Aeolian Politics, Emmanuel Gallery, Denver, Colorado. Photo credit: Ethnographic Terminalia
Aeolian Politics: Review and Reflections
Viento, bi, wind
The north wind whips through,
in the streets papers and leaves
are chased with resentment.
dogs curl into balls.
There is something in
the afternoon’s finger,
a catfish spine,
a rusty nail.
Who can tell me
why I meditate on this afternoon?
Why is it birthed in me
to knife the heart
of whoever uncovered the mouth
of the now whipping wind,
to jam corncobs in the nose
of the ghost that pants outside?
–Víctor Terán, ‘The North Wind Whips’
For six years now, Ethnographic Terminalia has brought art and anthropology together in direct conversation with one another, exploring new mediums for ethnographic encounter that extend beyond the written word to engage the senses and provide a generative space for new perspectives on what ethnography can be. Their most recent installation at Denver’s Emmanuel Gallery, held during the annual American Anthropological Association meetings this past November, was a collaboration with Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, core faculty members of CENHS and the Rice Anthropology department.
Aeolian Politics translated sixteen months of ethnographic research conducted by Howe and Boyer on the politics of wind power development in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of the Mexican state of Oaxaca into an interactive art exhibit where participants contemplated the wind as a political, physical, economic, natural, and social force giving shape and contour to the multiple worlds of the Isthmus. In the Isthmus, as Howe and Boyer write, “the dust never seems to settle” and winds can routinely reach speeds of 55mph. It has become a key location for Mexico to achieve its ambitious goal of transforming from a petrostate to a global leader in wind-fueled clean-energy, a response to Mexico’s own vulnerability to climate change and waning petroleum production.
Mural, La Ventosa, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo credit: Dominic Boyer
Howe and Boyer’s research revealed the complications and tensions that accompany wind park development and energy transition, suggesting that the “concept of ‘wind power,’ as it was emerging in Anglo-European neoliberal discourses of modernity, was concealing more than it was revealing about the turbulent forces of wind and power operating in the Isthmus.” Discourses around global climatological good and economic development collided with the concerns of the local population, rightfully suspicious of another wave of colonialism and economic imperialism from foreign investors. Matters of disrupted subsistence fishing, indigenous sovereignty, and ownership were also brought to the fore. More broadly, the story of wind development on the Isthmus told through Aeolian Politics reminded us of the climatological forces we are compelled to reconsider through the political, social, and ecological entanglements that are knotting up across the globe in the wake of a changing climate.
Aeolian Politics. 2015. Emmanuel Gallery. Denver, Co. Photography by Trudi Lynn Smith. Images courtesy Ethnographic Terminalia Collective.
The Aeolian Politics installation spoke to these issues through a variety of mediums. The Windhouse, a constructed wind sensorium invited visitors to experience the wind—as a force that is felt, heard, and seen as it affects objects in its path—while viewing images and footage of the contestations over the wind that were collected by Howe and Boyer during their research. It is in this Windhouse footage that the Zapotec words took on their own force alongside the wind, demanding too to be heard, seen, and felt. After exiting the sensorium, viewers found a layer of rich literary exposition on a multimedia platform; they watched on screen while Zapotec poet, Victor Terán, narrated the power of the wind from the Isthmus—its pain, its beauty, its force. His translated poetry was available on cards for visitors to pick up, read, and carry with them. Finally, participants made their way upstairs where they could watch others travel through the Windhouse and exit with hair slightly disheveled and clothing askew. A blank space upstairs invited participants to share their own reflections on the wind. On opening night the space filled with hand-written reflections secured ever so slightly to the wall so that even the slightest wind could cause them to flutter or fall.