Fugitive Ecologies in Contemporary Art

Proposed SCAH Panel for CAA Conference 2024

Chair: Allison Young, LSU

For historian Sarah L. Lincoln, the term “fugitive ecology” describes a range of subaltern relationships to the land, soil, and planet enacted in response to conditions of alienation and dispossession. As she indicates, fugitivity not only suggests “modes of being, knowing, and acting on the run, perpetually mobile, lacking a legal or official relationship to place” but also “oppositionality to a system predicated on the ‘fixing’ of bodies.” Yet even under the duress caused by the tangible spatial violence of enslavement, apartheid, colonization, reservations, prisons or plantations, such transgressive practices of tending the earth have persisted as strategies of both resilience and care.

This panel asks how “fugitive ecologies” have been proposed or theorized by contemporary artists, particularly in the wake of climate catastrophe. It considers the many resonances of the “wake” offered by Christina Sharpe – as visible disturbance, as a view towards the past, as openness of mind, or care in mourning – which are made manifest amidst present ecological breakdown.

Responding to environmental crises of industrial, nuclear, and colonial origin, artists have served as documentarians and activists, gardeners and radical botanists, and community archivists. What possibilities for decolonizing our relationship to nature are envisioned or demonstrated in contemporary art? How have artists drawn from alternative, Indigenous and subaltern onto-epistemologies when engaging with natural materials or landscape representations? How have artists responded to the collapse of world systems in the wake of the recent pandemic - alongside calls to action on the fronts of climate change and social justice?