Sarah Lewison and Andrew Yang, The Fish Files: Reshaping the Shape

In the early 1970s two species of carp were accidentally introduced to the Mississippi watershed when they escaped the fish farms to which they were imported as guest workers. While Silver and Bighead carps are revered in Asia for their vigor and flavor, they are detested in North America for their invasiveness in the Mississippi and its tributaries. But the carps, which plunge ravenously forward through high water and low, are part of the second nature of a watershed which had been already altered by human engineering. By exploring the entangled cultural and natural history of the carp, we confront fundamental questions of how humans, non-humans, and landscapes reshape each other.

In our ongoing archive of stories and objects, we reimagine the Silver and Bighead carps, not as a public enemy, but as a mascot of a global commons and a sustained natural resource. Through our iterative accumulation of cultural and biological documentation of the fish, alongside imagistic language, we seek to reshape how we think about, talk about, and live within the ever-changing ecosystems of the global Midwest.

The landscapes of the Mississippi are replete with researchers, chefs, entrepreneurs and fishers who care about the Silver and Bighead carps and our shared ecology: Thank you to all the “fish heads” who generously shared stories with us: Claire Snyder and Kevin Irons of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; Dr. Lula Luu, Dr. John Crilly and the workers at Fin Gourmet; Angie Yu of Twin Rivers Fisheries; Dr. Jim Garvey; and Ron Brooks with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife researchers.