Susan Smith

If we are to solve the most urgent problems of our time, it takes all hands on deck. Participating in this course has enabled me to deepen my understanding of the crisis but also see potential ways for mitigation. I am committed to witnessing firsthand the result of extractivist processes, where the natural world is seen as a mere resource. My work focuses on issues of land and power and the attempt to create a sustainable practice in a contaminated world.

Tactical Foraging Vest

recycled painting, drop cloths

This vest is designed to support local foraging for edibles and art-ables, plants, pigments and soil-to-soil practices for food and wearables. Calling this “the radical act of staying put.”

This is installed behind my studio in Maine, and worn to forage local edibles and dye plants. I have made a few of these now, encouraging a connection with what lies outside our doors.

When I read the lesson last week, the conclusion stood out “Local economic development benefits everyone—except maybe big multinational corporations. A more local and, therefore, more resilient economy is one in which people feel they have more of a stake in production and distribution as well as consumption; one in which they have more knowledge of where their goods come from and what happens to them at the end of their lifecycle.”

Soil-to-soil sustainability, as well as food sovereignty, are what this piece is really about. I installed it behind the studio, which is also where I work at the University. In just a couple of weeks, this area will be covered with edible fiddlehead ferns. Locals forage these and sell them in the local markets. The pieces are made of recycled painting and drop cloths.
  • Susan Smith

Oostanaula River, Calhoun, Georgia

Cyanotype with river water
December 2022

Part of a series created as I travel the country researching sites identified as having significant levels of industrial soil and water contamination from PFAS.

This location is downstream from the world’s center for flooring and carpet manufacturing. The PFAS levels and effects are some of highest in nation. I bear witness, collect these soils and waters, and create art I consider “evidence.”

I connect this work to the course’s emphasis on the effects of flow of capital and creation of insatiable consumer appetite.
  • Susan Smith

Working with, instead of on top of

First, Earth castings of plants considered invasive are created on sites with known soil and water contaminants, using that soil and water. Second and third images use textiles rescued from landfill to host prints from the most polluted spot in my home state.

“Resilience building usually tries to maintain the basic function and structure of a given system in the face of disruption. But transformational efforts are purposefully disruptive to the system…”

Collaborating with the more/than-human has been the focus of my practice this fall, working with the fellow botanical, soils and water inhabitants.

Offering this to whatsnextforearth as a hope for reimagining our relationship and a deterritorialization of place. A working with, instead of on top of. Transforming by disrupting the mode of economics that sees everything as resource. Art can be more than just window dressing for science- it can point to solutions.

Part of building resistance is having courage- and for me, that means showing up, witnessing places near and far, and forgotten communities.
  • Susan Smith

Participatory Weaving

Participatory weaving of locally sourced fiber imbued with soil, water, and plant color, gathered from local sites with known PFAS contamination.

An offering for the exhibition What's Next for Earth: Community Resilience. An attempt to create community-based sustainable practices while acknowledging the land and calls for stewardship.
  • Susan Smith

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