“So, when I think about the question, what is a plantation, some combination of these things seems to me to be pretty much always present across a 500-year period: radical simplification; substitution of peoples, crops, microbes, and life forms; forced labor; and, crucially, the disordering of times of generation across species, including human beings.”
— Donna Haraway, “Reflections on the Plantationocene”
“The plantation moves through time, a cloaked anachronism, that calls forth the prison, the city and so forth.”
— Katherine McKittrick, “Plantation Futures”
Utterly uninteresting, mind numbingly mundane are seventeen pieces of paper, typical legal documents with official stamps including surveyor coordinates, google earth aerial photographs, site documentation, and financial details of a land transaction that comprise “Depreciation, 2018, Restrictive Covenant; 1 acre on land Edisto Island, South Carolina”, a work by artist Cameron Rowland. As many architects will easily recognize that the devil is in the details, so what does Rowland’s land transaction reveal? With these rather quotidian documents Rowland purchased one acre of land on Maxcy Road where the place names hold onto the memory of what had been the Maxcy Plantation. The plantation was one of many on Edisto Island, South Carolina. On indigenous Cusabo land, Europeans planted large tracts of rice, indigo, and cotton worked by enslaved peoples of African descent for sale abroad. As the 1734 engraving of the English settlement of nearby Savannah reveals, the tools of architecture–Euclidean geometry and orthographic projection–were essential to the European colonial project of indigenous land dispossession and its transformation into fungible property suitable for monocrop agriculture. Intervening in the monetary flows of racial capitalism, Rowland placed a restrictive covenant on his one acre tract that limits valuation of the parcel to $0, thereby hindering its appreciation. As Rowland explains “As reparation, this covenant asks how land might exist outside of the legal economic regime of property that was instituted by slavery and colonization. Rather than redistributing the property, the restriction imposed on 8060 Maxie Road’s status as valuable and transactable real estate asserts antagonism to the regime of property as a means of reparation.”
The plantation’s typology brings together multi-species of plant, animal, microbial, human from all corners of the planet in an assemblage controlled by profitable cycles of birth, growth, harvest, and death. Scholars like Donna Haraway have argued that while the Anthropocene acknowledges human impact on the planet, not all homo sapiens have impacted the planet equally, as the recent COP27 “Loss and Damage” reparations fund inadequately acknowledges. Instead the designation Plantationocene would adequately register the “racialized violence, land alienation, and species loss” inaugurated with Europe’s colonial/imperial expansion. To that end, the plantation typifies the organizational system of enclosure and extraction that Europe proliferated in the form of property in the colonization of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. According to Katherine McKittrick the plantation model has not disappeared as an antiquated spatial and financial apparatus but instead has been reconfigured “in agriculture, banking, and mining, in trade and tourism, and across other colonial and postcolonial spaces—the prison, the city, the resort—a plantation logic characteristic of (but not identical to) slavery emerges in the present both ideologically and materially.” Can the persistence of the plantation typology be repaired, re-imagined, or must it be abandoned? Against the plantation’s logic of enclosure, collection, and possession, McKittrick also suggests that “differential modes of survival emerge—creolization, the blues, maroonage, revolution, and more—revealing that the plantation, in both slave and postslave contexts, must be understood alongside complex negotiations of time, space, and terror.” The studio will analyze contemporary transportation, leisure, carceral, educational, and infrastructural landscapes in New York City as global, influential, entrenched, violent, uneven, spatial, and exploitative. Following McKittrick’s modes of resistance and survival, the studio will remake these landscapes as possible sites of imagination and potential liberation.
Post-Plantation Landscape studio will examine the plantation’s architecture and spaces as an evolving typological model and discursive form to understand, undermine, explicate, and complicate the mechanics and techniques of enclosure and circulation. We will also study sites around New York City–Central Park/Seneca Village, Cross Bronx Expressway, North River Wastewater Treatment Plant/Riverbank State Park, The Tombs/African Burial Ground/Collect Pond, Columbia University Manhattanville Campus—for their plantation logics. The status of the body and modern subject, both tied to the enclosures of property and racialization, will be deeply interrogated and highly legible in each studio project. This studio will imagine new architectural protocols for a post-plantation future.
The studio is based on collaborative research, design, and critique and all projects will be done in groups. The studio will evolve through three research projects and a final project situated in relation to the student’s chosen institution. To begin, the entire studio will engage in a collective research project—1plantation lexicon—analyzing the form and logics of the plantation to develop a lexicon for its various components and dispositions. For the next research phase—2plantation landscapes—the students will form groups of 2 or 3 three and utilize the terms collected in the lexicon to examine through drawing (diagrams, sectional axonometrics) the persistence of plantation logics in the specific aforementioned sites. The final research exploration —3enclosure systems—will develop models and drawings formalizing the various systems of enclosure operating in and out of the museum. Along with understanding how enclosures are built and function, the studio will also document spaces and instances of intervention, where the logics of the plantation and systems of enclosure are subverted, resisted and refused. These spatial protocols will become foundational to how these sites can be transformed over time in a final project: 4post plantation landscape.
The Post-Plantation Landscape studio will be supplemented by a seminar. Interlocutors [to be confirmed] will be theorist Elleza Kelley, and a series of online public conversations Black Counter-Cartographies. The studio will also take a trip in February to visit plantation landscapes of New Orleans and Plantation/Cancer Alley, Louisiana, Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia. We will also make a local day trip to Sylvester Manor (1652), a historic plantation (+23 enslaved people) that two English colonist built on the land of the Manhasset tribe to grow provisions for their two sugar plantations (+200 slaves) in Barbados, which demonstrates the global extractive logics central to the plantation model from its inception is limited to the American South but can be found around the world.