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Ear to the Ground: On Foundation, Burial, Earthquakes, and the Languages of Extraction

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Organizer: Shannon Dowd

Co-Organizer: Ludmila Ferrari

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The ground is the earth over which we walk and build, the earth that holds roots and bodies. Ground is also a principle or foundation, a point of departure—and perhaps a point of arrival—for an argument, a theorem, or a story. Ground forms the basis of calculative rationality, associated with metaphysics, humanism, and modernity. Yet at the same time, the ground is weaponized in trenches and landmines. It is emptied of value in mining and in new waves of extractivism, such as fracking, triggering earthquakes. It is jammed with waste in landfills and contaminated with poison. It is crowded with unspoken victims of violence. This reality complicates the meaning of ground, destabilizing the comforting metaphor.

This seminar proposes to investigate the multiple, conflicting meanings of ground in literature, art, architecture, and other disciplines and media. The seminar asks: what do grounding operations have in common and how do they differ? What have they inherited from the intellectual tradition of ground, and what can they leave behind? Can we create a different approach, not from the perspective of stability—susceptible to disruption—but from the perspective of disruption itself? In other words, can we keep an ear to the ground for an earthquake epistemology or an earthquake methodology? What would that look like? How do the disciplines and interdisciplines of art, architecture, and literature articulate these questions?

We invite presentations that examine the relationship of ground to art, broadly defined. Proposals that take epistemological and methodological approaches are most welcome, as are papers that ask more questions than they answer.

Topics may include:



Disciplinary grounds and methodologies


Violence, e.g. burial, war, borders, earthquakes


Foundation, e.g. architecture, architectonics, archaeology


Extraction, e.g. mining, fracking


Abyss, ungrounding, and language


Common ground and mass graves


Experimental approaches to the question of ground


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