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WASTESCAPES

ARTIFACTS FROM A SOLO PANDEMIC PRACTICE 

[To read the Wastescapes journal: hover over the boxes, below, and click on the menu items.]

Wastescapes explores how we partner with the natural world and the spaces we create, inhabit, and neglect across her terrain. This work is a ritual and a kind of ceremonial practice, a practice in witnessing the weight of waste, mourning abandonment, communing with the wild, and healing in the wake of decay. It centers empathy and reciprocity, and invites us to be in relationship with our more-than-human world. 

 

The images that follow are the artifacts of this practice. They are photographs of wastescapes, rubble and rubbish, abandoned places, and natural landscapes, combined with film stills from movement improvisations I performed in or near each location. Layered together, these images coalesce, dissolving the notion that we are somehow disconnected from nature or the waste we accumulate and leave behind in our wake. Interspersed and paired with the images are my journal entries, quotes, stories, and rehearsal notes that I've written and collected throughout the duration of this multi-year-long process.

My body connects me to these places

My body carries these wastescapes

I hope my images connect you to these places

and carry you into these wastescapes 

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entry no. I

I was born in Texas but grew up in the hilltowns of rural Massachusetts, surrounded by mountainous landscapes, rivers, and fields. In recent years, my life circumstances have led me to more urban environments. While I am enjoying these city adventures, I often long for the countryside. When the pandemic began in 2020, and we resigned ourselves to sheltering in place, I decided to venture back into nature and spend my time communing with our more-than-human world. When it was safe, I took long walks and spent time at the beach. I danced at the water's edge and found sanctuary under the moss of the live oak trees. I allowed myself to soften, to be still, and wade in and out of the silence and the hum of the universe that framed the songs of birds and cicadas. I found partnerships in nature as I explored the land in and around the area of my home along the Mississippi River. In these expeditions, I stumbled across a myriad of abandoned places that I took to calling wastescapes. Some of them were recently neglected, but most of the sites were long forgotten. They were hauntingly familiar and reminded me of the dumpsites hidden in the woods behind my childhood home and throughout the town I grew up in. These dumpsites were full of old sofas, appliances, fencing, and outdated farming equipment. When I would inquire about why we were hiding trash in the woods, my grandfather would say, oh, that’s not a dump. It’s a garden. The birds come here to find scraps for their nests, and mice, rabbits, and other animals make dens down here in the winter. As a child, I knew there was some truth to that, but I also knew that he was teasing me and that there must be another explanation. Animals taking over the ‘trash garden’ was merely a consequence of an outdated practice of discarding items you didn’t have the means to dispose of properly. Nevertheless, these places enchanted me, and my cousins and I used to sneak into the woods to build forts among these treasured ruins. The wastescapes I encounter now remind me of the trash gardens from my childhood, but they are less enchanting. They are heavier and more mysterious. Even so, I was drawn to visit them repeatedly throughout the pandemic—they were isolated, rarely happened upon, and in this particular moment, their abandonment somehow mirrored my own.

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entry no. II

Wastescape structures conjure images of glacial erratics. Like these large rock deposits, left behind by the movement of ice across long distances, wastescape structures mark the path of human movement. They are, in a sense, human erratics. Deposits of human abandonment and remnants of neglect. Some even look like the meteorite dropstones entombed in the limestone of the sea. Like these ancient stones, most of the wastescape sites I visit are embedded in natural landscapes where they are being reclaimed by the environment. Despite their visual signs of decay, these spaces are diffuse with spirit. I sense their stories lingering in the shadows and broken glass. The memories embedded in these abandoned places are alive, swirling through the arms of ceiling fans no longer connected to electricity but powered by the breeze. These wastescapes are artifacts of our past, and they are also living archives. Like the natural phenomenons they are akin to, they stand to remind us of how our histories inevitably shape our futures.

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entry no. III

This improvisational practice was born from a desire to escape the confines of our collective quarantine, but it also emerged from a longing to continue moving in the absence of community and access to more traditional studio spaces. However, when I began moving outdoors, I quickly realized I did not miss the dance studio. The more time I spent moving outdoors, the more I realized I might never be interested in reentering a dance studio. My improvisational dance interests and practices have always been tethered to nature and science in some way, but now I craved something deeper. I was beginning to understand that I was hungry for a practice that is not just a reflection of nature but is embedded in and partners with our more-than-human world. Over time, my reverence for these wastescapes became as strong as my admiration for the terrain they inhabited. We were kindred spirits, and the bond we forged filled me with a sense of belonging. Today, the repetitive and cyclical forms of movement I engage in within these spaces feel like meditations. They are moving meditations, capable of holding space for whatever flows to the surface. They open the channels to mourning and celebration, love and fear, growth and decay. This practice revives in me the intrinsic knowledge that we are of this planet, kin to the land, the water, and all the plants and creatures that roam beside us. It dissolves the boundaries between my sense of self and other and allows me to connect to and co-create with my surroundings. My partnership with these places and the life that resides within them helps me remember that I am not separate from, but part of, nature. 

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entry no. IV

I have been exploring shared movement practices in dance, autism therapy, and various other settings for over a decade. Over and over again, I am drawn to the practices of repetition and mirroring. These practices are not new to these fields or humanity. Mimicry is an ancient practice, and mirroring is one of the many ways we are biologically tuned to connect to one another and the world around us. Repetitive forms of mirroring forge bonds and cultivate empathy. So, too, this is how I began my partnership with the more-than-human world and the wastescapes I found littered across her terrain. Mirroring begins with listening and witnessing. To come into mirroring, we must first observe those we seek to join. Sometimes, this means sitting in stillness and silence, noticing the subtler ways we are already connected and in sync. It allows us to tune into the movement and conversation we are already engaged in. Furthermore, mirroring in this context is not just about embodying observed physical or visual patterns but experimenting with what it might feel like to bathe in the sounds and smells of the environment. To embody a multitude of sensorial textures from sun to sand, snow, wind, and rain. Whether I’m engaging in micro vibrational movements or dancing through the expanse of the space depends on the energetic feedback loop I experience as I partner with that particular place. Connecting with nature and with wastescape sites means awakening to the sentience of all things—remembering that trees are not only alive, but capable of communication and that the same is true for the wooden rafters of an old barn. They hold histories, and their memories are stored within the body of their beams. We are all not-so-distant relatives. We are alive and storied, and when we pass, our bodies—human or otherwise—will carry our memories, and our spirits will keep our souls alive by whispering to those who encounter our ghosts in the places and materials we've left behind. 

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entry no. V

I do not always walk away from this practice feeling fulfilled. In fact, sometimes I feel like I’m just accumulating a pile of unanswerable questions. The biggest one being, what am I doing here…? 

 

Is this still just a pandemic pastime? 

 

What effect can this practice have if done alone without an audience? 

 

What difference can I make if my presence, my being here, doesn’t actually change the situation? 

 

Should I be doing something more actionable? If so, what would that look like?

 

Is sharing my experience enough?

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entry no. VI

I converse with these spaces by repeating cadences of dance and movement, but this is not the only way in. All you have to do is show up. Wastescape spaces are like portals. The cracks in their walls spread like fractals, ushering us through the door of their veins. Like time machines, they carry us to the places of our past. Their structures and the objects they hold speak to us about time and remind us of the temporal nature of our existence. No matter their shape or strength, they are impermanent. Like the transformative rock cycles of this earth, they teach us that nothing is truly set in stone. Their memories are melting with the snow and slipping below the surface. One day, they will no longer be visible to us. I wonder if the badgers and voles stop to gaze upon sunken wastescapes? I have returned to these sites several times within the last few years, and even in this short period of time, things have changed and shifted. They are in the process of decomposing, a cycle that, one day, we too will begin to engage in. We all return to the earth. In spite of ourselves and the illusion of invincibility, our bodies are as malleable as the strongest rocks. We will crumble and fold, eventually succumbing to the soil that has long supported us. And when we do, we too will take our stories with us. 

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entry no. VII

When I was little, I felt like a real-life Alice in Wonderland as I walked through my family's abandoned barns and trash gardens. I spent hours imagining what the objects and plants would have to say and where they might lead me next. In a way, that’s exactly what I’m doing now. Conjuring my long-lost imagination. Remembering. Witnessing.

 

In this moment, I recall that all things have the power to bear witness. So, after months of wondering, what am I doing here? I decided I was here to witness and to be witnessed by these places in return. Witnessing alone is enough. Witnessing alone is an act of transformation. I have to remind myself that these places are potent with memory and that I am never truly alone. I dance with the overgrowth and the ghosts. I am here to remember and to be remembered by these places. Remembering, like witnessing, is a catalyst for change. So I keep coming back to remember and to witness. 

 

Now, as a viewer and as a reader, you too are a witness. 

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entry no. VIII

The alarm bells have been sounding on climate change since before I was born. But I can't help but think about my practice in relationship to this crisis as I traipse through these abandoned spaces and the remnants and waste that fill them. I have always been passionate about the environment but hadn’t thought about it this deeply until I began encountering these wastescape sites. Until now, I have lived a life seemingly unaffected by the severity of the situation we collectively face. But I’m attuned to the reality of this crisis differently now. I can no longer live a life that doesn’t center reciprocal relations with our planet. 

 

As people, we have been slowly slipping away from nature and one another for lifetimes. Our sense of community and togetherness has been dwindling for generations. We were experiencing the pains of separatism and social isolation long before the pandemic drove us to shelter in place. But as I wander through the woods and the waste, I’m beginning to sense that healing this separatism could begin here, in this practice, and in all practices that center reciprocity with our planet. We are stewards of the earth, and healing requires recognizing that it is our sacred responsibility to tend to her health. 

 

Facing our personal and collective waste is not appealing, and for the most part, we don’t have to. Many of us are not confronted by the mounting landscapes of our waste because most of them are made to be unseen or are located in places that we are privileged enough not to encounter. Whether we tend to these spaces or not, we are responsible for them and how they impact the well-being of our earth. We take the earth’s resources and her capacities for regeneration for granted. Most of the time, we treat her like a possession instead of a partner—an attitude and behavior that may be our demise.

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entry no. IX

It is no secret that we are living through an era filled with profound loss, and these wastescapes are evidence of abandonment and neglect and a planet in crisis. I often feel overwhelmed in the face of the Anthropocene. I am beset by the apocalyptic narratives that fill my news feeds—they are immobilizing, and the thought of a future beyond repair leaves me saddened and stranded inside myself. When this happens, I return to the practice of reciprocal improvisation. Entering and engaging with these spaces opens a channel to the unfamiliar and allows me to investigate what it means to be a mover and an interdisciplinary artist reckoning with our ever-changing ecological systems. Standing in the presence of so much decay is heartbreaking and humbling, but the resiliency of nature within these structures is also unparalleled. Vines, trees, and flowers bloom among the rot, carving pathways where life can begin again. This new growth is yet another reminder that while we are still standing, we have the power to keep going and to alter the current trajectory. We have the capacity to create and dismantle with care. Harnessing that knowledge is the task at hand. 

 

Our waste practices are entangled with our continued survival, and maintaining a healthy partnership with our planet demands that we do more than simply revel in the beauty of her landscapes. No matter the scale, the abandonment of waste is the abandonment of our more-than-human world. Now, more than ever, we need to restore and rebuild our relationship with the planet.

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entry no. X

The first time I returned to the wastescape sites of my childhood, I was overcome with nostalgia. My memories of my time in these places rekindle the fairytale-esque magic and mystery that first drew me to these sites. Now, each time I return to these ruins, I am reunited with my inner child and the uninhibited imagination and curiosity with which she navigates the world. As I continue to lament the death and decay that lingers in these spaces, she reminds me not to overlook their wonder or the possibility they hold. They may be abandoned, but they are not invisible. Their structures are achingly beautiful, and even in their melancholy, they are majestic. They float gracefully in the space between acceptance and perseverance. They are non-judgemental but unapologetic, and they do not shy away from uncomfortable truths. They are a reflection of ourselves, of what we have been and who we will be. Standing in their company is like looking into a mirror. Their presence allows us to contend with the kinds of spaces we are creating, to reflect on what we will leave behind, and whether we are contributing to the health or to the destruction of a planet without whom we cannot survive. They cast light on challenging realities, but they also open us to change. They illuminate the cyclical, transformative nature of life and invite us into the process. Stepping into these spaces is like surrendering to the unknown. It requires deep trust and faith in the notion that confusion gives birth to clarity. Roots have the power to form in chaos, and all new beginnings take shape in the unseen. 

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entry no. XI
At first, I happened upon these sites by accident, but after a while, I started to seek them out. Eventually, this became part of the practice. Researching sites, planning where to go, and traveling to these places became part of the dance and the ritual. Combing through the images and footage from my sessions and creating these layered images became yet another extension of my practice. Making them was like composing a series of duets. It allowed me to keep improvising and to maintain a dialogue with these wastescape places. As I layered the images together, I imagined what it would feel like to be swallowed by the overgrowth or swept up in the kelp and carried out to sea. The furniture wasting away in these woods is still warm with memory. And just those of my ancestors, mine too. Some of these things used to belong, in part, to me. They used to be in my childhood home. So, I imagine myself dissolving into the ruble. Sinking into the chairs that once lined my mother's living room. In these surreal moments, I could feel myself being changed by these places, and I could sense that they would continue to change me in ways that were still yet to be seen.

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entry no. XII

I have struggled with my desire to make meaning of this process in a way I haven't with the past projects. I'm still exploring what that's about for me. So, while offering something to the world I don't fully understand feels uncomfortable, I'm willing to take that risk. Fear aside, this is what I can offer right now at this moment…

 

This work is both deeply personal and inherently political. Sometimes, creating these images and pairing them with my journal entries doesn't feel like enough, but it almost always feels necessary. Being in the company of wastescapes, constructing these images, and arranging the text pulls me out of the dreaded spiral of needing to pinpoint exactly why I’m doing this. I am doing it for all of the reasons I’ve laid bare and for those yet to make themselves known. Ultimately, It’s about the inquiry and the search. And if nothing else, it pulls me away from apocalyptic narratives that accompany the climate crisis. I don’t want to perpetuate the fearful narratives that stifle movement. I want to be part of movements that act with strength and hope in spite of these sobering realities. This collection is my way of doing precisely that. It's a personal and public history. It’s about witnessing and remembering. It's a protest and a love affair. It's a labor in letting go and of remediation. It's a story about magic, rot, and rebirth. It’s also my way of asking you to join me and the countless others who are endeavoring to challenge the antiquated waste patterns and destructive narratives that led to the unraveling of our ecosystems. To create new practices and stories that will take root in their place. To hold space for lament while healing the deep fractures of our social and ecological wounds. To seed change and implement new beginnings. 


We must think deeply about the lifespan of the objects we collect and bring into our lives and consider not only what we throw away but how we dispose of it. Ultimately, we must be willing to embrace change, shift, and move into reciprocal relations with the land and spaces we inhabit. And we need to do it by moving toward and with love. Love for our more-than-human world and the life we sustain because of what she provides. As we take steps in this direction and continue to rethink how we engage with the natural world, we must remember that what we think shapes what we do, and in turn, what we do shapes what we become. And so, it follows, what we become is up to us.

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entry no. XIII​

Even when my outings became less frequent, these wastescape sites stayed with me. They traveled home with me, and I could feel them like a residue on the surface of my skin. I couldn’t wash their memories away; they stayed with me, and I collected them in my mind. I believe we influence the places we inhabit the same way they impact us. Over time, I began to imagine that the same was true for these places. That they were holding me in their memory and becoming containers for the pieces of me I left behind. So, without knowing why, I continued holding a space for them inside me. 

 

But then something curious began to happen. I was embarking on a few other projects unrelated to my wastescapes practice until these sites began making cameos in these other works. They appear in Old Post Road and Full Moon Persephone, and eventually, they became the catalyst for a photographic film called Human Erratics. While each of these projects has their own unique motivation, they are intertwined, and each one of them is tethered to my wastescapes practice. But it wasn't until we were in the midst of filming Human Erratics that I finally understood the depth of my connection to these wastescapes. In one of my earlier reflections on my practice, I wrote that I was drawn to visit them repeatedly throughout the pandemic—they were isolated, rarely happened upon, and in this particular moment, their abandonment somehow mirrored my own. I thought a lot about what I meant by that. It came out in my writing, so I knew it was meaningful, but I couldn't pinpoint precisely why in that moment. I wondered if it was a reflection of my pandemic state of mind, an unconscious memory, or a mysterious window to my past. Perhaps it was all of those things for a time. But my search for the answer is finally over, and what makes my query ring true is ever-present and still stirring inside me. I am battling a chronic illness, one that happens to be widely ignored, highly politicized, and linked to climate change. I have a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease. I know now why I am so deeply connected to these places. Standing face to face with these wilting structures is like looking in the mirror. These wastescape sites are a reflection of my internal state of being. I am drawn to these places because we share a similar kind of suffering. I know what wasting away feels like. I may not appear to be collapsing, but I am crumbling from the inside out. Like these wastescapes, I am a shell of my former self.

 

In dance, we often talk about the body as a landscape and the natural landscape as a body. They are interchangeable and one and the same. Now, at the height of my illness, I think about my body as a landscape of grief. My joints ache with arthritis, and my bones and muscles are weak. I am fatigued and anemic. I am erratic and confused. I spasm, and I fall. I struggle to breathe, and sometimes my mind plays tricks on me.

 

My body is a wastescape.

 

Today, when I revisit these places, I sense myself in them. And I wonder if I’m among the ghosts that inhabit these spaces. Perhaps I’ve been haunting myself, and maybe we all haunt ourselves from time to time.

 

But like these wastescape sites, I am also not without hope. I am resilient, and despite how much my body has changed, I am still standing. These places may echo my personal grief, but in doing so, they help me connect with and embody pain in a transformative way. They remind me that what echos grief also echos love. If there is death in these places, there is also life. If there is death in my body, there is also life. Death gives way to life. So, while I may have come to these places in mourning, I leave in celebration. It sounds cliche, but I’m okay with that. My life and my art making are one and the same, the simple expression of what it means to be human, to be alive, to be dying, and to be searching. To be in the pursuit of healing. To move toward mending as a way of making sense.

The photographs and film stills were taken by Marie and Nicholas Haas. The layered images were created and edited by Marie Haas.

 

Site locations include Nipmuc and Pocumtuc lands (Worthington, Massachusetts), Chitimacha and Choctaw lands (New Orleans, Louisiana), Houma lands (Belle Chasse, Louisiana), and Me-Wuk lands (Coastal Sonoma, California). 

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