beth johnston...
artist + educator

making work around|about|amidst|from within the climate crisis
       








 

projects



  1. the great delusion
  2. the tumbleweed, for example
  3. entangled
  4. windshield phenomena
  5. matter of degrees
  6. red dots
  7. agri.culture
  8. discarded
  9. dear reader
  10. the form(ation) of loess
  11. climate clock






upcoming exhibitions 

July - August 2022
Microscope Gallery
New York, New York






 

 


Some thoughts on the tumbleweed (or the wind witch): 

In January of 2020, a strange phenomenon occurred in Washington State: waves of tumbleweeds overtook driving cars, consuming the vehicles and the disoriented drivers and passengers within them. Scenes of the event appeared on local news channels under the name Tumblegeddon. Rescue efforts took hours to dig the cars out of the 30-foot-high mound of tumbleweeds.

The tumbleweed has become synonymous with the American West. Hollywood depictions of the western “frontier” often start with scenes of this dry, prickly, circular weed bouncing across the desert. However common this weed has become, the species was originally invasive to the region. The parent plant to tumbleweeds, Russian Thistle, was accidentally introduced to the United States by Ukrainian immigrants in 1873 in contaminated bags of flax seeds. Russian thistle is a beautiful, robust, emerald green color. In the arid west, it is often the only green in sight, a mirage of sorts. When the parent plant dies and dries, the tumbleweed is born; carried by the wind it can spread up to 250,000 seeds per plant. The more disturbed the land, the better for seed germination. The land of the “wild west” offered this disturbance. They’ve now taken over the landscape, suffocating other vegetation and radically altering ecosystems.

I grew up on a farm in southern Idaho, pulling these weeds from the fields by hand. We tried to stop their spread and contamination of my family’s alfalfa seed harvest. The stems of the plant are stiff and would often cut through my skin. Sometimes, the roots of the weed were so strong that it took falling over backwards to yank them from their place .

For me, the tumbleweed symbolizes the frontier myth. This myth, which romanticizes the European colonization of the United States from the 17th through 20th centuries, depends on the displacement, erasure, and continued genocide of Indigenous peoples and their cultures across North America.  The false imagination of the Western US being a vast, uninhabited landscape helped support ideas such as manifest destiny where white settlers “had the divine right” to take and settle land throughout the United States, and especially during westward expansion. The erasing of Indigenous people and their cultures and creating the image of the “savage” to be rescued by the “civilized” man is central to the power structures of the frontier myth.

The frontier myth remains influential not only within the Western US region but in American identity, values, and ideals more broadly, including in ideas of rugged individualism and the false guise of American “freedom” for a select few. As the United States continues to be both a key emitter and obstruction in work to mitigate climate change, the concepts tied to ideas of the frontier myth have global impacts.

The tumbleweed, then, becomes an example for some of the entanglements of US culture with the climate crisis. The conditions that allow for weather phenomena such as tumblegeddon, are climate conditions. Rising desertification and drought in the Western US, has allowed Russian Thistle to propagate exponentially, causing waves of tumbleweeds to overtake cars. While we often think of climate disasters as being linked to hurricanes and rising sea levels, the wave of tumbleweeds is also a sign of a changing climate.



Installation View:


ENTANGLED IMAGINATION

2022-Ongoing

Photography
Original Typed Text

Black and white film processed with plant based developer made of weeds including a tumbleweed. 

Exhibitions:
RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Rhode Island Convention Center, RI, 2022