Earth Etude for Elul 10

Objects as Storytellers: CoEvolving with Thomas Berry

by Cara Judea Alhadeff, Ph.D.

This video excerpt made with Jay Canode and Shahab Zagari plays with the absurdity and complexity of our consumption-obsessed, waste-oblivious society–particularly in the midst of greenwashing, environmental racism / green colonialism, and the fallacious “renewable” energies movement. Dancing in front of a diptych of West Virginian children coal miners from the 1800s with Congolese children lithium miners, I am wearing Ellza Coyle’s VHS tape-ribbon hand-knitted, moebius-looped dress–(inspired by the artist’s loom-woven cassette-tape outfits). The VHS ribbons are made from mylar that is coated with toxic metals—allowing the tape to carry a magnetic signal, allowing the tape to tell stories. Cobalt (essential for battery production for “green” products like electric vehicles) is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like lithium, cobalt’s humanitarian and environmental costs are perpetuated by wanton corruption—spurring ecological extermination, child slavery, and death. Additionally, battery waste, as well as every link in the solar and wind technology supply chain, is dumped throughout Asia, South America, and Africa.

In front of a variety of projected images, I danced those woven stories—exposing their fertile contradictions. Through music and film, this biohazardous VHS-mylar material connects us and expresses some of our most intimate storytelling (multiple stories told through pop-culture movies, cross-cultural and nature documentaries, and self-help videos recorded on VHS tapes). My presentation created a provocative more expansive story: combining these intimacies with our contemporary calamity of plastic accumulation and disposal—where there is no “away,” particularly for vulnerable, underserved communities. I explored repurposing toxic materials— temporarily keeping them out of landfill, providing momentary reprieve from the devastating impacts of electronic waste and petroleum-plastic’s death cult, while demonstrating the possibility for biosynergistic life choices that refuse these normalcies. I traversed four woven layers that investigate the tension between climate chaos and climate resiliency. Techne, the Latin root of technology means “to fabricate,” “to weave.” Dancing verbal and body-based stories, I wore these technologies—contradictory community weavings. As an attempt to help guide our transition from the Anthropocene to the Ecozoic, I conclude with Thomas Berry.

Dr. Cara Judea Alhadeff has published dozens of books and essays on interreligious eco-justice, philosophy, ethnic studies and gender. Her photographs (in collections including MoMASalzburg and San Francisco MoMA) have been defended internationally by freedom-of-speech organizations. Former professor at UC Santa Cruz, Alhadeff teaches, performs, and parents a creative-zero-waste life:

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