Field Station 1: Sediment, Settlement, Sentiment

August 17th, 2019

The stretch of the Mississippi between Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa is marked both by its “natural” and “anthropogenic” origin.

The Machinic River

Field Station 1 considers the stretch of land that extends from the Mississippi River’s headwaters at Lake Itasca, down to the unglaciated region that crosses southeastern Minnesota, southwestern Wisconsin, and northeastern Iowa known as the Driftless. This stretch of the Mississippi River marks both its “natural” and “anthropogenic” origin, where a small creek becomes a continental torrent, where the Dakota, Ojibwe, and many other native peoples centered their material and spiritual lives, and where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has pursued its mandate to organize, manage, and direct the river’s flow for almost two centuries.

Along the Upper Mississippi River, engineering has taken the form of extensive infrastructural interventions into the river, including the building of 29 locks and dams and ongoing dredging to maintain a nine-foot deep navigation channel for ships carrying agricultural and industrial products. These interventions have been figured as projects of control, demonstrative of expertise and the power of humans to govern nature. Field Station 1 begins from the premise that past infrastructural interventions into the Mississippi River as well as proposed future projects are better understood as experiments, ones engaged under conditions of uncertainty and therefore inherently speculative.

The region including the headwaters is an expansive tapestry of lakes, marshes, streams and rivers consisting of native lands, state parks, a large urban conglomeration, and rural municipalities. Understanding the Mississippi River as a site of speculations recognizes it to be a space of power. Field Station 1 connects projects and initiatives that conceptualize the Mississippi as a site of experimentation, speculation, and ongoing struggle in order to think about the communities, places, materials, creatures, interventions and imaginations that coalesce or disperse around the river. It asks who gets to experiment with the river; how experimentation figures into larger projects of state-building, social justice, and self-determination; how climate change can affect local decision-making; and how the flow of the river links upriver and downriver in complex and nonlinear ways. Field Station 1 reflects on the region as assemblage, characterized by overlapping experiences of space, time, water, land, precarity, opportunity, and possibility across multispecies relations. In so doing, it invites creative engagement with diverse experiences of the region.