Mobilizing Materialities

Amanda Hansmeyer, Crude Taconite at Cliffs Natural Resources in Hibbing, Minnesota, 2009
Courtesy of the Duluth News Tribune

The world we inhabit is expanding. Global population growth, increased mobility, accelerated contacts, rising levels of production and consumption, and the expansion of natural resource extraction have had significant impacts in environmental, social and psychological terms. The research conducted by the artists, theorists, and photojournalists involved in World of Matter—a multiyear, transnational art and media platform which will take the form of an exhibition and series of programs here, at the University of Minnesota, in fall 2017—coheres around a sensitive reconsideration of the planet’s “resources,” as traders call them. The artworks included in the exhibition (September – December 2017 at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery) adopt a variety of formats and strategies to delve into relations between humans and the world, in some cases by way of historical narratives, in others, through scientific laboratory research, community collaboration, visualization technologies, or activist organization. Many projects have furthermore involved intensive, multiyear fieldwork in sites of heightened material significance, often in collaboration with indigenous communities, who are experts in sustainable coexistence and for whom the world is not merely a resource for human consumption that needs to be controlled. These investigative experiments animate an emergent notion of artistic global citizenship, breaking up well-worn patterns of representation by embracing a plethora of aesthetic, conceptual and interventionist engagements with “matter.”

In Minneapolis, our attention will focus on the ways that specific material(itie)s in the ground mobilize multi-scale (geo-)politics as well as transnational movements—all this set against the immediate backdrop of the Great Lakes region, a historical and contemporary hub of heavy industry, transport, and intensive extraction. One aim of the entire program is, indeed, to support and extend existing dialogues and action along these lines within the greater Great Lakes region, reaching to the Alberta Tar sands and Bakken oil fields.



September 14, 2017

3:30 – 5:30 pm: Savage States: Settler Governance in an Age of Sorrow, by Professor Audra Simpson.
A parallel event presented by the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, Professor Simpson’s lecture will be held in the Crosby Seminar Room at 240 Northrop Hall on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota Campus. Prof. Simpson’s lecture considers the world of settler colonialism in which Native people and their claims to territory are whittled to the status of claimant or subject in time with the fantasy of their disappearance and containment away from a modern and critical present. Audra Simpson is Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. She is the author of Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Duke University Press, 2014). She is a Kahnawake Mohawk.

6:00 – 9:00 pm: Opening Reception with exhibition artists presenting their work and parallel film screenings.
This will be held at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery | Regis Center for Art Artists: Mabe Bethônico, Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares, Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan, Frauke Huber and Uwe H. Martin, Peter Mörtenböck and Helge Mooshammer, Xavier Ribas

Parallel Film Screening in adjacent Influx Space | Regis Center for Arts:

Copper Eaters (2016, 80 min.) by Bodil Furu

Midstream and Twilight (2016, 20 min.) by Steve Rowell


September 15 – 16, 2017

Iron Range Field Tour (Please click here for more details as well as registration information).

We will depart early (7am) from Minneapolis by bus and caravan from the University of Minnesota. The registration fee for the field tour is $52.50 and includes free transportation (on a limited, first come-first served basis – please contact Ozayr Saloojee at to reserve a spot on the bus) as well as two lunches, but not overnight accommodation in Duluth. This field tour will visit landscapes and sites in Minnesota’s Iron Range – including the Hibbing and Virginia mining pits and mining operation sites in addition to the extraction infrastructure in the Port of Duluth-Superior. We will stay overnight in Duluth, Minnesota and will have a reception and film screening (TBD) as well. The field tour will include conversation, discussion and micro-workshops lead by UMN faculty from the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses as well as by invited guests and speakers. We return to the Twin Cities on Saturday, September 16th in the early evening.


September 17, 2017
Influx Space, Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota (West Bank Campus)

10:00am: Opening remarks

10:15am-12:15pm: SESSION1: Territorial Transformations / Infrastructural Grounds

Moderator: Karen Lutsky

Brian Davis, “Muddy Materialism: The Pragmatics of Public Landscape”
The muddy river mouths of port cities are a paradox- both a problem and a solution. Everything wants to be here. Critical ecosystems, important industries, valuable real estate, beautiful public landmarks, and legacy contaminants. The sediments that accumulate here embody this paradox and demand an approach and form of engagement that goes beyond problems and their solutions. This presentation will survey a few of these situations and suggest a means for rethinking these landscapes through a focus on the aesthetics of mud and the publics it creates.

Felipe Correa, “Beyond the City: the Agency of Architecture in Economies of Resource Extraction”
Drawing on material from the book, Beyond the City: Resource Extraction Urbanism in South America, the presentation will examine the role of architecture in defining physical and experiential identities in urban projects outside of the traditional or consolidated city. Focusing specifically on the Sate of São Paulo (Brazil), the lecture will examine how the lower Paraná River valley was urbanized into a hydroelectric Eden in order to facilitate industrial production for the city of São Paulo; South America’s capital of industry.

Rania Ghosn, “After Oil”
How do we make sense of oil territories in the study of energy transitions? In two vignettes, After Oil deploys the geographical imagination to construct portraits of oil infrastructure that interweave their material, organizational, symbolic, and political attributes. The first vignette charts the spatial history of a transnational crude transport infrastructure between 1950 and 1975, from its planning through its decommissioning, to document territorial transformations associated with the Middle East’s incorporation into a global fossil fuel economy. The second vignette explores aesthetic forms of environmental engagement, using the architectural drawing to synthesize sciences and scales of knowledge on oil geographies and to speculate on forms of living with oil infrastructures.


12:15-1:00pm: LUNCH


1:00-3:00pm: SESSION 2: Geosocial Formations and Imaginaries

Moderator: Ozayr Saloojee

Bruce Braun, “Tight Oil”
This talk explores the geological phenomenon of ‘tight oil’ — crude oil trapped in petroleum-bearing formations of low permeability, often extracted through hydraulic fracturing — and asks what lines of connection can be drawn between the specific dynamics and affordances of geological phenomena and the social formations that take form in efforts to mobilize them. In so doing, it engages critically with the ‘geological turn’ in recent social and political theory and makes the case for a conjunctural analysis of geosocial formations.

Kathryn Yusoff, “Geosocial Formations”
This paper will look at how geology subtends the social and the consequences of this material undercut for understandings of social and material life. Concentrating on moments of wild destratification or fracking, I examine how diagramming of strata becomes a mode of organization and an affective infrastructure.

Kyle Powys Whyte, “Indigenizing the Time, Memory and Science (Fiction) of Climate Change”
Concepts such as “the Anthropocene” center settler colonial assumptions about the nature of time in the U.S. and Canadian Great Lakes region. Yet Indigenous environmental justice and ecological restoration movements are widespread here. These movements express different assumptions about the nature of time in terms of how they frame their purposes, strategies and outcomes. Using multiple cases of Indigenous people’s work to protect the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the Great Lakes, this presentation will express Indigenous environmental justice and ecological restoration work through wide-ranging Indigenous time-scales, time-loops and temporal reciprocities across multiple ancestral, present and future generations. Indigenous science, interpreted as Indigenous “science fiction,” will be developed as a framework for bringing out the differences and creativity of Indigenous work in the region, with comparisons to current issues happening elsewhere, especially regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Resolution Copper mine and Keystone XL. Ally-ship with Indigenous peoples will remain elusive until settler environmentalists (including environmental humanists) can grapple with Indigenous assumptions about the nature of time.


3:00-3:15pm: COFFEE BREAK


3:15-5:15pm: SESSION 3: (Aesthetic) Violence and Resistance in the Age of Extreme

Moderator: Emily Eliza Scott

Kai Bosworth, “Aesthetics of Police: Public Relations and Institutional Liberation in the Dakota Access Pipeline Struggle”
Private and public security forces defend fossil fuel extraction and transportation industries not just through overt violence, but also through control of the representation of violence through public relations. This presentation examines the ideological struggle surrounding police violence at the blockade of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and asks in an era where news is unmoored from the truth, whether institutions such as museums, universities, and libraries could be used as credible platforms for advancing a left political vision of our collective confrontations with fossil fuel companies.

T. J. Demos, “Extraction: Decolonial Visual Cultures in the Age of the Capitalocene, Center for Creative Ecologies, 2017”
This presentation will offer a brief overview of the Extraction research project, carried out during Winter and Spring 2017 and organized by the Center for Creative Ecologies. The project comprised a series of interlinked activities directed toward critically analyzing extraction as an industrial operation of natural resource mining and labor exploitation in the age of the Capitalocene, investigating its ecological, economic, philosophical, and aesthetic factors and implications. Including a film series and artist lecture program, the project organized a number of workshops, a student-faculty reading group, field trips to regional extraction sites, and a two-day conference. It drew together artists and researchers at UCSC, and leading thinkers in the field locally, regionally, and nationally. As such, the project offers insight into the operations and priorities of the 2015-founded Center for Creative Ecologies at UC Santa Cruz.

Brian Holmes, “On the Passage of a Few People Through a Relatively Vast Space Called the Midwest”
Essayist and cartographer Brian Holmes describes the deep routes and recent activities of an expansive network of friends and co-investigators scattered across the Upper Mississippi watershed. Two exhibitions in particular, “Petcoke: Tracing Dirty Energy” (2016) and “The Earth Will Not Abide” (2017), reveal the artistic potentials of an engaged and collaborative geographical practice that seeks both to analyze and to inhabit a territory (and not just an urban center connected to an airport). A number of the collaborators will be in the room. Our aim? Meet likeminded people and groups in Minnesota and throughout the region.


5:15-6:15pm: Roundtable discussion with all speakers

6:15pm: Closing remarks

6:30-8pm: Reception


World of Matter: Mobilizing Materialities has been made possible by the University of Minnesota’s Imagine Chair in the Arts, Design and Humanities, the Department of Landscape Architecture and the School of Architecture. The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Changing Landscapes, the Department of Art, and the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota; the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, DARCH gta, ETH Zürich; Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture + Urbanism and the Carleton Urban Research Lab (c.url) in Ottawa, Canada; ifa: Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, ifa), Stuttgart, Germany; and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.