To understand the effects of the environment on our health we need to stop thinking of the body as an organism or an entity in itself. The human body is radically open to its surroundings, and in constant interchange with its environment, making it impossible to separate the two. By virtue of being embodied, we are intermeshed with the material world which crosses through us, transforms us, and is transformed by us, and therefore we must think of our body as a system, or a series of open ended systems, functioning within larger systems it can't control. Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures
This project grew out of the need to understand the causes of the environmental health hazards that surround us, tracing the movement of toxic chemicals from production to consumption, through our towns and through our bodies, by way of the material, political, economic and cultural systems that continue to be harmful to us but are difficult to challenge and to change. One reason for this is that chemical industry greatly influence what knowledge is produced and how it is distributed to the public. Ignorance and uncertainty are manufactured, maintained, and disseminated by them. Our knowledge is further obscured by the fact that we can't possibly predict the staggering array of interactions that could occur as a result of billions of pounds of toxic chemicals routinely emitted in the environment by the United States alone.
This project will start by focusing on one town and one chemical - Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A chemical released into the environment between1950-1980 by the three major industries in the town of Massena. The goal in focusing on this microcosm is to understand and map the interchanges that have shaped the landscape, and the people of Massena by extension, in order to assess the damage and envision new ways forward.
The following is and abstract for a presentation that will be given at a symposium on January 8, 2021 at the University of Heartfordshire: What the World Needs Now is Artists Engaged in Science
Porous Bodies, Toxic Kin
How do we envision new ways to live within the altered world? In these unprecedented times of climate transformation and irreversible ecological alterations, the problems we face are so new and complex that only through our combined efforts in art, science, activism, and theory can we understand and bring about the changes needed to achieve an ecologically sound worldview and learn to live and prosper with the damage. Our transdisciplinary environmental health and justice eco-art project maps the activity and interactions of the living and non-living entities that make up a small town as they jointly create the critical zone. It is a way of engaging art in a new science that understands its entanglements within political, sociological and economic structures. In this presentation, we will discuss our methodology, fieldwork, and interactions with government officials, public health experts, and concerned citizens in a community in northern New York that has been home to three of the worst hazardous waste sites in the US. The goal in focusing on this microcosm is to understand and map the interchanges that have shaped the landscape and the people of Massena, to assess the damage and envision new ways forward.