2015, Between the Bottomlands & the World

Between the Bottomlands & the World explores Beardstown, IL, a rural Midwestern town of 6000 people–a place of global exchange and international mobility, inscribed by post-NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) realities. It consists of a video trilogy, photographs and narrative writing. A full website for the project can be found HERE.

During the growth of industrial manufacturing in North America, Midwestern cities attracted immigrant workers, becoming hubs for those seeking work. Likewise, that same era saw the growth of small towns that supported the many surrounding farms. Today, many industries have moved to unincorporated areas and rural towns, unencumbered by urban regulations, as those same small towns struggle to survive the economic devastation wrought by farm consolidation. Beardstown, IL is cited as something of a success story, as it has kept a stable population in the face of these changes, due to a large slaughterhouse there. The residents of the town have, however, radically changed. Before the 1990s, Beardstown was a “sundown” town, with an enforced all-white population. Since the 1990s, the slaughterhouse has actively recruited new immigrants from the Texas border, Mexico, and later from West African nations, Puerto Rico and Detroit. While social struggles have been fought and won in this small town, its existence now relies on the multinational corporate giant, Cargill. From Cargill’s slaughterhouse, workers come and go and hogs are slaughtered and shipped out at the rate of 18,000 a day. Grain is brought to the company’s elevators from surrounding fields where it is loaded onto the Illinois River to enter national and international markets.

Between the Bottomlands and the World tells this story through three videos, each telling distinct, yet intersecting, stories about contemporary Beardstown. “Submerging Land” (TRT 11:23) is a guided, poetic tour of a landscape massively engineered to redirect water for the production of commodity crops. “Granular Space” (TRT 11:21) is a rhythmic meditation of the movement and scale of the grain trade. “Moving Flesh” (TRT 54:10) presents the stories of individuals, both long-time residents and new-comers, that are navigating the current effects of globalization. Their stories have been interpreted through fictionalized and composite characters portrayed by actors. A narrative “glossary” accompanies the videos, available as a limited edition set of 6in x 9in “flash cards” containing photographs and narrative writing.

Between the Bottomlands and the World was made in artistic collaboration with Ryan Griffis and scholarly work of Faranak Miraftab, an urban planner and principle researcher on this project.