Curated by Tatiana Mateus, the exhibition title alludes to the ways in which capitalism has become intertwined with a looming sense of environmental disaster in the age of the Anthropocene. Through collage, installation and sculpture, ‘Green Gra$$’ examines our cultural longing for a future that is already lost. Dionne Lee discusses the historical displacement of peoples through politicised appropriation of the land, while Sofía Córdova’s work foretells a future that has become unlivable. At the core of this interplay between future desire and past destruction is the green colour of capital, the colour of the domestic American Dream: of freshly cut lawns and crisp dollar bills.
Lee’s collaged images present the climate crisis as a complex interplay of biblical references, racism and capitalist want by alluding to narratives of selection, exclusion and death. ‘Trespass is the most beautiful word’ (2017) references original sin, recast within a framework of America’s history of land grabbing. It shows a hand reaching for a piece of land, like Eve reached for the forbidden fruit before being expelled from the Garden of Eden. ‘Gulf’ (2018) is a “photographic meditation of flooding.” In it, the inhabitants of Princeville, one of the first black communities in the US, are continuously engulfed in water. Protection against the effects of the climate crisis, it shows, is fraught with racist politics of exclusion.
‘They held dances on the graves of those who died in terror’ (2014-2017) by Córdova offers a more contemporary criticism of capitalism and its technologies. A multi-channel video installation shows flora and fauna to the sound of Mariah Carey’s ‘Fantasy’ and the Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’. The words are reworked in Spanish to describe an apocalyptic Tower of Babel-esque world where human life is under threat of a failing environment. A connection is made between our failure to communicate and a poisoned natural environment. Córdova’s three-piece work ‘Cherry Tree Observation Fee (Holiday in Fukushima)’ (2017) brings this critique further into the current moment. It is inspired by Miharu Takizakura, a thousand-year-old cherry tree that is a site of pilgrimage. It survived the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The work consists of a cut-out of the tree’s silhouette from afar; an 1836 waka poem about what priest and poet Suetaka Kamo felt in its presence; and a meteor supposedly found nearby. The representations question what reverence still means in capitalist society; how pilgrimage and tourism have been changed by monetary transactions, like entry fees; and how disaster shapes our economies.
In the end, ‘Green Gra$$’ carefully deconstructs the contemporary moment as fraught by promise. Promise for a better future, promise of better land, of easier access, of spiritual healing or of wealth. In a way, these are all promises of remembrance: of who gets to take up a place in the history of the world. By exposing these promises as fraudulent, Lee and Córdova bring awareness to how our lives have become dominated by capitalist greed; an exchange of money for lived experience, at the detriment of our environment. But as we know, the grass is always greener on the other side, and in the end, the house always wins.