Day 2 at the CFHS Canadian Violence Link Conference

The second day of the conference fell on December 6th, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women that marks the massacre in 1989  that resulted in 14 young women being shot in an act of gender-based violence at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. Taken right from the Canadian official Status of Women Canada’s website, “they died because they were women”.I recall when I first learned about this in my undergrad studies, that it took many, many years for this violence to be recognized as an extreme act of violence verses a “mentally ill” man. I wonder how those men that left the classroom that day when he divided the class feel to this day. They complied.

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Abstract for CFP 2018 Animal Print Conference

I have been hesitant to present at a conference because of you know, imposter syndrome and questions of how much I want to humiliate myself in the name of academia. However, I have submitted and been accepted to a graduate conference at Concordia University and I think it will be ok. I am going to rage about queer subjects, colonial ontologies and invasive species! My favourite (truly). Below is my abstract. Now only to parse a 8000 word essay into 2500 word count.

ABSTRACT: Title: “Toxic Shocks to a Settler-making Project: A Queer Ecological Reading of Mount Royal Park”

This paper employs a queer ecological lens forwarded by Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson in their influential book Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire (2010) to investigate ecological stories of settler-colonial heterosexual place-making projects. I will examine two ‘toxic stories’ (Mel Chen, 2012) to the Mount Royal Park in Montreal, that involve transformations of the landscape in the form of tree removal programs. This paper handles two pillars of reproduction that impact the desired heterosexual settler-identities; the first being the ‘non-reproductive queer’ couples and the second existing on the opposite side of the continuum, the invasive species that reproduce too abundantly. Reading the mountain as a text and focusing on two queer actors that sparked these actions, I argue that what was and is at stake in these stories is the preservation of a single narrative of the mountain that depends on the reproduction of settler-national identity that vindicates heterosexual notions of reproduction.

To arrive at this claim I will trace the history of the parks creation as place-making initiative to establish the park as a site of settler-colonial heterosexual performance that is central to park-making in general. Frederick Law Olmstead was requested in the 1870’s to design the park in part because of his sociological and aesthetic assumptions that were committed to counter the urban environment and its encroaching ‘disturbances’. This leads my paper to the first ‘toxic story’ of Mayor Drapeau in the 1950’s and his relationship with ‘The Civic Action League’ (CAL) that was a loose coalition of individuals with a shared mandate to rid the city of sin. For the purposes of this paper, I examine one initiative they worked on together, which was too clean-up the mountain in reference to gay cruising and queer sex in public; what is now considered Drapaeau’s “balding of the mountain project”. The CAL removed roughly 30,000 trees in an area referred to as “the jungle” that has been since understood through the work of queer historians in Montreal as a first place for queer identity to be informed in the 1950’s. Forwarding many decades, the mountain is being subjected to another mass-tree removal project. This time, the ‘toxic story’ involves invasive species. 2014 marked the arrival of the emerald ash borer beetles into Montreal and since then they have been consuming ash trees, planted in the 1800’s, resulting in the death of some and municipal plans to pre-emptively cull ash trees. What is interesting here is that this ‘invasion’ represents an attack on what is imagined as native and natural about the mountain.
Brining both of these stories together through a queer ecological framework allows for me to investigate how larger projects of heterosexual settler-colonial nature and place-making projects unfold on the mountain. I conclude arguing these ‘toxic stories’ are rich in queer futures, futures that diverge from and unsettle settler-colonial understandings of futurity.

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 1 at the CFHS Canadian Violence Link Conference

I am writing this suspecting very few eyes will read these words so I will not shy away from excitement or the very real concerns I have. I am one of those utero babies that learned from day one about domestic violence, animal abuse and the Patriarchy. Having early exposure, and my mom telling me in my later years stories that I think about everyday, has oriented me to where I am now: an animal and womxn advocate, and more broadly an anti-violence activist. Today I eagerly attended the first Canadian national conference on the HAV-Link (human-and-violence) in Ottawa hosted by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. This conference spanning December 5th-6th 2017 brings together over 200 people from 10 sectors ranging from academics, prosecutors, police, social workers, animal welfare workers and more in a concerted effort to build connection and learn from each other. The conference is peppered with information sessions, structured small conversations, and very generous snacking times to network.

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Tortuous Art & Anti-pitbull Propaganda: “Dogs that Cannot Touch Each Other”

Floating around on internet right now, and surely making its way into people’s conversations, is the 7-minute video to be shown at the New York Guggenheim exhibit Art and China after 1989. The footage is captured from the 2003 performance piece/art (I struggle to connect those words to this, but that will come…) Dogs that Cannot Touch Each Other. Known as one of the “less radical pieces” from Sun Yuan and Peng Yu who are Chinese artists whom derive their materials and subjects from live animals, and dead human and nonhuman animals. Known as the “bad couple of China’s art” they have other piece such as Curtain Walls where they impale living sea creatures attached to a wire, I think 1500 of them, and another one called Aquatic Wall where they essentially build a wall with niches, put individual fish in the holes and watch them suffocate.
They are known for, and celebrate “animal violence” as their medium of expression
In an interview they are referred to as producing art “involving spectacular acts of violence” in order to challenge “established moral boundaries”.

 

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Dogs that Cannot Touch Each Other involves 8 American Pitbull’s and individual handlers. In the gallery setting, these 8 unnamed dogs were tethered to a cage-like structure fixed on a treadmill. Positioned in 4 pairs, with the removal of the clapboard, the pitbull’s would run towards each other, never successfully reaching another due to short leashes. Watching clips of the video shows handlers encouraging  the dogs to run faster, to run harder and to celebrate their reactivity.

Taken from the original abstract posted on the artists website:

“With treadmills, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu fundamentally changed the rules of pit bull fighting. The result was a contest of the spirit, unlike the vicious physical dog fights in the past. By invalidating the assault, the confrontation and animal instincts of the pitbull terriers in an art gallery setting, the artists allowed us to look beyond the cruel reality of pit bull fighting, and revealed an existing potential for violence and confrontation”.

This ‘performance piece’ was apart of a three-piece exhibit (including a tiger and free combat boxers) by the couple that was to “challenge socially accepted rules and norms and what happens when we change them”. Clinging to the fact that they choose American Pitbull’s as the breed to use as they “contain within them the potential for deadly attacks” and reading this along the lines of Guggenheim’s defence that this piece will be incorporated because it is a comment “about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share” is really, really troubling. Perhaps in Yuan and Yu’s other heinous works you could throw some words about critiquing globalization and whatnot, but event that would be a stretch because they take living, breathing sea creatures and put hooks in their torso’s (Curtain, 1990) or put fish in niche’s in a wall to watch them suffocate (Aquatic Wall, 1998) but I don’t think so. Repeating from above, the artists are celebrated and celebrate themselves for “involving spectacular acts of violence against living animals” in order to challenge “established moral boundaries”. Which is another head scratch moment for me. As someone very embedded in the politics of animals, it seems that sanctioned violence remains in place.

Returning to the performance and consequential documentation of it, I have to sit with the later rumination by the artists in an interview when asked about this particular piece. The interviewee asks, “During the last decade you have continue to incorporate animals into your work but without the use of violence”…. they respond “Where is the soft spot in all of this? Were the dogs being abused? The answer should be no. These dogs are naturally pugnacious”.

Pugnacious is a word that should never be cemented to a creature. It means in all its glory: inclined to quarrel, fight readily, fond of fighting, belligerent, aggressive, hostile. Deeming these animals pugnacious exempts them from conversations of cruelty? Reminds me so much of Judith Butler’s work and the like of ungrievable lives, precarious lives. Or even in a recent comment on a CBC article, Dr. Golinko is quoted as saying “he’s not sure anyone would miss pit bulls if they disappeared. Maybe for a little bit, but probably not”.  Pitbull’s are burdened by this association of disposable/precarious life already and for me, this is what the Guggenheim Museum has failed to tap into. And also, how the heck did the interviewee not see this ‘art’ as riddled with violence? Just because you are not letting the animals attack each other directly, or killing them through taking away basic-life necessities like air, Dogs that Cannot Touch Each Other, is coated in situations of violence and trauma-inducing memory making for the dogs and also leaving an indelible mark in participants minds.

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Our petitions, low-ratings of the Museum’s Facebook page and consequential bad reviews, Yelp reviews, tweets and other uses of social media to bring awareness and challenge to this exhibit are about two things. The first being that animals are not materials for artists to make use of. They are sentient, living, breathing, intentional, social and empathetic creatures. And secondly, the point I want to stress, is that pitbull’s are not pugnacious creatures. The intentions behind this piece was to remove pitbull’s from the “physical dog fights” with human accomplices, and instead in the imaginations of Yuan and Yu, put pitbull’s in a setting, particularly an art gallery an otherwise ‘neutral space’, and see what happens. So as the duo state that this was to challenge social norms, we have to ask what social norms are they seeking to challenge? Mulling over this, and trying to make sense of what I am able to read and watch, it seems that they were challenging the ‘socially accepted’ argument that pitbull’s are not inherently dangerous. Instead they say: look, pitbull’s are dangerous in dog fighting rings but they are also dangerous in neutral settings. Yet, their argument was proven in a vacuum of decontextualization and by the embellishments of treadmills, unfamiliarity, probably questionable acquisition of the animals, clapboards, cheering of the audience, forcible face-to-face positions, encouragement from handlers to run faster and harder. The dogs performed their role but only by the embellishments and discourse accompaning this act of violence (“art”).

*****Update
September 25th, 2017 at 10pm the Guggenheim Museum posted a second statement regarding three pieces in the Art and China exhibit:

Out of concern for the safety of its staff, visitors, and participating artists, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has decided against showing the art works Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003), Theater of the World (1993), and A Case Study of Transference (1994) in its upcoming exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World. Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary. As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art. Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.

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#1499
September 25, 2017″

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However, Carol J. Adams (you know…sexual politics of meat) wrote back a snapback on Guggenheim’s Facebook post, I wouldn’t dare try to paraphrase:

“And so, like the federal government in its passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, you contribute to the idea that protestors against the use of animals in art are to be feared? Why does “freedom of expression” allow for the denial of freedom to other living beings? What the Guggenheim should do now is invite animal scholars, artists who don’t and never will use live animals, and others inside the Guggenheim for a conversation with staff and the public to talk about the art of protest, the use of animals by artists, and ways for the Guggenheim not to reinforce stereotypes of animal activists. You have reduced our freedom of expression to concerns for safety and that is truly a dishonest and disingenuous end run to the issues being raised. ”

I added my two cents, encouraging the Museum to also invite pitbull-type dog advocates aa this is conversation of animals used in the art world, however, it is also a conversation about the stigmatization of pitbull type dogs. As the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum continued last night to endorse this as art, I encourage them to read the original intentions behind Yuan and Yu’s “Dogs that cannot touch each other”. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum wrote in their first statement that this ‘art’ was to comment on globalization and critique states of power. But if you spend a few minutes reading the original artist statement like I have highlighted in this post, the artists wanted to demonstrate the “existing potential for violence and confrontation” in pitbull’s. Removing them from organized pitbull fights with human accomplices, this piece was supposed to prove their pugnacious demeanour. This cannot be lost in all of this mess. As we are both challenging using animals as metaphors, as materials in torture disguised as art and the miseducation of a breed/type of dog that is already so under attack.

As a common mark in animal writing, I am sitting at my desk as Eleanor, an AmStaff, sits on the couch soaking in the unusual warmth of a late-September in Montreal. Clementine (Pit/Lab mix) is in my bedroom with Burzum. Things that crop up like this ‘art work’ contribute or really, de-stabilize and take away from our daily ability to get on with our lives in this universe. I am so happy about the pushback and successful challenges to this, but it is one of many that we have to navigate every single day and I just hope that on social media this serves as a platform to fight the stigma, but surely like a sticky-fly trap, some folks have found their evidence for believing in the ‘inherent’ nature of these dogs that happen to look a certain way.

 

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Thoughts on ‘Staying with the trouble: Making kin the Chthulucene’

I have been holding onto Staying with the trouble: Making kin the Chthulucene for a few months now, anstayingwithtroubled found the most perfect time to read it, on my way to Boston to the AAG 2017. There were a series of sessions organized around ‘Staying with the trouble’ and/or several abstracts with the phrase noted. This book is riddled with felicitous phrases and clarity in her hurricane-consuming writing, as always. A timely intervention in the endless narratives of the Anthropocene, as she says the Anthropocene is merely “a simple word” (2). If you read this text as a manifesto, she is asking many things from us, for us, to begin to enact living more promisingly in our damaged earth.

What does it mean to stay with the trouble in the Chthulucene? What is the Chthulucene? From my reading, I was able to grasp it means a“timeplace for learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying in response-ability on a damaged earth” (2). To live in the Chthulucene is to be called upon to be enact worldly relations and encounters that acknowledge inheritances whilst attending to the ruins of our earth, the damaged landscapes (in a very Anna Tsing-esque way). I appreciate this, and as Haraway notes, this avoids the “game over” cynicism and too joins hands with indigenous folks like Leanne Simpson who poignantly says indigenous people have been witnessing and attending to the processes of exterminations (I want to throw out and make irrelevant the apolitical term extinction, a later post?) (read interview here ). This moves away from the master narratives of environmental degradation and destruction as a recent phenomena, related to climate change exclusively. Colonizers have benefited time and time again from ruination and intentional-extermination, take for example the Dine, the churro sheep, the Navajo, and the colonizers as storied on page 93. So I like this term. I like what it renders at the table.

Which brings me to the most excitable points of Haraway’s text, extended from Marilyn Strathern an anthropologist who stated “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas with” to then be embellished by Haraway, “it matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions; what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories (12). This is the largest take away for me. I have been deeply moved by thinking all-things surrounding: it matters who you love, who you care, for, who you chose to bring up-up-up! Especially in the arena of citation politics, you are explicitly drawing alliances with those you hold hands with when thinking through things, or as Haraway later states, “it matters what knowledges know knowledges it matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories” (35). If anything I think this is incredibly affective and serves as a reminder for all things ‘relational’.

One thing I was less than excited about what the other dominant phrase she weaves through her science fiction/string figure narrations which is, ‘Make kin not baby’. Moreso, this particular phrase has been picked up way less than then the sexy “staying with the trouble”. Haraway conjures up this phrase of “make kin not babies” because even acknowledging the fear of feminists to “slide into scandal” for the years-and-years-and-continual accumulation of violent population control, feminists “have not been willing to seriously to address the Great Acceleration of human numbers, fearing that to do so would be to slide once again into the muck of racism, classism, nationalism, modernism and imperialism”… BUT, “fear is not good enough” (6.) Pressing next into asking: what is a decolonial feminist reproductive freedom in a dangerously troubled multispecies world?” (6). In the Camille stories, the last chapter, Haraway offers something tangible to this, in the caveat of this science-fiction universe that the “wealthiest and high-consuming human populations reduced new births the most, with the support of the communities of compost; but human births everywhere were deliberately below replacement rates “(159). I still remain unsettled, deeply, that Haraway feels comfortable enough in her celebrated academic position to bring-back this conversation. I don’t think there is a good way to have this conversation. To speak of relations, why did she not press into conversations about general consumptive habits? Or how we use spaces singularly? I really do hope more conversations come out of this; as Haraway is like every settler-colonial breathing critter speaking of population control. Our inheritances do not allow for a “space beyond” to articulate ‘decolonial feminist reproductive’ conversations. Even Haraway herself claims, ”Perhaps the fact that all of us inherent the trouble of colonialism and imperialism in densely related, mostly white, Anglophone webs makes us need eachother even more as we learn to rethink and refeel with situated earth critters and their people” (xiiii). So shh? Step away from this, and please oh please people who hold hands with Haraway in their own thinking, hold her accountable for this. I am hopeful that there will be criticisms centred on this that arrive soon. I am fully on board with “make kin” especially as someone who does not have tight connections with biological family, and have had to create my own kin circles, that are far beyond the human barrier. However, I wish Haraway chose a different route to advocting radical kin-making practices, as she does with composting collectives. Maybe something’s do not need to be ‘stirred up’?

And another concern, or unsettling. In her conversations with pigeons, she speaks of their fecundity in a problematic sense as that “feral pigeon fecundity is itself a material urban force, and also a potent signifier of the overfilling of the land with settlers and immigrants and depriving the land of endemic wetland birds and aboriginal peoples” (28). This framing presents pigeons, and other nonhuman animals as colonizers rather than as colonized subjects. It is strange to read, especially with so many scholars and activists doing decolonial work, are pushing for more radical conceptualizations and ethical stances towards nonhuman animals. But maybe this makes sense, Haraway does not really care for animal liberation!

I will say that I really enjoyed this text. It was wondrous and peppered with accessible understandings, repletion, and imaginative provocations. Haraway and many others are tending to the possible/on-going ways of living of the feral. This is an ontological existence I am falling more and more in-love with everyday. The ultimate anarchists, or the “chthonic ones”. Long quote, but beautifully radical:

“Chthonic ones are beings of the earth, both ancient and up-to-the-minute. I imagine chthonic ones as replete with tentackles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider legs and very unruly hair. Chthonic ones romp in multicritter humus.…are monsters in the best sense, they demonstrate and perform the material meaningfulness of earth processes and critters. …they demonstrate consequences. Chthonic ones are not safe; they have no truck with ideologies; they belong to no one; they writhe and luxuriate in manifold forms and manifold names in all the airs, waters, and places of earth. They make and unmake; they are made and unmade. They are who are. No wonder the world’s great monotheisms in both religious and secular guises have tried again and again to exterminate the chthonic ones. The scandals of times called the anthropocene and the capitalocene are the latest and most dangerous of these exterminating forces. Living with and dying with each other potently in the Chthulucene can be a fierce reply to the dictates of both Anthropos and Capital” (2). What a homage to our greatest teachers.

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Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Cthulucene. London: Duke University Press.

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Project: What is it like to live with a pitbull in the face of BSL?

I am really excited to include this poster on this blog. I have decided to do a research project on the affects of BSL in Montreal after having so many conversations with people, and my personal involvement with working, breathing and living for pitbull-type dogs. I feel like this is something I can contribute to the literature and awareness on pitbull-type dogs considering my current position as a graduate student.  I am really hammering in on the criminizalization of us and our dogs in this study  such as the required annual RCMP police check and reading today that the recruitment poster for the spring-summer 2017 by-law officers targeted people currently in the police academy who will be granted the authority to use both medication to sedate animals and a tranquilizer.

Feeling very grateful for all the support, encouragement and trust being put on me by all those who are interested in contributing to this research.

#endbsl
#dontbullymybreed
#saferkindercommunities
#montrealpitbulls

 

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a shady re-imagination of world(s)

I have been left uncomfortably, with a lingering pit in my stomach, after attending a panel at McGill on “Social and the Environment: Multidisciplinary Perspectives”. The panel was asked to talk about growth/ degrowth/ sustainability/ change/ activism/ society and the environment and more, so the panelists had a range of interesting points, concerns and perspectives on working in the margins of society and the environment. What united them was the commitment to thinking about building more hospitable, prosperous, caring, relational worlds because. Throughout the conversations, nonhuman animals were reduced to their commodified forms yet the united theme was more livable worlds for humans + nature. Okay, so something to go off. I asked a question near the end, that was something around the idea of: recognizing the only nonhuman animal mentioned through the course of the conversations were fish in their commodified, roles-as-edibles and if the panelists have made any gestures in their own research, their own re-imaginings how non-human animal roles would be re-made, and if they would also be invited into living more beautiful, intimate lives? The answers were pretty disappointing. The first came from an engimatic character, that reminded us: anthropocentrism is bad, we cannot “think like animals” and the impossibility of knowing if they do have intrinsic value and also something about, not just animal life but look what we do to our crops! The second response was from a seasoned activist, very brilliant women who conjured up indigenous consumption of nonhuman animals whilst being in kinship, in loving and respectful relationships with the nonhuman world. And the third reminded me of the a creative performance that I will have to crawl into the depths of google to find again, but something I want to do for my thesis!

My thoughts as I walked home:
-why can’t we re-work our value systems to be more life-promoting? instead of dismissive because “we cannot think like them”. would it really be so out-of-this world just to hold nonhuman animal life in that regard?
-why do white folks call-upon indigenous stories of relationality when addressing consuming non-human animals? I know it is radically important to centre indigenous stories and worldviews, but is this a strategy to derail or somehow give them permission to keep casting nonhuman animals in edible-roles? it can’t be that being in solidarity with the first peoples, allows you to absorb yourself and forget your social location?

Being an animal person, I asked an animal question to a panel dedicated to more livable, and breathable worlds. Why are we pressing on however, while not questioning the roles in which nonhuman animals are subjected to. Do these roles not get questioned in our re-imagined world-ings? If so, how radical are a lot of these conversations if we uncritically keep a pool of living, breathing life to a category of exploitation, oppression and consumption?

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