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LMRD 800 - Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
Tuesday, Oct 6, 2020 ~ Toxic Vacation



in the light-drenched moisture
in the first colors of creation
we found the destruction, the creation
transformed into the all

~~~

Y'all we've reached a milestone -- this is the 800th issue of the Lower Mississippi River Dispatch! There are actually more. I started this newsletter as a simple email not spell-checked, in a series of grammar-free, stream-of-conscious kind of writing that I sent out to friends and family in my address book, devoid of caps, commas, or textbook construction. First issue was back in 1998, and it has steadily grown since then. Today we number 5389 subscribers. We never share addresses with anyone; we have no agenda, no slant, we have nothing to sell except the universal power and beauty of the river herself. We still don't use spell check, and remain a little loose on the grammar and punctuation side of things (my apologies to any grammar nerds!)

As you know, at the Quapaw Canoe Company, we are all about sharing. We do this most effectively on the river, through our guides, and with our hand-crafted voyageur-style canoes, on the wild river islands, with thousands of clients every year, young and old, from far and near. But not everyone can get to the river every week of the year for a splashing dose of her refreshment. So, here in the Lower Mississippi River Dispatch we use other mediums: whether it is photos, artwork, poetry, essays, or news stories, it's all about our Big Momma of rivers, the Muddy Mississippi! She is our Queen Bee. We are her worker worker bees. She is our leader. Wherever she goes, we follow. She shows the way, and we paddle our canoes.

She is our inspritation, she is our joy. She is a harsh task-maker on days, but always rewarding in the end. She is full of deep spirit and effervescent inspirations -- which take the form of boils, eddies, whirpools, and infinitely long sweeps of smooth laminar flow broken only by the gentle upwellings of shiny, liquid mirror surfaces that reverberate with the rhythms and melodies of the universe, calm, quiet and yet purposeful, and full of great deep spirtual presence and meaning, the deepest of deeps; we know more about the dark side of the moon than we do about her muddy depths!

Note: We'll be celebrating the 800th issue in a couple of weeks, with a special recap issue of the long journey to here, with special guests, and visions of our dreams for the post-pandemic future.




Toxic Vacation



I guess it is fitting, that LMRD #800 depicts a recent expedition, a night time paddle adventure through Chem Corridor (Baton Rouge to New Orleans) the section of river sometimes referred to as Cancer Alley, in an expedition that one of our crew aptly coined the "Toxic Vacation!"



Our vessel was the legendary Cricket Canoe, 24' six-seater cypress strip voyageur style, veteran of the Great Flood of 2011, and no stranger to Chem Corridor. With author Boyce Upholt as first mate, we guided a couple of Tulane professors, the photography artists AnnieLaurie Erickson and Sean Bader, who led us on a series of after-dark paddles to capture the night time scenery of the petrochemical refineries glowing and reflecting on and over the waters of our beloved Mother Mississippi.


AnnieLaurie Erickson: Slow Light

AnnieLaurie has developed a striking technique she calls "Slow Light," that is something akin the image you see in your closed eye after you look at a billowing fire, or the sun, or some other brilliant object. She describes it as "the physiological phenomenon that results in an image continuing to appear in the eyes after looking at the sun or at bright objects in the dark." I have long noticed this effect as a watercolor sketch artist, sitting on the banks for the river (I had to stop looking at the sun decades ago because of degredation to my eyesight). Go to end of this dispatch to read more about AnnieLaurie's Slow Light, as well as her keen attention to the communities and environment of Southern Louisiana.

On this expedition, AnnieLaurie carried her next generation within her belly, and a remarkable vision in her imagination, flowing through her sparkling eyes and flowing artistic sensability.




While AnnieLaurie and Sean followed their muse, and Boyce his, I followed mine over the landscape, and up and down the river banks, behind the islands, through the willow woods, and in between the tangle of vines and the refineries, as always looking for the beauty amongst the trash, in the chaos, in the wreckage of humanity. As a boy my mother call me "Weedy" for this character trait, always in the weeds. I might have been bred in the dankest of ditches, but my eyes have always been on heaven. And as I have noticed before while paddling through Chem Corridor, one does not to look far to find the creator blooming in the cracks of the industrial world. I am amazed at the continuity of patterns, textures, shapes, colors.

Special thanks to expedition support from LEAN director, Marylee Orr, Michael Orr, Paul Orr Sr., and Les Ann Kirkland.

In the Baton Rouge Harbor, we found it side-by-side:




The One


The Other


The One


The Other


The One


The Other


The One


The Other

Around the great "double cypress knee bend" (Rivergator) near Plaquemine we found it:




The One


The Other


The One


The Other


The One


The Other

In the sweeping industrial wildlands around the Bonnet Carre Spillway we found it:




The One


The Other



The One


The Other


The One


The Other

Slow Light: Afterimaging in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley

by AnnieLaurie Erickson




Project Background


Recent international calls to action in regard to climate change pose critical questions for Louisiana, which is historically the nation’s second-highest fossil fuel producer. The 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, known as “Cancer Alley,” is one of the most highly polluted areas in the country, yet government officials continue to grant permits for new construction and expansion of industrial plants in this area. This despite the undeniable fact that these operations make our region ecologically unsustainable. In a state that is dominated by the economic and political forces of the fossil fuel industry, what can artists do to help transition to a more sustainable culture and economy that redresses Louisiana’s long legacy of environmental harm?

The advancement of art as a catalyst for social change is at the core of my work as both an artist and an educator. Slow Light, the current title of my ongoing project, utilizes a unique method of conceptual aestheticization as a strategy for engagement. Through self-directed and collaborative endeavors in optics, physiology, and material studies, I have been able to photographically simulate an afterimage—the physiological phenomenon that results in an image continuing to appear in the eyes after looking at the sun or at bright objects in the dark. This replication occurs through the development of custom-built cameras and artificial retinas that register the remains of light.

The initial research for this process began over a decade ago and involved mapping my own retina and incorporating that information into the production of an artificial retinal membrane. Utilizing a custom-built camera, I capture an image onto this membrane, which is made of light-sensitive strontium aluminate. Because these photoluminescent particles decay over time, they immediately begin to shift in color. In order to capture the degraded image before it dissipates, I expose the retinal membrane onto a sheet of large-format color film while allowing for movement and variation of time during this development to produce a variety of visual results (for past examples, see: http://annielauriee.com/2015/11/slow-light-2012-present/).

Afterimages have a transgressive quality that appeals to me as an artist. They appear most strikingly when we use our eyes in ways that we shouldn’t—by staring at something too bright or holding our gaze for too long. When I moved to Louisiana, I was struck by the appearance of oil refineries at night; they looked like strange forbidden cities starting fires in the sky. I began to photograph the refineries, but I was quickly stopped by local police and told that I was not allowed to photograph these structures according to post-9/11 regulations. This experience heightened my interest in these sites as photographic subjects. Keeping a low profile, I began to document refineries up and down the Mississippi River with my afterimaging cameras. I set out to render the man-made landscape of the fossil fuel industry as ghostly and vanishing, an unearthly forbidden city that should be perceived as a relic of our destructive past.

I have recently started to combine upward of 10 pieces of large-format film into one long panoramic afterimage. This expanded process allows me to give a better sense of the dominance these refineries have on the landscape and environment in this region and to present a more inclusive view of the horizon line of a massive petrochemical refinery (see panorama example below). I was able to test this new process on one of the refineries where the shoreline on the other side of the river is publicly accessible, but this is not possible with many of these sites. I have come to the conclusion that the ideal formal and conceptual strategy for my shooting is from the perspective of the river itself and that the next step in the progression of this work is to undertake a river expedition on the Lower Mississippi.
?
Community and Educational Outreach

In April 2018 I participated in the first Fossil Free Fest (FFF), a weeklong program of art, music, films, speakers, and panel discussions addressing corporate accountability for the devastation wrought by fossil fuel extraction and how we can work toward a fossil-free future. This event initiated a dynamic experience among artists, activists, tribal leaders, scientists, educators, administrators, students, and the general public. As a professor, I realized that FFF could serve as a concrete way to connect academic undertakings at Tulane with the larger public sphere. In conjunction with FFF, I began developing new curricula exploring art making as a tool for change. My current service learning course, “Art and Activism: Rights of Nature,” is a result of this research. This class has been working with Antenna (a nonprofit organization that serves as a cultural engine in New Orleans) to execute the next iteration of FFF, addressing thematic inquiries such as the Green New Deal, the Rights of Nature movement, and reparations/restoration. Specific assignments combine research, aesthetics, and activism, and include the creation of both student and professional exhibitions at Antenna’s galleries, as well as designing activist billboards to go up in targeted areas of New Orleans.

The research, process, and resulting new material from Slow Light will be used as an educational opportunity for Tulane students at both the undergraduate and graduate level. There has been an incredible amount of student interest in my aforementioned course, and I intend to offer new iterations of it as I continue my research and project development. I am hopeful that this project and its parallel teaching and research endeavors will empower students to explore what human and ecological change might look like, and how we can work toward an environmentally sustainable future as a civically engaged academic community.



~~~

Our Partners in this stretch of River:




~ This portion of the expedition is made possible thanks to a partnership with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network ~

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

is brought to you courtesy of:

Qupaw Canoe Company

~~~

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