Art of Interference
Season 1: Water | Episode 10: Water Protectors
[ML: Maren Loveland | ER: Emma Reimers | TH: Tori Hoover | CL: Cannupa Hanska Luger | JG: Jennifer Gutman | PN: Patricia Norby |WL: Winona LaDuke | LK: Lutz Koepnick]
ML: With this episode, we have reached the end of The Art of Interference’s first season. All season long we’ve discussed water’s many different forms and shapes, and the variety of impacts these watery transformations have on us—from dew and ice, to floods and fog, there’s no question that our world is shaped by water.
But underlying all of these forms is the reality that across the world, water is continually commoditized and controlled by systems that violently seize it from indigenous communities, who formed the first relationships with water, and who were the first water protectors.
TH: From Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, this is Art of Interference: a podcast about creative responses to climate change. In each episode, we talk with artists and experts who work at the intersection of nature, technology, and science today. This episode is hosted by Maren Loveland.
ML: Throughout our season, we’ve engaged with many Native perspectives on water, but we conclude our season with a special focus on water protectors in an effort to further prioritize Native voices in conversations about the climate’s uncertain future.
Today, water protectors are indigenous artists, activists, scholars, and people who work to protect sacred bodies of water from dangerous extraction projects like oil pipelines and hydroelectric dams, a topic which we discussed earlier in our episode about rivers.
Artist Caroline Monnet’s sculpture, called The Flow Between Hard Places, is a good place to begin thinking about art and the historic practice of water protection. Monnet’s sculpture looks something like a vertical mountain range, or the bottom of the ocean floor, flipped sideways. The shape might even remind you of a sound wave with sharp angles and deep valleys, and if it did, you would be right—The Flow Between Hard Places is actually a sculpture of the sound waves created by Elder Rose Wawatie-Beaudoin saying the word “pasapkedjinawong,” [pass-ep-KEDJ-YOO-on] which translates to “the river that passes between the rocks” in Anishinaabemowin. The sculpture references a historic moment one hundred years ago when Chief Pakinawatik from Kitigan [KIT-i-gone] Zibi [zee-bee] (Maniwaki) travelled 600 kilometres through waterways to Toronto with sixty other Algonquins to request from the Office of the Governor General that parts of their traditional territory be returned.
As Monnet’s sculpture reveals, the words used to protect bodies of water, especially in indigenous languages, not only mimic water themselves, but are powerful ways of interfering with the dangers of extraction.
In today’s episode, we look at other interferences by water protectors by first talking to artist Cannupa Hanska Luger, who grew up on Standing Rock Reservation, about how his art relates to the practice of water protection. Then, we’ll hear from Patricia Norby, curator of the Water Memories exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and finally, we’ll listen to a renowned indigenous activist, Winona LaDuke, who is currently working as a water protector against ongoing extractive projects in North America. By engaging with these various voices, we want to emphasize how there isn’t just one way to be a water protector: rather, we hope to provide a more holistic understanding of Native water protectors by showcasing the diverse range of their work.
ML: Earlier this year, I had the chance to talk with Cannupa Hanska Luger, a Native American artist whose work seems to transcend mediums and forms while still addressing contemporary, current issues of indigenous life.
CL: I am Mandan Andra, citizen of the Mandan Tribe. Uh, I’m ____ is my clan. Um, I’m also on my father’s side, Lakota. Um, Originally our family was from Cheyenne River, but grew up in Standing Rock in a little town called Fort Yates, and I’m a visual artist. Um, and just navigate the world in that really weird economy.
ML: Throughout our entire season of The Art of Interference, we have been studying how different states of water inspire artists and their work. Cannupa adds a new understanding to how water informs or inspires artistic practice.
CL: I’m mostly water. I think that there’s an really incredible lesson in that. It’s not my water, even though it makes up most of who I am, it, I’m only borrowing it. And I think that there’s a really important lesson in that and a point of intersection between so many different people. Every living thing really is in the process of sharing water. So how it affects me and influences me as I would be nothing without it. So any thoughts, any movements, any work that I do is all hinged upon some very basic things that I can never have. Air is one of them. Water for sure, that are elements that make up the remainder of my body all borrowed–they return to the earth and the air, and hopefully eventually the cosmos.
ML: From Cannupa’s point of view, water isn’t just a source of inspiration for his work–it acts as a teacher. Water’s movements and flow provide a framework through which we can think about our own interconnectedness with the world.
CL: I think just the relationship to water and primarily like this notion of, of a river, this is natural infrastructure that. Taken a million years to, plus to, to actually really develop and figure out what’s the best route to run snowfall in the mountains to our coasts. And we emulate that as human beings, some of these ideas of infrastructure, how to move water and get water to, to places, but more often than not, our scope is too narrow to understand the impact of doing something, making something happen because we can, not really thinking about if we should or the ramifications of that.
ML: Speaking of impact, Cannupa is the artist behind the majorly impactful Mirror Shield Project. This project is challenging to classify—initially, it was a political protest or performance, whose recording now circulates through video and photographs in museums across the world. The project was a way that Cannupa, by filming a tutorial of how to make a “mirror shield,” offered support to the Dakota Access Pipeline activists and their 2016 fight for Native rights and clean water. Cannupa’s mirror shields are body-length wooden shields with mirrors attached to the outside. When a group of people holds these shields together, it creates a shimmering, rippling effect—but this beauty is contrasted with the often inherent danger of protesting–the reason for holding a shield in the first place.
CL: I have a hard time considering it art, like it came out of desperation. It was functional, it was functional purpose, but the way it’s navigated through institutional spaces is simply as an art object. And so I always encourage whatever institution exhibits the work to actually make the shield. I was like I didn’t make all of those shields. I made a video on how to make those shields. The video that’s been traveling around that people watch was like a test run for an actual performance, an actual movement. The purpose of that movement, our audience was like 24-hour flyover drones and and airplanes and helicopters like filming the camps. It was for surveillance. It was a response to surveillance.
ML: In the video Cannupa, provides a step-by-step guide for building these body-length shields, which reflect whoever stares back at them in a poignant commentary on protesting: the shields are at once protective and vulnerable, practical and beautiful.
CL: And it was a way to recognize that in all of us, because we are mostly water, we are a river that can move uphill, that we can move against the systems that you think water is limited to— gravity is a primary one, but that it’s constantly challenging gravity. It’s evaporating, it’s turning into clouds, and then it falls and condenses, like it gets into the bodies of people. The people who were building the pipelines were mostly water. Water had something to do with its own threat. So it’s complicated, but as we watch systems capitalize on these sorts of things, it gets even more convoluted, so the exhibition of a practice run of a really beautiful performance is now the art.
ML: The Mirror Shield Project was recently included in the Met’s beautifully curated Water Memories exhibit. It asks profound questions such as: How does water hold memory? What memories does it hold?
CL: My people are river people, so I grew up on a river. I’m constantly looking for these kind of like sources of water or even as I travel around the globe.
So there are all of these kind of connections. And I guess, for me it’s like knowledge. This is knowledge. Water carries. So knowledge is a memory and we recollect that. I think we think also memories are ours and I think they’re also. Something that’s shared, so where is it stored? Is it stored in my physical body, in my brain?
Is it stored in the relationships that I have with the community that I live around? How would my memories be different if I was isolated and alone, and I can’t be, and I won’t be. And also water is a reminder of that, that it’s not alone and it’s not yours, and it’s shared.
And it’s this relationship of sharing that actually bolsters and builds a stronger relationship to memory and knowledge.
ML: The protests at Standing Rock, Enbridge Line 4 and 5, and other places have really brought a lot of attention to water protectors across mainstream media outlets, yet many people still aren’t aware of them. So, I really wanted to know from Cannupa who exactly water protectors are, and why their work matters today.
CL: I don’t know where the edge of water protector is in, in. Honesty. I think the word water protector was amplified during the Dakota Access Pipeline back in 2016 and on the Standing Rock reservation. And I think as media became a a part of that resistance and that engagement, Everyone was labeled as protestor.
And protestor is a really easy way to make an entire movement combatants against something. And you see the media, you use this all the time. With the use and deployment of force against protests and the protection of order, when people are resisting, when that order is, does not serve the population.
And so I think out of that came language that was pushed forward within the camps and within communities looking to protect water, that it is proactive.
I don’t know who gets to define it specifically, I know it came out of The resistant camps, resistance camps at standing Rock, but I think a lot of tha t comes from just trying to control a narrative around what we were there for, what the purpose was.
ML: As he explains here, Cannupa’s Mirror Shield Project exists at the intersection of action, art, and climate change—but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen such an intersection on The Art of Interference.
ML: I asked: What role, for you, does art play in intervening in a world increasingly affected by human-generated climate change?
CL: I think our capacity to imagine alternatives to this are much greater than the than the systems we can navigate presently. and I think art’s role is to push and bend on that.
And can you imagine alternatives, and can you share those imagined alternatives as a potentiality for future generations to build upon and bolster?
ML: But as I discussed with Cannupa, imagination of alternative systems and ways of being doesn’t necessarily equate to hope. What’s more important is action and involvement in building this future.
CL: I think that I’m not in a place where I wanna hope for. A better future. I want to actively participate in its creation. And oftentimes that active participation may end up being the the dam or the stone that changes the river forever. So there’s there’s a responsibility I think, for each of us around the choices that we make and what choices you can make.
ML: Whether or not we are engaged in artistic production, we have, as Cannupa explains here, a responsibility to actively work within our respective spheres of influence to make decisions that will impact our world for good—while our choices can so often feel unimpactful, Cannupa’s work demonstrates how small decisions, when made continually by people working together, can be felt across time and space, and can make positive change.
ML: As I discussed with Cannupa, art and water protection are entangled practices that have the capacity to inform one another. And the curatorial work of Patricia Marroquin Norby further builds on these ideas. As the inaugural associate curator of Native American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Patricia actively works to foreground Native perspectives at the museum—hence she included a Mirror Shield Project workshop in her exhibit Water Memories, which originally ran from June 2022 to April 2023. This collection of mostly visual and sculptural art communicates indigenous experiences with water across space and time.
PN: The exhibition presents intimate connections with and memories of Water and explores diverse aesthetic expressions of one of our most prevalent and most potent natural resources.
Water memories flows as a current. Of stories and moments that contemplate the impact of water’s presence and absence upon our daily lives.
ML: In the exhibit, Patricia carefully chose works by Native artists, and by putting these works in conversation with each other, the exhibit makes a statement about complicated relationships between Native communities and water. In one of the exhibit’s key pieces, a photograph by Kara Romero entitled “Water Memory,” the image features, as Norby explains:
PN: Here we have a male and female pueblo corn dancer captured in both a terrifying and peaceful free fall into mysterious deluge of natural water.
In an online interview, the artist stated, I wanted the male and female represented in the photograph to be historically affected by the element of water in the literal sense, so that it would further empower the spiritual connection that Natives have with water.
So while it’s disastrous, it’s also very peaceful. It’s part of the life cycle. Water is cleansing and there’s spirituality of it, but it’s also very frightening, like they’ve just been swept off the corn dance line. And one of the things that was interesting to learn in conversations with Cara was that she trained herself in both underwater photography as well as scuba diving in order to create this image.
And she talked to me about how she trained herself with underwater photograph in underwater photography in her bathtub, in her home.
ML: This defining image of the exhibit encapsulates the powerful dichotomies of water: danger and beauty, peace and terror. In other artworks, however, water more clearly embodies the metaphysical: it is magical, ethereal, and almost whimsical. This feeling comes through powerfully in a sculpture, entitled Feather Canoe, created by the Ho-Chunk artist Truman Low, also featured in the Water Memories exhibit. Yet even this seemingly light-hearted sentiment speaks to the urgency with which water must be handled and addressed in this contemporary moment, as Patricia explains.
PN: This elegant 1993 sculpture, Feather Canoe, made of willow copper and feathers portrays water as a place of sanctuary, emergence, and regeneration. In his 2004 biography, Woodland Reflections written by art historian Joe Ortel, the artist stated that he wanted to create a canoe that could fly on water in order to recreate the feeling that he had as a child while floating along the rivers in Wisconsin with his father. The result is a lightweight, minimalist vessel that speaks to connections between water and sky. Both of our new acquisitions embody urgent environmental challenges currently faced by numerous indigenous communities to protect shrinking homelands and freshwater sources.
The quiet potency of both artworks intentionally draw in viewers to pause, to look closely, and to reflect upon contextual, cultural and personal meanings of water.
ML: In the exhibit, Patricia pairs the Feather Canoe sculpture with 19th century Cyanotypes by the German American photographer, Henry Bosse. Native and non-native come together to speak to a larger context in which water is contested and mediated through art.
PN: Between 1883 and 1893, Bosse was hired by the US Army Conservation Corps of Engineers to create images of the Mississippi River between Minnesota and St. Louis for a project intended on remaking the upper Mississippi River. The artist was thinking aesthetically, rather than just mapping the river, the result was over 300 liquidy, blue oval-shaped images of the river surround its surrounding lands, which represent the ancestral homelands and waters of the Ho-Chunk and Dakota people.
ML: The inclusion of Bosse’s images makes a unique argument about art and agency. While taking them, Bosse thought of his images as having a mostly practical purpose, but from a much later perspective they also show these homelands as those indigenous to the lands knew them, frozen in photographic time. These images persist all the same, unwittingly documenting a history of violent dispossession that comes into clearer view from the vantage of the present.
PN: He documented all of the landscape, the hills, the surrounding bluffs, the small towns, everything he could document. And what he just did not think about that. These were the homelands of the Ho-Chunk people who had been removed from this region 13 times and many times at gunpoint. And they just kept coming back.
They could not leave their homelands. And so I wanted to have this dialogue between the canoe and the cyanotypes to demonstrate that connection. To the homelands and to the waters of the Ho-Chunk people.
ML: But as a curator, Patirica is not just thinking about the dialogues between artworks that she puts in her exhibits, she also considers the physical demands of the objects she works with and the unique challenges they often present to an exhibit’s design.
PN: The cyanotype suite is actually very light sensitive, and so this is the first installation and we’ll rotate this in November and have four new cyanotypes. But I just love this connection. I also love the cyanotype format, the blue quality. If you’ve ever worked with cyanotype, you know that you splash the liquid onto the surface and then you expose it to the light and the plate, and then you get this image in the resulting image.
But also cyanotypes are imperfect. They have drips and splashes and all of these other qualities that speak to the medium, but also speak to the liquid that you’re engaged with in the process. And it was a perfect Perfect for the exhibition and then, of course, the color blue is resonant throughout the entire show.
ML: Clearly, the way an exhibit is organized can have powerful implications for how museum patrons understand the relationship between pieces and the theme that connects them, as in the Water Memories exhibit. However, as the associate curator of Native American art at the Met, Norby’s work goes far beyond the exhibit and into the museum’s design at large.
The way art objects are categorized and organized throughout the museum reflects the communities who gathered and arranged these objects, and for many years, the Met’s Native American artworks and objects have been improperly organized by non-native curators. Patricia’s work as a curator then, is an exceptional statement about the power of curation.
PN: We’re currently in dialogue with a number of source communities about repatriation issues, whose cultural sensitivity issues and then the appropriate presentation of all of the items. So one of the first things that I did when I arrived in 2020 was that I organized a museum wide inventory of every Native American item we have at the Met.
This was a challenge because all of these collections are in different departments, and if you’ve ever been to the museum, you know how big the museum actually is. We had to do this in order to get organized and know what we had, rather than working in this fragmented approach in regard to repatriation issues.
And so now we’re working with updating all of our collection summaries, sending those summaries out to all of the source communities, and then also providing copies to NAG Pro, which is part of the federal law that we all have to follow. And so it’s actually been this really rewarding process, being in dialogue with the source communities and understanding what should be on view, what shouldn’t.
All of these things has just been very eye-opening and just incredibly rewarding.
ML: The way we understand and organize art can be an empowering and liberating act. Patricia’s work with re-organizing the Met’s Native American items, as well as her commitment to pushing the boundaries of artistic dialogue between Native and non-Native artists helps us better comprehend how interventions into our environments can be meaningful. Her curation further exemplifies the labor of Native activists working around the world to protect bodies of water, as well as the cultures, memories, and imaginations connected to water. Now we’ll turn to the voices of these activists to learn more about the practice of water protection.
Tori Hoover: Hey, it’s Tori. Let me just jump in for a minute here.
TH: You know, I actually went and saw this exhibit at the Met a couple months ago. I was in town to visit some friends and I figured my fiance and I would drop by. Of course, first we had to navigate our way through the crowds of the Met, but eventually we got there.
TH: Yeah, here, you can hold the map. Thank you.
IR: You know, you’re not really getting “room tone” if you’re talking and rustling the whole time.
TH: Thanks Ian, for that helpful audio tip.
TH: Honestly, the exhibit was smaller than I expected it to be. But it was still really affecting. The artwork is framed by walls painted in these really soothing grey and blue tones. Low’s feather canoe is suspended from the ceiling in a plexiglass case, and the spotlights trained on the piece reflect these rippling shadows onto the floor. The canoe floats above you, the shadows below, the colors all around – the exhibit gives you the feeling of actually being underwater. In that environment, Bosse’s circular cyanotypes on the wall are almost like portholes – or portals – into the past, these windows onto what once was.
TH: And the sound from Cannupa’s Mirror Shield Project pervades the whole exhibit – it’s loudest right as you walk in, but the video itself feels almost hidden, since it’s on the back side of the wall through which you enter. You have to seek out the source of the sound.
TH: Mostly, though, I was just struck by the interconnectivity of all these different mediums and materials, the way the exhibit plays with a kind of synchronic time. It’s not just paintings of beaches or contemporary canoe sculptures – it’s also a basket jar dated circa 1790, with a note from a Chumash writer that calls attention to an art that perseveres even today. You feel that, too, in the sound and visuals of the Cannupa piece, the circular movement of the people in the video and the camera as it rotates around them, and of the audio, which very nearly loops. You feel the timelessness of water, and you feel, too, the literal and figurative ripple effect – how the impact of one action can disturb an entire system. Whether that one action is the skipping of a stone… or the installation of a pipeline.
ML: Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that the fight for water is an ongoing struggle, and that it’s often led by indigenous women water protectors, whose voices we will feature today to learn more about their work as activists and the current state of water rights in North America. In this part of the world, as with many other places, water protectors primarily work against the destructive efforts of oil companies, whose profit-driven projects put both people and the environment in harm’s way.
For this portion of episode, we will hear from the longtime activist Winona LaDuke, who has spent her life as a water protector protesting extractive infrastructure projects. Among her other endeavors and activism, Winona works diligently against the Enbridge Corporation, an immense Canadian oil company with oil li nes throughout North America that threaten Native communities and the ecologies where these oil lines are built—and often spill.
WL: 75% of the tar sands, that’s the dirtiest oil in the world, come through Enbridge lines into the United States, 75%. And this corporation has a stranglehold on our Great Lakes, and you can see it right here in their line three, line 5, 4, 6, Alberta Clipper, all of them, they come through our heartland of our territory.
And none of us are oil producers. None of us benefit. We have all the risk, and our water has all of the risk. For the past seven years of my life, I’ve been fighting Enbridge because I believe that a Canadian multinational should not own our water, should not own our future, should not own. Should not own our land.
ML: For water protectors, progress isn’t always linear. Activists are constantly threatened by private and public groups invested in progressing oil projects. Sometimes there is success, and sometimes there are immense setbacks.
WL: We did succeed in stopping hemorrhage from the Sand Piper, which was their precursor to the Line three pipeline. That was a fracked oil pipeline they intended to run through Minnesota, but they did not.
Instead, we ended up with line three. We attended every hearing. Didn’t miss a beat. And every regulatory process, every legal option we exercised. But this pipeline was put in during a pandemic and the Trump administration–that’s how you get a pipeline in.
ML: Not only is the practice of water protection challenging and discouraging at times, but protesting can be an extremely dangerous endeavor, since it often provokes state violence.
WL: In 2021, tens of thousands of people came to Northern Minnesota to stand for our water and stand for our indigenous people, and stand for future generations and a thousand of us were arrested and charged. Many of us faced a lot of police brutality, and that police brutality was financed by the Enbridge Corporation.
That is to say that the state of Minnesota required that enbridge would pay for the police to put in their pipeline. And so enbridge did–8.5 million worth of police paid for by the enbridge corporation to conduct surveillance and repression on people like. And arrest a thousand people. 92 separate police forces were involved compromising everyone from the highway patrol to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Any really avid display of when a foreign corporation controls your military, something I think is a little problematic that they let a foreign corporation pay for the militarization of a state.
ER: In this episode, we’re focusing our attention on the recent protests and efforts by Winona against the Enbridge oil company, whose lines are mostly built around the midwestern region of the United States, near and around the Canadian border. But when I hear about protests at a pipeline, I think of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
JG: I remember when those protests were going on—people came from all over the world to get involved. It was really powerful to see so many people come together in defense of water and Native communities.
ER: Right! The protests received a lot of exposure in the media. But interestingly, the protests against the construction of the pipeline were initially inspired by a group of students with an organization called “Rez-pect Our Water”–emphasis on the “z” there, alluding to the common nickname for Native American reservations.
JG: Wow, that’s amazing! It’s so inspiring to see how youth activists are often the ones leading the charge for causes that they care about.
ER: Like the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, youth protestors are heavily involved in the fight against Enbridge. Autumn Peltier, an Anishinaabe water protector, began raising awareness about the dangers of Enbridge’s oil pipelines at only twelve-years-old, and she is currently recognized as the Chief Water Protector Aniishnabek Nation. She explains,
AP: Many people don’t think water is alive or has a spirit. My people believe this to be true. There are studies now that prove this. We believe our water is sacred because we are born of water and live in water for nine months. When the water breaks, new life comes. But even deeper than that, we come from our mother’s water, and her mother’s water, and so on. All the original water flows through us and all around us.
JG: In the eyes of her elders, Autumn has what is called “nbi giikendaaswin” —water knowledge, and in her role as Chief Water Commissioner, she represents 39 First Nations in Ontario. Her dedication to water protection is extremely admirable—there’s so much to learn from her.
ER: I wholeheartedly agree—she’s an inspiration for us all.
JG: Well, if you’re feeling so inspired, you can check out her ongoing petition for clean drinking water for First Nation, Inuit, and METIS communities. I’ll link it on our website.
ER: Perfecto, clicking now. Since, as Autumn puts it, “we can’t eat money or drink oil.”
ML: Despite the violence, Winona continues her efforts alongside many other water protectors and activists, who are all working to develop a solution to the problem of water. However, like the work of activism itself, the solution isn’t a simple or straightforward process. Rather, it is a continual effort to make change and forge new, healthy, reciprocal relationships with the environment.
WL: What is the solution? What is the solution to this? The solution to this is not just to stop Enbridge and oil companies, but the solution is to transform into a way of life Where there is potential, there is life.
And so I say that because the return is to the green path. And people say to me, we’re never gonna be able to have enough renewable energy to meet present demand for electricity in the United States, to which I say, why would you wanna meet present demand?
ML: We learn from water protectors like Winona and Autumn that the demands of our contemporary, capitalist world are too harmful to maintain. Instead, we need to find a different way of being, one that doesn’t rely on extraction at all.
WL: And so I want a graceful transition out of the fossil fuel era. I want a graceful transition back to a way which reaffirms relationship to water, reaffirms relationship to life and rebuilds an economy based on the waters and lands of this beautiful territory that we share.
ML: Water protection, as Winona explains, is all about changing the relationships between people and the environment. It is about how we in the future learn to interfere with the world harmoniously, —symbiotically—precisely because we are learning more about our own limits and allowing this world to interfere with us. If we can listen to the lessons that water gives us—whether it’s in the form of dew, fog, or snow—we can transform our relationships with it and work to build a better world.
ML: I want to end this episode on Water Protectors with the words of Diné poet Sherwin Bitsui. This poem, which is an excerpt from his book Flood Song, carefully contemplates relationships with myriad forms of water. As humans, we are all implicated in the complicated ecologies of the Anthropocene—we are just as much beings of oil and extraction as we are of water and protection. As you listen, reflect on what the poem makes you think about. What can we learn from what Native voices say about water? How can we interfere in these ecologies for the better?
Stepping through the drum’s vibration,
I hear gasoline
trickle alongside the fenced-in panorama
of the reed we climb in from
and slide my hands into shoes of ocean water.
I step onto the gravel path of swans paved across lake scent,
wrap this blank page around the exclamation point slammed between us.
The storm lying outside its fetal shell
folds back its antelope ears
and hears its heart pounding through powdery earth
underneath dancers flecking dust from their ankles to thunder into rain.
LK: Such beautiful words to conclude this episode on Water Protectors, and of course the entire first season of The Art of Interference. This is Lutz Koepnick, one of the co-creators of this podcast. Throughout this season, our aim has been not to present art as a tool to fix the problems of our climate emergency—but to think of it as a medium, as a place to model different ways of how to approach our planet in crisis. And our hope was to generate some new ideas about what it means to act in, and be acted upon, by a natural world that we can no longer disentangle from ours, the human world.
Water is complicated, climate scientist Steve Goodbread observed in the first episode of this season, when he commented on the work of Thao Nguyen Phan about the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. As we heard during the previous episode on Rain from Tori and Emma, climate change isn’t just about desertification, the total disappearance of water. Yes, most dystopian fiction often features iconic images of inhospitable deserts as our future. But as many of our episodes have demonstrated, too much water in certain moments and places is part of the picture of climate change as well. Water is complicated—and this means we can’t take anything about it for granted anymore. Plenty of scientific evidence shows that many of our biggest urban areas will soon run out of water, not simply because rivers and reservoirs no longer carry as much water as they used to, but because even our massive rainstorms can’t prevent aquifers from drying out. Large-scale monocultural farming as we know it dramatically drains our groundwater. People drill deeper and deeper wells only to find less and less water. The engaging work, the interference, of water protectors that we covered in this episode has never mattered more than today.
JG: We hope this first season of our podcast has opened some new windows, some wells so to speak, to understand what is complicated about water in our era of planetary crisis—and how different artists engage with these changing realities, how they envision what it means to live and live well, amid this world of change.
TH: What we call the art of interference calls on us neither to resign in face of the present’s climate disaster nor to put all our eggs into the basket of reengineering the world. What it suggests instead is to experiment with timely and untimely notions of agency and entanglement, care and co-dependency, control and disturbance.
ER: Everything is related on this planet; nothing ever enjoys a state of absolute independence and autonomy. It’s probably safe to say that the modern, Western project of mastering the elements and subjecting them to our will has largely failed. We have to rethink our role on this planet and somehow become stewards of the water, the land, and the air—rethink our role as beings in a world we can’t fully control.
ML: To practice the art of interference, then, means to learn how to embrace symbiotic relationships between humans and the nonhuman world as the ground of our existence; it means to sharpen our attention to the agency and intelligence of the nonhuman world–to tell new stories about how humans can participate in a broader planetary story. For the water protectors we featured in this final episode none of this is a new story. It is what makes, and has always made, the planet tick.
LK: We talk a lot about collaboration in the academy; but often it simply means to coordinate individual contributions and not to step onto each other’s toes. In working on this podcast, our team—Tori and Emma, Maren and Jennifer and myself–was guided by the idea that moments of mutual interference, of messing with each other’s thoughts, ideas, and visions, are essential to drive anyone’s thinking forward and generate unexpected insights. We never observe, argue, write, or speak in the singular; whenever we observe, argue, write or speak we echo in some way or another what is not us, what is more than us.
And so, to wrap up this first season, we want to offer you a sample—an echo–of some of our favorite moments from this first season—in the hope you’ll return for our next season when it comes around.
JG: I for one haven’t been able to shake the image of Simon Beck plodding around for twelve hours a day in the snowy alps listening to classical music on his “personal stereo.” I don’t know if I’ll be donning any snowshoes in the coming months, but I can’t help but think my workout routine and playlist rotation could draw some inspiration from our pre-eminent snow artist.
JG: And who could forget George Duffy’s dreamy reflections on the beauty of a landscape transformed by snow:
ML: I don’t know if anything will ever top my experience with Fujiko Nakaya’s work at the Haus Der Kunst, which I discussed in our second episode—it’s something I will forever cherish.
TH: And to close on an optimistic note, I wanted to call out how inspired I am by Eve Mosher’s creative approach to climate solutions, which search for the joy and community within the movement:
LK: And that’s it for this season. Please rejoin us in April 2024 for ten new episodes of Art of Interference featuring the work of artists, filmmakers, musicians, photographers, and creative makers as they address the element of air—of wind, the movement of clouds, and the power of breath, smoke and smog, tornadoes and the history of air conditioning, and last but not least the levitations of modern dance.