New Carleton Art Exhibit Highlights the Complex Forces Shaping the Mississippi River Landscape

Apr 3 2014 7:00 pm
Perlman Teaching Museum, Weitz Center for Creativity

A new exhibit in the Carleton College Perlman Teaching Museum highlights the complex forces shaping the Mississippi River landscape. “Petrochemical America: Project Room” is a unique collaboration between celebrated photographer Richard Misrach and landscape designer Kate Orff. Based on the book Petrochemical America (Aperture, 2012), the project brings into focus the complex economic and ecological forces that have shaped the industrial landscapes of the lower Mississippi River’s “Cancer Alley.”

The public is invited to an opening reception for “Petrochemical America: Project Room” on Thursday, April 3 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Weitz Center for Creativity Commons. Along with light refreshments, the reception will include a tour of the exhibit led by Minneapolis artist and photographer Paul Shambroom, who will explore issues of power through grand landscape imagery.

“Petrochemical America: Project Room” uses an open studio format to juxtapose the California-based Richard Misrach’s large format photographs with New York City landscape architect Kate Orff’s data visualizations. The exhibition features Misrach’s 1998 and 2010 photographs, taken along 150 miles of the lower Mississippi River, where long-term chemical production occurs simultaneously with an alarming spike in certain cancers. Misrach’s work investigates the historical, socioeconomic, and environmental conditions that characterize the region through expansive images, including a modest family home juxtaposed with a massive grain elevator, the “Norco cumulus” cloud hovering over a Shell Oil refinery, and eerily beautiful scenes of despoiled river-scapes.

Alongside Misrach’s photographs are a collection of Kate Orff’s “throughlines,” speculative drawings that use research and data mapping to uncover the ways petrochemical resource extraction has transformed communities along the Chemical Corridor and beyond.

Taken as a whole, Petrochemical America: Project Roomoffers a penetrating look at how the petrochemical industry impacts a specific place, and invites further investigations into the implications for a global society.  

“The Mississippi River is one of our nation’s great natural treasures, like Yosemite, and yet it’s being treated like a trash dump,” says Misrach. “But the reality is, oil is just too big. It is a huge economic driver; this nation is dependent on it in every way—for goods and jobs. The people and communities along the river will remain the sacrifice zone for the rest of us, until oil and other industries dependent on the river walk away. In the end, we needed to create a deep but more sober study of the issues, with the hopes that real, albeit less utopian, solutions can be found.”

Two additional “mini” exhibitions complement “Petrochemical America: Project Room.” Carleton College will also showcase James D. Butler’s paintings of the St. Paul Power Plant, entitled “Rapture/Rupture: An Upper Mississippi View,” and Paul Shambroom’s “Strategic Petroleum Reserve Landscapes,” large photographic landscapes of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites.

This exhibition is made possible through a collaboration with the Aperture Foundation; learn more online at

“Petrochemical America: Project Room” will be on display through June 1 in the Braucher Gallery and Kaemmer Family Gallery of the Perlman Teaching Museum, located in the Weitz Center for Creativity (320 Third Street in Northfield). Admission to the museum is free. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday; and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, contact Laurel Bradley, director and curator of the Perlman Teaching Museum, at (507) 222-4342 or visit online at

Richard Misrach, Swamp and Pipeline, Geismar, Louisiana, 1998