We welcome a guest post today from Paula Serafini, author of the new book Creating Worlds Otherwise: Art, Collective Action, and (Post)Extractivism.
Research for Creating Worlds Otherwise began in 2016. The project emerged as a response to the intensification of socioenvironmental conflicts in Argentina and Latin America in recent years; conflicts that emerged from the expansion of the extractive frontier into new territories and into new and more violent techniques of extraction. More precisely, the book has two aims. First, to contribute to a body of work that visibilizes and denounces the workings and effects of extractivism. Creating Worlds Otherwise is indeed one of few such studies focusing mainly on Argentina and published in English for an international readership. And second, the book seeks to document and theorize a broad range of artistic practices that have emerged in Argentina and Latin America in response to the advance of extractivism and its myriad effects on everyday life. I thus embarked on a project of several years that involved fieldwork beginning in 2017, as well as instances of media, social media and policy analysis. In the field, I developed a methodology based on observant participation, conversations, knowledge exchanges and collective art making that allowed me to build meaningful relationships with activists, artists and frontline communities in different parts of the country that were part of struggles against extractivism and for postextractivist futures. This approach, I believe, comes through in the book: in most cases I present the work of artists and activists in their own words, theorizing the social functions of art from the ground up and conversing with different theories and ideas, rather than imposing preconceived frameworks of analysis.
The publication of Creating Worlds Otherwise coincides with numerous, damning reports by different organisms of the United Nations (see for instance UNDRR), which sound the alarm on the unsustainability and destructive effects of our growth-oriented global economy, and how this path will lead us to global collapse unless we enact radical changes. Such condemnation of growth by an organisation like the UN would have seemed impossible only a few years ago. What this tells us is that radical change is no longer a call from the margins. It is increasingly accepted as necessary in order to face this crisis. In this context, a question worth asking is: why focus on art at a time of ecological crisis? In short, art is what makes me certain that we are capable of other ways of living. This is why Creating Worlds Otherwise focuses on the social role of art, and more specifically, the functions that art can fulfil under extractivist societies. In the face of media obfuscation, state violence and neglect, the erosion of democratic mechanisms, and the weight of a colonial imaginary that positions Latin America as a provider of nature for export, art responds by denouncing the violation of rights, documenting events and long-term effects, democratising narratives and ways of doing things, deconstructing engrained constructs that hinder our ability to imagine ourselves otherwise, and designing new ways of living that dare look beyond the hegemony of extractivism. In Creating Worlds Otherwise, I demonstrate the power of art and the concrete ways in which it plays a role in movements for worlds beyond extractivism. I hope this book serves as inspiration for those who want to enact radical change and who want to live otherwise, whatever step of the journey they find themselves in.