From March 28-31st the EPA participated in GraftersXChange in Hamilton New York. We brought our practice of breaking down pavement to allow for remediation and rewilding in the form of a durational performance and workshop. As we described in the publication for the event:
We offer “Asphalt Cut-Outs” as a small physical and sensual gesture for interacting with paved land that has suffered disturbance and accumulated toxicity. Carved out by hand with chisel and mallet, Asphalt Cut-Outs are minimalist in shape and humble in size, ranging from six to seventeen inches wide, and taking geometric or organic shapes, some referencing human or plant bodies, like the vulva or the leaf. Removing the asphalt in this way allows for the “airing out” of the compacted soil below, creating a small “(re)disturbance” that begins the process of rewilding, eventually creating a small weedy island ecosystem in a sea of asphalt.
The Cut-Out process as we practice it is laborious. It is intentionally time-consuming, precious and delicate while simultaneously loud like a jack hammer, destructive but also rhythmic, demanding and invigorating. The opener must be attentive to small, slow changes as their body vibrates against, into, and through body of the land. This invites us to attend to land that has been traumatized, to soil compressed under the asphalt. We face our own complicity in the sociocultural structures that made it possible, even preferable, to take this life-giving substrate and lock it away. The opener of the Cut-Out travels forwards and backwards in time, contemplating past and future, while anchored in the present by the crumbling of the asphalt and the breathing and expanding of the moist, perhaps toxic soil, infused with the detritus of generations colonization and industrialization. Through repetitive movement and slow progress, the process asks that we stay with the trouble, opening up to multisensorial inputs (grasping, rocking, singing, dancing to the rhythm of the pounding mallet).
What does it mean to unlock soil that is both life-giving and toxic, to take that airing out into your own body, and let it leave again? Is this a healing process? Of What? Who heals who? In the small gesture of an Asphalt Cut-Out, we seek to face entanglement with past damages, and perhaps take a small step on a path leading towards decolonizing nature and ourselves. Thus we offer Asphalt Cut-Outs as a recipe for Reciprocal Healing for a Multispecies Commons.
Thanks to Margaretha Haughwout, Colgate University, and all the amazing participants who labored with us over the weekend! We leave the rest of the process to plants, weather and time…