A research & learning centre for conversations spanning traditional indigenous knowledge, modern science, and contemporary culture for new policy, environmental planning, ecological design, and public art with a focus on the Salish Sea and its Gulf and San Juan Islands between the mainland of the North American West Coast and Vancouver Island email@example.com
Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, is the most ubiquitous tree in the northern half of North America. As the most numerous, wild fruit tree on the continent, chokecherry is a pillar of many ecosystems especially as a food source for pollinators. Around the Salish Sea, chokecherry occurs from the edges of beaches and Garry oak meadows to sunnier openings in old-growth Douglas fir and Western hemlock forests. At a time of greater stress from rising temperatures, less predictable weather, more damaging storms, and increasing, trans-Pacific air pollution, these two, old trees, in Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island, provide excellent sites for monitoring pollinators.
synopsis: This project is about one anecdote to planetary burnout: low-temperature burning based on traditional additional practices that creates ecological space for wild and traditional fruit trees that provide food to pollinators and humans while fixing carbon. The proposed work at Het Nieuwe Instituut centres on generating essays, presentations, and performances that answer a series of questions. How can notions of the ‘anthropocene’ be fully decolonized with various disparities accorded indigenous communities illustrated through contemporary site-based and multimedia visual practices? How can notions of burn-out and burning be explored for metropolitan and indigenous art-worlds and when can re-establishment of traditional burning by often marginalized communities and unrecognized landowners be considered contemporary aesthetic interventions? Similarly, how can various tree cultivation cultures (some of which rely on ‘cool burning’), that span the colonized and colonizers, be explored? And how can strategies and interventions to rapidly re-establish fruit tree woodlands in urban and suburban areas, to function as carbon sinks and security for both human and pollinator food, be considered as contemporary performative and site-based artistic practices? Finally, there is a more paradigmatic question that can be explored for indefinitely. Can the re-contextualizing and repurposing of localized, indigenous ecological and cultural practices, by descendants of respective communities, as contemporary aesthetic interventions be a viable form of decolonization where retrogressive forms of appropriation can be identified and countered?
introduction & problem statement: While levels of combustion and carbon transfer into the atmosphere have been unsustainable since the Industrial Revolution, there are earlier burning practices originating from localized, indigenous communities that have not only been beneficial, ecologically, but also forms of site-based, cultural expression. Notions of the ‘Anthropocene’ that have emerged over the last decade, have too often conflated thousands of years of ‘cool burning’ with the more recent Apocalyptic fires that are contributing to climate change. And without proactive forms of light burning, to lower fuel levels in forests and woodlands, the temperate latitudes are destined to see the kinds of mass incineration of communities observed recently in Greece, California, Portugal, British Columbia, and Russia. Today, we see a range of governments advocating ways to ‘fire-smart’ (a concocted verb) homes as to avoid uncontrollable fire storms that are increasingly leading to incineration of people and communities. In contrast, new ways to sequester carbon, such as massive planting of more resilient forms of fruit trees, are necessary while countering related trends through providing food for human beings and pollinators and shade for increasingly hot urban areas. But the ‘arts’ for bringing indigenous practices, such as cool burning for fruit cultivation, into new forms of environmental problem-solving related to climate change have been poorly theorized and barely explored.
Apocalyptic fire & postcolonial melancholy: In recent decades there has been a blossoming of largely parallel theorizing in the Anthropocene as a cosmopolitan extension of formerly neocolonial forms of early environmentalism and indigenous politics and culture that remain rooted in diverse experiences of particular localities. While Anthropocene theorizing is almost inherently global, new work on indigeneity, particularly in relationship to ecosystem management and problem-solving, is largely site-specific. A more fundamental tension is that the core spectre of Anthropocene theorizing centres on Judeo-Christian forms of ‘Apocalyptic fire’, as cosmic retribution for lack of concern for the earth, indigenous theorizing (and culture) is largely centred on having survived the last five century of Apocalyptic genocide. So the ecological spectre in indigenous theorizing includes climate change but as part of the continued losses: grinding processes of impoverishment, ill health, and high rates of death; economic and political marginalization; and assimilation. And while great strides have been made in indigenous communities, in countries such as Canada, in retaking self-management of communities, territories, and natural resources, these gains are often over-shadowed by awareness of the extent of the losses leading to forms of postcolonial melancholy that can paralyze individuals and communities — even in the face of existential threats such as climate change. And postcolonial melancholy extends to an awareness of the extent of traditional knowledge that has been lost and actively destroyed – such as the lack of colonial and neocolonial recognition of indigenous orchards in British Columbia, the nearly total destruction of those cultural sites, and the erasure of respective traditional knowledge through residential schools. In the face of such huge losses, sometimes it just nice to do a bit of ‘cool’ burning.
The contrasts between these two profoundly different experiences of climate change — the global cosmopolitan and the localized indigenous, especially in relationship to more existential forms of burn-out, have only been explored superficially. So today as an indigenous person, living in the territory in which I grew up, recreating a low-intensity burn as part of re-establishing native fruit trees, as a gift to the earth and a homage to the elders who trained me, far out-weighs the respective carbon that is added to the atmosphere — a fraction of my total carbon footprint dominated by reliance on internal combustion engines (including trains and buses and even bicycles), power grids still dependent on natural gas, consumer patterns that almost require more polluting, and digital technologies that rely on unsustainable forms of energy production (notably cryptocurrencies).
project concept: The object of this project, partially outlined at www.gordonbrentingram.ca/presqueperdu, is to inspire the rapid expansion of urban woodlands dominated by native fruit trees in the middle latitudes of the North Hemisphere with particular interest for the urban areas around Vancouver and Seattle, with populations totally over 8 million people and European cities in the same latitudes especially Paris, Geneva, and the Randstad.
traditional knowledge, modern science & aesthetic representation strategies: It is my deep belief that the extent of the losses of traditional knowledge about burning and native tree crops (different species of the same genera imposed through settler orchards), cannot be fully understood, especially for indigenous people, through ethnography and science. The losses and the ruptures are too profound. Recovering these practices can best be done through transmissions of experience embodied in the ‘play’ of contemporary collaborative art. Similarly, there are new forms of cosmopolitan avoidance about the coming fire storms of climate change. In the context of globalization, contemporary multimedia and site-based art often offers the best chance to disrupt, inspire, demonstrate, guide, and recover and heal land and communities.
research approach & methodologies: The proposed work at Het Nieuwe Instituut would centre on four sets of activities:
participating in seminars and debates with colleagues;
completion of a set of advanced bibliographies some of have already been posted but require expansion;
completion of one theoretical essay (tentatively entitled ‘Decolonizing the Anthropocene’) and three long chapters with sub-headings that currently total over 40,000 words and are intended for websites and catalogues; and
site visits and interviews for development of a set of presentations, performances, and interventions oriented to north-western Europe.
The work on completing the bibliographies would focus on the following: the intersection of Anthropocene and indigenous theory especially for site-based and public art; contemporary visual practices for site-based, ecological, and land art involving burning and indigenous and traditional tree cultivation; and a well-along critique of the writings of Marcel Proust and his codification of the modern consumer aesthetic (that my work above effectively challenges).
fellowship products, media & dissemination: My goals for products from the proposed work centre on the following:
publication of a high profile, peer-reviewed essay on the central discourses of this fellowship at the Nieuwe Instituut, tentatively entitled, ‘Decolonising the Anthropocene’, and submitted to journals such as e-flux with dissemination within a year of completion of the fellowship;
completion, editing, and posting on-line of three long essays (15,000 to 25,000 words with subheadings) on radical re-establishment of traditional burning and circumpolar fruit tree woodlands as contemporary site-based, multimedia art as a kind of ‘decolonial land art’;
providing up to five public events in the period of the fellowship in north-western Europe with a minimum of 60 minutes duration such as presentations, performances, and site-based interventions; and
initial phases of at least three, multimedia works with initial photographs, videos, site-based sculpture, text, and ongoing proposals (most likely related to the performances and interventions proposed above).
proposed calendar: I would be available to be in Europe full-time for the entire six months, from September through February, but would be just as happy to stagger the months to optimize opportunities for seminars, presentations, and the Ukraine field trip. Within the context of this flexibility, the following would be the key activities for each month:
Month 1 – seminars with other fellows, completion of literature reviews and bibliographies, completion of long essays for posting, conception of the public events,
Month 2 – seminars with other fellows; completion of literature reviews and bibliographies, completion of long essays for posting, planning the public events, site visits for the multimedia projects,
Month 3 – seminars with other fellows; completion of literature reviews and bibliographies, completion of long essays for posting, executing at least one public event, site visits for the multimedia projects,
Month 4 – writing the shorter and most important essay as BURN-OUT synthesis, executing at least one public event, completion of the proposals for the multimedia projects
Month 5 — writing the shorter and most important essay as BURN-OUT synthesis, executing at least one public event, completion of the proposals for the multimedia projects
Month 6 — writing the shorter and most important essay as BURN-OUT synthesis, executing at least one public event, completion of the proposals for the multimedia projects
graphic material: The illustrations for this proposal are posted at the following page:
and more general discussions of expanding wild and traditional fruit tree woodlands for carbon sinks and food security for pollinators and humans is posted in the pages of the following project site: www.gordonbrentingram.ca/presqueperdu .
preparation for this research & creative production: The following experiences of prepared me to embark and complete this work in ways that optimize public debate and impact: growing up in an indigenous family struggling with three declining languages; exposure to traditional burning and native fruit tree cultivation practices starting at five years of age; early arts training spanning local indigenous traditions and contemporary Western mixed media; advanced degrees in contemporary art, environmental science, and ecological design; over a hundred publications, fifteen exhibitions, and eighty public presentations; currently actively engaged in traditional land stewardship and food production fifteen kilometres from where I was born and grew up.
 I will start the review of most recent literature on the Anthropocene with McKenzie Wark’s 2015, Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. (London: Verso).
 Two departures in contemporary art are Heather Davis’s 2015 anthology, Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (Berlin: Anexact) and Emily Eliza Scott and Kirsten Swenson’s 2015 anthology, Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press).
 I have read and reread all of Proust’s writings in the English translations and have a moderate command of the original material in French. With many pages of notes, I hope to complete an introductory and rather sardonic essays, with a working title of ‘Proust and Me’, not focused on his passages on social commentary, opaque homoeroticism, and antisemitism but rather his mention of orchard trees, rural landscapes, and the triggers for memory and narrative of particular odours and tastes.