I. Images For A Better World: Suzanne CHOUTEAU, Visual Artist
Suzanne Michele Chouteau is Professor of Art at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She teaches a variety of courses including printmaking, art history and a summer course in Rome. Chouteau received her BA in Art from Saint Ambrose University, Davenport, IA, and MA and MFA degrees in Printmaking from The University of Iowa in Iowa City. Her art works have been shown in numerous 2013-14 exhibits nationally and internationally including the International Print Triennial Krakow-Falun (Falun, Sweden), Los Angeles Printmaking Society’s 21st National Exhibition, The Boston Printmakers 2013 North American Print Biennial, International Print Triennial Krakow-Istanbul 2013 (Istanbul, Turkey), Artists as Activists (NKU), Art at the X: Multicultural Expressions of Faith, purchase award (XU Gallery, Cincinnati, OH), 23rd Parkside National Small Print Exhibition (Kenosha, WI), 24th National Drawing and Print Competitive Exhibition (Baltimore, Maryland), and Reigning Cats and Dogs (Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, England). Chouteau is married to Chris Bedel, Director of the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County, OH, where they live with their son, Elijah Bird.
Chouteau’s work considers the 21st Century challenges of climate change and human population growth with its attendant pitfalls of war, resource consumption, land development, and proliferation of extraction industries that put in peril a myriad of species’ survival, including our own.
In 2010, a BP oil tanker sprung a giant leak in the Gulf of Mexico that spilled 4.9 billion barrels of oil, making the accident as the worst of its kind in history. Moratoriums on offshore drilling have since been lifted and a true telling of the reverberating consequences of the spill has not and may never be fully revealed. Black Water Horizon depicts a coastline that could be anywhere in the world and thus becomes at once symbolic and cautionary of the costs of relentless consumption.
In 2004, Chouteau began a series of reduction woodcuts about human genocides; the first marked the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide (over 1 million perished) juxtaposed with the massive Chinook salmon die-off on the Klamath River in northern California during that year’s spawning season. With Genocide of the Conscience: Rwanda 1994; Klamath 2004 Chouteau connected human-to-human atrocity with human-to-environment atrocity explicitly. Since this time, she has made prints commemorating Armenia (1915), Darfur, Sudan (2008), Wounded Knee (1890) and the Indian Removal Act (1830).
In Genocide of the Conscience: Darfur, Sudan children are depicted in a Darfur refugee facility where nightly some 2000 children were brought to sleep on the floor to be guarded from potential capture. A line of fire (war) separates them from a Dinka village where they might have once lived. The village image functions as a dream of a better future. The young boy in the foreground appears to grasp for the star on his red-white and blue stripe shirt alluding to both the United States, as well as to the idea that every child should have the right to ‘wish upon a star.’
Way of Life (Genocide of the Conscience: Indian Removal Act 1830) recalls Andrew Jackson’s Act that mandated the forced relocation of Native American tribes east of the Mississippi to the west, remembered as the “Trail of Tears.” The print depicts August Chouteau, Chouteau’s grandfather’s first cousin, and Jane Bluejacket on their wedding day in Oklahoma territory. The snow that falls behind them references the fact that the US government began the westward expulsion at the onset of winter resulting in thousands of human beings dying along the way. The Indian grass that surrounds them and joins the flowers before them references the tall-grass prairies of their ancestral lands, and the resilience of survivors’ faith to carry on their life-ways despite persecution. The text of Shawnee Chief Tecumseh’s “Way of Life” borders the image like a pattern on a blanket.
Alongside the Genocide of the Conscience series have emerged prints depicting signature species that are in peril due to human acts on the planet. Chouteau’s own attachment to wilderness and prairie ecosystems has driven her choices almost subconsciously. The connections are so deeply embedded that one image has simply driven the next, so that she sees it out ahead of her awaiting the work of making it. The genocidal policies against Native Americans relates directly to that of the American Bison (a nearly extinct species who survive from an 1880s remnant population, but are no longer free-roaming) as well as to the North American Prairie (Engulfed), where the burrowing owl becomes the symbol for this endangered ecosystem. This ecosystem that included the bison embraced the Native Americans—it was a zenith period when people coexisted with the animal and plant communities. Geronimo said: “I was born where there were no enclosures.” Clearly enclosures of every type have been constructed where open spaces once thrived.
With the North American Pika and Polar Bear, climate change (warming) impacts are already occurring: in 8 out of 24 alpine regions on the North American continent the pika has been extirpated. Some scientists predict that the polar bear may disappear entirely by 2050. The act of carving their likenesses gives Chouteau a tangible act of reverence and hope. Reverence and hope on the good red path of life is at the heart of the mark-making she does as a daughter, sister, friend, lover, mother, artist, and teacher. Making every mark count in her art translates to the marks made on each other and on the planet—for Chouteau it all matters.
II. Words For A Better World: Justin MOORE, Literary Artist
Justin Patrick Moore is a writer and library clerk. He recently ended his plus ten year stint on WAIF 88.3 FM as a host of the radio show “On the Way to the Peak of Normal,” to focus more of his energies on the written word. Prominent social concerns that have recently influenced his work include “peak oil” and the decline of the U.S. as a superpower. Oil is a finite resource; and the U.S. using up its own reserves, is deep in foreign debt, fighting unjust resource wars, overreaching the country’s limits. Climate change continues also to cause disasters the government is ill equipped to respond to. Moore’s fiction and poetry address people living in the conditions of a fallen empire, doing what they can to survive, cope with climate change, clean up the Earth and perhaps even thrive; and in the process begin to build a society whose values are quite different from the ones in the current late-capitalist techno-consumerist culture.
1. Moore’s poem “After the After Party” confronts the let down America has
started to experience as reserves of fossil fuels are being depleted. It is as if
a big bash is going on, burning off countless tons of coal and oil; and instead of
stopping, an after party has been thrown on to huff down any remaining fumes,
only to sober up the next day and discover there is a real mess at hand.
After the After Party
the after party
America woke up
with a hangover
all the oil was guzzled
doing keg stands
at wells around the world
to the face of foreign frat boys.
We were raiding
tipping the scales in our favor
when free trading broke
because the spoils were in other lands
we’d blown up our own mountains
poisoned our own shores
crude treaded coats on one thousand seals
and bloody sputum in our lungs
the black coal dust on our hands
didn’t stop us from signing off those deals
the after party
we woke up shaky
because the pipes were cashed out
the last glimmer of ancient sunlight
burned in a frenetic
woundtight to our gadgets
the screens glitching out
into digital cold cloud
post traumatic vets sent home
when the last barrel sold
in desperation for more
a club soda golf swing
desecrating gulf coast
and we wonder, still wasted
all the fun has been had
who’s going to clean up after us,
after the after party?
Isn’t that a third world job?
learning, as the fuel burns out
we just might need to use our own hands
- Ma’at is the Egyptian Goddess of Truth, Justice, and Balance. She weighs the hearts of the dead against a feather on a scale. Our actions, whether for good or ill, always weigh on us. They ripple out into the world, affecting not just ourselves but those around us. In the poem “The Courtship of Ma’at” Moore thinks of justice in very personal terms, as the way that it is carried out through the chain of cause and effect, in every aspect of our lives, one casual decision possibly having drastic consequences later down the road. Moore finds this justice to also be “beyond good and evil.” The scales always seek to right each other, whether or not it is a pleasant experience in human terms. This is being seen in the world as our systems crumble from being “imbalanced” and as the environment is destroyed for temporary pleasure and/or greed to long term detriment.
The Courtship of Ma’at
Justice is the sword of an angel
prodding your heart open
and stuffing it with peacock feathers;
Justice is a vulture in the desert
who chews your flesh to expose the bone.
She is the fear you feel at the threat of death
when a change of heart
might just be a shift on the scales.
Where do you sit in the balance?
One false breath might trigger an avalanche.
Justice will blanch you in the pan
and cut you open to smell your blood
taste what you are made of.
After all, she is used to roadside pickings.
She is blind and looks straight into you
another corpse on her chopping block.
Will you step up?
Do you fear a harsh mistress?
Then master the tasks given to you
and prepare your shoulders for more.
The road gets steeper yet.
She’s not the kind of girl
who you can just hand a wish list to.
If you piss her off
she might just throw you to the crocodiles
Her throne does not exist for your whim.
The playthings of her wiles come home burned.
She doesn’t pity little grown boys playing soldier
or those who weep in the night.
She teases out the secrets you’ve kept wound tight
and exposes them in the cold days’ light.
The path to the court of Ma’at is one of dread and joy.
If you seek her home along the banks of the Nile
bring the gift of your empty hand, or prepare to be spurned
she won’t be bribed.
She’ll churn your guts inside out, settle your debts, scatter your doubts.
Walk with her as she cleans up the recent dead
staying level, decent, severing life’s threads
preparing your own bed for the last breath
when her father is weighed against your heart.
- An area where Moore sees a lot of injustice taking place is how younger people treat their elders, usually with neglect and indifference. He finds that many of us do not spend time with older relatives or listen to their stories. We are caught up in the busy-ness of contemporary life, and often give people on the internet, whom we’ve never met in real life, significantly more time than we give to our own families. Reflecting further on the issue, Moore thinks that when our own living relationships are in a mess, our relationship to our ancestors whose DNA and lifeblood still flows in us, frequently become even more neglected. Yet we can draw strength from the difficult situations and lives many of them lived so that we can breathe today. His poem “Blazes in the Bone” is his attempt to honor to the ancestors and to those drawing closer to death.
Blazes in the Bone
Some people say memories rise in the blood
to glisten in the rain when the mud’s been washed away,
the silt of years once over, once buried under stone
now burns in the marrow, now blazes in the bone.
The seasoned have learned
the elders know what’s at stake
they’ve been kept awake by distant riddles
they have heard the harper’s cry
the weird sigh of still more distant fiddles
the lung rattle as friends and lovers die.
These memories ache and will not be put away
they cannot be swallowed with hard or easy drink
they open on a pain that does not lead astray
a honed sword, they cut and cleave, bringing light into dark.
Pointing like darts into hallowed ground
where coffin wood roots grow deep
to the Tree that stands in the grove on a grave
where the Beloved Dead dream in sacred sleep.
Do not weep for me, the Willow says
for I am beyond your tears
live out your nights under Moon, under Stars
until your skin whorls from all the days of your years.
Some people say memories rise in the blood
to glisten in the rain, when the mud’s been washed away
the salt of life once over, once buried under stone
will burn once more in marrow, will blaze again in bone.
- Moore thinks that conspiracy theories often have at their basis kernels or even clusters of truth; that conspiracies within governments, organizations and even secret societies have existed and will continue to exist in the future; and that it remains important for people who are interested in justice and the creation of an egalitarian society to look at the backroom deals and connections between those in power and what they might be doing without the public’s knowledge. Moore is also afraid that conspiracy theories may lead to a lack of action on the part of people who fervently believe in them and who may be feeling that all power is in the hands of groups like the Illuminati, Freemasons, Bankers, the Vatican or others. This would leave the conspiracy theorists in a disempowered place thinking that any action they might take on behalf of themselves and society would be canceled out by a conspiracy. It would also place the blame for our world’s ills on the shoulders of a particular “them”, thus allowing the conspiracy theorists to avoid personal responsibility. Moore’s poem “How to Become a Conspiracy Theorist” takes a satirical look at someone under the throes of such paranoia.
How to Become a Conspiracy Theorist
(for Mike Metz)
First, go to the library and check out 23 books
on 23 different subjects.
Make sure a few of them are about political intrigue,
a couple about the mafia, and a few about the Roman Catholic Church.
Still others are going to be about Nikola Tesla, Wilhelm Reich
or other neglected renegades of science.
Don’t forget the tomes about undercover aliens, the Roswell cover-up,
and the secret Grail bloodline of the Knights Templar.
And it wouldn’t be an exemplar theory of conspiracy
if you didn’t have at least one pedophile priest on the lam as a Freemason.
So much for the basic list of ingredients.
If you’re really determined to become a conspiracy theorist,
(it takes balls of sweaty steel, and more than a quarter ounce bag of determination)
then you’re going to have to find a way to get yourself abducted,
have a chip implanted in your head, or better yet, your prostate.
That’s where they stick the butt plug probe after all.
You’ll know you are being gang stalked when your ass starts to jiggle and twitch.
You absolutely cannot be a conspiracy theorist
without at least one, preferably two dozen minus one,
obsessive compulsive delusions.
Something that will drive you to research declassified documents
files where all the names have been blacked out,
a need as strong as the CIA-Mobs when they drove a bullet into JFK
(it’s not a conspiracy theory unless he is mentioned at least three times).
Assassinations galore, and hostile Central (intelligence) American takeovers
covert operations where Hitler’s inglorious clones hit the street in drag,
will form the bedrock of your paranoid speculation.
These are the bread and butter of any bona fide conspiracy, make no mistake
because the government has a stake in making sure your book never sees print.
That’s why your chronicles of the time-traveling misadventures
of Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa, including the time they pulled the plug on JFK,
making sure to wipe him off their bucket list and the face of the Earth,
have to be published on an obscure blog
with images you got from the random button on 4chan.
But you can’t write using your own computer, not that you have one.
So you hang out in the tech center at the library hoping to leave no trace.
Either way you get the feeling the feds are shoulder surfing,
locking on to you, their main target and threat, for the dastardly deeds you uncovered.
They’ve got keystroke recognition, and your apartment is under 24/7 surveillance.
You’re starting to think the evil landlord is taking a cut,
reporting your every move.
It’s unfortunate but now might be the time
to dump the underage girlfriend. You are sure she is a snitch.
Besides, you didn’t like the results she got on her last pregnancy test.
Leaving the library you go to the diner with a box full of scribbled notes,
hoping you might get a chance to meet Agent X.
No dice. He doesn’t show up, so over two pots of coffee
you ask yourself what JFK would have done in such a situation.
That’s when you have the penultimate realization
that you don’t have Marilyn Monroe’s phone number anyway
and your cell phone’s been hacked.
After the first cup from the third pot
your rectum starts to twitch. As you squeeze your sphincter
you know the man across the room is tracking your every move.
It’s a GPS thing. They can make you
take a crap on yourself, anywhere, anytime. A ticking fecal time bomb.
Because you’re wired in. One push on the button
and your electrode starts to ditch whatever is in your bowels.
You squeeze again and hope they don’t push that button,
so you do surreptitiously ignore
the man in black ordering cherry pie to go.
The waitress Claire really wants you to go.
You’ve taken up a four top all through the lunch rush
and you only ate a bagel.
But if you want to be a conspiracy theorist
it’s a no-no to ever leave a decent tip.
Fuck man, don’t the corporations owe you enough?
Just focus on cutting up miscellaneous passages from your notes.
Shuffle them around in your Rastafarian hat.
For a honkey with dreadlocks it doesn’t look bad on you.
Claire must be on the “inside.” Why else would she be glaring at you like that?
Or maybe she has the hots for you and wants to take you home, get into your pants.
Reassembling the text you have found impossible connections.
And now that your spider senses are tingling
you know it won’t be long before the reptilians unveil themselves
with their decrepit hunger for fermented milk and domestic cats.
They are at the top of the Pyramid of Power.
No, your brains are not old and scrambled.
Yes, you would like another refill.
You’ve still got an hour to kill
before you can catch the bus to Joe’s to score some weed.