This essay explores the erasure of the ecological commons as an environmental and representative space of political contestation, in and through the development of a specific type of imaging process that transforms the ecological commons into a spectacle. Specifically, it examines visualizations of performative environmental protests that took place in June 2012 against the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil. It claims that these visualizations are governed by a particular ontology that has its origins in the military and colonial activity of turning landscapes, and environments in general, into targetable areas. I argue that these visualizations of the environment are governed by a metaphysical discourse: photographs taken from a great height that pretend to show the majesty of nature and purport to be apolitical, objective, and transparent as a form of environmental representation. This military form of figuring reality reduces ecological complexities, interactions, fluidity, and biodiversity into two general forms or ideas of “environment”: the idea of an untouched and pristine wilderness and the idea of an environmental struggle waged by indigenous peoples comprehended as victims. The protests of June 2012, however, show that indigenous people are fully cognizant of this dominant form of environmental imaginary. I reveal how their performative demonstrations disrupt the metaphysical ontology of visualizing the environment, thereby reopening the ecological commons to political contestation.

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