Metabolic Rift

Our Bodies and Chicagoland

Sulfur from Chicagoland oil refineries (BH, 2023)

The concept of “metabolic rift” speaks of estrangement from the living world. It’s about the gap between city and country, between nature and humanity – and the products that circulate in between. Across the earth, organic cycles have been stretched, distorted and broken by industrialism. The city has become a digital predator stalking distant hinterlands. We can feel the damage in our daily lives, and in our own bodies. But to speak of estrangement is to evoke the possibilities of reconciliation and healing. Can we close certain gaps, even restore a cycle? Can society reconcile itself to being part of nature?

Watershed Art & Ecology is organizing a collaborative exhibition about the metabolic rift, to be held in Spring 2025. We hope to engage in a generative process, sharing ideas, feelings, places and creations among a fluctuating group. The project has three overlapping parts:

— A reading group devoted to three books: The Ages of Gaia, by James Lovelock; Symbiotic Planet, by Lynn Margulis; and Marx’s Ecology, by John Bellamy Foster. The reading group will be hybrid (at Watershed and on Zoom), and will likely lead on to further texts.

— A series of public walks led by individuals or groups who want to engage with the entanglement of nature and culture in a specific place in or around Chicago (leading one of these walks is the only prerequisite for participating in the show).

— An exhibition at Watershed, to be co-curated by the group in forms that will emerge from the collaborative process. Outcomes can be scientific, literary, performative, etc, in addition to works of visual art. Anyone who leads a walk and shows up for a few meetings will be included.

A library of readings can be found on the next page. The password is the first word of the project title, all lowercase.

A list of public walks includes date, map, site description and meeting details for each walk.

To be informed about meetings and events, simply write to watershedartandecology {at} with the subject line “Join Metabolic Rift”. If you have questions or suggestions, just let us know.

The reading group is open to all, as are the walks. It is not necessary to attend every session to be part of the show. But we are dreaming of a community of practice. Come make it real, and we will all find out what that means.