Where are all the cockroach activists? Lindsay Garcia at the Cultural Studies Association Annual Conference.

June 15, 2016

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Schuylkill River, Philadelphia, PA at sunset

A major part of being a graduate student is getting your work out into the world and networking with other like-minded scholars at academic conferences. As an emerging scholar, who focuses largely on nonhuman animals and environmental issues in American culture, the Cultural Studies Association (CSA) Annual Conference was a great fit for me. This year, the conference took place at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania; however, the conference hotel was in downtown Philadelphia, a 40-minute drive away, creating an initial environmental dilemma by increasing travel time and fuel consumption for attendees as well as making my attendance at the majority of events challenging. Because of this distance, however, my dog Winslow, who was my co-pilot on this environmental adventure, and I got some great walks in along the Schuylkill River, a river with a history of pollution due to the oil and coal industries dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.

Winslow

Winslow

The theme of this year’s conference was “Policing Crises Now,” a pertinent topic due to the re-vamped political unrest around race and LGBTQI issues as well as the increasing public awareness of climate change and other real, material environmental concerns. The panels that I participated in and attended were hosted by the Environment, Space, and Place Working Group. I joined this working group, which consists of a selection of specialized scholars who research cultural artifacts from an eco-critical perspective, after last year’s CSA conference in Riverside, California, where I presented a paper called “Can Ferguson teach Environmental Justice Advocates?,” the travel of which was also funded by the Committee on Sustainability. I chaired a panel called Documenting the Crisis II, which paired Allyse Knox, a graduate student in Women and Gender Studies from Stony Brook University, with Allison Bleckner, a graduate student in Arabic Literature from Harvard University. Knox read the films Interstellar and Beasts of the Southern Wild against each other in the search for depictions of the climate crisis from the perspective of grief and mourning. Bleckner, on the other hand, presented on Raja Shehadeh’s text Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape as a way to present a work of textual art that records the environmental irresponsibility of Israel.

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Catherine Chalmers, Safari, 2008 (video still)

My own presentation entitled “Why is no one clamoring to save the cockroaches?” took place during the Material Creatures panel alongside Daniel Lanza Rivers, a recent PhD from Claremont Graduate University who looked at the extinction of the California grizzly bear within a queer ecology framework; Anna Guasco, a recent graduate of Carleton College who rejected the notion that ecotourism regarding the American grey whale heals traumatic historical interspecies encounters through touch; and Michael McGlynn, Associate Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures from National Taiwan University who presented on the ecological formal elements of Spanish love poetry. My paper questioned why no animal activists think about animals that are considered “pests,” a pest being an animal (human or nonhuman) who is considered “out of place.” I use three examples of performative art that involve the live bodies of animals to highlight their agency and the affects produced by the production of this artwork: Kim Jones’ Rat Piece (1976), which uses rats; Bruce Nauman’s Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001), which uses mice; and Catherine Chalmers’ Safari (2008) which uses cockroaches. I argue that each of these works are successful in shaping the American cultural imaginary differently and more humanely with regards to pest animal deaths by employing shock, naturalization, and re-wilding tactics respectively. This essay acts as a seed on which my dissertation will grow as I continue to look at the art, activism, and visual culture of the pest in America. I would also like to thank the William & Mary Committee on Sustainability for partially funding my travel to this conference and supporting my research.

Kim Jones, Rat Piece, 1976 (performance documentation)

Kim Jones, Rat Piece, 1976 (performance documentation)

Lindsay Garcia is an artist and third year PhD student in American Studies at the College of William and Mary with a specialization in political art, art history, activism, the built environment, and animal studies. Garcia holds a BFA in Sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design, an MA in Contemporary Art from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, an MFA in Visual Art from SUNY Purchase, and an MA in American Studies from the College of William and Mary.

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Lindsay Garcia as Feminist Pest Control Agent. See www.lindsaygarcia.com/feminist-pest-control.html for more information about that project.

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