The Infernal Grove Project

The Infernal Grove is an unsystematic structural analysis of drug use, addiction and recovery (not necessarily in that order). It is anti-carceral, anti-prohibition and seeks to amplify the voices of radical harm-reductionists and their coalitions. It recognizes the value of the sacred while rejecting all forms of piety. It posits wonder and the land as spaces of enchantment, as not an antidote to but an extension of the space opened up by drugs.

It’s based on the artists’ lived experience of drug use and the consequent interventions of state and medical establishments, which included both involuntary hospitalization and outpatient rehabilitation.  

The film is based on interviews with members of Vancouver’s Drug Liberation Front, a radical harm-reduction group that gives out free, tested crack and fentanyl on the street; with Samona Marsh and Hugh Lampkin of VANDU, the first drug-users union in North America; with video art  pioneers Paul Wong and Joe Gibbons; with a white-rapper-turned-cannabis-entrepreneur from Oregon and a young Black weed dealer in rust-belt New York; with a “sober influencer” from Nova Scotia and the brother of a for-profit rehab chain; with drag artist Mikiki about his (entirely positive) experiences in the chemsex scene.  The interviews are woven together with hypnotic time lapse video of the natural world.

The visual material has been collected over several years through a process both painstaking and wobbly.  Much of it is timelapse and all of it is made to draw the viewer into the inside of beauty—to actually be in beauty for a while—because inside beauty there is a room, and in the room is enchantment or wonder.    

THE WHOLE GRIMOIRE

An online screening and study group
Thursday May 12, 7pm ET
Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince Street, Rochester, New York 14607


Description
The Infernal Grove Study Groups bring into dialogue a group of artists from across the continent who have lived experience with substance-use, and who represent a range of current relationships to sobriety and its alternatives. This session, moderators will include Liz RobertsMikiki,  Devon Narine-Singh, Cooper Battersby and Emily Vey Duke

The study group was formed as a space for conversations about both ideas and feelings: emotional conversations about the academic and critical conversations about affect.  In recovery programs, perhaps by necessity and certainly by design, there is a push to accept received wisdom. But for addict-intellectuals, it’s hard to forfeit critical thinking to recovery. In addiction, connection to the intellectual can become tenuous. It’s easy to lose the relationships and identities that support rigorous critical thinking. Recovery can mean recovering those relationships and identities. 
VSW will host a week-long online screening of two works chosen Emily and Cooper for The Infernal Grove.  Prime Cuts (1981, 20 minutes, Paul Wong); and The Limits of Vision 2022, 30 minutes, Laura Harrison). Moderators will discuss the works in relation to the project of The Infernal Grove.

The study group is part of The Infernal Grove Project, an unsystematic structural analysis of drug use, addiction and recovery (not necessarily in that order). It is anti-carceral, anti-prohibition and seeks to amplify the voices of radical harm-reductionists and their coalitions. 

ig: @the_infernal_grove

The Infernal Grove Project takes place mostly on stolen Mi’kmaq and Onondaga land.

The text for this episode of the Study Group is a screening: Read the descriptions and watch the two films below.

THE INFERNAL GROVE PRESENTS
THE WHOLE GRIMOIRE

The Limits of Vision
2022, 30 minutes
Laura Harrison

The Limits of Vision, based on Robert Irwin’s novel of the same name, features Marcia, a trapped housewife navigating shifting gender norms of early 1970’s South London, her coterie of undermining friends, and a dust king named Mucor, god of small things. The film touches on mortality, painting, white feminism, slippage, the impossibility of moral purity, and non attachment.

Prime Cuts
1981, 20 minutes
Paul Wong

Prime Cuts is a funny, sharp sendup of the yuppie takover in 80s Vancouver. It’s about style, technology and sexuality. Delivered in an unpolitical and distanced view, not unlike a commercial, we see life as an endless stream of sensuality. Complete with state-of-the-art accessories, beautiful young adults work out, make out, frolic in the sun, and dance until dawn.


When we first saw Prime Cuts by Paul Wong, we had just moved to Vancouver BC from Nova Scotia. We were video artists in our twenties and we were hungry for everything: friends, glamour, heroin, gossip, art, justice, knowledge, meaning, beauty, validation, jobs. And we found all those things on Main Street: at Video In and The Western Front, two artist run centers with reputations that certainly exceeded their operating budgets; and at Main and Hastings, a neighborhood with international renown for its open-air drug market and as the site of the first needle exchange in North America. 

We already knew Wong’s (in)famous work 60 Unit Bruise, in which his lover Kenneth Fletcher, tenderly injects 60ml of his own blood into Wong’s back. The work was made in 1981, seconds before the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and we saw it in probably 98, the year Clinton declared that the AIDS crisis had risen to the level of a “severe and ongoing health crisis”. This was a big deal because in the intervening years Reagan and Bush-the-Elder had done their best to erase people with AIDS, despite HIV being the leading cause of death among Americans aged 25-44 for most of the years of his reign. The AIDS reading of the Wong’s eerily prescient piece eclipsed any other analyses at that point, but we saw different things in it as well: how stylish it was, how iconic, how cool, how sad, how brave. It made us see that the gutter and the art world were adjacent—We could make art from the gutter, and it could be stylish and profound. This was exciting.

It sliced open the teal-and-dusty-rose underbelly of West-Coast yuppiedom.

And then we saw Prime Cuts, which performed surgery from the gutter. It was that precise. It sliced open the teal-and-dusty-rose underbelly of West-Coast yuppiedom. It was a nuanced, Brechtian sendup of the horrible people of the 80s, and it was clear to us from this work that Wong understood that style is something to be taken seriously: it’s somewhere form and content tighten into a tiny, unpickable knot. 

We knew that Wong, like us, had been a heroin user, but when he swept into Video In trailing expensive grooming smells and acolytes, none of us saw anything but a star, forged in fire. There was no whiff of madness, save that which made him smell more world-wise and complex.

I’m allergic to the word “redemptive” in relation to drugs and sobriety, but Wong’s work made us feel like we could still become people with brains and gravitas and sway; that our willful uncoupling from reason didn’t necessarily mean we would be stripped of our right to choose how and whether we were seen. This, we know from Hurston (who insisted on being seen and showing where she came from) to Abounaddara and Glissant (who insist on the right to control ones image, to become opaque), is a basic right of all beings, and it’s a slow violence to live a life deprived of that right. It can make a creature howl, hide or preen until she bleeds. 

So when we started to build The Infernal Grove, we reached out to Paul right away to see if he would be comfortable talking to us about drugs, addiction and recovery (not necessarily in that order). He talked about many things including NA, about how it was there that he was finally able to let go of the shame he felt about his drug use. “They say you only hurt yourself,” he said “but I reject that. I don’t really feel that hurt.”

I won’t say that the cinema holds the potential for boredom…

We saw Laura Harrison’s animation Limits of Vision this March at The Museum of Moving Image. For context, I shall just let it be known that for some among us, the cinema is a fearsome place. The expectation of stillness and quiet can feel like a heavy, hateful hand gripping our shoulder while one  tries, tries, tries to pay attention, to not crunch or squirm or speak. I won’t say that the cinema holds the potential for boredom, because (again, for some of us) that is foregone. I won’t say, either, that experimental work poses a special threat, because everyone already knows that.

But Limits of Vision had me transfixed from its strange opening salvo, which comes in a form oddly reminiscent of the text crawl from Star Wars. It’s a quote from Jesuit mystic and evolutionary scholar which reads:

“Once and for all she understood that like the atom, woman has no value save for that part of herself that passes into the universe.”

— Emily Vey Duke

THE INFERNAL GROVE STUDY GROUP COLUMBUS

DRUGS AS PRAXIS

SOBRIETY AS PRAXIS

Friday April 8 14, 8:00-9:30pm EST
Sporeprint Infoshop
(in the Third Hand Bike Co-op space)
979 E. 5th Ave.  Columbus, Ohio 43201

ALL ARE WELCOME to join the conversation in person or remotely on zoom HERE.

Reading: Club Sober – New Forms of Sobriety for the 21st Century, Michelle Lhooq

For those who are interested here is the video at the center of The Infernal Grove project.

Moderators: Cooper Battersby,  Emily Vey Duke, Leilani Monfort, Devon Narine-Singh, Dani Restack and Liz Roberts.

Reading the text is not a requirement for participation in the discussion. This has become a consistent practice, and is part of a commitment to accessibility.

The study group brings into dialogue a group of artists and scholars from across the continent who have lived experience with substance-use and a range of current relationships to sobriety and its alternatives. We will be reading  “Club Sober: New Forms of Sobriety for the 21st Century” by Michelle Lhooq.

In recovery programs, perhaps by necessity and certainly by design, there is a push to accept received wisdom. But for addict-intellectuals, it’s hard to forfeit critical thinking to recovery. In addiction, connection to the intellectual can become tenuous. It’s easy to lose the relationships and identities that support rigorous critical thinking. Recovery can mean recovering those relationships and identities. 

This third session of the Study Group explores a notion sobriety that is not absolute.  ne that allows certain drugs (weed, mushrooms) but not others (alcohol, stimulants, opiates etc). This version of sobriety is seen as a new and potentially massive market as weed becomes legalized throughout the US.

The Infernal Grove Project exposes the disproportionate effects of public trauma (including the COVID pandemic) on drug users, especially addicts of color.  It’s become an organizing principle in our thinking about this work: we need to show the connections between addiction and the socioeconomic forces that create and exploit it.

This event will take place on the stolen territory of the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, Peoria, Seneca, Wyandotte, Ojibwe and Cherokee peoples.  The Indian Removal Act of 1830 resulted in the forced removal of many indigenous peoples.  The Infernal Grove Project supports efforts to change the name of the city of Columbus, although we are not sold on “Flavortown” as the alternative.

PARTICIPANTS

Cooper Battersby and Emily Vey Duke have worked collaboratively since 1994. They make video and installation. Their works can be found at V-Tape in Toronto, Video Databank in Chicago and Argos in Brussels. They ambivalently teach at Syracuse University.

Leilani Monfort is an activist and anthropologist who investigates the relationship between child-rearing practices, cultural narratives, and structural inequality. She currently runs the food pantry for a Columbus nonprofit serving people with cancer. 

Devon Narine-Singh is a filmmaker and curator. His works have screened at Prismatic Ground, Microscope Gallery, YOUKI International Youth Media Festival, NOFLASH Video Show, UltraCinema, The New School and The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. He has presented screenings and presentations at The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, Maysles Cinema, NYU Cinema Studies and UnionDocs. 

Dani ReStack has screened her single-channel videos at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the Gene Siskel Film Center, PS1, Cine Cycle, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Union Docs, The New York Film Festival and Anthology Film Archives. Restack is a recipient of the Kuzuko Trust, Wexner Center Film/Video Residency, the Milton Avery Fine Arts Award and the Astraea Visual Arts Grant. 

Liz Roberts makes artwork that is often collaborative and rooted in moving image and sound. Recently she’s been working on autobiographical filmmaking as a way to try and reckon with the violence of an extractive documentary camera. Her new file Midwaste will premiere at Hotdocs, 2022.

The Infernal Grove Selects from the Film-Makers Cooperative collection

March 20
Film-Makers Cooperative, NYC

Compiled by Devon Narine-Singh and Liz Roberts from the collection of Film-Makers Cooperative.

Being Fucked Up (2001) 10:00 – Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby

Bitch Beauty (2011) 7:00 – MM Serra

Medication (2007) 3:00 – Anne Hanavan

Six Jaguars (2021), 4:45, Michael Love Michael 

I Woke Up in the Mud and Picked Up a Camera for Jonas (2019) 13:00 – Devon Narine-Singh

Liz Roberts pre-recorded introduction to her film.

A list of Things That Make the Heart Beat Faster (1996) 11:00 – Liz Roberts 16mm print

Glimpses of Garden, Marie Menken (1957) 5:00 16mm print

The Infernal Grove is an artist group focusing on those who have a lived history of substance use and various relations to sobriety. Grove and FMC members Liz Roberts and Devon Narine-Singh have put together a wide range of FMC’s collection surveying addiction and recovery, with a particular eye towards the communities of the Lower East Side. This program is an unflinching and honest look of artists processing their lived experiences and speaks to FMC’s original mission statement of wanting films that “are not rosy, but are the color of blood” (J.M.) This screening also holds space for those in recovery to have a cathartic dialogue around these issues and centers the community values key to FMC’s mission.

Participants, Thanks and Support

Vince Tao – VANDU member, activist
Samona Marsh – VANDU boad member, DULF member, activist
Hugh Lampkin – VANDU board member, activist
Mikiki – artist, harm reduction worker, @mkkultra
Liz Roberts – filmmaker
Margaret Sadovsky – writer, editor
Paul Wong – artist
Zaire Knight – artist
Matt Kimber – weed entrepreneur
Sarah Whidden – harm reduction worker
Dani ReStack – artist
Ellery Bryan – artist + activist
Deven Narine-Singh – filmmaker + curator

Participants

Vince Tao – VANDU member, activist
Samona Marsh – VANDU boad member, DULF member, activist
Hugh Lampkin – VANDU board member, activist
Mikiki – artist, harm reduction worker, @mkkultra
Liz Roberts – filmmaker
Margaret Sadovsky – writer, editor
Paul Wong – artist
Zaire Knight – artist
Matt Kimber – weed entrepreneur
Sarah Whidden – harm reduction worker
Dani ReStack – artist
Ellery Bryan – artist + activist
Deven Narine-Singh – filmmaker + curator

Credits

Devi Penny – Project Manager + Editor
Aya Garcia – Camera
Marijke Pieters – Kwiers
Kevin Thornton – Music



Thanks

VANDU – Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
DULF – Drug Users Liberation Front
Star Daniels
Eli Horwatt
Jason Fox
Vanessa Lore
Brett Story
Robyn Schleihauf



Support

TBB – The Blue Building Gallery, K’jipuktuk / Halifax
Nocturne – Nocturne: Art at Night a fall festival in Kjipuktuk/Halifax.
Canada Council for the Arts – Provided funding for the The Infernal Grove video.
Department of Transmedia – Syracuse University

Film – The Infernal Grove

The Infernal Grove [v1 TBB]
38min

The Infernal Grove is an unsystematic structural analysis of drug use, addiction and recovery (not necessarily in that order). It is anti-carceral, anti-prohibition and seeks to amplify the voices of radical harm-reductionists and their coalitions. It recognizes the value of the sacred while rejecting all forms of piety. It posits wonder and the land as spaces of enchantment, as not an antidote to but an extension of the space opened up by drugs.

It’s based on the artists’ lived experience of drug use and the consequent interventions of state and medical establishments, which included both involuntary hospitalization and outpatient rehabilitation.

This is the version 1 of The Infernal Grove as it was shown at The Blue Building Gallery in the fall of 2021. The Infernal Grove video will change which each new exhibition or screening.

Related Resources

Speakers in the study group are invites to provide any additional resources they would like to make available for the Study Group attendees.

Liz Roberts provides this article:

The War on Drugs That Wasn’t: Wasted Whiteness, “Dirty Doctors,” and Race in Media Coverage of Prescription Opioid Misuse

Julie Netherland, PhD, Deputy State Director and Helena B. Hansen, MD PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Anthropology

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5121004

Dani Restack provides two of her videos:

Drawings for Quill
7min
https://vimeo.com/572593613
pass : QUILL

For Vincent
1 min
https://vimeo.com/572583424
pass: VINCENT

Dani ReStack provided 3 texts from ‘Glad Day: Daily Affirmations for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People’ by Joan Larkin

You have always been drunk.
That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way.

So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

excerpt from Charles Baudelaire’s poem Be Drunk.