Shira Grosman


Of Two Minds: Excavating the Split Estate

Advised by Sergio Lopez-Pineiro

The split estate is a political-legal framework in the United States that severs surface property from subsurface. This effectively duplicates available property in the United States and establishes a palimpsest of ownership of land with the ground as delimiter. In practice, this condition decouples land from its geologic underpinnings and establishes distinct rights to the access and use of landed property and minerals. It calls into question the flat condition of property. This thesis unpacks the effects of this splitting as a precedent of the continuous commodification of the American public domain. I use the split estate to frame landscape as a political-aesthetic instrument through which to question notions of territory, divisibility, and the image of public lands in the United States. I take as my subject sites within the United States where the surface is public land (National Parks, National Forests, etc.) and the subsurface is private extraction. Using imagery, mapping, and drawing, this is explored through six ways of seeing the split estate: territorial, mineral, hydrological, financial, picturesque, and legal. Through this excavation, the competing ideologies of private extraction and wilderness imaginary are brought to the fore, questioning how use of the underground reinscribes the boundaries of property above.

Finally, this thesis projects ways that the split estate could be understood within the sociocultural landscape of America. It proposes tools for dissemination, which engage the greater public in this topic and seeks to upend traditional representations of the extraction/conservation dichotomy. 

Round linework drawing on grey background. A drawing of a globe is in the center, surrounded by ground strata with mining activity shown above and below ground. Extracted minerals are shown in greater detail at larger scale.

Linework perspective drawing of a car driving along a road with mountains in the background. A billboard is in the foreground. It contains a linework drawing of mountains and an estuary with two billboards visible, in marked contrast to the setting.

Linework axonometric column drawing of surface and subsurface. Surface plan extends along the XY plane of the axon and subsurface section extends along the Z plane.

Projected linework map of the United States, showing public lands with privately owned subsurface split estates highlighted in red. Locations of various mineral deposits are also shown.

Perspective plan linework drawing showing square surface with trees, drill, mine holes and tailings ponds with red lines forming a network below.