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 Research

 

Siobhan Angus is an interdisciplinary scholar whose work bridges art history, media studies, and the environmental humanities. Specializing in the history of photography, her current research explores the visual culture of resource extraction with a focus on materiality, perceptions of nature, and environmental justice. Her scholarship also engages with temporality and scale in the geological turn, landscape studies, settler colonial studies, toxicity in contemporary art, and the visual cultures of capitalism and labor. Analyzing the complex relationship between art, science, and industry, she considers how raw materials are transformed into the material foundations for art and architecture, and how, paradoxically, art helps us make sense of these processes.

Her book, Camera Geologica (forthcoming, Duke University Press), advances an eco-critical reading of photography to consider the material links between resource extraction and photography. At the root of the book is a simple premise: that the mine is a necessary precondition for photography as a medium. At various points in photography’s history, different materials have been extracted from the earth to facilitate image-making. Camera Geologica focuses on six: bitumen, silver, platinum, iron, uranium, and rare earth minerals. Tracing the transnational links between extractive regions, case studies include South Africa's platinum mines, South America’s silver deposits, uranium in Germany's Ore Mountains, and Pennsylvania’s steel industry, amongst other sites. Through the close reading of individual prints, this project places historical work that documents extraction—Anna Atkins, Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, and William Rau—into dialogue with contemporary artists—including Warren Cariou (bitumen), LaToya Ruby Frazier (iron), Simon Starling (platinum), and Susanne Kriemann (uranium)—who are documenting and critique environmental injustice in extractive regions. A focus on mining enacts a reorientation of vision that directs our attention to deep time, situating cultural production in a longer historical trajectory that draws into view the connective tissue between materials, labor, geology, empire, colonization, and vision. Connecting photography to its material foundations in mining directly links questions of environmental justice to art. This research makes materials, and the consequences of their extraction, visible. Materials bring histories, both symbolic and concrete, into the everyday. Once set in the photograph, they create meaning and become a critical tool for helping us make sense of the world. As such, photographs are a powerful means to illuminate, and attempt to redress, ecological catastrophe in the present. 

She is currently working on two new projects. The first focuses on toxicity and the remediation of polluted landscapes, exploring toxicity as a material and representational problem in contemporary art. Examining how scientific exploration made toxicity a defining feature of contemporary life, impacting the environment, health, and culture, she argues that the material engagement with toxicity by artists reframes cultural understandings of purity and damage in the contaminated modernity of the present. The second is a collaborative research project that reconsiders landscape studies in light of the very material politics of the present, asking, if landscape studies have traditionally focused on questions of representation and cultural imaginaries, how does taking land seriously as a category prompt a rethinking of landscape? What does a history of landscape that centers land relations look like?

 

Image Caption: Carleton Watkins, Malakoff Diggins, North Bloomfield, Nevada County, 1871. Albumen print. 39.3 x 54.8 cm (15 1/2 x 21 9/16 in.) National Gallery of Art, Patrons' Permanent Fund. 1995.36.128.