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VAC34: The Infernal Grove


The Infernal Grove Working Group is an interdisciplinary group of humanists, activists, curators, and artists researching drug-taking, addiction, and recovery. We seek to identify the social conditions that cause harm to some drug users, and to mitigate those harms when we can.

Open to New People

Active since: 2022

  • Syracuse University
  • University of Rochester
  • Le Moyne College

Collaborative Goals

Our research has been framed by a set of iterative questions:

  • Where did the concept “addiction” come from?
  • Who has it been used against?
  • Who (or what) does it serve?
  • How can we help?

Our methods have included:

  • A social media campaign;
  • A series of public study groups;
  • A screening series featuring work by and about people living with legal, employment, and/or health outcomes of drug use;
  • An immersive video installation; and
  • A documentary film

The Infernal Grove Project is based on the researchers’ lived experience of drug use and the consequent interventions of state and medical establishments, which included both involuntary hospitalization and outpatient rehabilitation. It is made by people with lived experience of drugs, to serve people with lived experience of drugs and those who love and support them by offering the pleasures of reading and critical dialogue to a population where those things can be missing.

Group Organizers

Cooper Battersby

Associate Professor, Art Video; Program Coordinator, Syracuse University

Emily Duke

Associate Professor, Art Video; Associate Chair, Recruitment and Tour Coordination, Syracuse University

Leila Nadir

Associate Professor; Program Director Environmental Humanities Program, University of Rochester

Lucy Kerr

Visiting Assistant Professor, Le Moyne College

Group Outcomes

One notable and very happy outcome from the Humanities Corridor sponsored Infernal Grove event was the creation of an informal online monthly User Group. This has provided an opportunity for us to meet with scholars, activists and artists like Carol Stakenas (Carol Stakenas is a curator and educator. Her practice is deliberately varied in scope, content, and context. She recognizes a multicentric increasingly transnational contemporary art world where curators, artists, and communities engage in projects that extend across national boundaries, tracing patterns of migration and cultural exchange. Even hyper-local projects quickly connect to global conditions and urgencies. Carol is currently a curator-at-large for (SPAN) Social Practices Art Network. Previously, she served as executive director of No Longer Empty (NYC) and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) as well as deputy director/curator of Creative Time (NYC)), and Kelly Sears (born 1978, is an American animator and filmmaker. She lives in Denver, CO, and is Assistant Professor of Film at University of Colorado Boulder.).

The event was attended by some pretty high-profile thinkers and makers, including MacKenzie Wark, an Australian-born writer and scholar. Wark is known for her writings on media theory, critical theory, new media, and the Situationist International. Her best known works are A Hacker Manifesto and Gamer Theory, 2004. She is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at The New School in New York City, and she just wrote a remarkable new book called Raving (Practices), 2023 that engages themes around dancing, liberatory struggle and queer world-making.

Another remarkable outcome: we were able to bring journalist Michelle Lhooq to co-moderate the NYC in-person event sponsored by the Corridor, and unsolicited, Lhooq wrote an incredible piece about Chemsex and The Infernal Grove. Lhooq has “reach”--because she shared the event on her channels, we had a waiting list for both in person and online sessions! Lhooq also recently published an article, We Need to Talk About Chemsex, about the infernal Grove Study Group that merited a hit piece on Fox News. We are in discussion with Lhooq (among others) about hosting an event in the Bay Area in 2024-25.

Brady McDougall, (Syracuse University graduate student, Film and Media Arts) worked with us on all the technical aspects of the project.