- Salvage Ecologyannie ross’s Forest One and Happy Birthday Super Cheaper
annie ross’s Forest One and Happy Birthday Super Cheaper recast normative notions of value by transforming the discards of consumer culture into singular works of art. A 1956 Nash Metropolitan car woven in cedar and plastic, Forest One (2010) is a commentary on automotive cultures, waste, and the environments they create (Fig. 1). ross salvaged the bark from an urban forest cut down for condo developments near Vancouver; she found the car abandoned on an Oregon farm. Forest One remediates the violence of waste in its use of solely reclaimed material: cedar bark, plastic box strapping, thrift-shop castaways, and other landfill-destined materials (re)cover the car, as do woven insignia of plant and animal “spirits” (ross, “About”). Happy Birthday Super Cheaper (2009) continues Forest One’s reflection on the unwanted leavings of consumption. Named after a former gas station in northern California, this book of poetry features photographs of small art installations created from salvaged items that ross rescued from their path to the landfill. ross’s interest in seeing beyond an object’s given value emphasizes a life and presence in her materials separate from their market identity. Her reappraisal of waste objects can be appreciated through recent examinations of ex-commodities offered in Arjun Appadurai’s The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective and Steven J. Jackson’s “Rethinking Repair.” My reading of ross’s work draws on Appadurai’s and Jackson’s discussions of cultural economies of waste alongside Jane Bennett’s contribution to new materialism in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Bennett’s argument for a widened ecological field proves particularly instructive for recognizing the continuum between environmental and social [End Page 447] violence, and for understanding the connections between human and nonhuman life in ross’s work. Blurring such categories as animate/inanimate, organic/inorganic, subject/object, and nature/culture, ross’s art and writing propose a radically expansive ecology that illuminates human and nonhuman interdependencies and urges her audiences to see themselves in a more reciprocal rather than hierarchical relationship to their environments. In what follows, I will trace the affective and ethical connections that ross explores between people, things, and their environments, and the broader ontological and petrocultural implications of the ecologies suggested in her works. ross’s art and poetry are guided by an ecological imaginary that emphasizes kinship over capitalist value and that practices stewardship not only with “nature” but with the strange, abject, and seemingly nonliving. Her installations and writing offer a representational frame that steps out of the economic relations, notions of value, and subjection of the nonhuman world underwritten by capitalism.
By way of introduction to ross’s work, let me preface this discussion by saying that ross challenges categorization. Born of a Mayan mother and mixed-blood Indigenous father, ross grew up in South Central Los Angeles in a home where she was exposed to weaving, handwork, plant and animal knowledge, and rich storytelling traditions that inspired a unique ecological sensibility. She earned a PhD in Native American studies from the University of California at Davis, and she has since worked as an artist and teacher throughout the United States and Canada. For over a decade she has made her home near Vancouver, British Columbia, on the traditional and unceded territory of the Coast Salish people. While ross’s oeuvre consists largely of installation works, she has also written poetry (including her self-published collection, Happy Birthday Super Cheaper). Her influences and itinerancies exceed national categorizations just as her writing and art defy generic ones. Her work offers illuminating representations of mobility in a time of petro-culture through its engagement with automobiles, consumption, and waste society, but one might further note the constitutive role that mobility has played in the artist’s life—a life that, like the re-mobilized car in Forest One, maps an alternative geography of [End Page 448] connections that push beyond the nation as a default category for understanding our current ecological, social, and political conditions.
Click for larger view
View full resolution