By: Erin Magnus, 2023 Cheteyan Scholar
Canadian artist Meghan Price constructs works that reflect pattern and process embedded in materials and geological records. Receiving her MFA in fiber arts from Concordia University in Montreal, Price transposes scientific imagery using the language of textile to render geological landscapes through a variety of materials. Through this approach, she explores alternative ways of knowing, cultivating a sense of wonder in response to her work and the natural world.
Using a craft-based medium to represent conversations typically relegated to scientific study, Price offers a different perspective for engaging with the natural world in an embodied way. Speaking on her practice, she says, “I am curious about what goes uncaptured or gets lost or omitted in the scientific collection, distillation and representation of information. I think about the physical earth and our individual, nuanced ways of experiencing and knowing it—through light, scent, touch, memory, imagination, movement etc.”
Price is one of four artists featured in Climate Awakening: Crafting a Sustainable Future, which critically examines climate issues through the lens of art. A large-scale print of her work is installed on the facade of the Contemporary Craft building as a public work. The mural is a part of a series of low relief sculptures titled New Balance that Price created using pattern, color, and process as a reflection on desire and choice in the twenty-first century.
Foregrounding a deep time perspective in her work, Price uses it as a way to undermine human self-importance and foster empathy with the earth. Deep time is a timescale highlighting macroscopic processes of sedimentation and erosion that shape geological features of the earth over billions of years. Thinking about the earth through a deep time perspective can help us understand the physicality of the earth in a new way. Price often employs the use of plastics and other materials deemed as waste in her work as a strategy for putting human time in perspective with the timescale of the earth. These materials are a pointed reference to the current geological era: the Anthropocene. Price explains, “I use waste and found plastics in my work as a marker of human time, consumption, extraction and desire. We know that these materials, and signs of its manufacturing, are embedded in the earth’s surface. I have been embedding it in my textiles as part of the strata of woven cloth and the geologic images they sometimes contain.”
The New Balance series is made out of used athletic shoes that have been sliced apart and glued together, depicting the uppermost layers of the earth’s crust. Describing the creation of the work, Price says she was facing a dilemma where her old running shoes were no longer usable as shoes, and yet she did not want to throw them away as she knew they would just end up in a landfill. Out of curiosity, she cut one shoe in half lengthwise, discovering the colorful layers of foam and fabric in the cross section. Inspired by this finding, Price began collecting used athletic shoes from others, meticulously assembling them through a laborious process to create the New Balance series. She then extended the series into large format image-based works using digital photography and image editing.
An eco-conscious assemblage of found materials, New Balance directly confronts the material reality of plastics pollution explored through the lens of industrial manufacturing and consumer choice in the Anthropocene. The use of shoes to depict stratigraphic patterns strategically signals to the connections between everyday life and the geological. The majority of athletic shoes produced will end up in a landfill, revealing of how human wellness culture is at odds with planetary wellness. When installed as a public work, the enormous scale and bright color make the work reminiscent of billboard advertising. The synthetic, candy-like color scheme is enticing, and yet the material also shows signs of wear—a nod to the allure of manufactured products that populate our daily lives and pollute the planet.
As much as New Balance is an artwork that signals to the severity of the present environmental crisis, it also offers hope in the form of imagining possible futures. The title of the work is a double entendre, both the name of a popular shoe brand and a term referencing ecological balance. The ecological imbalance of the Anthropocene is the defining crisis of an era where human activity has been the dominant influence on environmental conditions. It is the reality that all living beings must grapple with. Simultaneously, there is a desire to find new balance driven by a burning question: is there a possible future where human and earthly relationships can be generative, symbiotic, and sustainable?
In this way, Price’s work is a storytelling practice, one that prompts us to consider what came before, what is, and what will be while simultaneously figuring our own existence into the timeline. The speculation of an imagined “new balance” can serve as a guide, a glimmer of hope in the face of urgent times. This evokes the writing of cultural theorist Donna Haraway in her 2016 book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway proposes the idea of the Chthulucene as an alternative naming for a geological epoch shaped by human environmental impact that reconfigures our relationality to the earth and all who inhabit it.
Where the term “Anthropocene” centers destructive human impact on the planet, Haraway describes the Chthulucene as “a kind of timeplace for learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying in response-ability on a damaged earth,” (2). This renaming of time emphasizes thinking together in proactive pursuit of planetary recuperation, leaving room for possibilities beyond the apocalyptic futures prescribed by the Anthropocene. The notion of “staying with the trouble” is the central strategy for doing so. At the same time, to stay with the trouble does not offer a utopian promise of returning to a pre-industrial past. As both Price and Haraway point out, we are living in disturbing and dangerous times, and much irreversible damage has already been done. The “trouble” of staying with the trouble requires us to be present with this reality and its consequences.
Price’s New Balance is filled with trouble, articulating challenges unique to the contemporary moment while stirring up thoughtful responses and inspiring action. Price contrasts deep time with the immediacy of the disposable products that are abundant in our daily lives. We become aware of human environmental impact, and perhaps more importantly, develop an understanding of how humans fit into larger systems in and of the earth through visualizing our physical impact. By recognizing the ways in which we are entangled within these systems, and ultimately with one another, we open up possibilities for redefining our collective relationship with the planet.
Like Price, Haraway questions the limitations of scientific models. A biologist herself, she is intimately familiar with the pitfalls of traditional scientific inquiry as a means to obtain knowledge. Taking particular concern with the capabilities of science as a framework of thought, she asks us to consider how human exceptionalism shapes the ways in which we practice science. Through this framework of thought, information is sorted into evidence and fact that is acquired in service of human endeavors to gain expertise about the world. While this knowledge can be valuable, it falls short at cultivating an embodied understanding of our respective connectivity with others, human and nonhuman.
An idea that is repeated throughout Haraway’s writing is this guiding phrase: “It matters what thoughts think thoughts; it matters what stories tell stories,” (39). This passage articulates that the ways in which we come to know things define the ways we understand them. In the context of the climate crisis, it means we must pay attention to the ways in which we think of both ourselves and the world as it will impact how we choose to act. Recognizing where traditional methods of scientific study have distanced us from the world, we must explore ways of knowing that encourage community and connection, changing the relationship between humans and the planet.
Haraway is a proponent of interdisciplinary science-art worldings as an alternative approach to traditional scientific frameworks. She describes these as model systems which encourage a method of thought that may help us attend to the world using a different ethic of knowing, one which she calls sympoietic thinking. Where scientific thought can reduce the happenings in the world to knowable concepts, sympoietic thinking studies the connections between entities, creating a conception of the world as dynamic, complex, and responsive.
A prime example of a science-art worlding practice, Price’s work encourages sympoietic ways of knowing that highlight interconnectedness and collective participation in a system by making use of curiosity and empathy as strategies for learning about the world. Contemplating the vastness of earth’s time scale through artworks like New Balance draws us to pay attention to the liveliness of the physical earth that humans can’t comprehend through direct observation, prompting a sense of empathy for the earth. This approach is essential for proactive engagement with climate issues, as it reorients us towards a relationship of care with the earth.
Redefining our relationship with the physical earth, both as individuals and as a species, leads to generative possibilities—addressing the problems of the anthropocene and opening up real potential for a new system balance. It is not an immediate solution, perhaps not even a solution at all, developing new patterns of behavior in the thick trouble of contemporary life is a step forward that may, over time, bring us closer to a sustainable future. Together, Price and Haraway engage in a meaningful dialogue that highlights the importance of craft-based practices as strategies for making sense of the world. As a methodology for storytelling and knowledge-making, craft connects us with the world through both physical material and conceptual meaning. Combining many ways of knowing, we can come to appreciate the planet from a fuller perspective and rethink possible futures beyond the Anthropocene.
Haraway, Donna. Staying With the Trouble. Duke University Press: Durham, NC. 2016.
Meghan Price, New Balance 6, 2020
Photos: Reagan West-Whitman