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Zachary Norman: This Storm is What We Call Progress

Feb 24, 2021 – Apr 10, 2021

THIS STORM IS WHAT WE CALL PROGRESS is a six-channel video, part of a larger body of work, in which artist-in-residence Zachary Norman explores the profound environmental, social, and cultural impacts of ongoing and proposed activities in the Northwest Quadrant of Salt Lake City. Drawing on the work of artists such as French filmmaker Chris Marker, Norman uses the documentary film structure as a departure point for exploring intersections between poetry, philosophy, environmentalism, eschatology, Internet culture, Marxist geography, psychoanalysis, and post-Fordist labor practices. Through the use of original footage shot in and around the Northwest Quadrant of Salt Lake City, appropriated YouTube clips, and 3D rendered animations, Norman’s work provides a glimpse of what he calls “the dystopian wasteland towards which the realization of the Utah Inland Port inevitably leads us.”

The Utah Inland Port is a proposed dry port located in the “Northwest Quadrant” of Salt Lake City. According to Norman, “the widespread use of the term ‘Northwest Quadrant’ by developers and lawmakers in proposals and plans demonstrates their inability to make even nomenclatural concessions to the land, framing the space as a homogeneous ‘quadrant’ instead of a biodiverse, fluid, and heterogeneous space.”

This erasure of the landscape in naming removes the reality of the ecology of the 43 square miles location, an important segment of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, and vital habitat for numerous species of wildlife, some of which are endangered. The term, Norman writes,” is also ahistorical, as it fails to acknowledge that it has only recently become possible to conceive of the land as a quadrant for development due to the historically low levels of the Great Salt Lake as a result of withdrawals for industrial, agricultural, and economic activities.”

In its current state, the port is still just an abstraction—an idea, said Norman, “borne out of the tendency to conflate development with progress and acceptance of progress as a kind of telos despite the apparent incompatibility of the two concepts.” But for him, such progress, draws our society closer to destruction. As theorist Herbert Marcuse argues in his book One Dimensional Man:

“The union of growing productivity and growing destruction; the brinkmanship of annihilation; the surrender of thought, hope, and fear to the decisions of the powers that be; the preservation of misery in the face of unprecedented wealth constitute the most impartial indictment—even if they are not the raison d’ etre of this society but only its by-product: its sweeping rationality, which propels efficiency and growth, is itself irrational.”

Supported by ZAP and George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.