A GREAT GREEN DESERT (Ryan Griffis/Sarah Ross)


A Great Green Desert is an experimental documentary project that examines two massive terraforming projects in the Americas, the US Corn Belt and Brazil’s “Soy Frontier”. The project brings together documentary field work, archival and literary research, and interviews with experts, scholars, and activists. The title, “A Great Green Desert,” is derived from a passage in Herbert Quick’s 1922 novel Vandemark’s Folly. Quick’s book follows a fictional homesteader, who like many 19th century European settlers, describes his encounter with the prairie’s vast grasslands in sublime terms; “I shall never forget the sight. It was like a great green sea.” This project proposes that this “great green sea,” home to a variety of human, plant and animal lives, has undergone a process of desertification, driven by mechanized agriculture and settler colonial ideologies.


4-channel video installation (4x 1080 digital video, stereo audio [English], 10:30): This installation combines documentary video imagery from the "soy frontier" of Brazil and the "corn belt" of Illinois with historical imagery and animation.

Documentary interviews (1080 digital video, stereo audio): Edited interviews with members of the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade; activist Alexandre Conceição, the National Coordinator of the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Party (MST); organic farmer Molly Breslin who operates Breslin Farms in Wallace Township, IL; and scholar Gustavo Oliveira, a UC Berkeley PhD candidate in Geography.

Nothing can be sold, but such things as can be carried away (2 sets of 500 offset prints, each 4-color, 2-sided, 17 x 22 in.): Two prints depict satellite imagery of commodity crop farms surrounding the towns of Decatur, IL, USA and Sorriso, Mato Grosso, Brazil). Comparing imagery viewed from the same relative altitude, the differences and similarities in land use practices (tied to different, yet intersecting, histories) are visible in the vastly different scales of farms and preserved areas. The prints are stacked next to one another and available for visitors to take. The title is taken from a passage in The Autobiography of Black Hawk/Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak (1882).

The World in Some Parts (six altered globes, dimensions variable): Each of the six commercially manufactured globes has been altered to illustrate different geographic aspects of the grain trade: global distribution of grasslands, locations where major grain/oilseed crops are produced; primary shipping routes between production sites and receiving ports; primary commodity markets/exchanges; and activities of the four largest grain producing companies.

Installation documentation

(pictures courtesy of Gallery 400)

  • Ryan Griffis/Sarah Ross "A Great Green Desert" (4-channel video projection with stereo soundtrack, digital prints)


Four-channel video installation

Interview with Geographer Gustavo Oliveira