The Burl Concentrate is the collaborative project of the artists and writers Connie Zheng and Sarah-Dawn Albani- committed to the idea of theory in practice- the project deploys the skills learned through their interdisciplinary creative practices to work towards dismantling the a-priori othering at the heart of the contemporary human relationship to the earth and the idea of “nature”.
We believe that this paradigm has allowed violence and oppression to be rationalized and made law. The othering of the earth creates the conditions for the othering of all bodies that do not conform to the ideals of reason. This includes the bodies of women, children, people of color, indigenous people, trans, queer, and differently abled humans. This also includes the bodies of other species, plants, animals, and the waters, rocks, and soils that we are inextricably linked with. This process of othering creates hierarchies of value, meaning, and agency that consistently privileges some lives over others and creates the conditions for subjugation, oppression, slavery, pollution, and war.
We believe that dismantling these hierarchies is of paramount significance in this critical time. We believe we must address this a-priori othering to begin to dismantle the capitalist cult of individualism that has led to this moment of crisis. We must begin to see ourselves as part of an entire organism- not in an abstract or spiritual way- but in a way that is in fact based in science, reason, and the hard facts of the conditions of our existence as a species on this planet.
The Burl Concentrate refers to a method by which certain species of trees focus their energy to enable new growth when the external parts have been destroyed by fire. A typical example of this is the Roof’s Manzanita.
No one runs at the speed of light forever. Where do we go when credit has taken on credit, toxic waste infiltrates into particles so small we can breathe them in, and our lungs burn from the orange debris swept into our beds from the northern winds? Statistics and figures and graphs are only the flat faces of a two-degree increase in temperature, increased desertification and decreased crop yields. Cognition grazes the surface of time, which moves between the matrix of people, place and objects like an electric current. Only knowledge from the body passes into deeper realms of action, and even then it sometimes feels too late.
The Burl Concentrate is interested in asking questions around how we — by which we refer to a we intersecting with and outside of the communities in which the members of the Burl Concentrate find themselves — may dialogue with the changing realities brought upon by climate change. This means experimenting with new models for living that de-link from the histories of capitalistic extraction and Hobbesian survivalism by enacting radical strategies of care. This means working to rehabilitate personal and societal relationships to land that forge closer relationships with the earth and surrounding beings, with communities of color who have been historically inscribed as Other in the United States and have been most impacted by environmental crisis. This means potentially creating local libraries with material for how communities can rebuild local agroecology and self-sustenance and modeling new theories of interrelations between land, humans, and other beings.
Butte County is green. Dogwoods and redbuds, lupine and the first flush of poppy. I travel for just a few days up into the county, visit an old friend on the way. Sit on a deck in the foothills above Marysville and look out over the Yuba river and the wide expanse of gravel that is deposited by the torrid river over time. The central valley is hot, almost 90 degrees in late April.
Butte county is green but it still smells like fire. Standing in the old mining town of Pulga it smells strong, the wind brings it down the canyon from the burnt over forest all around. The water falls across the rocks and nearly under the town itself. Whiskey flats and fern gulley.
I fall in love with being there right away. It is easy to fall in love with places. They ask so little of you. They don’t infuse their voice with longing, they don’t confuse your love for commitment. They- are not even a locatable- they. I feel the pull of the presence of place, the scent, and sound, and light of place with all the intensity of a lover. I let myself be haunted by places.
This time we will be haunted- and unafraid. Damn, damn, down with neurosis. This time we will let all the feelings, all the remnants, all the interactions, and exchanges ride with us. Nothing will be left out. If we are demons- we shall be demons. Angels are no better- angels are terrifying too. Most of us would not and will not know the difference- fear being a state we would like to avoid at all costs.
But the fire would make you afraid. The fire belongs to us all. The fire is unconcerned with your idea of evil, of your idea of fear. The fire is perfectly purifying and reveals to us the in betweenness that characterizes more completely the natures of our material world. Fluidity- interlocutors- blameless and ripe with perfection.
Fire is perfect- and is our nature. Water is another- water is perfect. A demonic and unruly perfection- teeming and churning at an unfurling sequence of scales.