Pleasure Prospects: Counter-Prospective Feminist Futures

New Mineral Collective, Pleasure Prospects, 2019, single-channel video, 4k. Commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art. On view at 259 Lake Shore Blvd E as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019). Courtesy of the artists.

295 Lake Shore Blvd, 2019 Toronto Biennial

September 21-December 1, 2019

By Courtney Miller

The calm, soothing voice of a narrator asks the viewer, “…how to extract meaning, not material?” Pleasure Prospects, a video installation by the New Mineral Collective (NMC), analyzes the current state of resource extraction industries, countering realities of environmental destruction with imagined reparative futures. Responding to the Toronto Biennial’s overarching question what does it mean to be in relation? artist duo Tanya Busse and Emilija Škarnulytė present a dreamy, placid recourse through contemporary dance and alternative medicines, refusing a capitalist trajectory of progress. In an era of panicked attempts to combat the climate crisis, what function does feminist utopian dreaming serve? Positioning environmental ruin as a continuous invasion against a shared life body, NMC knows that this crisis is already well underway, in which Pleasure Prospects demonstrates the impetus for healing.

What happens when artists create space for dreaming and respite?

Beginning with what appears to be footage from a mining trade show, suited bodies strike-through booths and across polished floors, while screens depict the earth’s surface in networks of grids and topographical markers. The counter-narrative to surveying from an overhead view presents the viewer with gentle caressing gestures, touching both human and earth bodies. Whether skin or sand, hands move slowly across surfaces with the intention to console rather than siphon. Shifting from cold, hard edges and detached socialization, machinery is replaced by moving bodies, and what the NMC calls ‘geo-trauma healing theory’; dance, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy. Pleasure Prospects introduces what ‘the least productive mining company in the world’ offers as an approach to repairing and softening, in resisting extractive industry through radical care and rest. The setting of this presentation is Toronto’s Cinesphere, recycling the 1971 geodome theatre to a site of future projections. In the literal slowing of time, dancers glide in undulating and rotating motions, as synchronized swimmers float in star configurations through purple plumes of smoke— possibly a nod to Judy Chicago’s Biennial iteration of her Atmosphere series.

New Mineral Collective, Pleasure Prospects, 2019, columns, casts of prospecting bore holes, rammed earth, hand-pulverized black copper slag, copper, zinc, steel, aluminum, fine gold and silver shavings, concrete. Commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art. On view at Small Arms Inspection Building as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019). Photo: Vlad Lunin. Courtesy the artists. 

The Pleasure Prospects narrative begins with an overview of the extractive mining industry’s penetrative effects stemming from a decidedly neoliberal drive for supply and demand. Thinking through what it means to be in relation, the NMC recognizes human impact on land by acknowledging the “apocalypse all around us, and how to alter it.” Current conversations of the climate crisis from a Western perspective tend to position environmental threat as a future concern, rather than a process already begun. Recently, Métis scholar Zoe Todd and settler scholar Heather Davis have argued that the beginning of the Anthropocene on Turtle Island coincides with colonial contact, marking the beginning of apocalyptic changes for Indigenous nations[1]. The Biennial’s curatorial vision of The Shoreline Dilemma calls attention to the shifting and evolving Toronto shoreline, the history of this area as a meeting place for Indigenous societies for over 12,000 years. While the Pleasure Prospects video installation does not touch on Indigenous realities or colonial systems of the Toronto area, the focus remains on extractive industry as the culprit for one of the most aggressively scarring enterprises. Furthermore, NMC offers a contribution to WalkingLab’s and RiVAL’s programming The Bank, The Mine, The Colony, The Crime, in the form of an audio therapy guided tour of the headquarters of a mining company in Toronto’s Financial District. Although the Cinesphere and brief aerial views of Ontario are recognizable locations in the film, the Toronto shoreline is not specified, suggesting that the NMC operates through a global lens. The Biennial’s overarching question, what does it mean to be in relation? can be interpreted within this work as everyone in relation to each other, or extractive industry versus everyone else.

TBA_NewMineralCollective_259LakeShore_13 (1)
New Mineral Collective, Pleasure Prospects, 2019, single-channel video, 4k. Commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art. On view at 259 Lake Shore Blvd E as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019). Courtesy of the artists.

In directly challenging the monetary driven power of the extractive industry, what happens when artists create space for dreaming and respite? Rest becomes a radical concept when the NMC touts itself as the least productive mining company in the world. Delivering a persuasive and soothing pitch for their services, the collective seeks to engage in counter-prospecting, the opposite of production, yet not the antithesis of work. The idea of counter-prospecting involves resting, dancing, repairing, and calming, as methods of extracting meaning fueled by desire, poetry, love, and resistance. A minimal amount of technology is present in the film, functioning more as props than tools: two women relax on the beach with a filing cabinet and laptop, and an indeterminate measuring/recording device fashioned out of aggregate materials, is carried in one hand and placed on the ground while dancers whisk by. The reparative approach towards resisting extractive industry, represented through dreaming of a feminist utopia may not outline a definitive plan of action, but rather an alternative to incessant production. This method calls to mind strategies within Afrofuturism and Indigenous futurities to invest power in imaginary prospects. In being ‘unproductive’, the NMC gently calls to halt further destruction of the environment in recognition of the damage already done.

The title, Pleasure Prospects, speaks to the pursuit of pleasure as an industry as well as to the connotation of the equine hobby. Whether this link is intentional or not is uncertain; a pleasure prospect is an equestrian term denoting a horse representing an aesthetic standard of balance, grace, and willingness. Given that these standards place human expectations on the output of intelligent animals, this can be paralleled with a Western view of the earth as an endless resource, taking without giving back. Within the spoken narrative is a clearly defined intention for resisting female characterization of the earth – a protective move in avoiding the essentialization of the earth’s body. Resisting extraction through gestures of care, the New Mineral Collective illustrates a compassionate alternative future.

[1] Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” ACME: A Journal for Critical Geographies, 16(4) (2017): 761.

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