We All Live Downwind


Shanna Merola





© Shanna Merola. Courtesy of the artist.

Artist Statement

The images in We All Live Downwind are culled from daily headlines—inspired by both global and grassroots struggles against the forces of privatization in the face of disaster capitalism. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein writes about the free market driven exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries saying, “the original disaster—the coup, the terrorist attack, the market meltdown, the war, the tsunami, the hurricane—puts the entire population into a state of collective shock.” The scenes in We All Live Downwind, have been carved out of dystopian landscapes in the aftermath of these events.

On the surface, rubble hints at layers of oil and shale, cracked and bubbling from the earth below. Rising from another mound, rows of empty mobile homes bake beneath the summer sun. The bust of small towns left dry in the aftermath of supply and demand. In this place, only fragments of people remain, their mechanical gestures left tending to the chaos on auto. Reduced to survival, their struggle against an increasingly hostile environment goes unnoticed. Beyond the upheaval of production a bending highway promises never-ending expansion—and that low rumble you hear to the west is getting louder.

Polychlorinated Biphenyl (Cover Photo)

From the 1920s until they were banned in 1979, an estimated 1.5 billion pounds of the toxic compound known as polychlorinated biphenyls were produced in North America. For decades, wastes containing PCBs were cast off into soil-beds, rivers, and wetlands—affecting the animals and people around them. These industrial legacies disproportionately affect POC communities living in the shadow of heavy industry. In a historic housing project on the south side of Chicago, the residents of Altgeld Gardens have been waging an environmental justice battle against the slow violence of de-regulation. Originally established as federal housing for Black World War II veterans, the area would later become known as the "Toxic Doughnut." Engulfed by factories, landfills, and an incinerator, Altgeld had one of the highest concentrations of hazardous waste sites in North America. Toxicology studies from the air and soil revealed dangerous levels of heavy metal neurotoxins causing disproportionate rates of asthma, birth defects, miscarriages, and cancer.

About the contributors