that during this collapse, elements such as copper, gold, and lead are forged and then dispersed through the universe in the subsequent explosion of cosmic dust. The copper peppering the Earth’s crust and found in our bodies arrived from these distant supernovae.

From this vantage in space, looking toward the Earth, a gaping maw is visible on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley in Utah—a giant pit clawed from a mountain with a halo of displaced earth in concentric steps cascading from the opening. This is the Kennecott mine, which is one of the largest open-pit mines in the world and referred to as “the richest hole on Earth.”2 Since 1903, workers have been methodically blasting and grinding the mountain to dust so that they can sift through the remains for precious ores.3 Their primary harvest is copper, resulting in approximately 7% of the world’s annual copper—the same copper which traveled millions of miles from a dead star to the Earth.4

The hunger for copper was fueled for its usefulness as an alloy, in new telephone lines, and for conducting electricity. Over the decades, there has been more need for copper as electrical appliances have multiplied and more wiring is needed for those appliances. The global uses of copper are in construction and electrical. Our homes and devices have copper veins running through them—a network of interconnected lines spreading through our cities.

When a hole is dug, the dirt must go someplace. As Kennecott continued to dig for precious metals, the mine purchased tens of thousands of acres for the displaced earth and mining runoff.5 The profitable yield from mining is referred to as the “head.” The remnants are referred to as the “tail,” and Kennecott has a sizable tail. In an environmental report on Kennecott published in 1997 by the Mineral Policy Center, it was stated that "years of toxic drainage from waste rock piles contributed to a massive groundwater pollution plume that extends for 70 square miles."6 In 2004, Kennecott Land (a subsidiary of Kennecott mine’s parent company Rio Tinto) began a large planned-community development on Kennecott’s tail. Named Daybreak, this housing project is painted as a suburban idyll—a lake at the center, homes in an array of styles, pristine stores, churches, recreation centers, and all copper power and phone lines buried underground to keep the view uncluttered, all new and clean. The lack of visible history is intentional, because the history is one of toxic runoff and contaminated brownfields. Daybreak was created for public relations and remediation.

Families are being planted in Daybreak and memories made. This will be home for many, and a place to which they return if they leave. It is also a location of industrial dumping, and before that, it had been settled by pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Before that, it was indigenous land. Place is a potent ingredient for nostalgia

and identity, but that identity is reliant upon the length of the memory of its residents and the stories that are shared. 

Narratives of industrious and benevolent pioneers who trekked across the country to their Zion tend to erase the voice and histories of the indigenous people who came before. As those pioneer tales are perpetuated, they shape the sense of being and morality of those who continue to inhabit the land. We all tend to look at and perpetuate short histories, and those narratives inform our identities. Shorter views often make for more comfortable stories since we can ignore skeletons in our closets and problematic gains. Longer views tell a deeper story of our inheritances—genetic, geographic, economic, and more.

As I sit in my living room, at my laptop and finish this essay, I think more deeply about the copper lining my computer. It is likely that some of that copper traveled the globe from the nearby Kennecot mines, to China, and back to the US in my device. My computer is part of the reason that Daybreak exists and that families are being raised in a tainted environment. In addition, there is the carbon footprint of shipping my computer, the cost of the coal-powered electricity fueling my laptop, and more.

I think more deeply about the ancestors who deposited me where I am at. Whose genes shape my potentials, whose decisions located me where I am at. I am reminded of the author Maya Angelou who, when speaking to a crowded auditorium, said:

 

There is no person in this room who hasn't already been paid for. [Our ancestors] have already paid for us, without any chance of ever getting to know what our faces would look like, what our names would be, what personalities we would develop.7

 

I think of ancestors making decisions for their immediate circumstances, to eat, to provide, to live. And I consider their hopes and optimism being hurled blindly into the future with no idea of where they may land, and that I may be a culmination of those efforts and dreams. All the while, I am making my day-to-day decisions that will send both ripples and waves forward to unseen shores. I consider the stories I tell about my life and how those will shape the sense of identity my sons develop.

This long and winding journey from a supernova, to my computer, to you has been woven from elements of science, environment, personal and political histories, families, and economies. Like the network of copper permeating the world, this story points to a network of connections between people, things, and environments. These are similar issues found within the exhibition Inherit. Artists approached the idea of “inherit” from multiple angles to address what we inherit, and what we are leaving as an inheritance—what are the things that shape us, and what are we shaping for the future?

The work in the exhibition touches upon issues of place—origins, homes, migration, displacement—and how that informs our development (Gillian Catherine, Nuala Clarke, Karina Hean, Joseph Ostraff, Michelle Rowley and Sally Weaver, and Jen Watson); the nature of family and genealogy to mold our identities (Claudine Bigelow, Mark Bigelow, Jennifer Barton, and Melanie Mowinski); the impacts we have on our environment, and how it then impacts us (Claudine Bigelow, Joseph Ostraff and Melanie Mowinski, Hannah Ostraff and Linda Reynolds); interconnectedness (Joanna Kidney and Mercedes Ng); and the effects of history and personal narratives and how those are sculpted and edited (Gary Barton and Sally Weaver).

We are not alone. We are part of the stars, heirs of the past, and planters of future harvests. We must be cautious of the seeds we sow.

1. Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock,” Ladies of the Canyon, Reprise/Warner Bros., 1969, CD.

2. Lucy Raven, “Daybreak,” Triple Canopy, accessed May 16, 2022, https://www.canopycanopycanopy.com/contents/daybreak.

3. “Kennecott,” RioTinto.com, accessed May 15, 2022, https://www.riotinto.com/en/operations/us/kennecott.

4. “Copper,” U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2021, https://pubs.usgs.gov/periodicals/mcs2021/mcs2021-copper.pdf.

5. Raven, “Daybreak.”

6.  Lee Davidson, “Pollution Report Slams Kennecott Over Groundwater,” Deseret News, September 16, 1997, https://www.deseret.com/1997/9/16/19334452/pollution-report-slams-kennecott-over-groundwater.

7. Maya Angelou, “1990—Maya Angelou,” in Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy: 10th Anniversary Compendium (Washington, D.C.: Americans for the Arts, 1996), 31,

http://www.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/pdf/events/hanks/Hanks1990MayaAngelou.pdf.