Panel 5: Arid Futures?

3:15pm, Saturday, October 15, 2016

Respondent: D. Graham Burnett, Professor of History, Princeton University

Sayd Randle, “On Aqueducts and Anxiety: Reading L.A.’s Future Through Infrastructure Stories” (Environmental Anthropology, Yale University)

In recent years, images of derelict water infrastructure have become common tropes in cultural production dramatizing the future of the American West. Drawing on participant observation among the producers of these works and selected readings of their texts, this paper unravels the affective and symbolic dimensions of such confrontations with the arid West’s abject aqueducts. Situating the production of narratives centered on these future-ruins within the growing Anthropocene literature, I also examine the politics of these fables of high modernist engineering’s coming failures.

Jennifer Garcia Peacock, “Picturing the Rural Chicanx Watershed: Pilgrimages, Ditches, Canals, and Roadside Shrines, 1965-1970” (American Culture, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor)

In this paper, I examine the role environmental knowledge played in shaping the success of the Grape Strike, 1965-1970. Through a close reading of the March to Sacramento in 1966, I show how the campaign rested on the small, but highly specialized, labor force required to bring fresh grapes to consumers during a ten month commercial growing season. The National Farm Worker Association (NFWA) astutely mobilized visual material such as documentary photography, pilgrimage, farm worker theatre, Spanish and English language newsletters and political drawings, and musical performances, to gain momentum locally and globally. By mobilizing these visual images effectively, organizers realized a long sought dream to secure their first union contract with the grape industry. They would use the political momentum from the March to Sacramento to grow into the political forces that would soon become the United Farm Workers and the Chicano Movement. Drawing on sites and objects in the rural watershed, particularly ditches and irrigation canals, my research shows how this foundational moment in Chicanx organizing was often located along these paths in the form of pilgrimages, strikes and picket lines, and roadside shrines. 

Vanessa Nicholas, “Wet and Wild: The Ecopolitics of Water in David Hockney’s Pool Paintings” (Art History and Visual Culture, York University)

British artist David Hockney’s paintings of backyard pool scenes in Los Angeles have been widely discussed as representations of gay subculture and subversions of middle-class respectability in America. This paper attempts an alternative interpretation of these paintings by contextualizing them within the environmental history of water in southern California and the surrounding desert regions. Uncovered is the compound of colonial and ecological desire that determined Anglo-American settlement.