PAR: Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story
Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story is an experimental documentary film that explores the need for creative approaches to our current environmental crises, focusing on Mountain Top Removal (MTR). These approaches need not only to inform audiences, but they also need to open up new creative spaces from which we can imagine alternative realities or outcomes than those we currently inhabit. This film braids together three main motifs – my upbringing in the heart of a West Virginia coal mining family, the environmental and social devastation of mountaintop removal mining, and the joys of ecosexuality – to expose injustices in one of the most poverty-stricken regions of the U.S. the southern coalfields of West Virginia.
Haraway’s notions of situated knowledges will help situate the knowledge produced by this film. Joseph Beuys’ theory of social sculpture (an expanded notion of art) will be used to examine how art can shape ideologies. Dipesh Charkabarty’s concept of enchanted time will explore possible ways to create badly needed new spaces of possibility for both humans and nonhumans living in the West Virginia coalfields. Finally Lynette Hunter’s concept of situated textuality enables me to understand this film as situated textuality, which allows process-based knowing, central to situated knowledges, to be conveyed to the film’s audiences.
Situated knowledges are the knowledges produced from experience gained on the ground instead of knowledge produced from the privileged heights of the ideologically authorized realms. In originating at ground level, and having not been duly authorized by hegemonic institutions, situated knowledges are marginalized by hegemonic ideology. Situated knowledge is always partial and always incomplete. Furthermore, it is always on the move. Thinking in terms of situated knowledges erodes what Haraway calls the “God’s Eye View,” and this erosion helps begin to level the playing field while making it possible to animate a range of subject positions. It also makes more room for diversity of thought and action. My overall goal in Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story is to create a deeply situated textuality that tells the story of the place that I love.
These thinkers allow me to articulate Goodbye Gauley Mountain as a critical mode of art making. This is a story that conveys the consequences of neoliberalism in terms of the social and environmental costs that are associated with resource extraction such as coal (in the case of our film) as well as gas and oil. The coal industry is the leading industry operating in central Appalachia now as it has been for the past one hundred and fifty years.
The thinkers mentioned above help make sense of the common ground that I try to create with this film as a way to raise consciousness about MTR. This common ground is important to create sustained conversations between the multiple parties involved in mining – families, communities, workers, government officials and the mining corporations – that will inspire reflection on the part of Appalachians about the kind of lives they desire for themselves. These conversations are necessary in order to understand what the social and environmental stakes are for the residents that could lead to political action, which might eventually help bring an end to MTR. Most of the film’s participants stand on the common ground of being against MTR. They speak out about their own marginalization as well as that of the mountain ecosystems and all of the life that they contain. The film also includes two men who have worked in mining, Leroy and Roger, who take different sides of this debate. Roger articulates the need for coal as well as for employment that this industry provides. Roger and (his wife) Cindy’s discussion of their disagreements is a typical example of the complex pressures that the political and economic demands of living in a hegemonic mono-economy place on families and relationships. My sister Kitty also also supports MTR for the sake of “progress.”
This critique will examine the West Virginia coalfields as a sacrifice zone. It will also argue that art has the potential to inspire change in collaboration with other activist and intellectual practices throughout the network of social justice movements. This change is necessary in order to modify how Appalachia is perceived as well as how Appalachians perceive themselves. This may lead to the film being screened widely enough to inspire the necessary public debate that then could influence the governmental support and legislative action to stop this destructive form of mining.
Most importantly this film conveys that it is through the way that ecosexuality has a rhetoric (as well as a set of tactics) that informs the film that turns it into a medium that instigates a process of engaged knowing. This film portrays its information as a way of life, that initiates an aesthetic response in the audience that has to do with learning about collaborations that are based on shared (although not identical) processes and desires. Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story does not let the audience get off the hook at the end of the film. Rather, it invites them to get more involved. I will explore this complex process further in the dissertation.
I directed and produced Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story in to fulfill the Practice as Research portion of the PhD in performance studies at UC Davis. My partner Annie Sprinkle was my assistant director and on camera sidekick. The film is currently a fine rough cut that will be finished by late spring/early summer 2012. Structurally, the film is framed as my coming-home story – to a place I consider the most beautiful place on earth, a place that indelibly marked me as a hillbilly, a dyke, and a rabble-rouser long before I realized that I was an ecosexual. During our visit, Annie and I learn more about the practice of mountain top removal (MTR) strip mining, which is in full swing, as are its devastating effects on the mountains and their surrounding communities. Realizing that we need to do whatever we can to stop the destruction, we pick up a camera and employ our favorite weapons of mass disruption: humor, love, performance art, and activism – which turn into the central constituents/strategies/tactics in the situated textuality that we create. This is a documentary about “pollen-amorous” love and our quest to save the Appalachians and surrounding communities.
Stylistically, this film is narrated in first-person with interviews and ecosexual actions to connect to the earth: tree hugging, rock kissing and skinny-dipping, to name a few. This narration in the first person as myself, a West Virginian, maintains the process of situated knowing. I chose to narrate my story of growing up and then coming back home to lend the film a sense of authority and authenticity that can only come from first hand experience.
Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story also contains interviews with friends, family members, mining experts and anti-MTR activists who are currently living in the southern part of the state where MTR is unleashed against the mountains on a daily (and nightly) basis. Everyone has taken risks just by appearing in this film, which is bound to be controversial if and when it is shown in West Virginia. The film is unabashedly queer in its own situated (eco)sexuality, which may be used to discredit those who appear in it. West Virginians like to think of themselves as friendly all American heteronormative people. But many stereotypes of Appalachia portray it as a strange, queer place populated by incestuous primitive people. My ecosexuality could be thought of as being partially situated in this queerness of the Appalachian Mountains and partially situated in the queerness of American urban centers such as San Francisco.
In addition to the interviews I conducted, my videographer Jordan Freeman and film producer Mari-Lynn Evans generously loaned me footage of MTR explosions, MTR mine sites, a public speech by the former CEO of Massey Energy Corporation, of protests and beautiful nature shots. This footage clearly shows the violence of the destruction, the ongoing social struggles and the arrogance of the coal corporations, which are often cloaked like Don Blankenship in the red, white, and blue of patriarchal patriotism. Few of the audience members for whom I pre-screened the film in California had seen coal mining in action before. Seeing this footage often created an emotional response that engendered empathy for the mountains. Many viewers had no idea of the magnitude of devastation that MTR is responsible for in Appalachia. Roger is correct when he says that most people think electricity comes out of a switch on the wall. Although this is a simplistic assessment of people’s knowledge, most of us rarely if ever consider where our electricity comes from or of the consequences of our ever-increasing reliance on and expectation of cheap accessible electric power.
The subjects I interviewed, their lives and their relationships with the mountains are uniquely situated in the coalfields. Each interview began with the question, “What do you love about the mountains?” Obviously the conversations went beyond the question, but everyone began their interview from a place of love. This movie is as much about love for the mountains as it is against mountain top removal. This love helps maintain the film’s situatedness throughout.
The film opens with me sky gazing, and cuddling with Annie by the river, and this shot, in its humorous fairy tale essence, sets the ecosexual tone for the rest of the film. Ecosexuality inserts an ‘erotic’ humor that plays against the horrific subject matter. So far the feedback that I’ve received at film previews makes me realize that these are effective strategies for creating space to briefly cut the feeling of despair that MTR evokes. This somewhat absurd notion of an ecosexual fairy tale creates a different kind of time that runs alongside the expected documentary time of the film’s interviews. My dissertation research will be reflecting on further exploring and opening out the possibilities that ecosexuality enables. It will also trace a genealogy of ecosexuality itself.
Annie, Bob (our black Lab), and I visit my early haunts. We tour my childhood mountain community of Charlton Heights, near Gauley Mountain where my sister, Anne, playfully directs me to re-enact my conception in front of the house where I was conceived. This playfulness counters the sadness I experience in seeing this community’s demise when I go home. My family used to be well established on this mountain, but Charlton Heights has deteriorated from the once proud, vibrant, tightly knit community I remember. Now meth labs and unemployment abound. The Methodist Church, former nerve center of the community, is abandoned and for sale. Anne, who has lived there longer than anyone else, and who quietly opposes MTR, barely knows her neighbors’ names anymore. In this declining community, neighbors who support MTR surround her.
The emotion of the tragedy of the death of these coal communities is transmitted and supported by Joan Jeanrenaud’s music (from the Kronos Quartet). Her cello captures the deepness of the loss that most people feel when they see such destruction. Music is another conscious way that situatedness is maintained throughout the film. Although Jeanrenaud’s work is avant-garde, I intersperse this with classic mountain music such as the work of Haze Dickens who was from MacDowell County to acknowledge the cultural fabric. Dickens’ piece, West Virginia, My Home creates a old time transition between mining inspector Jack Spadero and my longtime friends Cindy and Roger who live in a mobile home on Pinch Ridge. David Grisman’s Newgrass (variation on bluegrass) music energizes the anti-MTR protests where even the actress Daryl Hannah is arrested for the mountains.
We attend my first gay gathering in my home state, a picnic hosted by Fairness WV as part of the Freedom to Marry Summer for Marriage tour. Lesbians and gays gather in a Charleston park for a family picnic to hear speeches, share food and talk to news reporters. Annie and I arrive and try to convert gays and lesbians to become ecosexuals. This is, of course, a play on conversion therapy that tries to convert gays and lesbians into normative heterosexuals, usually at great psychological harm. This scene is one of the most spontaneous in the film. The film was very loosely scripted and when the opportunity to shoot unexpected scenes, like the gay gathering (and the protest at the Department of Environmental Protection) arose, we mobilized quickly to shoot. I tell Tara (whom I had never met before) that “I knew that she was an ecosexual. She laughs and says that she was “born and raised in West Virginia.” I respond, “I was born and raised in West Virginia too.” Again, this positions ecosexuality as a situated sexuality, in part, in West Virginia. Following is the ecosexual collage of Annie and me kissing lichen covered cliffs, flowers in the cemetery, water in Laurel Creek and finally sunbathing naked on the rocks with my voiceover describing, “being loved by and loving nature.”
I propose to Annie in the family cemetery, with the decrepit American Power coal burning power plant directly behind, surrounded by flowers and little flags of those dead from coal-related illnesses. I ask Annie, “Will you marry a mountain with me and hopefully our love will help stop MTR?” Annie says, “YES!” We kiss the ground and come back up with dirt all over our faces.
This action kicks off a medley of people singing versions of the state song, The West Virginia Hills. We see T. Paige Dalporto with Annie, strumming his guitar as they stroll up Capitol Street in Charleston, WV, then cut to Beth with state troopers, who are about to bust up a protest at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Kanawha City. Mountain keeper Larry Gibson and his wife, Carol, join in as we sit on their porch on Kayford Mountain, and their schnauzer helps by yodeling along. Annie and Cindy, my best friend from Mink Shoals Elementary School, add an energetic yee hawww!! on Pinch Ridge and finally, we cut back to the protest at the DEP where I ask the police if they know this song. One of the underlying tensions is that the pro-MTR folks accuse anti-MTR folks of being outsiders; the fact that the cops don’t know the song doesn’t help their case. But even if they didn’t learn the West Virginia state song in third grade (as I did) at least they were able to pursue a career other than in coal.
The film takes us to people’s homes, mountain top removal sites, to activist protests, and finally to our magnificent Purple Wedding atop a lush green mountain, where queers from California, environmental activists and family members from West Virginia, Tony’s Circus animals from Brooklyn, NY and Ohio University students and professors all come together, vowing to love, honor, and cherish the Appalachian Mountains until death brings us closer together forever. Documentary footage of our wedding to the Appalachian Mountains includes interviewees Paul Corbit Brown, Sarah Vekasi, my sister Anne. Larry Gibson delivered the homily.
The film’s creative approach is to make the fight for environmental justice a little more sexy, fun, hopeful, and diverse while giving the audience a visceral experience of MTR and of what it is destroying. It invents tactics that engage the audience in an aesthetic response that is an ongoing process. Hopefully this visceral process will inspire people to think about the earth in different ways. This may generate questions such as, how can we change our relationship from Earth as mother, to Earth as lover? Can the Earth feel our love? Can romantic love for nature mobilize others – before it’s too late?
This film employs autoethnographic methodology that uses my personal experience as a lens through which to study the culture of West Virginia. More generally this method can also be applied to my Love Art Laboratory collaborative art project with Annie Sprinkle to study our relationship with the Earth. The Purple wedding performance to the Appalachian Mountains is one aspect of this relationship as is ecosexuality. There were many reasons I chose to tell this story in the first person. I wanted to counter any criticism by the coal industry and its supporters that this was another environmental propaganda film made by an outsider who didn’t know West Virginia and didn’t know about coal. The pros of this approach are that people in West Virginia are going to trust that I know where they are coming from regardless of which side of this issue they are on.
In telling my own story, it becomes clear that coal dust has always runs through my veins. My family has been involved with mining since the 1600s when they were miners in Cornwall, England. They were still miners when they arrived to work in the copper mines in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Then they moved south to work as machinists, metallurgists, inventors, and eventually started the family business, Marathon Coal Bit Company, in Smithers, West Virginia. The women in my male dominated heteronormative family supported their husbands’ endeavors while raising the children. The men were extremely patriarchal. This was typical of all the families I knew although most of the families I knew were my relatives. I was expected to grow up and marry a man who would work for the family business like my three sisters did before me. Instead, I grew up learning the names of mining machinery and machine parts that were used in multiple aspects of mining, alongside learning that rhododendrons were the state flower, the cardinal was the state bird, and the West Virginia Hills was the state song. I knew from birth that Coal was King.
Autoethnographical working methods are central to my work. I grew up in a story-telling culture. Most often these stories had larger meanings than the storyteller acknowledged during their performance, but they were always based in personal experience. Often these tales were vaguely moral or about some small act of kindness or heroism or tales about personal frugality. Absolute truth was not really the point, but the affect of the storyteller and the effect that the story had on the listener was very important. Growing up around this oral tradition served me well as an art maker. As a queer feminist beginning my career during the blossoming of identity politics in the early nineties, I believed in the feminist slogan that the “personal is political” and produced a lot of autobiographical art as part of my career as an artist.
When I first realized the damage that MTR had done in West Virginia, I was shocked, furious and deeply grief-stricken. These were the feelings that I wanted to convey when I first decided to make art about where I was born and raised. Then I realized that what is going on there is more than just a good versus evil situation. This was the (dis)embodiment of neoliberalism, the rise of the security state, built on sexism, racism, classism, and colonialism, as well as the elimination of cultural difference in the U.S.A.. This was also about privileging the welfare of corporate personhood over and above the welfare of the nations’ citizens. I started talking to my friends and family about their relationship to MTR only to find that they had wildly divergent opinions on the matter. I realized the hold that coal still has over the state. When my friend Cindy told me that this issue was ripping families apart, I knew that I wanted to make a movie, because film has a way of capturing the imagination and the hearts of an audience.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick partially describes the relationship that I have with the mountains when she talks about the image on the cover of her book Touching Feeling. I recognize this image of the artist Judith Scott embracing and almost standing within her sculptural work. As an art maker myself, I can see that this is a moment of calm completion. A moment just before letting go of this lovingly textured art work in that Scott has invested a great deal of time in making. I can see by the way that she touches, by the way she rests her head on the piece, as well as by the way the piece touches her that it brings her great solace and quiet joy.
I have felt this way about my own more process-based sculpture. Now I feel this way when I take the time to consciously hug a tree. I can feel the incredible texture of the bark, the strength and the curves of the trunk. I sense the process and time that it has taken for that being to grow. It brings me great solace and even a feeling of love to spend time engaging in a full-body tree hug. The tree itself might not like it as much as I do, but surely the empathy that I feel and the respect I accord to these entities feels better to the tree than the lumber industry’s clear cutting practices. I know that tree hugging is considered silly by many and probably self indulgent by others. I also know that it is one of the most derogatory labels that people in the coal industry can call someone (usually environmentalist) because it implies that nature is equally worthy as a human being of a hug. Tree hugging specifically, and environmentalism in general, is viewed as a threat to the human/nature binary that delegate nature as less valuable than human. This then enables human exploitation of nature as well as humans that are deemed closer to nature as in the case of women or people of color.
As Colette Guillaumin says, “All humans are natural but some are more natural than others.” (Guillaumin 219). Binary logic is the basis of how modernism has constructed and deployed its notion of progress and this notion has been fueled by racism, sexism, and classism in the process of capital accumulation that has created wealth for a few and misery for many more. This is a complex series of relationships with multiple genealogies that I will explore more thoroughly in my dissertation. For the purposes of this critique, all of these elements are at play in the coalfields of West Virginia.
Sedgwick states that there is not single way to understand the “besideness” of Scott and her sculpture. (Sedgwick 23). When I look at this picture, I see that they are in an embrace that makes two into one for an instant. Sedgwick also speaks of affect and effect of “beside”. This description captures how the people I interviewed feel about their relationships to the mountains and to the coal and other resources that they contain. It is pro-coal Roger who expresses the right to use the mountains and my sister Kitty who says that she “will support progress, as long as it is done correctly.” This begs the question, who gets to define how progress is done correctly? One person’s progress may be the death of another person or of an entire culture. Progress built upon death is the story of modernism.
Relationships are spatial, as well as emotional, economic and cultural. Sedgwick’s description of “beside” in the introduction of Touching Feeling is a powerful effort to undo the kinds of dualistic thinking that Haraway critiques in her work on situated knowledges for justifying exclusions that lead to acts of destruction based on hegemonic hierarchical systems of value.
Beside permits a spacious agnosticism about several of the linear logics that enforce dualistic thinking: noncontradiction or the law of the excluded middle, cause versus effect, subject versus object. Its interest does not, however, depend on a fantasy of metonymically egalitarian or even pacific relations, and any child knows who has shared a bed with siblings. Beside comprises a wide range of desiring, identifying, representing, repelling, paralleling, differentiating, rivaling, leaning, twisting, mimicking, withdrawing, attracting, aggressing, warping, and other relations. (Sedgwick 8)
This “beside” describes how I feel about my own relationship to the place where I grew up. These are feelings within the complex relationships between people and place, humans and nonhumans, community and individuals squeezed between corporate capitalism and some other kind of economic possibilities that I want this film to point towards, with open but not known affective possibilities.
Few people outside of Appalachia know about mountain top removal coal mining. I created this film to help undermine the ideologies that allow coal mining corporations to literally get away with murder (human and nonhuman), while simultaneously permitting the devastation of the second richest bio diverse region in the western hemisphere, without a national public outcry. This film attempts to undo some of the deeply entrenched disdain for the Appalachian Mountains, the communities and the people who live within them. Allowing MTR to continue as it is currently operating exposes the hegemonic disrespect for difference that permeates the history and ideologies of the United States. I also include the beauty and integrity of the mountains in order to garner more sympathy and love for them.
Coalfield residents, also known as “hillbillies,” do not fit the narrow confines of American middle-class conformity or American notions of progress. For these reasons and more, they are viewed as undesirables on the liberal national stage, “like other poor southern whites, Appalachians are demonized through the usual stereotypes of stupidity, backwardness, racism, sexism, and uncontrolled violence.” (Scott 37). In other words, Appalachian people are very, very bad whites. Movies such as Deliverance have immortalized these stereotypes in living color. Goodbye Gauley Mountain intends to trouble some of these stereotypes through presenting my own story of growing up there, as well as by interviewing a range of very articulate West Virginians.
SACRIFICE: The Appalachian Coalfields and Communities
Paul Corbit Brown, a friend and an award-winning photographer has documented human rights and environmental issues throughout Russia, Kenya, Laos, Rwanda and Indonesia. He is now doing the same in West Virginia. Paul eloquently explains during his interview in the film how the coal industry has created and maintains a mono-economy in West Virginia. Working in the coal industry is traditionally the most economically viable horizon that most West Virginians aspire towards as they attempt to pursue the American Dream. On conversation that could result from this film is how to keep the mountains intact while providing families with other ways to make a living. Paul goes on to openly discuss the censorship of the press that he experienced when he was arrested for covering the protest on the MTR site near Twilight, WV. This points to the complex relationships between the coal industry and the legal system that protects. Often this protection comes at the expense of citizens’ rights even as the industry itself systematically operates outside of health and safety laws that affect the lives (and deaths) of miners – as the legal and financial settlement for the Upper Big Branch mine disaster proved.
The coalfields of southern West Virginia have been understood as an internal resource colony (Lewis 15, Scott 176). Others would categorize the economic system that governs the state as a particularly brutal form of neoliberalism that seems to be practiced in regions dependent upon extraction. Coal produces close to fifty percent of the electricity in the United States. Coal from central Appalachia makes up thirty percent of the total coal produced in this country. In 2007, West Virginia mountain top removal provided thirty percent of the coal produced there. There are other coalfields across the United States however Goodbye Gauley Mountain focuses on southern West Virginia.
The environmental sacrifice of this region (as well as the destruction of communities and of the health of its residents) is embodied in mountain top removal strip mining. Most of the coal that is mined in West Virginia leaves the state. Coal mining resources is, even under the best of circumstances, a physically dangerous and environmentally destructive process. Mining regions often become environmental sacrifice zones, and Appalachia is no exception. “A sacrifice zone is a place that is written off for environmental destruction in the name of a higher purpose, such as the national interest,”(Scott 31). I could understand sacrificing a region if there were absolutely no other alternative. But in this case there are many alternatives. Mining continues because coal is relatively cheap to extract (especially with MTR) and yields huge profits for coal companies. That the coal corporations are willing to destroy this region for quick profits is the height of an imperialist attitude that has earned this industry the nickname of King Coal. Yet this is also the continuation of capitalistic business as usual. Even in the face of global warming the coal industry is constantly trying to improve its reputation, while also working to make itself indispensable.
The U.S. government has declared that coal is key to our national energy security. The coal industry sponsored, Faces of Coal website, clearly states this on its facts page: “Coal is vital to our national security. Coal is the lifeblood of our domestic energy supply. Our modern economy depends on reliable energy. Coal allows us to avoid further dependence on other nations for the energy we need to go about our daily lives.”  With increasing concerns about our energy security, the coal industry promotes the belief that coal is critical to our safety. I hope to disturb the patriotic myth that the coal is essential to maintaining homeland security. In the face of MTR, there is no such thing as homeland security for the residents of the mountains in coal mining regions.
Organizations such as Faces of Coal depict this wholesale destruction as a necessary act of patriotism for the welfare of the nation. Situating coal as patriotic enables the coal industry to accuse environmentalists of being unpatriotic or worse, terrorists who are interfering with the nation’s (energy) security. Meanwhile, these corporations are making historically high profits at the expense of the environment where MTR is causing unprecedented amounts of environmental damage. And yet, because this is a sacrifice zone, this destruction is considered merely the cost of doing business in a marginalized place that has no other value than to produce coal.
The coal industry’s ability to effectively manipulate public relations is one of the reasons that MTR remains such a well-kept secret in spite of having blown up 500 mountains; in spite have having buried 2000 miles of streams and headwaters; and in spite of having caused many cases of cancer, black lung, asthma and birth defects. Additionally, the coal industry can afford to counter any bad press by simply hiring the best advertising agencies in the world to come up with brilliant ideas like “clean coal.” Then they can flood U.S. media with images of the heroic coal miner testifying that “clean coal” is the born again fossil fuel. Vast power and wealth enables the coal industry to influence what does and does not capture the short attention span of mass culture.
One of the most important parts of this PAR critique has been to expose the issue of ‘sacrifice’ in today’s US culture and society. My dissertation will be following this topic in detail to explore work that has to be done and to try to get at some of the central assumptions behind the choice of Appalachia and MTR for US sacrifice. What is this sacrifice for?
Social sculpture is based on an analogy between the material production of invisible structures – ideology and social relations – and the material production of visible structures – sculpture. Both processes produce meaning and suggest that since meaning can be made, materially produced, it can be changed.
Additionally, the production of visible art may effect the production of invisible ideological and class relations. For Joseph Beuys, sculpture and artistic creativity hold the potential to reshape the educational and governmental institutions that produce ideological subjects, as well as social, political, and economic systems. Art, Beuys argues, is the necessary condition for the production of a revolutionary society because it can both unravel the old order and engage everyone in the production of a new social order.
Only on condition of a radical widening of definition will it be possible for art and activities related to art to provide evidence that art is now the only evolutionary-revolutionary power. Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system to build a SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART. This most modern art discipline – Social Sculpture/ Social Architecture – will only reach fruition when every living person becomes a creator, a sculptor, or architect of the social organism. (Tisdall 48).
Beuys’ desire to create social sculpture as a vehicle for change developed from his viewpoint of both western capitalism and eastern socialism failed to bring about a society where everyone has access to what they need to prosper and live well. Social sculpture provides a means of remaking these political systems to create a social form that could engage direct democracy without capitalism or dictatorship. Human creativity is the engine that could drive the process through which these new social forms would come into shape and being, therefore the importance of art.
Some version of social sculpture would be useful in a place like southern West Virginia where class is as stratified as rigidly as the different layers of rocks on the high wall of an MTR site. The high wall is the exposed face of the overburden, coal or other ore type in an open pit mine, or the uphill side of an embankment of a contour strip mine that has been excavated.  There is a scene of a working MTR strip mine with a high wall in Goodbye Gauley Mountain that bears a striking resemblance to the opening shot of James Cameron’s Avatar. I chose this rock face to display statistics about the damage MTR has caused because this unnatural surface presented itself as the perfect cultural surface for the statistics about destruction.
Social Sculpture and Situated Knowledges
Joseph Beuys’ concept of social sculpture in the 1960s, in combination with his public sculpture, created an active, open playing field, in which sculpture functioned as a force for social change. Beuys’ theories and practice of sculpture provided a new perspective on art’s relation to society, one that not only produced a shift in the point of view of the artist, the work, and the viewer, but also introduced a different mode of knowledge production.
Donna Haraway’s notion of “situated knowledge” identifies how a change in perspective affects the production of knowledges. This change in perspective is important in Goodbye Gauley Mountain. This film unfolds in a range of places all within fifty miles or less of where I was born and my family still lives.
Haraway’s analysis of the relation between point of view and mode of knowledge is distinct from, but also parallels, Beuys’ interventions in the world of art. By placing Beuys’ theory and practice of sculpture alongside Haraway’s theory of situated knowledges, this paper investigates how contemporary changes in the function and orientation of art within an radically different notion of “social” – one that includes not simply human actors, but all animals, all plants, and all material substances, such as water, soil, and air – has the potential to help transform society from one of resource depletion to one of flourishing. In this film, the mountains, the rivers, the dogs, the frolicking deer, the turtle, and Paul’s cat are all part of the definition of the social. This is part of the reason that the death and destruction of wildlife and the living ecosystems caused by MTR has such a chilling effect on the culture there – people know that they are living beings.
Beuys’ theory of social sculpture and Haraway’s ideas about situated knowledges further inform this critical analysis of Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story. The conceptualization and production of this film supplement traditional notions of “the social,” while inheriting aspects of Beuys’ sculptural theory and practice as well as Haraway’s critical theory. As social sculpture in the tradition of Beuys, this film is an attempt to re-sculpt stereotypical notions of Appalachia in order to counter the images, forms and biases that popular culture has created and used to destroy this place for decades. This film, in exploring some of the influences that shaped my own situated knowledges and the ways that I transmit this knowledge to the world, also situates me as firmly from Appalachia. Through these inheritances, particularly a radically broad notion of the “social,” the film introduces “ecosexuality,” our newest social sculpture art project.
SITUATED SEXUALITY AS TEXTUALITY Ecosexuality
Ecosexuals anthropomorphize the earth in order to suture the human/nature divide where western epistemology has severed us apart in order to prove that there is no connection. Ecosexuals believe that we are closely connected to the Earth and that we must engage in a mutual relationship with the Earth in order to survive. Sexecology (a term Annie and I coined) is the name of the field that ecosexuals inhabit. This field is where art meets theory meets practice meets activism. Sexecology is concerned with the interconnectedness of natural systems and their interdependence upon each other. What happens to one part of the system affects all of the others.
Ecosexuality employs absurdist humor and play. It may produce new forms of knowledge that hold potential to alter the future by privileging our desire for the Earth to function with as many diverse, intact and flourishing ecological systems as possible. Ecosexuals anthropomorphize the Earth. In his Compositionist Manifesto Latour states, “to enforce the gap between human subjects and nonhuman objects is the most anthropocentric of all modes of relation invented” (Latour 483). In a more pointed criticism Colette Guillaumin says, “As soon as people want to legitimize the power that they exercise, they call on nature – on the nature of this difference.” (Guillaumin 224). Both Latour and Guillaumin point out how humans use the idea of nature to justify their domination over nature.
Goodbye Gauley Mountain is likely the first environmentally focused documentary film that combines sexuality and environmental activism. This opens several possibilities for those who wish to interrogate a variety of connections and relationships between humans and nonhumans without being deterred by the accusation that anthropomorphizing and even eroticizing the earth is a destructive and misguided way of knowing/seeing nature. There are potential pitfalls with this notion of ecosexuality that are in line with Lorraine Code’s concerns with “the practice in some ecofeminist writing of identifying an essential woman” with an equally essential “Nature” [that] reconfirms the biological determinism that has long kept women “in their place.” (Code 18) There is also the danger of falling into the New Age practices that adopt a hodgepodge of theories and belief systems appropriated from nonwestern or indigenous cultures in order to create a spiritual elixir whose magical qualities somehow make these new age practitioners forget that they have appropriated something that wasn’t theirs in order to improve their own already privileged lifestyles. As Donna Haraway said in the cyborg manifesto, “I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess.” (Haraway, 1991 181) Ecosexuals are not goddesses; instead we are lusty, dirty creatures who are not afraid to get grass on our faces while making love to the Earth. Ecosexuals are related to cyborgs and we are not afraid of engaging in intercourse with nature and or with technology for that matter. We make love with the Earth through our senses.
Haraway’s work has guided my understanding of the material consequences and the theoretical underpinnings embedded in human/nonhuman relationships that matrix our world. This has helped me understand how human exceptionalism has been constructed and privileged throughout the history of religion and science as well as in other secular practices in western culture. Human exceptionalism, in collaboration with global capitalism, has created the isolated space necessary for the ongoing practices that have produced the dangerously degraded environmental conditions in which we now live. The belief systems and ideologies that allow some people to think that they have the Darwinian survival skill and the rights that accompany those skills to use or destroy other human and non humans is now causing the kind of environmental degradation that affects the whole system sooner or later. A stunning example of this is the Hawks Nest Tunnel catastrophe about which I interview my cousin Patricia Stephens Spangler in Goodbye Gauley Mountain.
Haraway’s insistence in “Situated Knowledges,” (Haraway, 1988) that we are all positioned in the middle of knowledge-making, provides a different way of thinking about art-making where the artist-scholar is in the process of making art but has no way of determining exactly where this making will go. Art-making becomes the way that knowledge-making can be communicated as a process. Although this paper analyzes Goodbye Gauley Mountain, and I have gotten (mostly) positive feedback and some less than positive feedback, I am not really going to know what this film is until it is finished and then sent out to screenings. As Lynette Hunter says, “it will either find its fit or not.”
While discussing her relationship to her dog Cayenne, Haraway says,
Once “we” have met, we can never be “the same” again. Propelled by the tasty but risky obligation of curiosity among companion species, once we know, we cannot not know. If we know well, searching with fingery eyes, we care. This is how responsibility grows (Haraway, 2008 18).
Once I had met mountain top removal, I knew that I would never be the same again. I was curious and sickened, and I knew then that I had to make work about this because this was something that really mattered. Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, is my creative effort at being responsible to the physical place where I grew up, where my parents are buried, where my siblings and my very oldest friends continue to live and create their lives.
Even as Haraway deconstructs human exceptionalism, she opens up new possibilities for human beings to act with ethical responsibility — in other words, to act well. She does this in part by critiquing the destructive uses that binaries such as nature/culture or human/animal have set up in order to set apart. Language and the ideas that it generates can be a deadly conceptual technology for segregating the world into what/who is, and is not, killable. Ecosexuality is a new way to create new language in order to critically engage the conversation and tell the stories regarding who gets to live and why. As Haraway reminds us, we are all messmates at the table and we are mutually engaged in an ongoing meal of life and death.
Dipesh Charkabarty’s Enchanted Time
Goodbye Gauley Mountain flirts with enchantment and humor from the beginning. I shot the first scene in an almost fairytale fashion, to play with viewers’ expectations of the film as an environmental documentary while inserting a different kind of time into the film. This different kind of time is not real time; it is “enchanted time.” As such it provides a connection to the slower pace that these communities and the mountains once enjoyed. This slower pace is necessary in order to rethink the way that this country and the world at large is using its ecological systems to for large-scale industrial gain which is depleting these systems at a stunning speed. Postcolonialist theorists such as Dipesh Chakrabarty explain how enchantment creates a time outside historical time. This time provides space for alternative and even impossible worlds to be imagined. This tactic hopefully allows the viewers to absorb the consequences of the loss caused by the devastation of MTR while also inspiring the viewers to join the fight against MTR in a multitude of ways. Additionally, it is my hope that this film has the power to help create new horizons of possibility for the people and the mountains of West Virginia.
Other MTR Documentaries
There have been a series of excellent documentaries about mountain top removal. These beautifully produced, highly compelling films all had much larger budgets than mine. They have also had wide distribution. The three most important films, in relation to my own, are Coal Country, The Last Mountain, and On Coal River. Coal Country (2009) was written and directed by Phyllis Geller, and produced by Mari-Lynn Evans. Mari-Lynn Evans is also a native West Virginian. Coal Country has been shown on the Discovery Channel’s Planet Green and in theaters and museums around the country. Robert Kennedy Jr. backed and starred in The Last Mountain, and On Coal River (2010), has won several awards from Silverdocs to Best Documentary of the Appalachian Film Festival. All three of these movies have beautiful professional production values; they show the majestic beauty of the mountains and the horror of their destruction.
These movies however, do not represent the mountains as the joyful place of ecosexuality or love. This is one of the striking differences between this film and the other films I have seen about mountain top removal mining. Depicting just a little of this joy in Goodbye Gauley Mountain serves as a strong contrast to the deep despair of the mountains’ destruction. Furthermore, Goodbye Gauley Mountain is the only film with a first person narrator and one who is from the area. Including my relationship with Annie and ecosexuality also makes this film the only queer film on the topic, which means it will reach an entirely new audience through the GLBTQ film festival circuit.
As powerful and beautifully made as all of these films are, they have only been partially successful in capturing people’s imagination about this ecological disaster much less at raising national awareness about MTR in Appalachia. I attribute this in part to the regional and national position of power and importance that the coal industry occupies in the US national imagination. The story of coal is a heroic and creative story of the labor and power that led to much of the industrial and technological progress attributed to the “greatness” of this country. Coal miners are honored as proud national heroes. Although “economic necessity convinces a man to spend eight hours or more in a wet, dark hole in a mountain, day after day. (Scott 12). This hints at the highly contradictory meanings of their lives.
A different kind of documentary was needed to redirect attention to this cause. This is the documentary space that Goodbye Gauley Mountain attempts to occupy. This film approaches MTR from unexpected directions in order to undo peoples’ stereotypical notions as well as lessen their feelings of powerlessness in the face of an environmental disaster. This film tells its story using the element of surprise in order to penetrate the viewers’ consciousness before they can return to comfortable assumptions that they already know how the film’s ending before they get there.
This film attempts to counter some of the deeply entrenched disdain for the Appalachian Mountains, and the communities and people who live within them. By extension, the destruction of this region exposes the distrust and disrespect for difference that compose the history and ideologies of the United States. In showing the beauty and integrity of the mountains, and the people who are fighting for them I hope to engage the empathy of my viewers.
Goodbye Gauley Mountain attempts to convey a different point of view to a different group of viewers than the audiences which straight environmental documentaries target. We are reaching out to queers, punks, artists, ecosexuals and anyone else outside of the largely heteronormative, mainly white environmental movement. However, we certainly hope mainstream environmentalists will see and appreciate the film as well. Additionally, I want to expand the boundaries of gay, lesbian, bi, and transsexual communities and politics to incorporate creative ways to stand up against environmental injustice. As I say in the film, “Gays and lesbians can live (literally) without getting married, but we won’t survive unless we have drinking water and clean air to breathe.” I hope to make my viewers to more aware of the costs of our high standard of living, which capitalist ideologies constantly encourage us to extend even more in the name of progress, especially economic progress.
Goodbye Gauley Mountain incorporates idiosyncratic, artistic, and slightly controversial ecosexual gestures into about MTR to intervene in the despair of this situation. Otherwise the scale of this destruction is too overwhelming to bear and the viewers shut down. The humor in my film is also my way of competing with society’s addiction to fast paced entertainment. Humor can hold the viewers’ attention when they do not have either the emotional space or a vested interest in hearing the stories that Appalachians have to tell about the destruction of their homes and their land.
In January 2011, I will begin raising money to hire a professional editor to finish the editing. I also will hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo and to do the film titles. A little more work has to be done on the sound and then this piece is ready to have its world premiere.
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 Thanks to Lynette Hunter for encouraging me to consider the situated textuatily of this film and for bringing my attention to the importance of rhetoric in terms of ecosexuality.