on this land no. 1 (2019)
“Durham is a place where we trained ourselves to grow a plant that we cannot eat in order to transform each other into cancer and then build the premiere cancer treatment center without functionally shifting the plantation economy of the region. There is much unlearning to do here.”
- Alexis Pauline Gumbs,
Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind,
Make Your Own History: Documenting Feminist and Queer Activism in the 21st Century
on this land no. 1 is a site-specific projected installation that asks a built structure to re-enact itself.
In March 2019, I projected three beams of video collages onto the historic boiler of the former power plant of the American Tobacco Company, once one of the biggest companies in the world, now a renovated complex that “preserves the physical legacy of one of America's great entrepreneurial success stories.” ATC is now a smoke-free campus, but from the earliest days of Durham County, there have been tobacco warehouses and factories on this piece of land. This land has held up the feet of many: the native peoples of the pre-Contact period, the yeoman farmers before the Civil War, and, post-Emancipation, the black workers who stemmed tobacco by hand, the industrial businessmen who made millions off this labor, and today, anyone who passes through, perhaps on their way to eat at its restaurants, work at its tech startups, or live in its loft apartments. In this pop-up installation, I introduced the work by reading an original land acknowledgment. In the introduction, I acknowledge the deep roots of named and unnamed native people of the “Carolina backcountry”, and I question the origin mythology of Durham, North Carolina as a post-war tobacco boomtown. This reflective re-enactment asks viewers to question, what is it about this place that draws people here, again and again?