© 2022



TEXT Yingbi Lee
Erosion and Sediment by Adelaide Theriault
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

In the wake of the Texas power crisis in February 2021, a single seed of the bur clover plant, or burr medic, takes root and sprouts in Adelaide Theriault’s flood-soaked clothing. Months later, a tour of a wastewater treatment plant in New Mexico brings her attention to bindweed trails and elm saplings growing from machine grates and drains. These two incidents are the tributaries to Adelaide’s body of work around textiles, landscape, waste and consumption.

Erosion and Sediment features laundry lint formations collected from homes and public laundromats around Albuquerque, New Mexico—a practice that followed Adelaide’s observations at the facility in New Mexico. Photographed in their original state, the pieces of lint resemble natural geological formations, undulating topographies created through the accumulation of microfibres previously eroded from textile goods. These composites house ecologies of their own, counting among its inhabitants hair and skin cells, plant fibres, pollen, bacteria and viruses that come into contact with the textile fibres at any point from wear to wash.

Adelaide treats the laundry lint as archaeological objects, each artefact documenting a particular intersection of flows in our global material culture at a moment of time in Albuquerque. They tell stories of what we consume and what we leave behind, looking beyond large concrete infrastructures to systems of production, consumption, and waste management. Each fibre begins its life cycle as a plant or animal fibre like cotton, flax, or wool, or a synthetic fibre like polyester, acrylic or nylon, and make their way around the world as garments, linens, and all manner of textile goods, passing through the hands of manufacturers, distributors, stockists, and perhaps several owners. They make their way to Albuquerque, where both natural fibres and microplastics are diverted—at least temporarily—from wastewater streams as they gather in lint screens of tumble dryers. Those that escape pass through wastewater infrastructures—the smallest too miniscule to be captured by wastewater treatment filters before ending up in larger bodies of water and consumed by marine life, the bigger particles often entering agricultural lands as part of recycled biosolids used as fertiliser.

The presence of microplastics in agricultural lands and their parallel process of erosion led Adelaide to reflect on agriculture’s relationship to erosion and its historical threat to, and erasure of, native grasses. Simulating the function and characteristics of organic soils, she has begun to sow seeds of native grasses in beds of laundry lint in exploration of textile waste’s potential as a growing medium, and of native grasses’ role in stabilising vulnerable soils.

For Adelaide, the channel that connects the different themes of her work is water. Water for its potential—for activating dormant seeds, for transporting nutrients, for circulating matter, and for its cyclicality.

“For me, the presence of non-human life in urban settings is a reminder of the fragility of human-made infrastructural systems and the abuses of power of settler-state governments and private corporations. The bur clover seed likely attached itself to me on a walk in the fields near my neighbourhood, which was subject to a deep freeze during Texas’s power crisis in 2021. This crisis surfaced both literal and metaphorical imbalances of power. How are “resources” distributed? What is the source? Who is still without power and water? A seed is a unit of storage for potential energy, and its activation was dependent on the failure of the building’s infrastructure, and therefore the release of the water withheld in its pipes prior to the freeze.”—Adelaide Theriault

Touring multiple watersheds and wastewater treatment facilities in New Mexico and Texas over the years, each experience has refined her attention to the cyclical nature of all things from all points of the cycle, and where and by whom the streams of these systems are diverted. One finding that crystallised these ideas was the treatment of wastewater through a form of biomimicry that resembles solar and aquatic cleansing systems, where biosolids that cannot be broken down enter agricultural lands that produce food and raw materials for consumer goods.

Biosolids are composed of organic material that have a place in organic life cycles; their accompanying microplastics do not. As we face the reality of these contaminants’ presence in our ecological systems, what potential might they hold for new growth? What dormant ecologies might they precipitate through the introduction and accrual of foreign material? Alternatively, how might plants fix or stabilise these fibre deposits like they do with soil? Meditating on these questions, Erosion and Sediment is an archive of emergent ecologies, in which its fibrous formations suggest possible ways of being amidst the overlap between synthetic and organic life cycles.

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