Reuben Jentink

Thoughts on annie ross’ Happy Birthday, Super Cheaper

March 2, 2015

IMG_20150301_214059-2I’m not skilled at crochet; my partner, Mathew, however, is—having chained grinning lemons, animated slices of cake, and a small Totoro. And in our house, there are small beings—not unlike those found by annie ross—who huddle together on bookshelves and window ledges. It will be no surprise to you that I tried my hand at making a “special set of clothing.” [1] After two nights, the outcome of my labour was, at best, something resembling a gnarled scarf. (See image above.) What became apparent—while catching and looping—was the devotion implicit in ross’ project: how many hours of “feminine handicraft” [2] are represented in these pages?

ross’ project makes two interventions that complicate Euro-western temporal conceptions and productions. First, the project stops dead the breakneck speed of capitalist consumption and disposability: almost without thinking we toss so-called junk into the bin. In contrast, how much care was taken to rummage for these pieces, clothe them, and—in this sense—care for them? Isabelle Stengers makes a similar proposal; troubling the urge to produce and reproduce technoscientific knowledge, Stengers proposes to “slow down the construction of this common world, to create a space for hesitation regarding what it means to say ‘good.’” [3] Second, ross rejects the greenwashed, utopian futures of environmental writing and activism. What will happen to all these “things” in the transition—a word so favoured by the green elite—from a present of “dirty” oil, capitalist exploitation, and greed to a future of “clean” energy, eco-friendship, and salvific-techno-liberation?

These interventions bear together; it’s clear, I think, to see the remaking of “garbage” as a manifesto of radical anti-capitalism. More nuanced, perhaps, is ross’ rejection of (neo)colonial development narratives in favour of relational and responsible presents. In the preamble to another project, “Love Mother Earth” (2006), ross writes, “Indigenous Expressive Arts (such as story/history-telling, sewing, carving, weaving) are dependent upon a healthy ecosystem in order to thrive. First Nations peoples have always understood their/our HomeLand bioregions by knowing names for plants, animals, insects, [and] elements.” [4] Perhaps a life-sustaining future, then, is not one fueled by hydro-electricity and solar power, undertakings whose respective flooding and mining (continue to) unduly burden Indigenous populations of the global South and fourth world; rather, a tenable future rests on gifts of time—on knowing one another and telling stories. In such futures, coffee percolators, porcelain figurines, and plastic dinosaurs are not only artifacts of a spoiled past, but figures of ongoing resistance.

[1]  annie ross, Happy Birthday Super Cheaper (2009), n.p..

[2]  I use this term after Margaret and Christine Wertheim, who, in 2003 founded The Institute for Figuring (IFF). IFF’s most significant project to date is the “Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef.” A project residing at “the intersection of mathematics, marine biology, handicraft and community art practice, and [which] also responds to the environmental crisis of global warming and the escalating problem of oceanic plastic trash,” the piece represents the work of nearly 7000 international participants—most of whom are women—and innumerable hours of labour. The project also follows a significant intervention made by women into the male-dominated fields of physics and mathematics: Daina Taimina’s 1997 crochet model provided a physical model of hyperbolic space, a project that had eluded mathematicians for centuries. See Margaret Wetheim’s TED Talk, “The beautiful math of coral” (February 2009); and the project’s website:

[3] Isabelle Stengers, “The Cosmopolitical Proposal” in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. Latour, Bruno, Peter Weibel, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004), 994.

[4] annie ross, “Love Mother Earth” (2009), Emphasis added.

What Kind of Sugar is This?

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The demand for sugar produced the plantation, an enterprise motivated by its proprietor’s desire for profit and placed at the service of the international market Europe was organizing. Internally, however—since it was to a considerable extent self-sufficient—the plantation was feudal in many important aspects, and its labor force consisted mainly of slaves. Thus three distinct […]

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Compulsions of Pride

August 3, 2015

Rolando B. Rosler, Figure Drawing “Happy Pride” is a phrase that will, no doubt, be constantly, casually passed around this weekend. Many of us may even participate in its circulation. But, what is it that we wish when we wish another a “happy pride”? Conversely, as the receiver of the well-wish, to what are we […]

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Future Living

March 22, 2015

After the Korean War, when my father returned to us and I was eight, my parents moved to Colorado Springs to live in a housing project called Stratton Meadows, a name that signified that the land there was once beautiful. — Linda Hogan My project takes inspiration from annie ross’ art series Happy Birthday Super […]

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